My So-Called Retired Life.

First things first.  I should tell you guys that I have a friend named Kim and that she is true blue.  About a minute before she was my friend she was my boss.  She’d be the first to tell you that she taught me everything I know and I can honestly say there’s more than a morsel of truth in that statement.  When I accepted the job as her assistant, my very first job in publishing, she said she was offering it despite my recent work as a bleeding heart environmentalist (“I hope you don’t expect us to start recycling”) and I knew this was going to be fun.  She did not disappoint.  When I told her I was leaving to accept another job, my palms sweaty, my nerves on edge waiting to see what she’d say, she was about as supportive as a person can be in her very Kim way (“Fuck, Becka, you’re going to work for Nancy?  I want to work for Nancy!  I hate you.  Get out of here, go be happy”).  In the intervening years between then and now, since that day she hired me and well past the day she watched me move on, she has been one of my biggest champions, one of my favorite people, one of my dearest friends.  Kim has a big big heart and she gives and gives to the people she loves.  I’d like to believe I’ve been respectful of her generosity over the years, that I’ve managed to not take advantage of it.  I guess only she could tell you that for sure.  What I do know is that she is someone I can turn to in desperate times and she’s still one of the first people I want to share good news with.  I can’t imagine that ever changing.  That’s my definition of true blue.  That’s Kim.

One more thing to know about Kim?  She has a sweet-ass beach condo in Sarasota, Florida.  We’re talking two bedrooms, two baths, with a balcony, people.  A super sweet condo.  And, in another shining example of Kim’s generosity, I’ve been living here solo for the better part of this month.  Since January 11, with the exception of a brief and blissful sojourn to the “other coast” to visit Chez Shannon, I’ve been enjoying leisurely pool time, taking long runs by the beach, reading like a fiend, and just generally getting a feel for the retired life, along with all of the other, well, retirees.  Lance says I’m like Cameron Diaz in “In Her Shoes,” without the long legs and curmudgeonly senior sidekick.  I actually think I’m more like Shirley MacLaine, the curmudgeonly senior.

What has the retired life taught me?

I now know for certain that children with noodles have no place in pools.

I’ve learned that my love for men with British accents is not age-biased (I have a mad crush on Andy who looks like he’s sixty-five but sounds like a solid forty; alas, married, not widowed).

I’ve learned that Sherrilyn Kenyon is a terrible writer (of course, that didn’t stop me from reading all 309 pages of Night Pleasures: A Dark-Hunter Novel; the condo’s bookshelves are silly with trashy romances).

I’ve learned how to make my own coffee frappuccinos in Kim’s blender; all of the taste, a fraction of the calories!  Ditto on homemade guacamole.  Seriously, forget early bird specials.  This sweet condo has a kitchen and I’m happy dining in.

I’ve learned that Carrie Mathison is batshit crazy and should be removed as Nicholas Brody’s handler immediately.  Immediately.  (Hey, a gal has to escape the sunshine occasionally.  Thanks to Jen and John, I’ve been escaping to Homeland: Season 2 on Showtime Anytime.  One word: “Wow.”  Another word: “Carrie, sweetie, he’s just not that into you.”)

And I’ve learned what I suspect many snow birds have known for some time now: Southern Florida winter weather rocks.  It’s consistently in the 70s, the sun is almost always shining, and the only burning questions on this gal’s mind are “Do I hit the pool today or the beach?  Or both?”

Yes, I guess above all else I’ve learned that the retired life is the life for me.  Next up: Finding a job that I can one day retire from.  How hard can that be?  Tomorrow.  I’ll focus on that tomorrow.

Today?  Mahjong!  (Just kidding.)

And a thank you card to Kim, for sure.

33 Cents.

A gal spends the better part of a year single-handedly doing everything she can to get the United States Postal Service out of debt and what thanks does she get?  A goddamn penny raise on postcard stamps, effective January 27, that’s what.  Really, Uncle Sam, really?

I’ve been keeping track and, since about this time last year, I’ve mailed 150 plus postcards – at the previous rate of $.32 a pop — to friends and family far and wide.  And not just within these United States, people.  Perhaps you’ve heard of a little country called England?  Or France?  Oh yeah, I’m international, friends.  Inter. National.  (By the by, the price of stamps to Europe went up a whopping five cents yesterday.  Sweet Jesus.)

150 times $.32.  That’s $48.00.  So, okay, forget what I said earlier about single-handedly getting the USPS out of debt, but at least I’m doing my part.  In the last year, I’ve patronized local post offices in Gainesville, Austin, Chicago, Santa Cruz, Sarasota, Atlanta, New York, Nashville, and Cardiff by the Sea.  It’s become one of my favorite things to do, visiting the post office, buying stamps and envelopes, patiently answering questions about liquids and perfumes and perishables and “Do you want to track this or insure this or receive delivery confirmation?”  I’d estimate I’m in the post office at least once a week, if not more, and I can’t say I’ve had a single bad experience, that I haven’t gotten my money’s worth.

So here’s to the USPS and that extra penny.  They’re up to here in debt (way up to here, people), but they keep on ticking, keep on making sure the mail goes through.  Which makes this recent price increase a bit easier to take, I suppose.  It certainly won’t put a crimp in my postcard rotation, I can promise you that.  Because sending mail to friends and family is just about as lovely as receiving mail from friends and family (cough, cough).  It’s pretty priceless.

When you mail a letter, you can send it anywhere.
On foot, by truck, or aeroplane, the postman gets it there.
So write a letter to your friend, maybe she’ll write you.
No matter what you always know, the mail must go through.
No matter if it rains or snows, the mail must go through.
I said the mail must go through.
No matter if it rains or snows, the mail must go through.
Some folks live in a city, some live in a little town.
And even if you live out on a farm, there’s a postman making his rounds.
So mail someone a letter, even just a card will do.
You know it’s nice when the postman has a letter in his sack for you.

The Things We Hold On To.

I’ve been carrying a box labeled “Becka’s Things” around with me for ages.  It made its way up to New York City in 1996 shortly after I arrived, sneakily shipped by Mrs. Johnny Rocket along with a care package full of cheese tortellini, pasta sauce, my dad’s seven layer cookies, and a bottle of wine.  She’d hoped the last two items would distract me from the extra box that I most decidedly did not request.  Nice try.

Some context: MJR went through an empty-nester phase in the ‘90s during which she was determined to rid her home of all of our lingering possessions, my siblings’ and mine.  It was a serious tug of war for a while there; a typical conversation might go like this:

MJR: “I found a green dress of yours in the back bedroom closet and I’m packaging it up with some other things to send to you.”

Me: “Mom, that’s my prom dress.  Please don’t ship it to me.”

MJR: “Okay, but I want you to look through that closet when you’re home in November.  Your father and I really don’t have a lot of storage space here.”

Me: “Your house has five bedrooms.  I’m sharing a room, I sleep on the floor, and I don’t even have a closet to hang that dress in.  I’m begging you.”

Eventually, a moratorium on all future shipments of my childhood memories was agreed upon, at least until I had a more permanent place (yet another reason for this gal to stay out of the real estate market) and the madness stopped with the exception of that one lone box, “Becka’s Things,” that slipped through under a veil of confections and cabernet.

The box arrived.  I draped a scarf on it, temporarily called it a bedside table, and proceeded to haul it up and down multitudes of stairs, carrying it with me from apartment to apartment, for the next several years.  I’d open it intermittently to sift through its contents, occasionally adding something new to the mix.  Fifteen years down the road that box was full to busting, covered with dust, and starting to show its age when I loaded it into the back of my car and turned south for Florida and beyond.

Which is all to say that I’ve been thinking a lot this week about “Becka’s Things” and its contents.  About the stuff I’ve held on to for all of these years.  What’s in there, you ask?  Mostly photographs, journals, and letters (or postcards) that document, in one form or another, the past two decades or so of my life.  It’s a box full of friends and family and romantic angst.  Dee and Jay are in there. And Bobby.  And the Bestie.  Many many postcards from Johnny Rocket (apparently an affinity for sending postcards is hereditary) along with the two-page email response my scientist father sent answering my question, “Why’s the sky blue?”  Page after page of college era journal entries detailing the excruciating ways that Bobby broke my not-yet-battle-tested heart.  Some truly awful poetry, mostly inspired by stupid Bobby and my sadly broken heart.  Stacks and stacks of small-time newspapers with my by-line in bold.  Photos of my now adult nieces when they were kids and an assortment of cards and letters written to me in their childish scrawl.  The handwritten mostly true story about the time my sister and brother, in a jealous fit, sat me down to tell me there was no Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny (MJR loves that one) and the meticulously typed out speech, on 3×5 note cards, about civil liberties that I won an award for at a competition in the tenth grade.

There’s stuff in that box that embarrasses me, for sure.  And stuff that makes me alternately laugh out loud and get a little misty-eyed.  Some of the items I would reach into open flames to rescue (anything with my dad’s handwriting on it) while others I’m seriously contemplating shredding (all of the journals, every last one).  I’d love to finally get the photographs into albums chronologically and maybe do the same for the newspaper clippings, but there’s time for that later.  For now, I’m removing a few precious bits and resealing the rest in a new box.  I’m labeling it “Becka’s Things” and setting it aside for the long drive to Texas in a few weeks where it may just find itself draped with a scarf and standing in as a makeshift bedside table (did I mention I own no furniture?  Not one piece.)

The thing about a box full of stuff you’re holding on to?  It makes you think a bit about the things you’ve let go of.  And the things that have voluntarily left or been taken away. Especially when the stuff you’re holding on to contains little pieces, small bits and reminders, of all of those other now missing things.

And then, when you’ve thought about all of those things – the things you’re holding on to, the things that have left, the things that have been taken away – you get down to the real nitty gritty, I’d say: The things that you carry that you can’t or don’t or wouldn’t ever put down.  In the last few days – the last year, truly – I’ve been thinking lots about those things, too.  You guys know what I’m talking about, right?  The really really important things?  As I reflect on the year that’s just ended and look towards the year that’s ahead and as I think about once again packing up my belongings for a big move, I’m excited to take all of those really really important things, the whole lot of them, forward with me.  That’s some stuff worth holding on to, for sure.

Oh, the Things Mrs. Johnny Rocket Says. #2.

MJR: “We can stop by Mildred’s for a gift certificate, it’s one of the fancier restaurants in town.  You know, one of those places that has a daily special.  They make things with sauces and occasionally have buffalo.”

(Note: I did a little research and it turns out the actual name of the restaurant is Mildred’s Big City Food.)