Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I keep forgetting that other people have to go to work. Friends get irritated when I call them up during the week to ask if they want to hang out in the museum with me for the afternoon. They think I’m being disingenuous, just rubbing in the fact that I’m free all day while they are trapped in the office. Like people calling from their vacation in the tropics and asking how’s the weather back home. Each time I’m reminded that most people spend the majority of their waking hours on the job, I feel a twinge of guilt. Why am I sitting around doing nothing when I should be at the office? Then I remember that I’m retired. No, not exactly retired, permanently unemployed. Even without a recession, who is going to hire a 62 year old who hasn’t had a full-time job in ten years?

Don’t get me wrong, I love not working. Of course without a paycheck I have to live a fairly Spartan life but when I listen to my friends talk about their jobs, I don’t envy them. Most of them are so concerned about holding on to their jobs that they do anything to keep their bosses happy. Long hours, take home work, conference calls while on vacation -- if they dare to use their vacation time. They all seem stressed and very tired. None of them get eight hours of sleep. I’m not a great fan of unions – I think they are responsible for driving manufacturing out of the country and for saddling public services such as transit with huge, unnecessary expenses – but if any group of workers ever needed a powerful union, it has to be today’s white collar workers.

Of course it’s not all bad for my working friends; most of them make a lot of money. More than I ever made. Even so, they don’t seem to get proportionally more from their big bucks than I get from my embarrassingly small budget. I stay at home and brew a pot of whatever coffee is on sale at the supermarket; they grab a three dollar cup at Starbucks. I sleep in late and have instant oatmeal for lunch; they have a 30 dollar lunch at one of the over-priced restaurants near the office. I lounge around in sweatpants and a sweatshirt; they pick up their designer suits at the dry cleaners. I’ve learned to be comfortable in my small apartment in unfashionable Queens; they pay three times as much for an even smaller apartment in Manhattan.

Even though I wouldn’t want to trade my life for that of any of my working friends, I still feel like something is missing. I feel it every time I am introduced to somebody new and one of the first things they ask me is “what do you do?” I’ve tried dozens of different answers to that awkward question. What I’d like to say is “What do I do about what?” but that would be taken as a rude rejection. So I’m between jobs, I’m unemployed, I’m retired, I’m an unpublished writer, I’m a trust fund baby… always the same reaction. Oh, you don’t do anything. And if you don’t do anything, they you can’t be anybody.

Oh well. Let me try the next number on my list. There must be somebody who will spend an afternoon in the museum with nobody.


  1. I like this article. I understand the situation well. But doing something regularly gives one a sense of being. I think of A.S. Byatt's comment in POSSESSION: "How true it was that one needed to be seen by others to be sure of one's own existence."

  2. Working adds structure to life. And a feeling you are a player in the Zoo.