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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Year of Social Security

Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened. I had planned to retire in 2006 and had a budget worked out to keep afloat until the Social Security payments started in August, just about the time I would be down to my last few dollars. However, the best laid plans of mice and men don't always work out.

JANUARY: I was scheduled to teach two computer classes at Ozarka College. I notified the school I wouldn't be available to teach in the fall. The next day, one of my classes was cancelled. The unexpected loss of half of my pending income for the semester threw my precise (tight) budget plans into a tailspin.

FEBRUARY: The remaining class went from 12 students to 7 students during the first week, causing further financial woe. Apparently, eight or more students constituted a full class. But when it went down to seven, the compensation for the class was cut in half. My financial situation suddenly went from challenging to catastrophe.

MARCH: My combined electric bill for the first three months of the year exceeded the total amount of income I was to receive for teaching the entire spring semester. Easing into retirement was now a matter of survival.

APRIL: My mother stopped by once a week to help with the annual garden, and to check to make sure I was eating my vegetables and bathing regularly. We put in 28 tomato plants, 12 pepper plants, 8 cucumber mounds, two rows of carrots and a row of onions. Even though my cash flow was a train wreck, at least I would still eat.

MAY: Spring semester ended. I had to visit the dentist once, the doctor twice and applied for Social Security. It was a busy month tying up loose ends and exhausting my emergency funds so I could enter my retirement years with a full set of teeth, and be healthy enough to survive until my first Social Security check arrived.

JUNE: I was awarded first place by the Arkansas Press Association in the "humor" category and received an honorable mention in the "general" category for columns written the previous year. On the flip side, I was down to $22 and a jar of quarters. Being honored is always a humbling experience; being broke is even more humbling.

JULY: It was a very hot month. I lost my water one day and it took four days to track down my plumber. A week later, the air conditioner went out and it took three days to get it fixed. The next day, I lost my electricity for nine hours. Sometimes all those new-fangled gadgets like electricity and indoor plumbing can be a real pain.

AUGUST: On August 10, I hit age 62. I celebrated by staying sober and avoiding trouble. Even though I was now old enough to qualify for Social Security, I learned I wouldn't receive my first payment until mid October. To make ends meet, I secured a loan from Big Tony in Detroit, using my kneecaps as collateral.

SEPTEMBER: The hot summer came to a cool end just in time for football season. Life was grand once again. The garden didn't do too well though. We produced lots of tomatoes, but the cucumbers were sparse, the peppers fizzled out, the onions were disappointing, the carrots tasted like wood and I bathed regularly.

OCTOBER: My first Social Security check was automatically deposited into my bank account on schedule. I was astonished it actually arrived on time and in the correct account. Perhaps life was truly grand after all.

NOVEMBER: I received a recorded telephone call from Dish Network announcing that my network channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) would no longer be available as of the end of the month and advising me to contact my representatives in congress. Instead, I banged my head against the wall. Perhaps life was grand only in spurts.

DECEMBER: In a column about song lyrics, I listed Willie Nelson as the author of "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Someone named Donna promptly sent me an e-mail pointing out that Gary Brooker and Keith Reid actually wrote the song. If I had a nickel for every time a woman found fault with me, I could buy a new Buick.

It was another imperfect year in the imperfect life of an imperfect person on an imperfect planet. Perhaps life is as perfect as it's meant to be and our only options are to accept the imperfections or pretend they don't exist.

The ordeals of life on earth never cease. On the plus side, it keeps extraterrestrial beings from landing here.

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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at bret@centurytel.net.