••• The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories with Martin Green
In Search of Tranquility
What did he want? Paul Lerner asked himself. It was a rainy afternoon in January. He was preparing to take his afternoon nap. His wife Sally was off to a meeting of one of the many clubs in their Northern California retirement community. She was five years younger than he was and still active.
He’d left all of his clubs except, of course, the New Yorkers. He’d just talked on the phone to their son Jack, who was still going back and forth with the bank about his mortgage. That morning he’d driven in the rain to the dentist. He hated driving in the rain and he hated going to the dentist. Stress, stress, stress.
What did he want? When he was a young guy instead of an old geezer he wanted a job, a girl, his own place to live, his own car, his own life. After marrying Sally, he wanted a family, a house, a better job. After retiring, he wanted to travel, to play tennis, to write. Now, at 85, there wasn’t much he wanted. He couldn’t play tennis any more, he didn’t care for more travel, he still wrote his two monthly columns for their senior paper but had grown tired of doing them. What did he want? Maybe it was just tranquility. He fell asleep.
“One more thing,” said Paul, “I’m resigning as club President.” It was February. In California it was still raining. The meeting of the officers of the New Yorkers club was about to end and the others were putting together their things and standing up when Paul made this pronouncement. He’d started the New Yorkers club when he and Sally moved to the retirement community and has served as its President ever since. Now there were a few gasps and everyone sat down again.
Until then, the meeting had gone as usual. Ken Beerman, the Treasurer, had been late in arriving and didn’t have the latest financial figures. Myra Gershwin, the Secretary, had read the minutes of the last club meeting and pronounced it a success although attendance was down. Also, Ruth Kaufman had reported losing a pair of gloves and would someone go to the clubroom and search for them. Estelle Shapiro, the Program Director, said she was having a hard time coming up with an idea for the next meeting. Beerman had said why didn’t they have a bus trip to San Francisco. Abe Silverman, the club’s Vice President and Paul’s closest friend, said that wasn’t a good idea, too expensive and complicated to arrange.
Myra was the first to speak. “You can’t resign, Paul,” she said. “The club needs you.”
“I think it’s a good move,” said Beerman. “The club needs some new leadership,” by which, Paul knew, he meant himself.
“We’d have to have an election at our next meeting,” said Estelle.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Paul?” asked Abe Silverman.
No more dealing with Ken Beerman. No more having to come up a with a program for the next meeting. No more searching for Ruth Kaufman’s missing items. Yes, Paul thought, he was sure. “I am,” he said. “Sorry to spring it on you like this, but let’s meet again next week and work out the details for the election. At least we won’t have to worry about a program for the next club meeting.”
“Yes, I’m trying to cut back on things that cause me stress,” said Paul. It was March. It had finally stopped raining. Paul and Abe Silverman were having one of their lunches in the retirement community’s restaurant. “I’m counting on you to become the New Yorkers’ next president.”
“So I can have the stress.”
“You’re younger. You can handle it. We can’t let Ken Beerman take over. That would be a disaster.”
“Hmmm. So, what else are you cutting back on?”
“I’m thinking of selling some of my riskier stocks and putting the money in treasury bonds. Safety first.”
“What’s happened to your son’s mortgage?”
“Still wrestling with the bank. Eventually I’ll have to bail him out.”
Sylvia, the veteran waitress came over. “So you’re quitting as the New Yorkers’ president?” she said to Paul.
“Yes. Does everybody know?”
“Word gets around. Coffees?”
“Okay,” said Abe. "If you endorse me, I guess I’ll be the new president. You’ll owe me.”
“I’ll buy the next lunch.”
“Thanks, Dad.” It was a warm sunny day in April. Paul had gone for a walk in the nature area. When he got back to the house, knees aching, his son Jack had called with the latest report about his mortgage. Jack had a good job with the State and his wife Trish had a good job with a non-profit agency. Unfortunately, they’d moved up to a larger house in the suburbs during the housing boom. Despite their relatively high combined income they were having a hard time meeting their monthly mortgage payment. They’d managed to get a loan modification, but had a second mortgage they didn’t have the money to pay. According to Jack, the bank refused to come down any lower. And had set a deadline for paying it. It would hurt but Paul said okay, he’d take care of it. “When do you need the money"?
“By next week.”
“Okay. I’ll get the money in the bank and give you a check.”
As he’d told Abe Silverman, Paul had sold off most of his stocks and put the money in treasury bonds. He’d sell some of the bonds and use the money to pay off the second mortgage.
“It’ll be a relief,” said Ken.
“Yes, to me, too.”
Paul had advised Ken not to buy the new house but Ken belonged to the generation that wanted, if not instant gratification, then the good things in life without waiting too long. He couldn’t conceive that the housing bubble would burst and leave him, like many others, stranded. That second mortgage had been a concern of Paul’s for the past year. It would cost him a considerable amount of money but he thought it was worth it. One less thing to stress about.
Paul had just hung up the phone when Sally came in. She’d been a meeting of the Travel Club. They really hadn’t gone anywhere for the past two years, since Paul’s hip replacement surgery, but she was still a member. “They’re having a Panama Canal cruise in July,” she said. “We said we’d try it sometime.”
“That was when we were younger. In July it’ll be hot. Besides, you’ll have to fly back from the East Coast. You know how I feel about airports and airplanes.”
“So you’re not interested?”
“I took a walk this morning and I’m tired out.”
“We never go anywhere any more. What about a shorter cruise?”
“I don’t know. Let’s see. I was just talking to Jack. I’m going to take care of that second mortgage.”
“Isn’t it a lot?”
“It is but I want to get it off my mind.”
“All right. How’s their new cat?”
“I didn’t ask. She’s probably having a great time exploring that big house. I’m going to take my nap now.”
Well, no more stressing out about Jack and his mortgage. Too bad Sally had heard about that cruise. There were four stages of travel. First, you went anywhere you wanted on your own. Then you took bus tours. Then you went on cruises. Finally, you stayed home. Paul had reached that final stage, even if Sally hadn’t, and he intended to stay there.
“That was a pretty good meeting,” said Sally.
“Yeah, Abe handled it well,” said Paul.
It was an evening in May. They’d just gotten back from a meeting of the New Yorkers club. It was another potluck, but after eating they’d gone around the room with people saying what they missed most about living in New York. It had brought back a lot of memories.
They were in the living room, sitting in their lazy-boy recliners. Sally had turned on the TV and was scrolling through the programs they’d recorded. Paul was looking at the day’s paper. A year ago, he thought, their cat BunBun would be sitting on the footrest of Sally’s chair and their other cat Shandyman would be sitting on the back of his chair, their spots. Bunbun, who’d always been a little sickly, had succumbed to a weak heart, then Shandyman, their healthy cat, had been diagnosed with lymphoma and two months later he too was gone. They’d always been a cat family, which is why, he supposed, their son Jack had adopted one.
He and Sally had talked about getting another cat themselves but they’d decided they’d gotten too old to cope with all that demanded. Sally didn’t want to go back to cleaning out a litter box every day. Paul couldn’t picture himself bending down to put cat food in a bowl. It was just as well, Paul thought. Why add another stressful thing to their lives? They settled back to watch their program. He was glad the New Yorker meeting was over and glad he didn’t have to worry about the next one. They had nothing to do the next day. That was the way he liked it. Tranquility.
“You’ll never believe it,” said Sally. It was August and hot. Paul had been doing nothing, just sitting in his recliner with a book on his lap. Sally had just come back from another meeting of the Travel Club. She was excited.
“Believe what?” said Paul.
“I won a raffle for a cruise.”
“What? Not the Panama Canal.”
“No, it’s one of those Coastal California cruises. It leaves from San Francisco and we’ll get bussed down so no having to fly.”
“We’ll gain ten pounds with all that eating.”
“It’s only a week, from San Francisco to San Diego. It will be a nice little getaway.”
“I don’t know. Can we think about it?’ He could already feel the stress building up.
The phone rang. It was their son Jack. Paul picked it up. “Dad, I had a little accident. I’m okay but my car is totaled.”
Maybe this would be a good time to get away, thought Paul.
October. They’d just returned from the Coastal California cruise. All in all, it hadn’t been too bad, thought Paul. He’d managed to totter from their cabin to the dining room for their nightly big dinner and from the dining room to the theater for the nightly show. His knees ached and he wondered how many pounds he’d gained. Their phone showed a lot of messages. No call from Jack, which was good. Uh, oh, a call from Abe Silverman. “I think I’d better call Abe,” said Paul, “and see what that’s about.”
A week later. Paul had just returned home from visiting Abe Silverman in the hospital. “How’s Abe doing?” asked Sally.
“It was a heart attack. They put in a stent but he’ll be out of it for a while. He asked me to sub for him as the New Yorkers’ president until he can come back.”
“Are you going to?”
“How could I say No?”
After lunch he went to the bedroom for his afternoon nap. Tranquility. Where was it? He lay down on the bed and the kitten, one of the unexpected offspring from Jack’s cat, jumped up and wriggled in beside him. He absently stroked her, then he fell asleep.
© Martin Green June 2017
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