Pass the lipstick

Oct. 1, 2008

Five years ago, the
Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 13,200 new MTs and MLTs would be
needed yearly through 2010 to replace retiring workers. For the 13,200
leaving the medical lab in the coming year — ready or not — it is time to
transition. Experts scold retiring “boomers” that their generation is the
least prepared for the “golden years.” In fact, 6% of men and 7% of women
retirees say clipping grocery coupons is their main activity. Mason
Cooley may have been correct: “Retirement is a one-way trip to
insignificance.” But I believe in exciting and thrifty alternatives to
“retirement as usual.”

Return to your first love. Alberta
Hunter (b. 1895), my heroine, became a jazz singer, flourishing as a
singer/songwriter in the 1920s and 1930s; played opposite Paul Robeson in
Show Boat
in 1928; took USO tours in both WWII theaters; and then went
home to care for her ailing mother who died in 1954. Hunter became a nurse.
At 59, she extended her career by knocking a few years off her age. At what
her employer thought was 65, Hunter begged to stay. At what her
thought was 75, she retired. A record producer searching for Hunter
to perform on an album found her in the Harlem directory, offered her a job
at age 86, and put her jazz show on the road until her death at 89.
(Unhappily, my first love was selling lemonade.)

Join a commune. My retirement plan is
to join a convent. I come from generations of reverends and deaconesses. I
enjoy church rituals from baptisms to feet washings. The church calendar
celebrates something each day. Saints give me role models. I look pretty
good in black and would relish working in the convent kitchen, so I could
eat between meals. If you are not a monastery or convent kind of retiree,
join a community, like one formed on an abandoned Illinois military base,
where single parents rely on foster grandparents to take care of their
children after school. Tutoring is one task, among others, assigned to the
elders. Communal living is frugal living — being around kids is great
entertainment and less expensive than movie rentals or cable. (My friend
Christine plans to share her home with other women who will pool their
retirement funds to hire a Chippendale dancer as a houseboy.)

Travel. I dispute Oscar Wilde's theory:
“It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.” My
godmother was the most fascinating character in my young life. She scrimped
and saved for a Greyhound ticket and traveled around the country most of the
year visiting dozens of relatives and friends for a week each. She was
delightful, teaching me card tricks, helping me memorize poems, and reading
passages to me from the classic children's books. Always upbeat and happy,
she turned dull dinners with parents into uproarious events. As the epitome
of all that is good about lady retirees, Aunt Honor's “perpetual guest”
retirement plan appeals to me more than a nursing home.

Never retire. Grandma Moses began
painting in her late 70s. At 89, Michelangelo carved the Rondanini. Verdi
finished “Falstaff” at 80. Ben Franklin? Past 80 when he helped draft the
Constitution. Artist Pablo Picasso and Cellist Pablo Casals were active into
their 90s.*

May I say to young people entering the medical lab,
do whatever it takes to build your nest egg. Teddy Roosevelt advised: “Old
age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got to start
.” Save money daily. Brown bag lunch. Ride the bus. Get books/DVDs
at the library. Paint your own toenails. Cut your own hair. Grow your own
food. Shop at thrift stores. Love just one teeny-tiny low-maintenance pet at
a time.

My choice? True-life adventures to avoid clipping
coupons. Like Actress Betty Davis said: “I will not retire while I've
still got my legs and my make-up box.” Pass me the lipstick.

*Dr. Stanley Watson and