Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 7

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)


I’m a people watcher, always have been, always will be. Maybe it’s from the days of my childhood when I was the youngest of six children and I always got stuck at the end of the table or at the end of the row. Or, worse yet, I was the one straddling the leg of that big old wooden picnic table. Yeah, you can relate.

As my wife about this. No longer do I have to remind her that when we got to a restaurant or the club that I have to be facing the door so I can see who’s coming and going. I don’t know why. Very seldom do we see people we know unless we’re show minimal creativity and go to Mc … no, Wendy’s or a local favorite, Russ’.

That’s why, after volunteering five or six times as a Wayfinder for the annual late-summer show in Grand Rapids called “ArtPrize,” I signed up again. But I’m not just going to be wearing that “Ask Me” vest that Wayfinders wear. One day I’m going to do hospitality at The Hub so I can ask people how they are doing and engage in conversation, and another day I’ve signed up for “Access Art.” THAT I’m going to have to look up so I don’t go in blind. For more information, go to artprize.org because I’m too lazy to try to explain it.

All this is leading to an experience I had on Thursday when I was asked to help out a guy named Tim in the Information Booth on one of the bridges in downtown Grand Rapids.

It all began rather harmlessly when this elderly woman with a walker asked: “You guys answer questions, right?” Of course, we answered “yes.” So she said, “Where can I get a wheelchair? I’m tired of walking.” Our booth was maybe a hundred yards from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, so we suggested they might be able to help. Then she said something about not feeling like walking that far. Then she said something about “have you ever met someone who saw an alien?” Then I said something stupid like “no, but I saw a UFO once.” I heard Tim gasp. Then I saw this little lady lock the brakes on her walker, flop the seat down and say, “Let’s talk.”


She said her name was Mack. Or Mac. Not really sure, but I remember she was wearing a denim jacket, a funky hat (something like I’ve seen on Tim Conway during a Carol Burnett Show sketch), and she talked a lot. She told me how these aliens were floating just outside her third-floor apartment balcony, how they arrived their after floating out of the mist that surrounded a grove of pine trees nearby, how they stared at her for a couple of minutes, then slowy turned away and zipped back into the mist. There were three of them, Mack (or Mac) said. One appeared taller and she viewed him as “the leader.” One was a little shorter than the leader (the “follower?” I thought) and another was much shorter, perhaps an offspring. Mac (or Mack) and the aliens stared at each other for most of the time they hovered there. She said she didn’t dare make any sudden moves, like reaching for a camera (duh) for fear that they would either disappear forever (which they apparently have) or else they would shoot her in fear.

Mack (or Mac) pulled a postcard-sized piece of paper out of her purse, conveniently remembering that she drew a smaller scale image of the poster she drew of the aliens that is at her different apartment. Apparently she moved because she had issues with the landlord at the aliens’ apartment. I almost laughed out loud when Tim, the other guy who was with me in the information booth, let loose with a quiet, but audible snort. Mac (or Mack) described the photo to me, though I was quite capable myself of seeing what was on it. The background was a deep blue, “a blue I had never before seen,” my guest explained, and there appeared to be a sort of archway over the scene … like a rainbow, but without the colors. Then there were some shadowy figures in the foreground, dark, like silhouettes on a shade (I almost started humming a Herman’s Hermits tune here). She described their appearance to me, which was good because I really could not see on her picture what she was describing to me in her mind.

Then Mac (or Mack) realized it was getting close to 6 p.m. and she wanted to head over to Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids because one of the local TV stations is broadcasting all of its news and local shows from there during our annual festival called ArtPrize. (Look it up, I’m still too lazy to describe it.) Seems Mack (Mac?) has the hots for Kyle Underwood, one of our local meterologists. When my new friend (Tim’s words, not mine) left, I quickly texted one of the female meterologists there that I know, telling her that if Kyle was on the set to “run fast and run far.” When I explained why, Ellen Bacca said, “Oh, if someone is going to bug Kyle, we’ll be happy to watch.”

Anyway, the rest of my ArtPrize day was uneventful — hell, what could top THAT? — and when my shift was over, I headed back to the volunteer lounge. Apparently, Tim was still entertained by what he had seen as he shared our story with everyone who was up there. Yes, there was comments and jokes about Mack/Mac and aliens; luckily, I’m easy to get along with.

Unfortunately, Mack stole 30 minutes of my time when I could have been helping people find their bearings in downtown Grand Rapids. Maybe on my death bed, the doctors will find an extra 30 minutes of oxygen for me before I die.

Oh, by the way, I told Mack if she DID enter her aliens’ poster in ArtPrize next year, I would vote for her. I said nothing about finding her and looking at it, but I did promise her a vote.

Now, if only I could find out what she had been smoking ………

Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 5

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)

When last I left you, I told you it was the weekend and you should expect nothing profound. I didn’t give you anything profound because I was tired from a very busy Thursday, which I never even mentioned.

I’ll skip all the acronyms and the names that go with them except for one. I boarded a bus with my wife and some other support staff and a whole bunch of disabled men and women for a trip from Grand Rapids to Lansing to gather at the Capitol building to celebrate 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA [see, an acronym]) and remind the Senate and the House members that funding must continue for this great program.

Oddly, the Capitol building is being renovated and a couple of the previous handicapped entrances were closed, forcing us to walk in through what could best be described as “basement” doors, which necessitate riding an elevator up to the second floor(s) to see the Senate chambers and the House chambers. I was along to be a P.A. (Personal Assistant) for a guy (not) named “Bill,” who, in the course of our conversations, informed me that he was 53 years old and very up-to-date on the current state of the Detroit Tigers. Don has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair; my task, other than to make sure he got from Point A to Point B, was to help him when he needed the bathroom. Unlike my guy “Sam,” who doesn’t have an issue when I hold the urinal cup for him to pee in, “Bill” had me lift him from his chair, help him drop trou and put him on the toilet. As I waited the first time for him to go, he looked up and said, “Could I have a little privacy?”

Of course, I gave it to him, so I stood outside the stall until I heard “OK, I’m done.” I didn’t make that same mistake the next two times. In face, because he’s about 100 pounds lighter than “Sam,” on our third trip to the john, I simply pushed his foot rests out of the way, wrapped my arms around his chest and lifted and moved him to the toilet.

Life continues to be a learning experience.


On Monday and Wednesday I was back to work with “Sam,” but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. He missed last week Wednesday with what he said was a cold, but he was still not his normal cheerful self this week Monday and Wednesday. About an hour before his class was scheduled to end, in fact, he tried calling his mom because of what he called “gastric issues.” Thank goodness he didn’t have to go No. 2 like he did at an earlier class. I don’t wanna do that again.


ArtPrize, an open competition for artists worldwide, began this week Wednesday in Grand Rapids. I entered the competition twice in the past five years mostly for fun, but now, especially since I’ve got more time, I’ve signed up to volunteer a number of times as a “Wayfinder,” one of those folks who wears an “ASK ME” bib. A couple of other times, I’m going to work in “The Hub,” a site whose title is self-explanatory, greeting people who walk in the door. It’s great fun for a people watcher like me. Plus, the other volunteers are quite awesome. Yes, it’s crowded in downtown Grand Rapids, but it’s a good thing.

This is year seven of ArtPrize and I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun.

Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: the Weekend

Don’t expect anything profound because my retirement weekends won’t be a lot different from the weekends when I was working, except my wife and I might take off for weekends away once in a while. And I’m STILL not going to waste my time watching the Detroit Lions or the NFL …. Not For Lee.

It’s still baseball season and college football is soooooo much more exciting.

Either way, thanks for stopping.


Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Day 4

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which where I live began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)

My normal Friday, not unlike my normal Monday through Thursday, when I was still working, began with a 6:11 alarm that would get me through to 6:20 after a gentle push (yeah, right) of the snooze button. Ten minutes in the bathroom (hey, I’m not a morning person) got me into the kitchen by 6:30 where I would lollygag over breakfast, e-mails and facebook until about 7. Then I would get dressed and be on the road by 7:15, often with a stop for a soda or coffee on my way to work.

I would usually arrive by 7:30-ish, chat with my coworkers for a bit and the students would start coming in by 7:40-ish.

Like I said before, it’s not like I’ve been sleeping in until 9 or 10 every morning. Not this morning, either. One of our bedroom windows is directly above the gate that allows access to our backyard. Exactly at 7:30 we heard the familiar “click-squeak” of the handle being lifted and the gate being swung open. Even before I got to the slider opening up to our deck in the dining area, our granddaughter was knock-knock-knocking on the glass door. As I opened the door to let them in, she reminded me that younger brother had to be to his elementary school by 8:20, then she headed back to her mom’s car to be dropped off at the high school.

Since I got my “Sam” money and my wife got her regular paycheck, we had bills to pay; that never changes. But since I’m no longer working, the paycheck to which I have become accustomed for the past 17-plus years was NOT there. I’ll get my first pension check the same day my wife does, but it’s going to be missing a couple of hundred dollars because of health insurance premiums. And my first SS check won’t come until the third Wednesday of October, so we’re going to have to do a bit of belt-tightening until we get settled into a new routine.

I DO work as a “stringer” (independent contractor, per se) for a local newspaper and with high school having started I’ll be getting at least one football game a week. And with Grand Valley State University playing almost every other week at home, I’ve got that going for me, too. And the West Michigan Whitecaps, the team I talked about the other night, won tonight so they’re playing Saturday afternoon. Woo hoooo!

I did a high-school game Friday night, in fact. The team I was covering scored on its second play of the game so I was hoping for something good to write about. Unfortunately for them, they did not score again until the final minute of the fourth quarter and lost 31-13. So, I’ve seen three games and only one of our “area” teams won.

The only highlight of the evening was that we got to look at a rainbow from the pressbox for most of the first quarter. In the third quarter, a train came through on the rail line that runs right behind the pressbox. As I love trains so much — the home where I was born was directly across the street from a railyard — I had to step out for a couple of minutes to watch it go by. I waved. The engineer blew the whistle. The guy videotaping the game for the visiting team watched with me. It was a good night, except for my stop at a McDonald’s where I ordered a shake, then had to wait almost three minutes because no one seemed to know who was responsible for what. I guess that’s what happens when you have high-school kids working on weekends.

I stayed up too late playing “Words With Friends.” No reason to get up early Saturday.

Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Day 3

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which where I live began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)

I was warned that I would not have problems staying busy, but no one said most of my busy-ness would not be of my doing. Take today, for example. When the phone rings at 10:45 a.m. — yes, I was up — that’s not always a good sign, especially when you’re not expecting any calls from the likes of a Sears serviceman or the guy who is remodeling your bathroom.

Granddaughter, age 14, a ninth-grader: “Grandpa, can you go to McDonald’s and get my some chicken nuggets, fries and a Sprite?” Grandpa: “Um, why?” Granddaughter: “I don’t have any money in my account yet and I’m hungry.”

Ah, yes, I forgot about this “School of Choice” thing and the fact that there’s a lot of paperwork involved. My boys have been out of school for so long, combined with the fact the my wife did all the dirty work when they were in school, that I forgot the tediousness of it.

There is a young couple we have befriended, partly because they were friends of our son and his wife who have since moved out west with a good job opportunity. I like them. They seem to be seeking direction and they’ve joined us at church a couple of times. One time I even brought her several bags of groceries when her mom found me on facebook and told me their fridge was empty. When I got over there with milk and eggs and other essentials, about all they had in the refrigerator was a can of pop and maybe two slices of cheese. I was amazed.

I’m letting them use our washer and dryer once a week as needed. Sort of reminds me of my college days when my wife was working full-time and I was going to school full-time. On Tuesdays, when I did not have morning classes, I would go to mom’s house and spend part of the day with her while doing my laundry. Pay it forward. It’s a good thing.

Anyway, I brought my granddaughter lunch, then had to go back a couple of hours later to pick her up, then had to go to an elementary school about 90 minutes after that to pick up her younger brother, my grandson (duh).

THEN about 90 minutes after that we had to go to pick up my wife from work because one of our sons, who is currently living with us, took my wife’s car to Lansing for a meeting with his new boss. Long story short, I had to scramble this morning to make some adjustments to some savings’ accounts in order to NOT have to pay an overdraft fee on my checking account. But when I picked up my wife, she handed me the check I was expecting for working with “Sam” because the guy who runs that program got an RTS (Return to Sender), but knew he was going to bump into my wife during the day. On the way home, we stopped at the bank to make doubly sure the account was OK, then decided to stop at a local Real Estate branch office for a “Customer Appreciation Meal” of fried chicked, baked beans, potato salad, baked beans, rolls, baked beans and ice cream. (Yes, I had three helpings of baked beans.)

I had singing practice at church tonight for Sunday’s service. The wife of one of our missionaries is playing for us as her husband is going to give the message, so we had an extended practice as we adjusted to each other’s styles. The only complaint: She slowed everything down soooooooo much, but we’ll probably adjust that on Sunday when our drummer shows up.

I sat in the car for about 10 minutes after I arrived home to listen to the playoff game involving the Whitecaps. They won. Yay. I get to go to another game Saturday.

Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Day 2

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which where I live began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is Part 1 of what I hope to be a continuing series of “Life After Work(ing).”)

Don’t get me wrong, I AM still working — just not full-time anymore. In fact, I worked at two different jobs today.

The first, which runs Monday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., involves a young man in a wheelchair who has Cerebral Palsy. He’s taking a three-hour long computer class each of those two days and, because he’s in a motorized wheelchair, he needs assistance going to the bathroom. Check that: he doesn’t need HELP taking a leak or anything like that, but he does use a hand-held urinal, except that in his condition, he can’t hold it. I have to.

When I first met him and preceded him into the handicapped stall of the bathroom where his class meets, I asked: “How does this work?” He said, “Simple. I take out my junk, you hold the bottle and I go.” For that I’m getting $20 an hour, three hours a day, two days a week. Most of the time he only pees once; a couple of times he has gone twice. And once he did, in his words, “No. 2.” I prefer things like “taking a poop,” “dropping a deuce,” or, “taking a dump.” I asked the guy who runs this program if lifting and wiping was worth a little more. He said yes, but I haven’t learned yet whether or not it is. The guy was supposed to have mailed the check last week (today is Wednesday, by the way), but I found out he forgot my ZIP code, so he’s going to give my wife the check tomorrow when they get together for a regional meeting for their consumers.

So I worked my three hours today. “Sam,” as I’ll call him, only peed once. The rest of the time I was busy on my laptop, being occupied with my two newest hobbies. The first is collecting autographs, but it’s different from when I used to send out Sports Illustrated covers seeking signatures. That got kind of costly because, to keep them in nice condition, I would fold them just once and mail them out in oversized envelopes. I sold most of them — I had over 360 of them last time I counted — and bought a new big-screen, high-def, 39-inch TV for us a couple of years ago on New Year’s Day.

Since I love baseball so much, I decided I would send out baseball cards instead. There’s a dollar store not far from us that sells cards in packs of 20. Yes, the cards have been repacked and there are no Mickey Mantles or Stan Musials. The cards are mostly from the 80s and 90s, many of whom I am familiar with or have seen play. I prefer, however, to send out older cards to older players. For example, on three different occasions, I purchased 10 cards from 1960 at a hobby shop I frequent. In one batch of 10, I discovered that three of the players featured had died, but I still sent out the other seven and got six of them back. A couple of them even had notes responding to questions I asked; and one guy, who played in the first game I ever attended as a child, gave me his phone number and invited me to call sometime if I ever wanted to talk baseball. Cool.

Today I addressed 10 envelopes and wrote 10 notes. Now I have to wait for my “Sam” check to arrive so I can buy stamps. I was going gung-ho for a while, but now I’m trying to limit myself to 10 a week as stamps come in “books” of 20.

My other “new” hobby is playing “Words With Friends” on facebook. The internet connection is the building isn’t the best, so it moves kind of slow. I’m having good games with friends Chris and Mary and also with my middle son, Ryan. I usually win.

Today’s mail was late, but three of the envelopes contained signed cards. The other contained two cards I sent out to an older player along with a note from his son telling me his dad passed away in August, 2014. The web site where I get my addresses has not been updated. I feel bad.

I worked my other job tonight — sportswriter for The Holland Sentinel. The local Class A baseball team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, qualified for the playoffs and they hosted the first, first-round game tonight. They won, 5-2, over the Fort Wayne TinCaps and play again Thursday. If they win the series, the second round begins Saturday. At home. I hope they win.

The Lee Chronicles: Logging my first year of retirement

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which where I live began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is Part 1 of what I hope to be a continuing series of “Life After Work(ing).”)

For a reason I will not divulge right here, right now, I have not worked at my job as an educator since the middle of November, 2014, so getting ready for retirement was more of an easing-into for me rather than a leap of faith. I was not forced into retiring; as a matter of fact, I had planned to make this move before the 2014-15 school year, but my wife talked me out of it. She said if I could handle four more years, I would be able to collect my full Social Security benefit.
But things happened and, I repeat, even though I was not forced to retire, the time was right to walk away from teaching.
As I have not been in the classroom since the previous November, I did not approach Opening Day, 2015, with any sort of anticipation or trepidation. I worked the past 15-plus years in Special Education, a program whose summer “Extended School Year” was eliminated in Michigan as of last year, so this summer was no different than last summer. I didn’t have to go to the classroom, but because my pay was pro-rated over 12 months instead of nine months, I still got paid every two weeks.
My Opening Day was different than past openers, but no different than any weekday of the past three months. But instead of sitting home and going over my “honey do” list, I drove my son to Lansing. He quit his job in favor of something less stressful, so he had to go clean out his office, then go to the county clerk’s office to file some personal papers. Then we headed home.
Well, we headed TOWARD home. On westbound I-96 just a few miles from where we entered at I-496, traffic was at a standstill. I mean, it was a three-lane parking lot. I remember seeing construction on that side as we headed into Lansing, but I’m thinking there must have been some sort of accident to stop traffic dead.
So we turned around through the “Emergency Vehicles Only” escape route, and found ourselves on Grand River Avenue, heading west to connect with M-100, which reconnected with I-96.
But wait! There’s a McDonald’s, let’s eat.
We got back on the freeway, but had to stop at the Lowell exit for gas as the “Low Fuel” light and the accompanying bing-bing-bing” alerted us that we might not make it home without stopping.
The rest of the ride home was uneventful. Later that night it turned eventful as my son drove the car back to Lansing to grab a couple of things he forgot, then returned home again Wednesday morning, only to inform me that we were low on gas again, but he could not get his ATM card to work and the Low Fuel light was already on before he got to our driveway. (Sigh.)
And that was it. The evening was routine as my wife and I watched the second semi-final of “America’s Got Talent” and I voted for two of the singers, “The Professional Regurgitator” and the ventriloquist. (No names here because I’m too lazy to look them up.)
My wife went to bed and I stayed up past 12:30 to watch (my) Detroit Tigers pull out an 8-7 win over Tampa in the 13th inning. That’s something I could not or would not do if I had to work in the morning. Ahhhhhhhhh.
I think I might like this new lifestyle.