#8220;What do you plan to do when you retire?” I asked. I was sitting at the counter at the Red Flame diner in Manhattan. The server was an elder gentleman with grey hair and a dimpled smile. He asked me what I wanted for dinner, but instead of giving him my order, I wanted to know his plans for retirement.
He seems stunned at my inquiry and put his pencil to his pad. He’d preferred I’d simply asked for the Thursday Special.
“Why do you want to know?” he finally answered.
I’m not sure why retirement was on my mind. Maybe the milestone birthday I’m approaching had me thinking about the future and what people do with it. Surely people older than me had it figured out. I was simply looking for ideas.
“I’m just curious,” I answered. “This is the time when you finally get to do whatever it is you want. I’m kind of taking an informal survey.”
“Retirement,” he sighed deeply to himself. He looked around the restaurant as if imagining his last day. He grew quiet and his eyes welled up.
“Ask me another time. Now I can’t say. I don’t know what I would do if I left here.” He spoke with a heavy accent that I couldn’t place.
“Where are you from originally?” I asked.
“Greece,” he said smiling.
“I’m simply American.”
He cocked his head.
“Okay, Germany way, way back when.”
He laughed. “We all come from somewhere. I came to America to be with my wife. I met her visiting New York and I came back to be with her.”
“So you fell in love with a girl and decided to stay.”
“Yes,” he blushed. “I guess you could say that. It was a long time ago.” He shuffled uncomfortably like a shy boy discussing his first crush. I ordered a bowl of soup and spinach pie. It seemed appropriate to the occasion.
“Will you retire in Greece?”
He flashed a far away look, one that crossed the Atlantic. “I’d like to. There’s a little island there where I have a place. It’s beautiful.” I could almost see the Aegean Sea in the glow on his face.
Then it abruptly went away.
“You know, my family is here and I have grandkids so what good is it for me to be in Greece? It’s so far away. Plus the place is a mess now. There is no work. No one has jobs.”
He frowned deeply then left to check on my order. He returned with my dinner and refilled my water. “Enjoy your meal,” he said simply, and walked away.
I must have stirred something in him. He walked around the restaurant nervously checking on condiments and seat cushions and register receipts. Finally he came back to take my plate and give me my check.
“Do you work around here?”
“Yeah, just across the street.”
“Good. You should come back next week and get the special. And we can talk more about Greece. You should visit; it’s a nice place.”
“But don’t wait until you retire,” he added. “That would be too late.”