Category Archives: Second Acts

Better than a Bag of Smashed Assholes

I haven’t written a word in months. I’ve passed up so many great quips, so many interesting topics that apply to the New 40s—career crossroads, friends who make bad choices, crazy relatives, ex-boyfriends, and the perennial cycle of drinking and weight management. Ah, me.

I heard a great expression today (read, rather, on Facebook, of course—the 40-and-over social playground): “He/She looks like a bag of smashed assholes.” I laughed as loud and as long as I had when I first heard my un-PC friend tell someone to go “suck-a-bag-a-dicks.” Love the imagery, the pure crudeness. I have an affection for shocking manipulation of language.

In grad school, I did a presentation for my “Exploring Voice in Nonfiction” class on sex columnist author Dan Savage’s crude manipulation of language for propaganda and for the practical purposes of communicating in the alt-sex scene. One of my favorites, I explained to the class, was his invention of the word “santorum,” that frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is produced during anal sex. Yes, while my classmates dissected Joan Didion’s and Truman Capote’s prose, I discussed made-up words about butt sex. Perhaps that’s why my classmates never seemed to take me very seriously… But I digress. Savage’s use of “santorum” was a direct hit on Rick Santorum, a former PA senator and arbiter of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, a proposed bill that basically allowed businesses to discriminate against employees on the basis of religious principles. Santorum, the man, not the frothy mixture, wasn’t a favorite with Savage or the bulk of his readers. In his column, they used the word “santorum” as defined above so many times, that, when one Googled the word “Santorum,” Savage’s definition would appear first, instead of the senator that bore its name. Now, that’s what I can an excellent “smear” campaign!

But anyway, back to our “bag of smashed assholes.” While this term might not have the intention of making political waves, it certainly gives me a chuckle. I also appreciate the context in which I first encountered it:

One of the guys in my Facebook exercise group, the members of which have been destroying me in exercise challenges for over a year now, posted his thoughts on weight obsession. To support his claim that weight is a poor measuring tool for self-confidence, he said that two people could be the exact same height and weight, but one could look fantastic and the other could look like a “bag of smashed assholes.” It’s not about weight, he contended, it’s about fitness and liking what you see in the mirror. Thank you online exercise buddy I have never met!  I can get behind that philosophy, especially since I’ve been lifting weights, running, and riding a Peloton almost daily for the past month (not all on the same day, of course), and my weight hasn’t budged.

There’s a reason for that, and that is I’m still drinking copious amounts of beer. Last weekend, while staying in a town renowned for its craft breweries, my hubby and I discussed allowing beer as my only alcohol because it doesn’t make me crazy or black out, and because it doesn’t make me wake up with crippling hangovers. That’s progress. A little. But the more I work out, I’m discovering, the less inclined I am to want the beer. All it takes with me, sometimes, is a goal to distract me. I’m going to complete a half marathon with my FB exercise group in September. This will be my first half, and my first race other than a zombie 5K, in over ten years. As I train for this race, I am happily reminded of my old running days, of those incremental accomplishments that I made out on the trails or on the pavement every time I went out. It’s a craving like no other—getting outside, pushing up a hill, sprinting down one, feeling my heart beat, sweating it all out. I crave that sleepy peace I feel about an hour after a good run, and that slow settling soreness in my tired legs. I want this, almost as much as I want to drink.

I think my progress is on the horizon. I can’t say that I look fantastic and fit right now, but I’m getting there; and I certainly don’t look like a bag of smashed assholes. Most importantly, though, I have more on my mind than simply losing weight and what I look like. I have that craving for movement and wind and sweat and sore muscles. I crave the burn, which could be my saving grace.

 

The Cycle of Life from the Perspective of the Middle-Aged.

I’m now at this stage in my adulthood where I’m watching my younger peers grow up. The twenty-somethings I partied with when I was a divorced thirty-something are now becoming divorced thirty-somethings themselves. The ones who stayed together seem to think their seven-year-old kids are sooooo blasé (I’d have the same, querulous look on my face if my parents had tried to impress me with a “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along in the minivan en route to soccer practice). I’m watching them trying to cling to cool or trying to act progressively in the wake of the shitstorm of resentment and confusion that awaits them once the papers are signed and their new normalcy begins to settle in. Marriage, kids, divorce. It’s the cycle of American life. These days, I just watch it. My court dates are over. My second marriage is solid. My stepkids are becoming independent young men. Last week, my husband voiced a retirement dream. When you start talking retirement, well, you’ve officially entered the realm of the observer.

My recently-divorced friend has decided to share the family house with the kids while she and her ex-husband take turns entering it once a week and being single parents. Somewhere outside of that house, they have dwellings that they occupy during their off weeks. They pay for a mortgage, and they pay for rent, all so the kids can grow up in one house. Seems a wholesome idea on paper until you consider the human element of such a compromise—the adults, the parents, in this scenario have denied everyone the right to move on. First, divorce has always been a financially-crippling institution, at least for one of the parties involved. Now, the parties have grown progressive enough to financially cripple everyone. Who’s saving for college when you got two rents to pay? Additionally, these kids will grow up in a far less idyllic environment than their parents think they will because they will have no idea what kind of lives their parents lead outside of the shared house. Traditionally, when parents divorce, the kids grow accustomed to two households—Dad’s and Mom’s. They might like one more than the other, or they might dislike the back-and-forth, or they might figure out the perks in each, but they will always know that their divorced parents lead different lives and that they are a witness and a part of each of those lives. How’s that work when the kids live in the “family” house and Mom and Dad live elsewhere? What’s the scenario? It could be one of total deprivation, or big mystery. Their parents’ “home” lives could become big secrets to them like the lives of headmistresses at boarding schools during weekends and vacations. And let’s not ignore the elephant in the room—thirty-somethings will marry AGAIN.

Yes. Divorcees tend to do that at any age, but especially in the wild thirties. I remarried when I was thirty-eight. I didn’t have any kids of my own, but my new husband had two. He never asked me to spend half of my time in his apartment and the other half at the family house. In fact, I only entered the house where he and his ex-wife had started their family twice. Why should I have lived there half the time? With her pictures on the wall, and their utensils in the kitchen, and their mattress in the bedroom?   How else you gonna do it when you rotate shifts into the family house? My friend… is fucked. I wish she had been a closer friend now because I then I could have been there from the beginning. But she wasn’t. She’ll just have to figure this all out in the upcoming decade. Hats off to the new divorcees. Hats off to my friends who still have kids in car seats. I’m gonna sit back and watch and maybe say my piece (if I think it’ll make a difference), and the rest of the time I’ll keep my eye out for tricked-out travel vans that my husband and I can live in while we explore the highways, post-retirement.

GenXers and “Second Acts”

My husband and I made a joint decision to buy rental properties. We already had one, our former home, and we recently purchased another, strictly for renting out. We did a 180, going from hating being landlords (and doing it all wrong) to searching for more properties to buy and researching forms of alternative financing.

I, personally, have always been into real estate—acquiring, holding, flipping, what-have-you. My husband had always treated my obsession with following real estate trends in and around our home as, at best, a distraction that kept me from my real career, at worst, a waste of our time. However, as a former reader and big fan of the now defunct More Magazine, I believed in the “Second Act.” More’s monthly “Second Acts” featured women, all over the age of forty, who transitioned out of their lives-as-they-knew-them and became something new and different. Some women went from homemakers to corporate giants, others abruptly left the corporate world and started small businesses or nonprofits. One woman, whom I remember quite distinctly, left a high-stress, high-paying job and moved to some expansive property in a wild western state and created a rescue farm. 180s, “Second Acts”—they’re the comebacks of disgruntled GenXers. I’ve been dreaming of a 180 since I read my first copy of More Magazine.

All my husband needed to get on board with real estate investment was the right pitch from the right person. That person wasn’t me. It was, ironically, a Millennial. I will hold no grudges, though, since I got what I said I wanted.

After scraping and struggling and acquiring two Masters degrees, moving from venue to venue, I finally found a teaching environment that I truly enjoy, and recently, things started falling into place. I was offered a full-time position, albeit non-tenured. I passed it up. My big plans as the fall began last year to sample a variety of teaching positions while I held my part-time status at my current college until something big came up… well, it came up. And then it went. My choice. I finally got what I SAID I wanted, but all the while, what I really wanted was my second act.

I’m lucky. I’m lucky that my husband has a career that’s too serious to get taken over by today’s bottom line—new, young, and hungry.   You can’t bullshit your way into what my husband does, and freshly-minted graduates are not necessarily the most cost-efficient or valued prospects. My field, on the other hand, is oozing with cronyism and bullshit. It’s time for my 180.

Believe me, I don’t think that real estate investment is going to make us rich, or that it will be easy. At present, our monthly cash flow from rentals is about $100 a month—see, we rented out our former family home to my best friend and her husband with bad credit for a deep discount last year, just because we didn’t want to be landlords anymore, and we knew they’d take care of the property. Our second investment should yield us a $450 cash flow. That’s $550 a month of tax-sheltered income once we find a tenant. That’s what I make, after taxes, hustling part-time in the classroom. And with rental properties, someone else pays down the mortgage. Why not try this out?

I’ve already learned a lot from our mistakes—I know where the unplanned for expenses come from, I know the value of having a contractor’s license, I know that the city where we planned to invest is getting more expensive (taxes are rising, water bills are rising, lead abatement policies are getting much stricter). I know not to rent to friends or family. My best friend threatens to never leave our property. And why should she? She’s got the cheapest rent in town. More airtight leases, better pre-screening practices—I’m learning it all. On Monday, I am going to tackle my first handyman projects by repairing holes in the drywall and the plaster in my friend’s/tenant’s house so that it can pass a lead inspection and become a legal property again, a service that I will charge my tenants for in the future. It’s like getting another degree, but this time it’s hands-on. Lucky me.

Only time will tell if this new path is really a second act, or if it’s just another short-lived distraction. Well, I shouldn’t say “only time,” as if this venture is not an act of free will. It is. And I’m a little scared. Because life gets real when you take ownership of it, and I’ve been in the habit of NOT doing that.