Bruce B.
Bentzman Suburban Soliloquy

147. Transitions

Until quite recently, I was employed by AT&T and nearing thirty-one years with the company. For the last few years the company has been downsizing with the regularity of Christmas gifts. First they offered retirement packages every autumn. If not enough retired, they followed with the lay-offs in time for Christmas. Ms Keogh, my more significant other, and I had agreed if a retirement package was offered by the company this year, I was to take it.

The job had become too stressful. The diminished staff was overburdened with absorbing the workload; a few hours training for jobs that originally required months to learn, then we were stamped qualified. I felt incompetent and struggled. I would fumble when dealing with the frequent hostility of impatient customers. We called them our customers, but our real customers, those we needed to satisfy first and foremost, were the stockholders. We were even expendable if it made our stockholders and executives richer. The people we called our customers merely served as a natural resource to be exploited, like coal or oil.

This year the retirement package didn’t come. They went straight for lay-offs. The office where I worked was designated surplus. On the 19th November the office was closed and I received an “involuntary termination”. It was that simple, and the best thing for me. Now that I’m out of work, I will retire and won’t have to look back in later years wondering if I had made the right decision. It has been made for me. Applying for retirement is a meditative transition, a milestone towards death, usually followed by fewer birthdays than preceded it. On the other hand, I will have time for the gratification of desires that have been postponed for too long. I intend to give myself over to reading, writing, and taking long walks – once it has warmed a bit. Also, for the first time in my life, I have stopped biting my nails, the habit having mysteriously abated. Still, I feel sorry for my colleagues who wanted to continue working.

December has been a desperate month. I have been beleaguered by paperwork; my 401(k) rollover, changes to my health benefits, application for my pension, application for unemployment with the State of New Jersey, which is so swamped with claims that I was never able to reach them on the telephone. In addition to all of this, we have moved.

Ms Keogh and I have at last escaped our suburban house, the curse of many years. I have complained about home-ownership and living in Levittown in earlier essays. Levittown remains an excellent place for raising children, if one can afford the upkeep, but our children are adults living elsewhere and we’ve no more pets. The house was dissolving around us. As I wrote 133 essays ago:
“My spouse and I have not had the money, the time, nor the inclination to maintain the house and lawn to the exacting standards of our neighbors. This house needs new siding, new gutters, new driveway, new central air-conditioner, new wiring in the walls, and a new shower stall. The interior needs to be repainted. The sliding glass doors that look out onto our backyard have not opened for years. Their concealed wheels have long ago worn away and the handles have snapped off from applying too much effort.”
Now in December of 2010, when the financial world is reeling from the implosion of a busted housing market, it is a bad time to be selling the house. However, as determined as Ms Keogh and I were to escape, our daughter was desperate to move in. Three bedrooms meant one for herself and her partner, and one for each of her boys. Also, there was the quality of education offered by the Neshaminy school district, where both I and my daughter graduated high school. To our mutual benefit, we decided to rent our house to our daughter. The rent is about one-third the usual for a house in that neighborhood, but our daughter is undertaking many of the responsibilities associated with the upkeep of the property, for which she and her mate have a proclivity that I and my mate lacked.

This is not to say we transferred what we felt was a curse to her. With newfound monies resulting from my “involuntary termination” we’ve been able to renovate a bathroom, upgrade the electric, and lay down a new living room rug of our daughter’s choosing. Meanwhile, Ms Keogh is regularly visiting the house to help paint the interior. The painting, renovations, and upgrade are taking place even as our daughter is moving in and we are moving out. As of this writing it is an ongoing process slowed further by the recent Christmas shopping traffic and a winter storm.

Ms Keogh and I now live in a two-bedroom apartment at Harper's Crossing, Langhorne, the second bedroom having become my study. The new apartment development is just five miles from the house we’ve escaped. The rooms are small, but for us that’s just cozy. We have nine-foot ceilings, a gas fireplace in the living room, and a balcony that with all our windows faces northeast. We live on the third floor, which is the top floor looking over the courtyard at the center of the development. Between narrow parking strips runs a wide band of grass. At the left end are a playground and a gazebo with an outdoor grill. To the right are the outdoor swimming pool and a clubhouse with its twenty-four hour fitness and business center, pool table, dart board, and small movie screening room.

We don’t see the need for the fitness center because there are no elevators to lift us to our apartment. The staircase gives us all the exercise we desire. I had to carry forty-four boxes of books up the two flights of stairs. The stairwell, although it shares the roof, is opened at both ends. This last Sunday, when we enjoyed a blustery snowstorm, some of that snow found its way onto the staircase. Even so, the apartment doesn’t lack for important amenities, like microwave, dishwasher, an ice-making refrigerator, garbage disposal, and washer and dryer.

We have taken very little furniture from the house. Ms Keogh and I are like newlyweds, for the first time buying new furniture we like, to replace what had been make-do finds or inherited. It feels like a fresh start, a clean slate. We are again sleeping on a mattress on the floor, like a young couple starting out, although each of us is pushing sixty, me by a matter of months. Yes, we have to downsize, letting go of the knickknacks and a cherished accumulation of paraphernalia. It is all happening so fast that much of what we must eventually be rid of has been packed and carried here to the apartment. We are, for the time being, crowded with boxes containing the no longer needed stuff of our past mixed into the collection of memorabilia still precious. Well, former affections must give way to make room for present passions and this will require thought.

A few nights ago, the night of the winter solstice, I stepped outside into frigid air and beneath a crystal sky was granted a clear view of the eclipsed moon. It looked like a copper shield, darkest brown at its center with a rim of red-yellow. I adopted it as a good omen. To every side the apartments were decked out with holiday lights. I felt like starting anew, and now, writing in my new study, I’m thinking about dropping the name “Suburban Soliloquy” for something else, commencing with my next 147 essays.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"