When Groucho Marx was asked, ‘How does it feel to be 80?” he replied, “it’s better than the altoinative!’
I recently experienced my 70th birthday, which I celebrated by retiring from my day job as a Mounted Park Ranger in New York City Parks Department. For my birthday party, I took part in a burlesque show.
I did two sets. In Part 1, conservatively dressed in white tie and tails with a red tailcoat, I presented a version of Rowan Atkinson’s “Welcome to Hell” sketch adapted for my 2022 New York audience. In Part 2, I arrived on stage covered by a purple velour cloak. And announced that I had been criticized for having been overdressed in my first set. I shed the cloak to reveal a green mankini and riding boots. Gasps from the audience, amongst whom were a Parks Dept co-worker, a couple of carriage drivers, my massage therapist and my wife! I rattled a few off-colour jokes stolen from British comics and left the stage with $14 tucked into my mankini. I aim to continue to grow old disgracefully!
As I discovered during the Covid Lockdown, I’m not one for sitting about doing nothing, so I need to find something to do. There’s also the fact that Social Security (the US equivalent of the UK Old Age Pension) doesn’t even cover the monthly maintenance charge on our apartment never mind pay the bills!
So, what to do? Up until now, my ‘career’ has been based on the Spike Milligan philosophy that ‘If you don’t plan anything, nothing can go wrong.’ During my life I’ve been a sailor (Royal then Merchant Navy) a paralegal, a motorcycle courier, and a commissionaire. Since moving from the UK to New York in 2021, I’ve been a butler, a personal assistant, a security guard, a concierge, and a mounted law enforcement officer. In my spare time I’ve been a historical re-enactor having been in the Sealed Knot for twenty years, achieving the rank of Colonel General. In New York I was an Auxiliary Police Officer with NYPD for seven years. Approximately every ten years, I’ve had a major lifestyle change – sometimes unavoidable, sometimes on a whim.
I’m a survivor. I’ve survived shootings in Northern Ireland when deployed there in 1973; I missed the Harrods bomb by ten minutes; I’ve had a bus ‘rear-end’ my motorcycle; I was on a ship that went within 30 miles of the eye of a hurricane; I was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center when the airplane hit it and I’ve had cancer. I’ve fallen off lots of motorcycles, horses and barstools.
So, what to do now? A few things, actually. I already had some moonlighting gigs as an actor and model so I’m looking to do more of that. I have a license to drive horse carriages; this license was a lot more difficult to get in New York than a license to ride a motorcycle! I’m re-learning the skills and aim to work two or three days a week in Central Park for a guy who owns four carriages and nine horses. I’m earning a few bucks from my boss by acting as co-driver on his horse-drawn hearse at funerals. American Marriage Ministries also ordain me as a wedding officiant. I’ve married seven couples (three in the open air in Central Park) and receive three or four enquiries a week. My next wedding will be an interracial same-sex wedding with a 10-year age difference.
It’s ironic that the only time in my life I’ve had anything approaching a career plan is when I’m beyond what is considered ‘Retirement Age’. Embarking on a new career is daunting at any age, but I’ve done it before, so I don’t feel as though I’m taking too much of a leap into the unknown.
So, how does it feel to be embarking on a new career having reached one’s allotted three score years and ten?
There are several challenges.
Firstly, technology. I have tried to keep up to date with technological advances. I’m typing this on an iMac computer, but still only using two fingers of each hand. Interestingly, it’s the first and second finger of my right hand, and the second and third of my left. I have an iPhone which enables me to do a myriad of things, from paying for my subway ride through to making a doctor’s appointment and ordering my dinner. I’m getting to grips with an Apple Watch that seems unlimited potential. My latest triumph is setting it up to monitor the GPS tracker AirTag on my new electric moped. I’ve also been able (with assistance) to build a couple of websites.
Secondly is attitude. There is a lot of ageism around. My carriage boss told me how he took over the business from his father, who ‘Got old and past it.’ His father is two years younger than me! In the parks department, the hierarchy wanted me to stop riding due to my age. I’ve had teenagers push me aside on subways to get a seat. (On the positive side, I’ve had two pregnant women offer me a seat – that really makes one feel old!) I have learned that the phrase, ‘Go Boomer’ is not a compliment.
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Thirdly, and most seriously, is health. The American ‘health care’ system sucks. There is no National Health Service here and most Americans get health insurance through their employer. Senior Citizens (the US euphemism for Old Age Pensioners) obviously can’t get that, but we get Medicare. Medicare A covers hospital visits. When I retired, I needed to get Medicare B & C to cover other stuff, like seeing one’s family doctor or specialists. The cost of this is deducted from my Social Security pension. Medicare only covers about 80% of the bills so I have taken a supplementary plan to cover that. I also had to buy Medicare D to cover prescription drugs. My doctor prescribed a medication, but I can’t afford it as the co-pay (the amount that insurance doesn’t cover) was $203. I recently had a trip to the Emergency Room and was diagnosed with a Pulmonary Embolism. The medication they have prescribed has a copay of $500 a month, which is unaffordable. I’m reviewing my options.
So, what, to me, are the advantages of age? Experience and memories! If I were to be granted my time over again with the benefit of knowing then that which I know now I don’t think that I would change anything, but there are a few things over which I would take a little more time! The most pointless phrase in the English language is ‘if only’ closely followed by ‘what if?’ Okay, you screwed up. Learn from it and move on. In a totally different direction if needs be.
The future? Work until I drop! Then put me in a biodegradable bag with an acorn, and plant me in Croton Woods; near the Aqueduct Trail, so that I can lob acorns at the Mounted Patrol!