My Turn: Go ahead, put me on hold -- I'm retired!

The best revenge to being put on hold:

The best revenge to being put on hold: Being retired, says Paul E. Pepe. Photo Credit: Newsday

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I've been retired for a few years now. It was difficult at first, but I'm finally getting the hang of it, learning to fill my time with interesting hobbies that replace the busy workdays of the past.

For the last 15 years of my work time, I ran my office out of my home, which meant that people accused me of already being retired. The guys at the gas station, seeing me midmorning, would snicker when I said I was really working, and the post office clerks would smile when I told them that most of the mail I picked up at 10 a.m. was work-related — honest! Ultimately, when I told them that I had retired, their response was: "How can you tell?"

That aside, when I was working in public relations, my office was in the basement, and when other people (wife, daughters) were around, it made no difference to them. They just barged in and asked a question, or rummaged around, heedless of the fact that I was busy typing, or on the telephone, or maybe just staring at a piece of paper trying to come up with some ideas. But, I was in the house, and therefore I was fair game.

They would ask me what difference did it make — so you take a minute here and there; beside, it's important that I have you Xerox this recipe, or tell me where the Christmas cards are, or help me carry something upstairs. It's not like the office is going anywhere, for heaven's sake.

Would they do that if this was a real office, I wondered, then stopped and told myself that it was a real office. I was making a living; I actually did business here. It all fell on deaf ears, because no matter how much I complained, I was still at home, and that made me fair game.

I retired, with some trepidation because you don't just put aside 40 years of everyday toil and not be concerned about it. It took almost a year before I felt safe and secure in my new life. I have learned how to fill in the long days. One, you make them shorter by sleeping a little later, then there is the obligatory hourlong walk (ordered by the cardiologist), some banging on the piano, writing novels that will never be published.

However, people now tend to think that because they are still fully employed and I am not, their lives are much more meaningful and productive and valuable.

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My friend Tony is only a couple of years younger than me, but he still runs a highly successful public relations business. He calls me, and as soon as he does, he finds something urgent to talk to his secretary or assistant about. And I'm hanging on the phone listening to this. He's talking to them, and listening to me, but I know I'm going to have to say it all over again, so I shut up and wait until I have his full attention before continuing. Then, his other phone rings and he puts me on hold.

I wait, because among other things I have learned to be a little patient. Eventually, he comes back and we resume our conversation. Sometimes, he'll forget I'm on the phone — waiting — and I'll finally hang up. He'll call me the following day and totally forget he left me hanging. But that's OK; I'm retired, and I have nothing better to do. Then there are my daughters, two bright, attractive, successful young businesswomen. One works for New York City, the other is a book editor. Both high-profile, high-pressure jobs.

They'll call, and of course, something else will come up, and there I am on hold again. I can't tell you how much I hate the song "Raindrops Keep Falling Can My Head." Is that the only song they can come up with for those of us who sit and wait on hold?

What's even worse is voice mail. When I call them, they are never there, so I get these disembodied voices that I barely recognize coming from my own progeny and I leave a message (usually some wiseguy remark), and wait for them to return the call, and then have those disjointed conversations with people going into their offices, or other phone calls coming in. But I love them and had to put up with it all because I am retired, right? What else do I have to do with my time?

The best one of all occurred one rainy afternoon when I decided to lie on my bed and read the latest Robert Parker novel. My daughter, the book editor, calls and we talk for a few minutes, then she puts me on hold and I lie there reading. The rain is pattering; I'm warm and comfortable, and I fall asleep with the phone in my ear. The next thing I hear is shouting, and I'm disoriented and I finally realize what has happened, and I hear my daughter laughing at me. "You fell asleep," she says, "while I'm talking to you!" She can't believe it, and I try to tell her that it was only for a moment, and besides, she had put me on hold again.

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The bottom line, of course, is that no matter how often I am put on hold, and for how long, I'm still retired, and that's the best revenge.

--Paul E. Pepe, Syosset


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