When They Say Retire, They Mean Take Themselves Away From the Human Race

 Effie Lewis is a powerhouse salesperson and a voracious reader. Effie is currently looking into starting Tai-Chi classes - she takes her well-being seriously. Effie discusses her experiences in retirement and shares her observations on how NOT to do it.  

Julia: Effie, I know you’ve been interested in working a few days a week. What are your most recent experiences interviewing?

 Effie: if you go for an interview, and they ask you your age, what do you say? Do I tell  the truth, or should I say, I’m over the age of 21 and I’m very well experienced in the  business area: selling, interviewing people, being with people, I love people and they don’t frighten me. There is an equalizer, but I won’t say it, because it’s nasty…

J: What is it? Tell me!

E: Mary, my sister, gets a big kick out of it – I’m gonna tell you the truth, there is one equalizer – when you go to the bathroom in the morning, whether it is you or the Queen of England, it still stinks! (Laughs).  Mary thinks that it’s the funniest expression ever!

J: It’s a good point!

E: That’s where you start from, from your posterior, and you work your way up!  (Giggling).  Now, I’m very fortunate in a sense that I can talk to anyone – be it the President of the United States or the maintenance man in the basement, taking the garbage out.

J: But do people accept that response, that “I’m over 21”?

E: Some do and some don’t. Some people get turned off immediately, and probably think, “This person is evasive”. 

J: But interviewers are not even allowed to ask you this question!

E: They’re not, and yet sometimes it comes up…

J: How old were you when you retired from working full time?

E: 79. After a career in selling cosmetics, I was working as a receptionist at a law firm. It was more than a full time job!  I did all the overtime.  I was working 80 hours a week! I made more money than the secretaries did.

J: So, what happened? Did it not work for your employer that you made too much on overtime?

E: No, they didn’t put it that way. They just made my life very uncomfortable.  When we moved from the old building to the new building, they took my desk and all my personal belongings and put them in front of the men’s room. I had to sit there and see men coming and going, pulling their zippers up and down. And when I said I wanted another desk, they put me in the mailroom. All the mailmen would come in and use profanity, and I had to sit there and listen to it. And they had so many empty desks in the entire area, and every time I would approach my manager and ask about any of these desks, I would be told that I couldn’t have it and it would be occupied by a secretary in the future. So, they forced me to leave by making my life as uncomfortable as possible.

 J: How old were you?

 E: I was 78-79 at the time. But they couldn’t find anyone – and they had young people  there – who worked as receptionists to work overtime. But I didn’t mind if I worked on  Saturday or Sunday. My salary was $300 a day, why object to that? If they asked me to  work the night shift, I would leave work at 6PM, get a cup of coffee, come back at 7PM  and work till the morning, and then start my regular shift at 10AM. Where are they  going to find people like that?

J: Why did you do that? Did you need money for retirement, or you just didn’t mind working?

E: I don’t mind working. I love working.

J: You did it for the pleasure of it?

E. Yes, and I love working with people. I love being around people.

J: OK, and then they forced you out, and what did you do next?

E: I went out and bought a house in a retirement community in Maryland. That was a big mistake…  Because that’s where the people retire. And when they say retire, they mean take themselves away from the human race! (Giggling). They start taking pills, going to doctors and watching TV. My two next door neighbors ate their lunch and their dinner on trays in front of the TV.

J: Because that’s the substitute for the human interaction…

E: It’s a very sad thing.

J: They withdrew from participating in life, there was no more interest.

E: The big deal was going to the beauty parlor every Friday, come hell or high water. They never skipped a meal. That was their whole life. And they went to church, yes, once a week they went to church.

J: And then you came back to New York. And then what happened, did you look for something to do?

E: Yes, I started as a receptionist at the local vet’s office.

J: And you were there for a while, too, on Saturdays.  I remember seeing you there!

E: And then I was subbing for her other receptionists when they took a day off. And then I had an accident with my hip, and it scared the daylights out of her. Not out of me, out of her.

J: She didn’t want to invite you back, because she thought if anything happened on the job, she would be responsible.

E: And I have Medicare that covers my needs. She seemed a tranquil person, but there was a lot of turnover with the help…

J: If you were to choose a job, based on the criteria of money, joy and meaning, what would come first for you?   

E: 50/50 between dealing with people and money. Dealing with people – I can be a receptionist or sell something. And money, I like money, too.