I don’t know what to say when people ask me if I’m retired. I get my maximum Social Security benefit. I have a pension. I’m taking my required minimum distribution from my retirement accounts. I puzzle over which Medicare plan I should enroll in. And yet …
I still go to my law office every day. I’ve gotten better, by the way, in taking Saturdays and Sundays off. I don’t have a secretary. I buy postage stamps by the roll. I try to leave the office by 4, earlier if I can, so I can go home and take a nap.
I’m not a millionaire lawyer. My work consists of representing indigent clients who can’t afford a lawyer. I get paid by a county and state program that ensures these people are represented in Family Court, where they hash out their problems. Because it’s a publicly funded program with budget challenges, I get paid erratically. Sometimes, I’ll have a good month. I feel lucky when that happens.
I also represent children who are caught in the middle of their parents’ disputes. Payment tends to be more regular. Most of my work is more like social work. Because of this, many lawyers don’t venture into Family Court because the cases are so messy, the wait to see a judge is too long and there’s often long, difficult and emotional negotiations.
For most of my life, I was a journalist. I went to law school at 45, suffering through a midlife crisis. I graduated, passed the bar and practiced law during the day while working as a copy editor at night. Once the kids were done with college, I quit the paper and started practicing law full time. I went out on my own because I knew that I didn’t want to work for anyone else.
So here I am, 22 years after graduating from law school, continuing to be out on my own. I took up photography as a serious hobby, once they invented cameras that focused automatically. I started taking photos of mountains and landscapes because it was easy to get them in focus. Mountains don’t move.
I’ve taken photo classes in Missoula, Mont., traveled to Death Valley, Glacier National Park, Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands. From each of those experiences, I’ve brought home images that coalesced into books that I’m quite proud of.
No one says anymore, “Hey, Al. Your pictures are out of focus.”
And neither is my life.
I go to the office, and some days I just putter around, trying to organize the piles of paper that have accumulated. I’ve heard of paperless offices, but I just can’t make myself keep my calendar on a phone or computer.
I like to stay home and work on my computer, honing the photos I have taken. The office helps me pay for the trips I want to take. I’m saving for new photo equipment, and a couple of filters. I hope to return to Montana next summer for another photo expedition.
My colleagues in Family Court are younger. When I told one that I purchased tickets for a Johnny Mathis concert, she looked at me with a blank stare. “Who is Johnny Mathis?” she asked. I looked at her as if she were crazy. She returned the look and said, “Al, I’m only 26.” Sometimes my colleagues in Family Court make me feel young. And at times like this, they make me feel very old.
As I said, I don’t know what to say when people ask me if I’m retired. And it just may be, I don’t have to say anything at all.