Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A & E and the Story of Retirement

Work came into being when Eve plucked the apple from Tree, and God showed Adam and Eve where to find the time clock. Of course, each tradition tells a different version of that ground-breaking event, however some kind of tree be it ash, banyon, or tamarind usually figures into the recitation. But as human beings rarely agree on anything, every tradition would like to believe that their version is the absolute right one. As far as I'm concerned this makes as much sense as arguing over operating systems because when you come right down to it, all systems are buggy. It's just that some systems are more venerable to hackers.

So the question is—do I expect to be lounging around in my flannel pagodas sipping Bloody Marys on a deck in 10 years? You bet your red socks I do. It's called Retirement, a subject on which I've been known to religiously expound especially on the way up the elevator on any Monday morning. So after Adam and Eve got expelled from the garden, there was no more low-hanging fruit to pick from the Tree. Anyhow, there was no need to pick because they'd already figured out that they weren't going to live in a perfect world.

In this imperfect world as soon as they touched a branch, berries no longer grew from a bush, and when they picked an orange and placed it on the ground inside a leaf, they could no longer count upon the naranjo to spontaneously peel and dissolve into juice with pulp like from the finest Maui resort. The fact is they were hungry and unless they could figure out a way to fill their stomachs, hunger would come knocking upon their door. Work was no longer a concept. It had suddenly become all but too real. Fast forward past Cain and Abel, which for Adam and Eve meant more work.

Did they have a great role model here? It's not that I'm trying to be critical. Just look at the facts. You might disagree with me, but the Bible isn't exactly a handbook for new parents. God got ticked off about the whole Tree thing and told A & E where to go. There was nothing pretty about it. Abel keeps sheep, Cain tills the soil until he goes East of Eden, and A & E earn their daily bread with a lot of ritual sacrifice to fill up the down time.

So finally one day Eve sits down on a rock near their 3-bedroom, no bath house and looks at her reflection in a pool of sweet water. "Uggh!" She traces her finger across the wrinkles of her brow, cups her breasts with her hands and lets them parachute back down again. She looks a mess, plus there's that pain in her right finger joint that might be arthritis and there's no Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. "Adam," she says. "Where are you? We need to talk."

Adam comes hobbling out of the house and hitches up his pants. He was taking a nice snooze on the bedroom mat and isn't pleased that Eve has awakened him. Adam has reached the ripe age where he understands that not everything needs to be done immediately. He wishes it hadn't taken him so long to come to that fragile realization, but nonetheless, is glad that he finally gets it. Maybe he wouldn't have been so quick to eat the apple, at least told Eve that he needed to sleep on it before making a decision. But after 30 years, that's all water under the big rock, which is where Eve is standing motioning to him. Does he love her? Of course he does.

”What took you so long?"

He bends down and splashes water in his face from the pool. "I was sleeping. What did you want to talk about?"

She motions for him to sit down on the rock. "I'm tired, Adam. Look at me. Once my face was smooth like polished marble. Now it's filled with so many wrinkles, I could plant seeds inside its furrows."

"You will always be beautiful to me, Eve."

"Don't be a fool," she says, brushing away his hand from her shoulder. "What I'm trying to say is that I'm tired and I can't keep going like this. And look at you." She motions to the body that could once hold its own on Muscle Beach without steroids. "You cough more during the night than you sleep. And you're always falling asleep during the day."

"So what are you saying?"

"I think we should stop working."

"Stop working?" Adam looks around and lowers his voice. "But you know we can't."

"Give me one good reason why not."

He looks at her dumbfounded. "Surely you remember the Apple thing. We'd be putting our lives in jeopardy."

But Eve is the materialist. With three babies and no help, she's had to be. "I say we should stop working. My fingers hurt all the time from weaving and baking. We've saved enough all these years."

"I'm not so sure," says Adam, who is suddenly warming up to Eve's idea, but is trying to not let it show. After all, he's not able to run to the next mountain anymore, and certainly not to where the pomegranate trees grow. He used to be able to do that in a half day and now it takes him several. He's tired also.

"I can't keep living like this." Eve is excited now, splashing her foot in the water. "After Cain and Abel and then Seth, I need a break." And then she says something truly amazing. "Adam, we both deserve it."

A sense of entitlement had never occurred to him. He thought they'd both lost any privilege they once enjoyed. What a novel idea. Adam pulls himself up from his seat and once again hitches up his pants. "Let's talk about this in the morning," he says. "I need to sleep on it."

Adam is pleased that he’s figured out a way to finish his nap.

He lies back down on the mat and falls asleep. Then he dreams of Eve proffering the Apple and his thinking, “Why the heck not?” But everything caves in and God starts to hurl thunderbolts and chase them away saying a bunch of mean things just because they were covered up with that year’s pick of banana leaves. Sure, it was a long time ago, but here was Adam having a flashback.

Still, he had to admit her idea did have some merit. Stop working. Get up every morning and listen to the birds singing without digging in the potato patch. He remembered how Eve had figured out a way to dry their food by leaving it in the sun for a few days on the big rock. And he had stored away strips of meat in the smokehouse on several threads of sinew. He thought about it some more. They’d eat through their provisions within six months flat.

But Eve had a good idea. She wasn’t the only one who was tired of doing the same thing every day, and he longed to travel before his hide permanently dried up like one of the hairy oxen around the place. God had never actually put a ban on broadening horizons, at least He hadn’t said anything about visiting rights. Just the messy stuff about sweat and toil and pain. He woke up refreshed from his nap, again threw water on his face, said a few ritual prayers, and sought out Eve’s whereabouts.

She was sitting outside the kitchen running her fingers through her hair. It used to be long and black, but now was speckled white like his. “I need a comb,” she said. “Since I lost my old fish bone, it's always knotty.”

He sits down on the ground next to her and takes her hand. “You’re right.”

“After 40 years, now you're agreeing with me?”

“Not about your hair,” he says realizing his faux pas. We need a break. Maybe we can’t stop working because it’s been decreed by you-know-who, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us slowing down. Maybe for three or four months,” he calculated, thinking they had just about enough food stored up for that amount of time. "Then let's take it from there."

Adam was glad he had slept on it. Eve was pleased she’d suggested the idea to him.
Little did they know what they were contributing to future generations of human beings.


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