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How I spent my early-retirement vacation

Now I think I know how school teachers feel about summer vacation: eager to see it come, content (maybe resigned) to see it end.

I've just had two glorious months of self-indulgent leave from work. I took the "enhanced early retirement" package offered last spring to St. Petersburg Times employees age 50 and older. My last full day of work was Aug. 29.

I'm back now as a very part-time employee, covering theater and writing a column (plus whatever else the boss can get me to do in a limited amount of time).

These past two months have been the first unencumbered time off I've had since high school. I went year-round to college and then to work the day after my last class. I took the weekend off for my honeymoon. The day my son was born, I left work at 5 p.m., deposited my paycheck, drove to the hospital and had him at 7:20 p.m.

Sure, I didn't go to an office for two years after he was born, but anyone who has ever had a baby knows that the first two years as a new mother are anything but "time off."

So there I was that long-ago Aug. 29, with 67 straight days all to myself, with no job to get me out of bed every morning or keep me out late.

It. Was. Wonderful.

My daily exercise meant walking one mile to the Hudson Regional Library, browsing the shelves awhile, then walking one mile back home. I read a stack of books more than 6 feet tall.

I went to see movies in the middle of the day, sometimes on the spur of the moment and all by myself.

I intended to lose 20 pounds, but root beer floats and French toast took care of that, so I'm still at my old fighting weight.

There were several unexpected delights. When I got home from my last day at work, there was a notice calling me for jury duty. I was confident I wouldn't be chosen; neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys tend to like newspaper reporters.

Guess who was chosen Juror No. 1.

The case was a home invasion with a deadly weapon, which took place about 5 a.m. nearly four years ago only a few miles from my home. The whole thing was frightening, partly because of the offense, but even more because of the sloppy police work, which left the jury with little to work with.

We deliberated for about seven hours, then convicted the accused.

The experience prompted me to call the Firing Line gun shop and sign up for a refresher course in the use of my handguns. I was happy to learn that I'm still a pretty good shot. My instructor suggested I hang the target, the outline of a human figure in bright orange, on my front door. The big holes in the strike zone, he said, would scare off any potential intruders.

I put it in my garage instead.

I also went to my high school class reunion in Abbeville, La., known among foodies as "The Fabulous Food Capital of the Universe." We ate our way through crawfish etouffee, shrimp and okra gumbo, fried catfish, fried stuffed crab, oyster poor boys, creamy Cajun corn maque choux, and a host of other goodies at Comeaux's Cafe, the Riverfront, DuPuy's, Shucks, Richards (pronounced REE-shards) and other places where south Louisiana people drive for hours to dine.

Nobody in Abbeville messes around much with all that silly salad stuff. As my late brother-in-law often said, "Food that is green has gone bad and should be thrown out. Food is supposed to be brown, golden, or white until you put some good brown gravy on it."

It was wonderful to see my classmates. I didn't recognize some at sight, but as soon as we began to talk, I could identify everyone there. Voices don't change.

And, interestingly, people don't either. The class president is still coolly aloof. The more boisterous among us are still, um, loud. The quietest, most unassuming boy in our class has earned several advanced degrees and taught advanced college courses on nearly every continent. What a wonderful life he has had.

The handsomest boy in our class brought his oldest son, a clone of himself. It was like stepping back in time, and all my female classmates were clamoring to have their photos taken with the 31-year-old attorney. His dad and I were an item in high school and college, so he was teased that I could have been his mom, which would probably mean he wouldn't be more than 6 feet tall.

Even though I had a lot of fun during my time off (afternoon naps are heaven's gift to mortals), I did miss writing theater reviews and this column. I went to the shows, but I didn't get a chance to tell everyone how adorable Jesslyn Kostopoulos was as Sweet Charity at Richey Suncoast Theatre, how funny Peter Clapsis and Gary McCarragher were as Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple at Stage West Community Playhouse, how spooky Jessica Virginia and Mark Berlinger were in the Stage West Forum's The Uninvited, or how spectacular Katie Kerwin is in The Unsinkable Molly Brown at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.

It seemed weird to sit in the audience and not take notes, but it was fun just to be a spectator and not have to concentrate on lighting, sound, blocking, costumes and all those other details that determine whether a show is worth seeing or not.

Whatever, it's good to be back.

How I spent my early-retirement vacation 11/07/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 9, 2008 11:30am]
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