Wednesday, December 26, 2007

No Unhappy Returns

Our household, of two, not counting the dog, celebrated a new Christmas tradition yesterday. Well, it'll be a tradition next year, because it worked so spectacularly this first year.

No more guesswork about what the other person might like. We went to a major American shopping mall, gave ourselves a spending limit of $150, and bought presents for ourselves. That is, I bought presents for myself and my wife bought presents for herself. Privately.

This was harder than it appears. You walk through the mall thinking, "Oh, she might like that pashmina shawl." Then you stop yourself and say, "Of course she probably wouldn't. Pashmina is passe, and anyway, I'm shopping for me. Yay."

The deal is, though, that you don't open your own presents. You hand them to your wife Christmas morning and she gets to see the kind of idiotic stuff she wouldn't deign to give you. Sweatshirts in amusing colors. History books by unamusing authors. Then you open the presents she bought for herself and you suffer an insight into her secret desires, ones you could never satisfy during a walk through a mall.

A font program for the Macintosh computer. Face creams, morning and evening. An orange juice squeezer. An ice cream cookbook. Even though it's really a freezebook, I should have thought of that one, but wouldn't have. That's the joy of this Christmas, not to mention the joy of not having to return to the mall.

Also, I loved the sudden grammaticality of saying, "I got me some good presents."

Sweatshirts. Yeah.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Don't Trust Anyone Under 62

The first thing that happened when I retired four years ago was the onset of a strange craving to eat dinner at 5:30 p.m. The second thing was the discovery of new sections of the paper to read: the grocery inserts listing bargains that I might buy for those early dinners. Then I went down to Long's to take advantage of a sale on tuna and mayonnaise, only to find a crowd of senior citizens in a 9 a.m. rush hour of shopping carts. The tuna and mayonnaise were already gone.

That's what old people eat, and that's when I gave up tuna and mayonnaise and switched to a healthier meals, as well as ones not consumed in front of national news drug ads showing old folks ballroom dancing. Kill me when I start ballroom dancing.

A few weeks ago I felt young and joyful again, despite the fact that I was applying for Social Security in a large office slightly less joyous than the average DMV. I felt like one of the first arrivals at Woodstock. After a surprisingly short wait (there must have been a major sale at Long's), I displayed my birth certificate and military discharge to the clerk, told her I was applying two months in advance, as instructed, and proudly said, "I'm one of the first Baby Boomers."

She was duly unimpressed, even though she couldn't have heard it many times before. I was born in early January of 1946, just 10 days after the trigger was pulled on our reviled and ruling generation. Well, 10 days and nine months after the trigger was pulled. Okay, it's bad metaphor for a generation sired by men returning from war.

They may have been the greatest generation, but we are the biggest and I was not waiting for 65 to get a more bountiful yet still pitiful Social Security check. I'm taking the smaller monthly version when I can, at 62. There are a lot of conservatives out there who want to undo the work of FDR and abolish Social Security. There are a lot of young people, liberal, conservative or apolitical, who also want to abolish it. We are a hated generation.

No one wants to pay into a system that subsidizes the marijuana, margaritas, mayonnaise and tunafish of an unruly crowd that once marched in the streets, lost a jungle war and parked crudely painted Volkswagen buses all over the landscape. Never mind how much wealth we created when we later cut our hair and invented iPods, Microsoft, Starbucks, hedge funds, the World Wide Web and Whole Foods.

We may have hated the system, but by now a lot of it is our creation. Still, I like that old-time Social Security system, and I'm taking advantage of it before a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and resentful baristas pry those tiny checks from our cold, gnarly hands. Power to the new old people.