I sat down in the coffee shop and looked up at the occupant of the other chair a few feet away, facing me. Late 60s, nothing but a hot drink. I shrugged off the desire to immediately slap headphones and bury myself in an hour’s worth of emails and to-do lists, and smiled at him.
How are you doing?
What was that?
he leaned forward.
I don’t hear so well.
I leaned forward too.
I asked how you were doing?
I’m retired. I’m always good! Just out for a walk, thought I’d grab myself a cup of coffee and then go back out to walk it off.
What did you retire from?
I was a real estate broker.
Did you enjoy it?
There were parts of it I enjoyed,
But there’s a lot of different people who get upset. What do you do?
(I told him.)
So you can feel good about what you do.
That’s something that was hard for me. To feel good at the end of the day about what you do, that's a good thing. I mean, I was good at it. Good enough to do it for forty years, but it’s not a profession you just feel good about doing.
What do you enjoy doing now?
Well, I spend six months of the year in Arizona.
I love reading. I read a lot. History mostly. And I have a woodworking shop. Do some of that. I think it’s important to have a passion. It’s really amazing how many old people are quite good artists. There’s this guy I know in Yuma who does these pieces out of wood that are just really something, and these ladies I know who will sit in front of a flower all day and paint it, and they’re actually quite good at it!
But how hard is it to build a career out of those things? It’s pretty hard. That’s why you have old people doing it when they get old, when they don’t have to make a living at it. I think it’s important to stay busy. To have something you really enjoy. I know people my age who just sit in front of a TV and that’s what they do. That’s dead time. If I’m sitting in front of a TV, it’s dead time. That’s fine sometimes, but I’m not DOING anything. You gotta have a passion for something.
What do you like to read?
History. I’m a history buff.
I don’t usually read economics, but there’s a book that came out about four months ago called “Capital in the 21st Century.” It’s quite fascinating. A lot of it is about the relationship between economics and politics.
What’s the premise?
Let’s see…well, one thing would be the idea of this huge gap between those who are poor and own maybe one or two percent of the world’s wealth and the ten percent at the top who own, say, 40 or 50%. The rise of these private funds that more and more countries are investing in, sinking their resources into instead of publicly traded markets. We’re seeing these private funds that are impossible for a guy with a few thousand dollars to access or invest in. I think that guys like Bill Gates are doing some interesting things. Do you know what he’s told his foundation to do with his money? After they’ve had it for ten or fifteen years, he’s said “do whatever you want with it. We’ll eliminate one problem in the world, and another will come up, and I won’t know what the right decision is to make, so I’m not going to make it at that point.”
I think he’s a good guy. And Warren Buffett. They’re these rich guys who are asking the other rich: what are you doing with your wealth? Like that, umm, who’s the fellow a century or so ago that was controversial, but gave huge amounts of money to start up libraries and such?
Yes! He was a wealthy guy, and he got himself into trouble sometimes because he didn’t understand the power of radio and how things he said could get him in trouble, but he did a lot of good things with his money. Things we still benefit from today.
Like public libraries.
A while back, if you had told me that a big corporation was moving into my neighborhood, I would have thought that was a good thing; that it would be positive for the community. But the thing is, with the way things are now, a lot of these ultra-big companies make these deals with the government to get huge tax breaks that cost these communities, and they think the money’s going to eventually help them and get re-invested. But many times that’s not the case.
It sounds like a fascinating book,
Capital in the 21st Century?
It’s by…Pinkett? That doesn’t sound quite right. You can probably find it on the Internet or somewhere.
I patted my MacBook Pro.
Unfortunately, the Internet connection seems to be down right now, but I will scribble the title down so I can put it on hold at the library.
Do you come here much?
Sometimes a couple times a week.
And sometimes, not for several weeks at a time.
I come here two or three times a week.
Sometimes I go to Barnes & Noble.
Did you ever go to Borders?
I actually liked that much more. Barnes & Noble has maybe four comfortable chairs. Borders would have twelve or fourteen. And the one I’d go to had a theater close by, so I’d go have a cup of coffee, read some books, then walk next door to watch a movie. Now, I walk by and it’s an empty building. But the sign for it is still up.
I liked Borders too.
I stood up.
I need to go find an Internet connection, but it’s been great conversing with you.
What was that?
he asked, cupping his ear.
I don’t hear so well. The nerves are shot. Nothing they can do. Hearing aid doesn’t help. I’m sorry if I’m not catching everything.
I leaned forward again and spoke up.
It was good chatting with you. Hope to run into you again soon.
And I meant it.