by Richard Boettger…….
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” When asked this as kids, we understood that what we would “be” is actually what we would do to earn money. That is, what earns money is what defines who we are as human beings.
Well, all of us are grown up now, and in fact the majority of my crowd have long ago quit doing what we used to do to earn money. So what are we now? What, or who, are you, Dear Reader, now that you are no longer a professor, mayor, lawyer, or businessperson?
“I’m retired” doesn’t cut it. It would be like answering “I work” back before retirement. “I’m retired” covers everyone from my dear sweet Cynthia, who is just about the laziest retired person you can be, to people like myself who are far busier now than we were when we held our, for me, “Professor,” “Author,” and “Talk Radio Host” jobs.
How can we encapsulate in a word or two my wife Cynthia’s current life? She spent 20 years as a Coast Guard wife and then 17 as the City’s Public Information Officer. Around here, it’s easy to describe her as the former PIO, as most still remember her as such from her thousands of radio broadcasts. She was great at her job, and identified with it, actually using her Magna Cum Laude English degree.
And now she is really nailing retirement. She groks the concept. She “works” for an hour a week, volunteering at the Garden Club faithfully every Monday morning in their plant nursery. Other than that, she:
- Sleeps 11-12 hours/night
- Puts on her face for close to an hour
- Spends 2 hours reading newspapers in the morning
- Makes herself a small tasty breakfast and lunch
- Spends an hour or so puttering around her giant kitchen and garden
- Spends two hours reading periodicals and the internet
- Watches a little junk TV
- Makes us a healthy and delicious dinner about half the time (delivery or restaurants the rest)
- Hollers at the news with me for a couple hours
- Sits on the porch with me for sunset
- Walks the neighborhood with me, our “postprandial peregrination” (again, English major)
- Watch something with me like the Olympics or BBC’s Death in Paradise
- Does her evening “ablutions” for an hour before hitting the sack for her big night.
So what do we call Cynthia? Her inspiration was the locally famous Connie Gilbert. Connie told Cynthia that when she retired from her high-pressure New York job, she spent a full year chilling out on her canal-front deck looking at the water every day. Cynthia had me buy her a ratty Duval Street tee-shirt that said, “I’m retired! Don’t ask me to do a damn thing!” (She didn’t want to do any more PR work, which local groups would have loved her to do.)
Cynthia really took Connie and the t-shirt seriously. But when Connie’s year ended, she got real busy again, busier than me, and is in fact one of my five most inspirational locals for my own efforts. Cynthia never put that first year in the rear-view mirror. Ten years in, she’s doing our in-town version of looking at the water.
I admire her. I’m actually envious, especially watching her sleep into hour 11 after I got up at 4:30 done with my usual five. She is a wonderful wife, sibling, and friend, generous with her time and money, caring for those she loves. But what do we call her and those enlightened retirees with similar lives, in three words or less? “Life enjoyer”? “Golden ager”? “Layabout”? “Roses smeller”? Help me out here! Maybe there is a word in a foreign language.
I have come up with a phrase that goes at least halfway towards describing most of my friends. They are “Do-Gooders.” Besides Connie, I have four other close friends who have inspired me with their constant and successful volunteer efforts on behalf of our common good. They were a public servant/political leader, marketing CEO, business tycoon, and corporate executive. I’ll only give the name of the last, the late Nils Muench, as the others are such Do-Gooders that they would blush to be praised in public, part of their Goodness being Modesty. (Connie, having served as both the Best Man and Maid of Honor at our wedding, does not get the blush pass.)
These four work daily at philanthropy, raising money for charities, sitting on important boards for endless hours, chairing large and vital non-profits, or putting in countless hours face-to-face with some of the most disadvantaged members of our community. They are my champions. Whenever I think for a minute I should take my pedal off the metal, I remember them and realize I’m only going half their speed.
I know a dozen other Do-Gooders who work about as much as I do. Many get recognized as “Unsung heroes” by our community foundation. Other friends just do a relatively little bit of volunteer work, say at the cinema, or being an officer at a single nonprofit. They do more than Cynthia, but their life is not devoted to public service as with us Do-Gooders. I know a retired PhD corporate chemist who, in his retirement, pours wine twice a week at one of the local wine bars.
For some, their recreational passion might define who they are. I know many who do not do much or any volunteer work, but who could accurately call themselves “Golfer,” “Tennis Player,” “Fisherman,” or “World Traveler,” as they do so much of it, and so well, that it compares with their former professional identities when they worked.
Along those lines, I was for decades one of those “Tennis Players,” until I gave it up to try to become what I would most like to have been my whole life, a **Singer.** I felt I was headed in that direction, having publicly sung regularly as a soloist with the Keys Chorale, my church, and Saint Larry Smith. But after my crash and burn last February at the Aqua Idol competition, I quit public performing. I still sing every day, but with a strange obsession with developing a high tenor range, something called “head voice.” I am a natural low bass, so to get up to E5 with Neil Young is three and a half octaves.
I find this to be such an exhilarating challenge that I spend about an hour a day at it without any public performances, not even to my wife and friends. This is mainly because it is so hard it is extremely unlikely I will ever succeed—that is, even at karaoke I would embarrass myself. I don’t mind the long odds, and don’t fear failure—that actually gives the enterprise more juice. I may, indeed, never perform, enjoying both the presumption of unusual talent and the fear of likely failure so much that I don’t want to lose it. I’d rather enjoy my illusion than risk another harsh reality check like Aqua Idol.
So there is no way I can now call myself a **Singer.** Sigh. So what am I? What do I “do”? Well, I still write for local publication. I am a civic and political activist and watchdog, both with the writing and with actual or threatened lawsuits. What I am proudest of in the last ten years, though, was not my successful lawsuit to re-open the cemetery gates or my Ethics triumph over George Neugent, but rather saving from foreclosure the homes of three friends with small children, which took hours and months of confronting the banks.
I still actually do some work for money, beyond my retirement and investment income. I’ve been a landlord, owning affordable Old Town rental housing, gratified that my tenants have had to work one only job and don’t need a car.
And I have been doing tax and financial advising. When I retired down here in 1996 at age 48, I had quit my best, most prestigious (but not yet highest-paying) career-type job as a talk radio host for a Clear Channel, 25-state Texas station. But I realized no amount of pay for any work I wanted to do again would match the value of managing my then-wife’s immense old-money 8-figure inherited fortune. Her grandma had blown a third of grandma’s pass-through by ignoring the since-closed Gallo exemption. I realized there were millions to be saved by just managing the taxation and investments of money already in the account.
While studying her (then, our) taxes, I found I liked tax work in general. Much of it parallels my youthful past as a poker pro. In both, there are some hard and fast rules and a vital amount of bluffing. In tax, it is not so much bluffing as it is navigating the grey areas.
At first, I actually did a fair amount of tax preparation for regular people. That didn’t last long. One of our clients inherited a nine-figure fortune, and I started handling that. I then came to work only on large and complex problems, usually for the rich, but for some pro-bono poor who were getting screwed, mainly by being illegally paid as independent contractors. As I said, you only came to my desk if you won the lottery or faced jail time (I indeed had both). A big thing became advising mostly women who came into a mid-six figures, and calculating how well they could live if they didn’t let their broker milk their accounts on his own behalf.
Every year presents new challenges. This year it’s the sale of Master Limited Partnerships and developing the guidelines for an effective Affordable Care Act complex trust. but the biggest challenge this year was, due to a colleague’s illness and my getting a much bigger and nicer office, spending five days having to do regular returns.
I almost quit. Ugh! Doing Earned Income Credit and Affordable Care Act schedules just plain sucks. But I realized this is such a great situation 9 months of the year, when I keep my own 2-hour/day schedule, that I would stick it out.
So if anybody is still reading, here is why I have written this column. The most bizarre element of the whole SUFA-George Neugent mission is that my winning three Florida Ethics Commission convictions against the long-time County Commissioner has perversely threatened, not enhanced my “brand”. This is mostly due to the what I now call the Florida Unethical Commission, as I wrote about last week and will detail in future columns. They whitewash public officials’ egregious misdeeds while besmirching those rare citizens who trust them to protect the public good. In the future, I’ll explain why going to them is like, when a woman in India is raped and goes to the local police station to report it, then the cops gang-rape her.
The Unethical Commission gives the guilty Neugents of Florida insidious ammunition to smear their accusers. They get to write press releases that make the accusers look petty, and the poohbahs as gracefully tolerating the pesky gadflies.
I know this is true in my case because two people, one a friend and long-time neighbor, the other a writing fan I’ve never met, used the same language to react to the daily paper’s report on Neugent’s conviction: “Boy, Rick, you’ve really got a hard-on for George Neugent, hey?” And the daily’s report was by far the fairest of all the Keys’ newspaper and radio reports—they alone actually called me for a quote, and printed my letter to the editor correcting the clear lies in the County’s press release defending George.
OMG.. How can anyone defend himself from the charge of having a “hard-on”???? In fact, in the archetypal scenario of my championing SUFA, the beautiful, saintly Linda Gottwald is the Fair Damsel in Distress, I am the White Knight in Shining Armor, and George is the—oh, here’s where it falls apart: George is so NOT the Fire-Breathing Dragon. Look at plump, soft George, and read his embarrassing emails. He is more like Barney, the chubby, purple kid’s cartoon dinosaur. If I stabbed him (with my “hard-on” sword?) I would expect him to deflate with a cloud of stinky gas, despoiling the scenario completely.
All the Keys media except us and the daily simply repeated the press release, making me look petty, George noble. One, though, added the strange description of me as “a tax preparer.” Where in the hell did they get this? Less than 1% of my lifetime income is at all related to my retirement job. It’s like calling the PhD chemist a “bartender” because he pours wine two evenings a week.
The good news is it triggered my thinking about the topic of this essay. Who are we? Who is Cynthia? Who are you? I had a meeting with one of my four living mentor/inspirations. She said you cannot defend slurs, because it only causes the slur to be repeated. She said, create a new reputation. That is what I have attempted to do here.
In fact, my current main identity is as a kidney donor. It takes no talent to donate a kidney. But it is a subset of being a Do-Gooder. I realize, however my Mom raised me, it made me always want to be, in her eyes, a “Good Boy.” Geez Louise, was she good at being a Mom. All my life I have wanted women to tell me I am a Good Boy. In everything I do now, that is pretty much my main goal, just to earn those magic words I first got from her.
In that way, I am pretty much like your dog. There is nothing I want more than to be a Good Boy. I would most like to be described as a **Singer.**, but nope, that’s not happening. So if you want to label me, I believe I do warrant, “Rick Boettger, local resident and Good Boy.”