I will have been "retired" 2 whole years come October 1. This still seems pretty surreal to me although not so much as it did those first dreadful months when my life did a complete 360. Now, everything is way cool. But there are times where I still see things through a lens somewhere outside the body. Friday was one of those days.
According to my calendar, or what passes for my calendar nowadays, I was scheduled to sing the National Anthem for a Naturalization Ceremony at the Courthouse. I got up, put on a jacket and tie for the first time since the last funeral I attended, or maybe since last Easter, and headed downtown.
I take that back. I wore a suit to the Centennial Service at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church a couple of weeks ago. But suffice it to say, I don't wear ties that often anymore.
Driving downtown was so familiar to me. Down Kavanaugh to Markham. Past the Arkansas Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. Through the State Capitol grounds to 4th street. All so familiar. How many times have I made this drive? And yet I never go downtown any more.
I parked a few blocks from the Courthouse in a free space on the street. I headed on foot toward the Courthouse. I forgot how slippery leather soles are.
Past the Federal Building where I toiled in relative obscurity for 28 years. One of the guards recognized me. We shook hands. No other familiar faces. I was rather relieved.
The first sign of a problem should have been the notice outside the Federal Courthouse that no cameras or cellphones were allowed. I didn't much think about it as I had my Courthouse Technology Permit in the front pocket of my shirt. But they always let folks carry cameras into the Courthouse for the Naturalization Ceremony. It's pretty much the only time they allow it.
I walked up to the security point where I was greeted with "What are you doing here?" At least that salutation wasn't accompanied by the production of weapons.
I told them I was there for the Naturalization Ceremony. Wrong. I was a week early.
"Now THAT'S the mark of a man who is retired," one of the Security Officers said as he put his arm around my shoulders. I would have never made that sort of mistake back when I was working. But now I can't remember anything. A therapist friend says it is because I am no longer hypervigilant. She says I will live longer this way.
Great. I may live longer but I will do so as a goofball.
So I had time to kill before meeting Phil for lunch. What to do? Go drop by my old office? God no. Unless I am being audited or I lose my Social Security card I don't think I will ever set foot in the Federal Building again.
It was a pleasant day. So I went and sat on the bench by the fountain in front of the Courthouse. How many times had I sat there? That's where the deaf lady from the IRS taught me sign language. That's where I learned that Hugh had gotten sick. That's where I met folks who wanted to talk about stuff they didn't want to talk about inside.
And here I was again. Same as ever and yet somehow completely different.
After I awhile I went back to the car and headed down to the River Market for lunch. I didn't really remember how to get to the restaurant. Then again, I hadn't eaten there since before I left government service. Just don't have a reason to go down there anymore.
I was looking for the street where I always parked down there and I was having trouble finding it. I suddenly found myself crossing the center line. Oh yeah, the one way becomes two way after you cross Main Street. Shit.
I eventually parked the car without incident and found my way to the restaurant. Phil was waiting. It was the kind of pleasant lunch that I used to do all the time. Now I never meet anybody for lunch. Hell, I don't much eat lunch anymore.
Adult themes were the order of the day. Phil talked about taking a young colleague with money problems under his wing. I talked about a friend who was sick. He asked me to try to figure out the story on the house across the street from him that was on the market.
He heard that the owners just gave it back and walked away. This was inconceivable to him. They both had jobs. They had done lots of work on the house. What could be going on behind closed doors that caused them to lose such a nice house in Phil's pleasant neighborhood?
As I headed home I pondered on all the trouble in the world. Bad stuff happens to good people. Good stuff happens to bad people. People get sick. Young people lose their way and need the advice of someone who has been around the block. Everything that was once so familiar can seem distant and foreign.
I made a mental note to put the Naturalization Ceremony on the calendar. I can't trust myself to carry information around in my head. I'm no longer hypervigilant.
I drove past the Courthouse. "See you boys next week," I said to myself.
And I will make the trip again.