Why we work
Stanley Bing speaks for all boomers when he says 'they'll have to pry my BlackBerry from my cold, dead hands.'
(Fortune Magazine) -- I'm back. And it has come to my attention that in my absence my space on this page was taken over by a jejune young reportee of mine -- called himself Ted. Issued a lot of complaints about me. Like, I give him degrading chores to do, make him work too hard, and so forth. Cowardly little shrimp even used a fake name to throw me off the scent. I don't know any Ted. What kind of weenie hides behind a pseudonym, anyway?
But all that is nugatory. One thing Ted got into on my page, ladies and gentlemen, was the not so unique notion that it was high time that a big old boomer like me got out of the way and let some sunshine in on the spiky dudes coming up the ramp.
It is not the first time I've heard this drivel. And since I've just returned from two weeks away, I thought now might be a good time to tell all the little Teds out there why they'll have to pry my BlackBerry from my cold, dead hands.
First of all, there's the money. We need it. We have kids in college, which costs about 60 grand a year. After they graduate, they still seem to need money. My daughter, for instance, just informed me that no way can she pay for her car insurance. She likes having a car. So I'm paying her insurance. And then there's divorce, which is just about the worst destroyer of value since the Time Warner/AOL merger. So right now we're just hitting the kind of stride that will produce some level of comfort in, say, a decade's time.
Next there's the fact that most of the benefits of retirement have evaporated. Guys like me used to have a pension after 25 years of work. Now I've got some kind of horseshit stock-investment plan that was supposed to pay off big -- until the bottom went out of the market in the 1990s. When I retire, if I have to depend on the company, I'll have to feast at Applebee's. I have no net. I'll have to work till I drop just to keep myself in T-bones. And I've gotten to like that kind of meat. Rare, usually. Blood rare.
Then there are the perks. They don't even begin to kick in till you're damn sick and tired of the daily bump and grind. Just when that little boat bobbing in the marina begins to beckon, they start tossing you the tasty tidbits -- the cars, the platinum plastic, the standard rooms that blossom into ridiculous suites. Where before you and your legitimate business companion might each enjoy a few modest draughts of wine by the glass, now you're cleared to peruse the genuine wine list, the ones with actual bottles on it. You think we want to give that up? Would you?
Say we did want to bail. Say, in fact, that we know there's more to life than being a hamster on a fancy wheel. How much money do you think we'll be leaving on the table? Let me tell you: a lot. Because as the corporation was crushing our pensions, it was offering us a variety of inducements that kick into place about now. I personally can't get out of here for another five to ten years without feeling like a dork (a sensation I try to avoid).
Then, finally, there's the professional life that awaits us if we do step off the fast conveyor belt into the unknown. As in, none. There are no opportunities. If we go, you can stick a fork in every one of us. Because we'll be done.
Those, believe it or not, are the upsides of sticking around. I haven't even given you the downsides of going. And wow, where do I begin? I think about my father-in-law, age 60 and ten years into his luxurious golden years, tying his shoelaces one morning in the retirement community of his dreams. "I'll tell you one thing," he said to me. "Never retire." Then he looked at his shoes and said it again. "Never retire." Then he went out for his mall walk.
I think about my mother, who was looking forward to quiet years of doing nothing, who then had to endure 20 years of quietly doing nothing. How many ballets and museums and antique shows can you go to? A hundred? A thousand? Bah!
I think about the guys I know who still eat at Michael's but are in the back room now. The food's the same there. But the air is so much thicker. I know that they look so freshly groomed and plastered because they got dressed maybe half an hour ago. Until then they were in their jammies. And when they say hello, there is a sad and greedy glimmer in their eyes, eyes now drained of the sharp focus that the press of business imparts.
And most of all, Ted, I think about all the geezers who pass unnoticed into the next world right after they let up on the killer schedule. I'm not going to go all maudlin about it, because this is a magazine for people who are hard and resolute and feel as little as possible. But business is life, Ted. And us? We're just not ready for the afterlife. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
STANLEY BING's latest book, 100 Bullshit Jobs ... And How to Get Them (Collins), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.