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A Day in November: The Best of Times?

By Martin Green

     Another retirement day, thought Paul Lerner, as he took his morning pills---one for blood pressure, one for acid reflux, a baby aspirin so he wouldn’t have a heart attack, a pill that would supposedly lubricate his arthritic joints and a multivitamin his wife Sally insisted was vital to his health. He got the coffee started and fixed his breakfast, cereal with lots of fruit, also vital to his health. Then out to get the newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, which kept getting smaller and smaller as its price kept getting higher and higher.   

He had almost finished his cereal when Sally came into the kitchen. As usual, they asked each other how they’d slept. Like many oldsters in their Northern California community Sally had trouble with insomnia, as did Paul. They both took sleeping aids before going to bed each night. Sally said she’d been up during the night so had taken another pill, which was why she was up so late. Paul said he’d slept all right.

    After a series of dreary winter days the sun was out that morning so Paul took his coffee and the crossword puzzle out to their enclosed patio. There was nothing special he had to do that day so he sipped his coffee and took his time, eventually almost finishing the puzzle. Going back to the kitchen he told Sally he thought he’d go for a walk. She told him to be careful. He said he would; he’d take his walking stick, a term he preferred to cane. The retirement community had a nature area which had a circular path for walking and Paul had discovered it after his hip replacement surgery several years before when he’d been learning how to walk again. He occasionally went there now, stopping to sit and rest at the benches along the path.

     The nature area adjoined the golf course that was at the center of the retirement community and on this morning there must have been some golfing event because almost all of the parking spaces were taken. He finally found one, took his stick, walked to the path and started out. As always, he could hear birds in the trees but as always he could never see them. He sometimes met someone along the path but on this day he was by himself.   

    When he sat down on one of the benches a squirrel hopped out and looked at him, then turned and scampered up a tree. The leaves had started turning. The sky was a clear blue and it was warm. Back East it was snowing. It was one of those days that reminded him of why all of those many years ago he’d left New York and come out to California. Getting away from those cold dreary winters was one reason. On his way back to his car, he saw a half a dozen or so wild turkeys on the golf course. He’d been told they were protected so he didn’t suppose anyone would grab one for Thanksgiving.

     “How was your walk?” asked Sally.

     “It was nice out there. I saw a squirrel and a bunch of wild turkeys. What are you up to this afternoon?”

     “I have my chorus practice.”

     “Right. I’d forgotten that.”

     “Don’t forget the Christmas concert is coming up. I’ve already gotten you a ticket.”

     “Don’t worry; I’ll be there.”

     Sally had joined the chorus right after they’d moved to the retirement community and Paul had faithfully attended every concert even though sitting in an uncomfortable chair for two hours was starting to make his back really hurt.

     Paul made himself a sandwich for lunch. After, he went to his computer and wrote two columns for the senior paper that went to everyone in the community.  One was  “Favorite Restaurants.” He’d been doing this one for almost 20 years and to his surprise there always seemed to be something to write about. This time he had two places, one new restaurant and one he and Sally had recently gone to after not eating there for several years. He’d liked to have another restaurant. Maybe someone would e-mail him before the column was due. He wrote a few paragraphs about the new restaurant. He’d take care of the other restaurant later.

     The other column was “Observations.” He’d been doing this one for nearly as long and so far had managed to come up with something every month. For this one he thought he’d write about retirement again, an always reliable subject, this time observing that retirement life was not, as commonly perceived, sedate and boring, but a series of adventures, or possibly you’d call them misadventures. He started making a list in his notebook of adventures to write about. The first adventure, of course, was getting out of bed in the morning and trying to get his stiff arms and legs to work. The next adventure was the daily bathroom business, often a misadventure for seniors. He might be able to write something discreetly about that. Then there was the adventure of getting dressed, once a simple operation done without thought but now a matter of buttoning those dratted buttons, finding sleeves and doing acrobatics to get on socks and shoes. That was all he could think of right now. He’d try to think of some more things later.

     Paul checked his latest e-mails. Besides the two columns Paul wrote short stories for a few online magazines. He saw that in the midst of the usual dozens of spam-mails he had one e-mail of some significance, from the editor one of the magazines saying that the story he’d sent in would be in the next issue.

Taking his notebook with him he returned to his comfortable lazy-boy chair in the bedroom and turned on the TV to see what the afternoon news was. The impeachment thing was rolling on in Congress. A complete waste of time and of taxpayers money, thought Paul. The Dems were determined to impeach and then the Republicans in the Senate would vote Not Guilty and then the 2020 election would offer a choice, that was if possible, even worse then in 2016. Trump again against one of the Democratic screwballs. He turned off the TV.

     He picked up the book he’d been reading sporadically the last week. He was a fan of British detectives and the book was the latest in a series he’d been reading for years. He liked the way that, in contrast to American detective novels, these proceeded leisurely with plenty of time to have lunches in pubs along with pints, thus giving time for a few more murders along the way. Being British, the detective had to have some idiosyncrasy and so he was into jazz music. In intervals between his times at pubs he listened to his jazz records at home while pondering about his case.    

     As the detective and his associates went their leisurely way there was plenty of time for two or three other murders after the initial one and Paul had left off with the second murder, made known to the detective while he was lunching  at a pub. Paul read on, his reading interrupted at times by wandering thoughts. Christmas was approaching and he’d have to think of something to get Sally. Then he thought of his old tennis buddy Charlie whose Christmas card always came on December first and which, to Paul’s mind, heralded the start of the holiday season. Another one of his old tennis gang had recently called with the sad news that Charlie had succumbed after a long battle with cancer. So no more Christmas card.   

     Paul read on, sometimes dozing off and waking with a start to realize he’d dropped off. On one of these times the thought of another senior citizen adventure came to him, getting in and out of a car, as he’d had to do that morning. Another once simple thing that had  now become something to be done carefully and sometimes painfully. He jotted this down in his notebook. He was again deep in the book when Sally appeared, back from her chorus practice. He asked her how it had gone and she gave him the news of the latest casualty among the singers. One of the few remaining men was in the hospital. He’d had a heart attack, they didn’t yet how bad. Many years ago the chorus had almost 100 members. Now it was down to about 50.   

     Sally asked him if eggs for supper were okay and Paul said Yes. He looked out the window. It had been a mostly sunny day but now in November it was getting dark out.    Well, the afternoon had gone by. He was sorry to hear about that singer and his heart attack. As often happened, his mind went to thoughts of his own mortality. He had his aches and pains but nothing immediately life-threatening as far as he knew. His heart was okay and nothing like Charlie had. He knew that sooner or later something would get to him, as it did to everybody. But for the time being he was okay.

     When he’d first started writing stories he’d written one he called “The Best of Times.”    It was about a summer in the life of a 12-year old boy, based on his own experience growing up in the Bronx, before the concerns of work and sex intruded on him, a time of innocence. After this time there came his first summer job and also awareness of girls.    When he looked back on that summer he thought it might have been the best of times.  

     In Paul’s own life, like those of most people, after he’d become an adult there’d been the inevitable need to earn a living, then marriage, children, teenagers, paying for college, and everything else that went with it. Now he was done with all that and he could have an afternoon of reading and dozing, and he could still do some writing. So maybe this was another “best of times.” Maybe. He put away his book and went to his computer to see if he had any more e-mails of significance, probably not, then he’d prepare for supper. After that, he and Sally would watch some television and another retirement day would be over.

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