Between the two of us, my wife Roxanne and I worked for 70 years in the hard-knock world of corporate America. We got up at the crack of dawn, drove thousands of accumulated miles to our offices, sat in innumerable mind-numbing meetings, put up with irrational bosses and unresponsive employees and generally paid our dues and then some. Then suddenly it was our time to relax. God had blessed us with the health and resources to retire at a relatively“young” age and enjoy the good life.
And this is exactly what I did, while Roxanne continued to work for an additional year. Thus I was left to my own devices during this first year of retirement and I thoroughly enjoyed this time. Yes, I admit I am a loner and love the time I spend alone in my cave. I happily spent these twelve months reading, writing and just kicking back and enjoying the solitude.
Then Roxanne retired and things changed drastically. We had always known we had different personalities: I can entertain myself for hours on end; while Roxanne enjoys the stimulation of outside activities. While we were gainfully employed, these differences did not bother us; in fact they often complimented each other.
For example, we love to travel and in this endeavor our different characters meshed well. Roxanne’s need for stimulation pushed us to new adventures and my “methodical” (Roxanne uses a slightly different word) planning helped turn these dreams into reality.
But now we found ourselves spending twenty-four hours a day in each other’s company. While we love each other deeply, even the most compatible personalities would wear on each other under these circumstances. On a typical morning I would be happily typing away at my computer when Roxanne would walk up behind me and ask about my plans for the rest of the day. I would gleefully reply I planned to spend several hours cleaning the fuzz from between my computer keys. Then assuming I had any strength left after this stimulating activity, I was going to take on the massive job of alphabetizing our DVD’s. For some reason Roxanne would always walk away shaking her head and mumbling to herself after these conversations.
Then one fateful day as I was happily revising one of my many spreadsheets (this one happened to be titled Blue Items Bought on Tuesdays), Roxanne walked into our den and said we had to talk. Now as every married man knows, when his wife uses these dread words – “we have to talk” – it means BIG trouble. Ever since Eve cornered Adam in the Garden of Eden with an apple in her hand and said “we have to talk,” these male-female conversations have resulted in much pain and expense. At this point a smart man simply pulls out his checkbook and limbers up his neck (for nodding in abject agreement with everything his wife might say).
The talk Roxanne and I had on this day was no exception. Roxanne began by noting that her life since retirement was a lot like the movie Groundhog Day. For those of you not fortunate enough to have seen this high point of American art, it stars Bill Murray as a man who is forced to relive the same day over and over again. This poor sap gets up every morning knowing he is going to see the same people who will say the same things again and again. That Roxanne felt she was living this same type of monotonous existence hit me like a thunderbolt! As for me, I couldn’t wait to get up every morning to tackle a new job. (Organizing the glove box in my car was what I had scheduled for this particular day’s exciting adventure.)
While Roxanne and I were thus scratching our heads regarding our future retirement plans, we simultaneously were facing a fiscal crisis. It seems a few years earlier we had purchased a couple of alpacas for investment and tax purposes. (At least this is what I was led to believe; I now realize Roxanne had a slightly different agenda.) Unlike our other tax shelters these beasts had to be fed and watered, so we paid some friends a few bucks to keep these animals on their farm. Here Roxanne was able to visit them several times a week. For my part I ignored them and happily continued to work on my spreadsheets – yes, life was good.
While Roxanne and I were both bringing home regular paychecks, adding a “few” more alpacas to keep Uncle Sam’s tax collectors at bay seemed like a good idea. At the same time the animals we already owned were busy making little alpacas. Without realizing it, we were becoming the proud owners of a small “herd” of alpacas. Roxanne, who had fallen in love with these animals, thought this was a grand idea. But shortly after our retirement I prepared yet another spreadsheet (the person who invented electronic spreadsheets should be canonized in my opinion), this one detailing our now fixed-income budget. I was shocked to discover we were paying the equivalent of an Ivy League education to keep these fuzzy little mammals in the fashion to which they had become accustomed. This extravagance may have been acceptable during our two-income heydays, but now we were trying to live on a miniscule pension and some rapidly shrinking investments (thank you Lehman Brothers).
Therefore, the solution to both Roxanne’s Groundhog Day syndrome and our financial woes seemed simple. (Oh, what a deceptive word “simple” is!) We would purchase a few acres of pastureland with a barn on it. Here Roxanne would keep busy (and out of my hair) by caring for her alpacas; and simultaneously, we would be saving oodles of money!
At the time buying a farm seemed like a relatively benign undertaking; today, looking back a wiser but much poorer man, I cannot believe how naïve I was. Neither Roxanne nor I had ever lived on a farm, but we didn’t let this slow us down. Instead we now had a bold new purpose in life; and we set out on our grand adventure like Columbus heading west across the Atlantic Ocean. As far as Roxanne was concerned, it was full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. As for me, I was one of the whiners whimpering down below deck as we sailed off into uncharted waters.