Monday, May 15, 2006


In just a few weeks I’ll be retiring from UCSF after completing the minimum five years required for vesting in the retirement plan. Some of my colleagues call it early retirement. At age 57, I’m not ceasing all gainful employment, I can’t afford to. But I am returning to semi-retirement, my wont, after five years (plus nine months that didn’t count toward vesting) at a straight, full time job.

At UCSF a person isn’t retired until they have filed an “election” regarding retirement benefits. The major choice is lifetime monthly payments versus an immediate lump-sum cashout. The lump-sum amount equals the total monthly payments I’d receive if I lived to my actuarial age. I did the math, and they figure I’ll die around 71 or 72. Because the monthly payment would have been so small, and because I don’t trust the state’s promise of lifetime payments, I elected the lump sum.

There are plenty of people my age who’ve been working for UCSF for twenty years and are planning to continue for at least another five or six. They frequently check the retirement calculator to see how much they’ll receive per month. I used to envy the idea of retiring at 75% of one’ highest salary.

But consider, a man who works till 65 has an average of seven years of retirement. And at least some of that is spent dying. For many career employees, disease catches up with them even before they retire. More commonly, for others, a stultifying career has extinguished any aptitude for real fun and they vegetate, bored and boring. Delaying gratification until retirement is a sucker’s bet.

I don’t agree with Baudelaire that evil is better than boredom. But a short, interesting life is definitely preferable to a long boring one. Longevity is the most boring goal of all. Those who seek it can’t possibly know what to do with it.

Then good old Mr Wilson bursts in all excited. Usually when my friend, Pudinhand Wilson, waves a newspaper (or web printouts) he’s ranting about the lack of good news—concerning recreational drugs. Today he’s got a point. He’s put one and one together and come up with… well, you count.

First he’s outraged by the front page story of concrete contractor fraud on the new, screw-the-poor-black-people, Muni light rail line. They provided cheap, weak concrete, not the good stuff required by the contract, and paid for by the city.

Or as Pudinhand put it, “What kind of concrete did they use for Jimmy Hoffa? Some crappy stuff with old ground-up bricks? Hell no! Only the very best shit to bury Mr Hoffa’s ass in! That’s one fucking bridge they don’t want falling down.

“But for the black folk at the end of the new line—even when they get their downtown jobs, they can’t get to work because the weak-ass trackbed is busting up and the streetcars are derailing daily.

“And,” he said, flipping a page, “there’s been an upsurge in fatal alligator attacks in Florida. There’ve been three in the last week. And those are the ones they’re talking about.”

Then he raises his forefinger in a gesture of utter seriousness, which he trots out infrequently “to preserve it’s credibility,” and declares, “Mark my words: the Bushes are going to turn Florida into one big alligator farm, with indigent aging baby boomers as the feed.”

“Of course they’ll start off slow. One or two attacks here or there. Eventually people will be inured to the idea of retirees getting picked off by alligators. The scale of course, like the final solution in Germany, is hard to imagine at first. But likewise it’s difficult to predict how unbearably annoying, not to mention expensive, the boomers will be who survive into their eighties, and how relatively numerous. It’s unnatural for the young to carry such a burden.

“More natural is for the aged to fall prey to natural stuff. So, the standard, at least in Florida, will be foot speed. When you get to the point where you can’t outrun a gator, or jump away from its lunges, well, maybe it’s time for recycling. Instead of being hated burdens on society, aging boomers would become high end belts and handbags.

“Mark my words,” he repeated solemnly, “twenty years from now, everyone will know what it means to say, ‘Grandma and grandpa went to Florida.’”

So I had to ask him what this has to do with faulty concrete. He was exasperated by my dullness:

“All over the South they got roads cutting through swamps and the swamps are filled with hungry gators and those roads got bridges and those bridges are supposed to be concrete but who knows what kind of shit they put in there and you’re driving across and the bridge gives way and all of a sudden the goddamn alligators are ripping your ass to shreds.”

Pudinhand read the bafflement in my face.

“So make your fucking plans accordingly,” he said, “Mr Retiree!”

----- o -----


sfmike said...

Yeah, the moral is don't go to Florida or the Bayview.

That was very funny. I'm counting the days with you. And welcome back to the world of the working irregulars. I'm proud of your five-year service, even though you did find the accounting standards of the University of California just slightly less honorable than that of used clothing retailers.

sfwillie said...

Thanks, Mike. I think Pud has located the Fountain of Death.