In which I wonder what my old age will be like.
Yesterday, I read an opinion piece in the New York Times. It was a good man’s story: older, loyal, secure; then his company “restructured.” Now he’s been unemployed for years. He’s too old to get a job; he has a preexisting condition so he’s unable to get insurance; he “always did the right thing,” and is now facing abject destitution.
He’s not much older than I am.
I have not done the right things.
I went to college, yes, but I didn’t have any discipline. I took classes that interested me, dropped out of those that didn’t, and in six years of higher education came away with substantial and still growing debt and no marketable degrees.
I got married, yes, but I chose badly. I didn’t choose someone who would make a good helpmeet and life partner. I chose someone who, at first, rocked my socks off in bed and who, unlike anyone else, actually asked me to marry him. But that was it, there really weren’t any other important qualities there between us, not the kinds of qualities that get you through your working years and safely into your dotage with your needs modestly taken care of. So naturally we divorced, and that left me with no equity and even more debt.
Now I’m of an age where I should be investing and building my retirement. Instead, I have no savings and no insurance. For the next few months, I’m giving 30% of my monthly income to my dentist so I can keep a tooth. As soon as the root canal and crown are paid off, I’ll do the same thing for my eyes, because I really need my prescriptions updated. After that’s paid off, no doubt, something else will happen, and I’ll pay that off too.
But eventually something might happen that I can’t make payments on. What if I get hurt, or need medicine? I’m employed, so I’m not eligible for many types of relief, but I earn too little to, say, be able to spend a bunch of money on meds every month.
I’ve been insured fewer than four years since I started working.
I’m not borrowing trouble. I’m stating that it is statistically likely that I will need something I won’t be able to to afford.
Which means I have failed my end of the social covenant. I should have educated myself more carefully and made myself more employable, no? I should have chosen a decent partner1, and together we should have earned and saved enough to pay for ourselves. I should have taken steps all my life not to be a burden on anyone, right?
I mean, isn’t that the social covenant?
I’ve been working on and off for 27 years. Mostly on, but I did spend all that time in school working only part-time. And there were the few years my husband wanted a housewife, and the two times I was long-term unemployed. So let’s say I’ve contributed to the economy for twenty years.
I’ve paid much of my own way, but I don’t think I’ve earned as much as I’ve cost. And I don’t think I ever will, because, well, there’s no bubble anymore, and even if there were I’m nowhere near it, and even if I was I’m no longer young enough to just land a cool job I can turn into something. Someone my age is supposed to have some sort of proven track record in something, but I don’t. When I finally decided to specialize, I chose something obscure which is now obsolete: third tier technical support at small ISPs. There is no such job anymore. I can’t even get interviews for things that are similar, because I don’t have a degree in computer science and that’s what they want in a recession.
People starting fun new companies are no longer in my social group. If it’s happening, it ain’t happening near me, so I’m stuck with the ‘traditional’ methods of finding work and they are not geared at degree-less, not-terribly-professionally-oriented people in their forties, no matter how smart and flexible they may be. “Experience” is more or less a dirty word after a certain point; more than five years means you’re inflexible.
I’m always in the wrong place for that sort of thing, anyway. Making money just isn’t one of my talents, mainly because I only care about money only as far as I can trade it for things I need, and not for any of the incredibly subtle psycho-emotional-status things others attach to it.
I feel horrible for people who did get the educations and the specializations and the resumes full of accomplishments, though. At least when I can’t get a job, it makes sense. I mean, it’s not out of line to say I’m hardly a precious asset. But for those people? It must be devastating.
On the other hand, I pick up trash, I’m a loyal friend, I’ve done shitloads of laundry and dishes for various people. I’ve helped people move, I’ve sung at their weddings, I’ve knitted their mewling offspring tiny booties. I’ve shared my terrors and failures and shortcomings out loud, and I’ve had total strangers contact me to say it helped them in their own journeys.
So perhaps there’s some value in that not measured in dollars, but it ain’t gonna feed or shelter me once I end up on the streets. Which, for some reason, I suspect I might — like the elderly in India during Vedic times would, after their householder duties were complete, eventually wander into the forest to contemplate God and increase dispassion (Vanaprastha ashrama).
I merely hope I’m somewhere warmer by then, because as much as I do try to maintain dispassion about material possessions I get seriously aggro being cold when I’m trying to sleep.
I’ll need to work for at least thirty more years, but honestly, I have no idea, when this gig is through, who will hire me. You know what? What I really need is a boarding house! I could rent out rooms to university students to pay the property taxes. I could do it old-fashioned style, too, and, like, serve dinners at six sharp every evening, and at two on Sundays, and beat rugs with a broom on the fence out back. I could wear an ankle-length, severe dark dress with an apron and wear my hair in a bun! Boarding house missus FTW! HOW FUN WOULD THAT BE?!?
1 I say the partner thing because seriously, you have to be making pretty killer money to accumulate any meaningful amount of equity all by yourself.