In 2012, I returned to Washington State from my eight years of incarceration in Florida, doing my penance for trying to find love in all the wrong places.

Retirement seemed like a dream back then. It was so far away. It’s what old people did, not something I needed to think about. I still had a lot to give to the working world. I wasn’t one of those old people who peaked long ago in their career and were marking time until the day they had a slice of cake, received plaudits from their coworkers, and by the time the next work day began, all evidence that they ever worked at the place was erased as a new nameplate goes on the door.

But that day is beginning to approach for me. The intervening years have flown by and now my retirement date is looming on the horizon. I can see it clearly now and as I head toward it, like a billboard once way off in the distance, it grows closer and closer by the day.

It’s an illusion of course. The days didn’t get shorter and no one, at least to my knowledge, shaved months off the Gregorian calendar. Though I think I could argue rightfully that COVID shaved three years off of all our lives. But I digress.

I am 22 months away from the “big day.” If Congress hadn’t short-sheeted us years ago, I would be retirement age next month. But I have to wait until I am 67 years and 8 months, a somewhat arbitrary date that holds no melodic significance to it. When it’s time for me to be given the ol’ heave-ho, it will be February. Not the anniversary of my start date with the state. Not my birthday. Not even the end of the fiscal year, which all arrive in April, May and June of 2025.

Nope. I can head for the old folk’s home in February, the dead of winter. Sure, I can stay longer, but I don’t get any bonus rounds for it. I don’t get a single more dime from Social Security and my state pension will go up about $3. In 2025 dollars, I think that will be worth about 4¢ given the rate of inflation.

Where am I going with all this? Well, I’ve managed to make a living making stuff up all these years. From 1985 on, I have worked at various companies and organizations, including my own company, and people have paid me to make stuff up. I can’t believe that this “unique set of skills” I was born with actually has/had value in the workplace.

I mean, who gets to make stuff up for a living? I’ve worked at some pretty uppity places that have let me run amok, often without any supervision. I worked at a bank at one time. I convinced them to convert the Museum of Flight into an airport for their annual meeting. I renamed the bank Pacific First Air and convinced the bank’s security team to wand everyone at the “gate.” I didn’t have real wands so I gave each of them one of those plug-in BBQ wands. Another time I convinced them to do a golf tourney for charity with holes on all of the floors of corporate HQ. And I talked them into the first Intranet back in 1991, using shtml, the predecessor of html and the web we’ve all come to know.

At a retail software company, I got them to do a mystery theme for the introduction of DOS 6 with my alter-ego, Brewster McCabe as the private eye. He was charged with figuring out who who stole all the sixes in the world (It was Bill Gates, by the way). I even got to spend about three months writing, producing and rehearsing a parody of A Christmas Carol starring the management team. I’m not sure who did my regular job. I was too busy being a playwright.

The state has been equally gracious over the last 11 years, letting me run with my often wild ideas. Many of them have transformed the way the state is perceived in the international marketplace as a place to do business and invest. Others have helped small businesses start, grow and succeed. It’s been an amazing run to be sure so far.

And now, there’s just 22 months to go. I know a lot of retirees who never thought of what their second or third act was going to be. It was as if it came as a complete surprise, even though we all know the day will come when we no longer punch the clock. They didn’t really come up with something to do in the “afterlife” known as retirement. Instead, they watch TV, bury their pets, or read books that are still related to what they did in their work-a-day life.

I am not casting stones at any of this, by the way. It’s just not me. Assuming I don’t stroke out down the road, I will still be blessed/cursed with this imaginative, creative mind that wanders all over the place, connects dots with lines that shouldn’t connect to anything, and if one were to look inside my head, they’d see a little desk surrounded by file cabinets filled with random thoughts, obscure trivia and rare facts. Curiosity sits at the tiny desk in the middle, considering it all separately and at once.

So, here I sit in a bit of an existential retirement crisis. Most people transition to a favorite hobby. My hobby – making stuff up – will have been my career for 40 years before I punch my final clock. I have done so many creative things in my work life that others could never have pulled off (and I still can’t believe I did), that being creative in my private life where I – not my employer – has to foot the bill for my crazy ideas, seems a bit daunting.

I still have way more ideas than I have time. I have way less money than some of the ideas will need to realize. And I have a wife who rightfully tempers some of the wilder ones so that we don’t end up living in a house that looks like a pirate ship.

Where this all leads, no one really knows. Perhaps I will never know. There will come a day in the not-too-far future when I am no longer part of the workforce, at least not in the way that I have since I graduated from school. Since August 1981 I have been unemployed for only three months by choice and even while I was “coasting” I started a non-profit. So this extended unemployment holds a lot of uncertainty for me.

In my continual need to make it even more mysterious, I am already contemplating how I am going to spend/fill my time until the day there is a knock on the door and I find it’s not Amazon but the Grim Reaper, and he’s making a pickup on a No Return.

Who knows where it will lead? A new company? A sudden love of knitting? Faux cannons along the entryway where the ports lift as you walk by them on your way to the door? Or a new love of The Wonder Years where I wonder what life would have been like if I had met Danica McKellar (Winnie) and we had fallen madly in love.

Before that sounds creepy, Danica/Winnie is the same age as my ex in Florida. That seemed like a great plan back then. Marry someone who was 17 years my junior so she would continue to work long after I retired and foot the bill for all my wild ideas. A marriage made in heaven. She’s gone all day making money. I’m home all day spending it.

Don’t worry, I’ve moved on from this plan as it was just plain crazy now. Besides, I hear Valerie Bertinelli is available again.

In the Emerald City, spending time on my own Wonder (what I will do) Years,

  • Robb