Saturday, June 27, 2009

June: Not Bad So Far

Two weeks ago, I had my counseling session, which is required by federal law before I can actually apply for my reverse mortgage. The one thing that is very clear – I had already grasped it, but this made it even clearer, is that this is something of an irrevocable decision. No one should get a reversible mortgage to solve a temporary difficulty, nor should anyone get one who has any possible heirs that he or she might wish to endow with his or her property. I can get out of it once it is in place, but it will be costly. If I get out within two or three years by getting a new first mortgage or otherwise paying the debt, I will have paid an effective 10+% rate for the two or three years, since many of the costs are front loaded. Once these two or three years have passed, the amount owed will have grown to the point where I would be hard-pressed to afford a new mortgage to pay it off, and I will be far worse off than before, although at that point, with the presumed growth in value of the home, it will have come down to an effective rate of outgo v value well below 4%. Are you bored yet?

The following Monday, I took off from work, because an appraiser came to value my property at the worst possible point in the economy, but here’s the thing: I can wait – and work every day of that wait – until times are better, or I can retire very soon. Retirement is not one of those things to which you can tack on days at the end to compensate for a late start. That weekend I arrived home to find my estate resting silent in its beauty, awash with bright flowers surrounded by its eighty-foot trees, a perfect oasis from which one would never really have any reason to stray. I think mosquitoes, deer and work are put on Earth to keep us from lying in a puddle of ecstasy under the nearest tree for the entire month of June. What a gorgeous time in this gorgeous place. The sensible person does little but stare about himself in a peaceful daze and haze during June; the rest, I guess, get married.

One statement that the mortgage man made to me when we spoke has been gnawing at me; he cheerfully informed me that all the projections that the insurer is making assume that actuarially I have 18 years left to live. This led me to thinking that even if I don’t turn up my heels on schedule, I will be well into my eighties, an age where one is too old to do much more than spoon mushed-up food or shoot up a Holocaust museum, neither of which activities is on my bucket list, I assure you. This led me to cast back 18 years and think what I was doing then, and I realized I was in Saudi enjoying the First Gulf War. Didn’t that just happen? All of a sudden life looks very short, and if there were no work, pretty sweet.

I was planning to write Warren and Marlena this weekend to say that joining them in Bali was too costly and not to count me in. But now I am thinking, “So little time!” Moreover I was driving thru the town south of here where my brother Liam’s best friend and his wife (well actually they are both his best friends) run a small grocery-cum-deli, saw them outside grilling a passel of chickens (which were, mercifully, deceased) and stopped to say hello. I mentioned the Bali thing, and they thought they too might be interested. The deal is that Warren and Marlena are renting a luxury villa in January in Bali. Since they stayed there earlier this year; they know the owners and can get it without the agency fee that they paid the first time, which is substantial. This villa, which has a full staff, including a guard, will cost them about $150 a day – far cheaper than a hotel, but it is very large and can accommodate a lot of folks, so although the price is fixed, the more folks that stay, the cheaper the cost for each will be. So, I am re-thinking the “no way”. I had been worrying that money would not last if I lived too long, now I am worrying that it won’t all be spent. Second in horror only to the thought that I will still be working when I die is the thought that I will leave money behind unspent.

Very likely I won’t be able to do this in the end, but I’ll think about it a while longer. My high school class is celebrating its 50th reunion with a Caribbean cruise in March (doesn’t retirement sound fun?) and there is that to pay for. And Bali is half a world away – there’s the airfare to get there and back. Still, Bali, you know. It is one of those places you only hear about, and I have always liked actually going to places that seem like myths. I am not sure how have I missed Timbuktu for so long.

My sister Lucy just left an hour or so ago; she has been staying here for the last two weeks, a period made easier for both of us I am sure, by my absence from here while I worked in Smallville both weeks. Lucy and I, though we were very close as kids, now circle each other warily when we are together. Altogether though it was a successful visit, and ended well. She was here when the appraiser was coming and went into a flurry of activity to ensure that his first impression was a good one. I love when women visit; the house is always so orderly and clean when they leave. Her efforts must have worked; my house was valued at the high end of my hoped for range; $200,000. This is high for the area; not because it is a lower income area – far from it – but because Western NY is chronically depressed. I think the entire state outside New York City and maybe Long Island isn’t so much low income as it is no income. With the kind of money I make, a mere droplet in such places as California, I can live like a king here. Lucy loved being here alone in the quiet; her husband retired rich but mildly disabled and is always home. I think they have a good marriage, but she says she loved being wholly alone in my house. Her husband is always home, and she says that although he is not interfering and intrusive, she feels kind of guilty not being busy during the daytime. She finished four books while here – mostly in the daytime – guilty pleasures!

My brother Jack and his somewhat irritating girlfriend will arrive this week from AZ. I do live the high life. This is another visit that could go either way.

Anyway, Lucy took all us locals sibs – George, Luke and his girlfriend Carol, and me to dinner at a restaurant, which was once a beer joint, but has now been considerably upgraded. We ate outside on a deck, which is a hundred yards or less from the substantial waterfall in Hagerty by which the first gristmill in that village was once powered. I actually used to live in an apartment above that restaurant when it was a joint with a very loud jukebox. How it has changed! A large blue heron swooped up and down the creek for our viewing pleasure. It was a very nice time, not least because Lucy footed the bill. Poor George, who has not had a scintilla of good luck in his life time (he has been abducted at gun point; he hit and killed a drunk pedestrian who suddenly step in front of his car, etc. ), had one of those slightly odd experiences that seem to come his way. George is a recovering alcoholic, as they say, and ordered iced tea, while the others (except me) had beer or wine. The drinks arrived – Luke and Carol having Coronas, Lucy some merlot and a diet Pepsi for me. The waitress plopped down a glass of brown liquid in front of George; he took a swallow, and said, “That’s not tea!” So he had his first sip of brown beer in 13 years. Stuff like that always seems to happen to George. He is the quietest guy, and very deliberate in his actions – not at all a ‘what the hell’ kind of guy like Luke and me and yet if any stray bit of weirdness comes along, it immediately takes dead aim at George. A small thing; but really, how many people order tea and get Guinness? It is not like the waitress mis-heard; she had clarified after his order whether he wanted he tea sweetened.

The reverse mortgage man says I should have the money in a week or slightly longer; I have next Friday and the entire following week off from work; life is sweet.

OMG, I just clicked on some odd spot in this effloration and the whole thing disappeared. Shades of the old MSN Spaces days! But not to fear, I have recovered my mewlings intact.

Hope y’all have as good a next couple of weeks as I plan to have. I know all about the best laid plans; which makes me think these weeks would be best if I got laid. But that is another topic entirely…

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Reverse is Forward (Maybe)

Last weekend, when I left Reedville for five more irksome days in Smallville, there was a single pink peony half-opened by the corner of my house. Yesterday I returned to find hundreds of blooms. I have them everywhere – they line the back of my driveway, appear on all four sides of my house in one place or another. Some are the hugest I have ever seen. This place is a little Eden and, to make certain that I see more of it in the near future, I am meeting this morning with a rep from the reverse mortgage people to go over some papers. It would be dishonest to say that I don’t have a host of second thoughts in the wee hours about both getting a reverse mortgage and about retiring. I am unused to not having money left over at the end of each pay period. I buy whatever I want, and a lot of stuff I don’t. A whole new idea must rear its ugly head in the near future – discipline.

That is a virtue that heretofore I have only encountered in dictionaries or novels involving mysterious deaths at service academies. I subscribe to the untested thesis that I mostly spend to alleviate the vast tide of boredom that is my current situation. This touching faith in my inner contentment waiting to break out and warm itself in the sun of my retirement flies in the face of all past experience and requires a determined effort to ignore the evidence of the past 66 years. What is true though is that I really can’t go on as I have been doing. One lesson I seem to have to learn anew each time it is needed is that just as bad money is said to drive out the good, so to do time-killing activities drive out the energy to do what really matters, unsatisfactory relationships preclude the opportunity for real intimacy and so on. The people I want to spend time with and the things I want to do cannot be squeezed into whatever time is left over here and there after the aimless and unsatisfying activities in which I engage these days.

People with whom it is worth spending time are busy and popular. You cannot expect them to make time for someone who is merely a new acquaintance when that someone is unhappy with his lot and trails all kinds of baggage, none of it of an interesting or intriguing nature. Things that are worth doing demand time and commitment. I find, for instance, that I cannot write when I have other things scheduled. This is why, with rare exceptions, I blog only on days off. However good or bad my efforts may be, they require sitting down with an open-ended amount of time and going where my thoughts take me. I admire people who squeeze in their hobbies in moments snatched here and there. So many terrific writers and other doers of worthwhile tasks can do this, but I cannot. I must immerse myself, and I cannot do this when an arbitrary endpoint is looming. It is like waking just before the alarm goes off and trying to go back to sleep with that damn bell all set to ring. In addition, doing things I dislike (like my job) exhaust me far beyond what the effort involved would lead one to suspect. I just cannot summon either will or energy after work. I am lucky if I bother to eat.

Another more insidious thought also holds me back from getting involved in something I care about while I am still among the employed. If I were to do that which I loved, how could I ever go back to work again? I think on some level I keep myself from getting too involved, from loving anything or anyone too much, for fear I just could not draw back when it was time for work or other pointless activities. When you are with a thing, or a person that you love, the time flies. I often think of the character in Catch 22 who strove to make his life as boring as possible with the aim of making it seem to last longer. I have wondered if I may be unconsciously doing that. The college years, the surfing years, the years with Tumwell, the years in Saudi went so fast. Like Prufrock’s women they have come and gone, and perhaps like Prufrock, my courage has failed. The last 14 years, since all of those people and activities have been absent, has been an eternity. I wonder if, on some level, I feel that a life of real commitment will feel like a running jump into the grave.

What I must do is find out. Will I replace work with something real, or with just more pointless obligations that seem like work? I don’t really know; I am amazingly good at formulating vast plans that never quite get implemented. Based on past experience, I will have a fallow period lasting a month or two and then I’ll go somewhere or do something. I need some time to actually believe that freedom is real; that the shackles of servitude have finally been struck from my wrists and ankles and I am free. They say that people who have been confined for a long period of time tend to continue to live circumscribed lives for sometime after; even forever in some cases. I have heard often that men released from prison will stop and wait at closed doors afterward, because they are so used to doors being locked, requiring someone else to open them. I expect I shall be like that for a bit. I have let a life lived in default go on so long that I am too unsure of how to seize freedom right off the bat.

Later that day.

My man has come and gone, leaving behind a sheaf of papers that could account for half the trees felled this year in the Pacific Northwest. This reverse mortgage program is a federal thing, or at least a federally regulated thing, and now that I have been thru an hour and a half of preliminary paper rustling, nothing can be done until I have had legally mandated counseling. Apparently this is mainly for an independent party to ensure that I am not senile, a charge that I have not been entirely free of risk having leveled at me since I was about five. Once this has been completed I must get an appraiser to evaluate my house – hopefully he wil be impressed with my new super-insulated beveled glass front door that cost me, after installation, $4,600 all told. And the deck my brother Luke built, and the new roof and the tankless water heater et al. Certainly the man here today (who has nothing to say in the evaluation/appraisal process,) was blown away by the beauty of my surroundings. That is a good sign at least.

Around one my old high school friend and fellow altar boy from the years just after the discovery of fire, dropped by. He is visiting from Chicago where he has lived and taught school since 1971. He was saying that he thought that ours was the luckiest generation in history. Our parents fought the big war and worked their butts off to give us enormous opportunity, which we of course have screwed up so incredibly that our heirs will never know it’s like to live as we did. I’d pretty much agree with that – in fact it was I who added that last bit to the conversation. Happily we boomers (or more accurately in our case war babies) have done our damnedest with two presidents who never got beyond adolescence and have passed the torch, along with ruins of our educational system, the shell of a manufacturing dynamo that is a faint memory and a lot of faux religious blather, onward to a genuine adult to try to reassemble. Good luck to him. We will of course, demand that even billionaires get their full entitlement of social security so that no penny which can possibly be spent on us will be overlooked. I imagine our little grandchildren looking up at us and asking, “Grandpa, what’s money?” If I know the boomers, they will say, “Oh, it is just some Chinese custom,” without any thought of explaining why it is their custom and not ours. And certainly not the faintest idea that this, or anything else, is our fault. Ya gotta love us.

The man today estimated that the cash should be in my hand by July 1. I can’t even really imagine anything that could feel as good as that moment, except the moment sometime after that (but not MUCH time after) when I say to my boss, “Can I talk to you for a minute...?”