Boomers’ New Commune for Retirement Post-Recession

hippie

Increasingly, I have listened to my Boomer friends tell me that  the economic meltdown has caused a serious decline in their pensions funds and portfolios.   The standard refrain is, “I’ll never be able to retire.”   Some are joking, or trying to put a good face on a rotten time for a Recession, and some are hardly joking at all.

Couple the loss of savings with the potential loss of your job, and Boomers are wondering how they are even going to make it to retirement.   It is no secret that the Boomers are generally higher paid and not as willing at this point in life to work the slave hours as their younger counterpart.   Then there are the others, who can’t find work and have given up trying.  They are taking earlier retirement.   Maybe they are getting less income from their Social Security and Retirement funds.   But at least they are getting  some money.   And some money is better than no money at all.  I guess.

It is a lousy economy for everybody but especially for a generation that thought it would never grow old, and now it has.   It’s a harsh reality, for sure, especially when you feel the first ailments, the aches and pains,  that make it harder to get up and harder to get it up.   Friends are starting to die around you.  It seems too early, but nevertheless life has its way of telling you the time of the season.   As Bob Dylan sang in one of his songs, “It ain’t dark yet, but it’s getting  there.”

All right, not to be morbid.   The fact is for most Boomers there is still a long way to go.   We are overall in better shape than any other generation.   We are better educated and more or us exercise and eat right.   We try to stay vital and relevant, even when looking vital and relevant is a full time job.  We have sex on a regular basis.   Or at least some of us do.   We accept the new realities that our friends and associates in trying to find themselves found sometimes that the boys liked boys and the girls liked girls.   Hey considering that our parents at our age looked like Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, this ain’t too bad.

We look for second careers and go into business for ourselves.   We wear funny tee shirts and buy CD’s of our favorite bands.   We try to understand our children and maybe we do a better job of it than our parents did with us.   Or maybe we have no more of a clue about how and why the younger generation behaves than the old fogies who tried to ruin our youth.

So now hear we are, at least eyeballing retirement.   But in this economy we are increasingly aware, despite the assurances to the contrary, we may be faced with some serious downsizing.   Social services and entitlement may not be there like we thought.  We sure can’t take it for granted.   Instead of the government and our nest eggs providing us with economic and psychological sanctuary, we may be left to our own devices.   There are cracks in the system, the same system we once deplored and then finally embraced.   We were victimized by stupid wars, again,  and watched a bunch of white collar thieves run off with our money.   Some of us are those white collar thieves, but I digress.

We have handled it well.  So far.  Rather than man the barricades and storm the government institutions, we just grouse about it.   Maybe.  Or we take mood elevators and try not to notice.    Perhaps the storming part is best left to younger people as all that climbing and running would causes pains in the places we would rather ignore.   Who wants tear gas all over our brand new designer jeans?

As for the younger people, they accept their fates with a mix of apathy and lethargy.   It’s that or they are remarkable stoic.   The thing is if they are this apathetic about their own fates, then for sure as hell they are not about to care too much about us.   Even if we are their parents.

So I started thinking of solutions to our possible future challenges.   I realized we are liable to end up living on communes.  Talk about karma with a capital “K.”   We are going to chip in or in some other way cluster into workable communities where we can put food on the table and take care of each other.   Maybe it’s nuts to think this way, but it is no crazier than believing all those years of working fourteen hours a day would guarantee our economic security.   That is starting to look like it was really insane, wasting our lives, most of us, in jobs we hated.  For trinkets and beads.

I write this never being a big fan of the communes of old.    I had visited a few in those times and it always seemed oddly humorous that the  commune dwellers in search of democracy voted on just about everything from cooking the ubiquitous brown rice to sexual sleeping arrangements.  all that deliberation was just too overwhelming.   I realized there need to be certain arrangements in order for these communes to survive, but some of the rules were more draconian than the rules of straight society.     In straight society you just needed money, and people would tend to leave you alone, if you wanted.  Not at the communes.  It seemed everyone was into everybody else’s business.

I remember living in Santa Fe, New Mexico and sitting in my favorite restaurant as a gaggle of hippies and their gaggle of kids partook in their weekly restaurant experience.   they may have been rich kids looking poor for all I knew.   The men and women were often dressed in muslin.  Dirty muslin.  Dresses, skirts, mens’ shirts.   Their kids, too, were adorned in muslin.  Set off, as they say in the fashion world, by dirty faces.

I forget the name of that particular commune where this group made their home.  It was up in the mountains and over the years was transformed by new owners into Ten Thousand Waves, the Japanese health spa.   Talk about changes and things.   The commune did enjoy the rare distinction of surviving longer than most.

So now here we are, perhaps about to reexamine the commune experience of our youth.  While most Boomers never set foot inside a commune, maybe a good thing, now it may loom as one of the principle means of our survival.   Of course the new communes would hardly resemble the old communes.   For one thing the sex acts would be far more limited.    Even with Viagra.

The good news would be that the residents would be far more accomplished than those who lived  in the communes of  our youth.    Despite all assertions to the contrary, we we largely young and inexperienced, lacking skill sets we have developed over time.   We may actually have a clue and know what we are doing, which back then was often not the case.

Things have changed.  We live in a digital world with the Internet.  Survival and setting up a business or series of business that may bring in income is a lot more realistic than the axiom of merely growing one’s own food and inseminating the barnyard animals.    Power lines reach into even the more rural areas, so running computer and appliances is not that much an issue.   Besides, some of these communes may be in urban areas, even blighted urban areas that can be reclaimed on the cheap.   Or perhaps they will exist in suburbia, in communities that have fallen apart.   Old factories.  Who knows.

Needs will be different from those in our youth.  Once upon a time it seemed like every third hippie woman took up midwifery.  Noble enough but hardly necessary with a group facing its own mortality.   People will need nursing and hospice skills instead.      Some people will need retraining. People will need entertainment.   Some will come over the Internet and through satellite and cable, but if there is leisure time it cannot all be spent in the pursuit of metaphysical enlightenment or listening to a poorly played guitar.

Then there is a matter of benefiting the surrounding communities.   When you have this many skilled Boomers clustered into one area then it is only fitting devote some time to going out into the community.  It wouldn’t hurt to teach the kids to read and write.   Teach classes on real issues, things that we have learned along the way.   Be the mentors we as kids thought others should be.   Maybe put a little something back in the world, even if our experience in it was less than satisfactory.

It can’t hurt.   And after all, it beats working.

When Your Friends Start to Die

headstone1

It is disconcerting to say the least when your friends around you start to die.   Suddenly, you realize you have reached an age when death comes regularly if not yet often.   You are struck by its reality, its finality.   You are struck by your own sense of mortality.

I am not at the age when you expect your friends to pass on.   I’m a Boomer, and at this point in time and medical history, most of us are expected to live into our eighties and even nineties.   But clearly some don’t make it.   For some, life’s little game of Beat the Clock, offers a more truncated existence.   Suddenly we are gone, leaving others to grieve and reflect.

I lost yet another friend, recently.   I had not called him for a couple of months, and when I did I found his business number was being transferred to his Las Vegas office.  I knew right away he was gone.   No way, he would voluntarily leave California to move to Las Vegas.

He had struggled for years, having been inflicted with the ill effects of Agent Orange.   He had come into contact with it while serving in Vietnam.   Agent Orange was reported to cause all sorts of damage and lead to severe illness and death.  Of course, the government denied its ill effects, even while returning GI’s suffered from its symptoms.   My friend had the symptoms.  He had Hodgkin’s Disease and then heart disease, and finally he had trouble breathing without feeling worn down.   It was a sequence of events that he endured with good humor for twenty odd years.

Nevertheless, he managed to become a notable figure in the music industry.   He was but a little guy who never, ever looked the part of the rangy GI.   He was too bookish, near nebbishy.   But he had amazing inner strength and courage the more macho among us could only wish for.   He could literally laugh at life’s consequences and make jokes while staring death in the face.   It wasn’t that he didn’t care; he had a lot to live for.    But he knew in the end it didn’t matter whether he cared or not.   This was the game, these were the cards.   Play what you are dealt with.

As with other friends who have passed away, you think about the slights and spites, the things you wished you hadn’t said.   You feel remorse, even guilty for some of the interchanges, even those you were never called on.   But that soon passes.   Then you remember the times you had.  You remember the fun times, but more importantly you think of the funny times.   You think of the events that were so ridiculous that you knew at the time, while you were laughing, you would be laughing in hindsight many years later.   You think of the shared moments, the small intimacies.   In this case it was all the music concerts we attended for business or otherwise.   In this case it was the backstage parties and the energy of what was then a vibrant music business.   It was fun just being there.

Now all that’s left are the memories and the experiences that have left you wiser, feeling a little dumb for the things you said and did, and imbibed when people still bought record albums.   Remember your friend who has passed away brings inspires the memory of other  people who also made the scene.   Some of them are still around.  Many, too, are gone.

You are left with the feeling of the passage of time and how little time any of use really have on the planet.   We know we are at the back end of life but not close to the point where we are truly old and frail, losing our faculties.   That is yet to come.   Perhaps when we do reach that age, we can be better accepting of our mortality and the inevitable end of our lives.   But now it still seems so distant, and yet here it is so close.   It’s seems unfair, really, when we are still vibrant and capable, viral, even, and still curious about the world.

But there are no guarantees that life will ever be fair.   We can watch all the movies we want that reinforce this notion, but from the moment we step out of the theater and back on the street, we know otherwise.   Life is life.   And then it is over.   For some it just comes earlier than others.   Too early.

Good night, Steve.