HIS NAME WAS Fred and if you asked people about him they would remember him in a lot of different ways. There were some who would remember that he was very big and very strong. And there were some who would remember that he loved Greece with a passion. And there were some who would remember that he just suddenly joined the police force. In fact, they were all related. It all had to do with living in Greece.
He was the first guy I ever knew to have it all worked out.he had been in the Army with me and he had been a psychology major in college and then he and his wife went to Greece on their honeymoon. It changed their lives. He fell in love with the place and decided he wanted to live there and so he came back with his plan.
He joined the police force and she became a teacher. They were both going to retire in something like 20 years and they were going to do it on something like half pay and they figured it would be enough to live nicely on some Greek island. They would still be in their early 40s and they might supplement their income somehow and they would live happily in the sun. It was a sweet dream.
The thing about Fred and his wife was that they were the first people I knew who thought of retirement as not the end, but the beginning. They were the first I knew who showed that retirement didn't have anything at all to do with old age and I thought of him yesterday when I read that Maurice Cullinane, the chief of police of Washington, was going to retire. He is 45 years old and he's doing it exactly the same way Fred wanted to do it.
For Fred, though, the plan never worked out. We all knew it wouldn't and we used to tell him that. We used to tell him also that there was more to life than retirement and that he ought to find a job he loved for the sake of doing it and when the time came to retire, he wouldn't do it anyway.
But the thing didn't work for any of those reasons. It didn't work because he was too good a cop and he got scared once too often and his wife got scared. So he quit the force and she stopped teaching and now they do something else. I met him years later and when I brought up the plan, he smiled and said, "oh, yeah," and left it at that.
But all along there was something about that plan that bothered me and what it was, was how it wasn't retirement at all. The word was being misapplied, mangled or whatever.For all that Fred intended to do was move on, switch jobs, do something else. He was to put it another way, just going to quit after 20 years so he could live somewhere else and do something else. It seemed somethow wrong to reward him for that.
But that was years ago and since then we have gotten accustomed to the idea of retiring after 20 years and nothing is said of it. Especially in Washington, the ultimate civil service town, there are lots of people who are retired from one job, while working at another job, drawing a pension and a salary at the same time. What all this has to do with old age and financial security is beyond me and how we are going to pay for it all also beyond me. I suppose it will work out somehow.
Anyway, I was just getting that under my belt when I ran into a Washington cab driver on a story and got to talking to him for some time. In the course of our conversation I discovered the wasn't a cab driver after all. He was a big, healthy man but he was totally disabled. He is employed by the city but someone has declared him officially disabled. Not too disabled to drive a cab 12 hours a day, but just disabled when it comes his city job.
When we talk about his situation, the cab driver laughed. He knows it's ridiculous, but if you were to suggest it to him or to his union or even for that matter, to the city that this cab driver stop driving for a cab company and drive instead for the city, there would be a howl. As it is, he is paid by the city for a job he doesn't do and is paid by the cab company for a job he does do and all in all, you would have to admit, he does very nicely.
Now we get to Cullinane. He is doing for disability what my old friend Fred did for retirement. Now I have to get used to the notion that a man with a knee injury is totally disabled - not even handicapped, but disabled. I don't question the injury and I don't even question the pain, but what I question is the rules and the system. It's gotten so that a man can retire at the age of 45 and take disability with a bad knee and then, probably, go off and find himself another job, as his predecessors have done, taking two salaries, one of them mostly tax free.
All in all, that's better than living in Greece.