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American Coming of Age Fiction

A memo went around the trading floor. Finally, after threatening, after complaining, after squeezing in few added weeks to his already long vacation allowance, after working remotely two days a week, and after years of discussing his rich bucket list, Allan Buckley put in his retirement notice. Three months from now, he would be gone. 

“Don’t hesitate to call me if you need advice,” he’d told the colleagues that crowded him on the cramped trading desk. “But it would be a sign of weakness!”

It was a long time in coming. At 64, Alec Buckley was the third oldest person in the firm. The next oldest person was a salesman who had gone through two divorces and was working on a third and was still paying for a 30-something daughter’s on-again, off-again, rehab, and a son just finishing off his bachelor’s degree for the umpteenth time. The oldest person was a cranky woman in HR, well past the suggested retirement age, but whom no one, not even the head of HR, dared confront with the suggestion it might be time to take it easy. Anyway, she was the one who effectively intimidated the medical insurance reps over reimbursements and employees who dared to ask for any assistance. It was said she would die at her desk. It was also said when she’d close her eyes that she might have died already. She was the only person to insist on an honorific; “I’m Mrs. Sherman.” No one argued.

Buckley was old stock. He’d been there for 15 years, a rare stretch in an industry known for turnover, and had institutional knowledge. In other words, he had seen it all, worked with many people who were fathers and mothers to the current staff – nepotism was rife – and felt he deserved the right to smirk when he’d tease interviewees with the demand, “Complete this sequence; John, Paul, George and ?” It wasn’t funny that most kids in their 20s couldn’t answer that.

Where had the old guard gone? Several had made small fortunes - a few had made unequivocally large ones - and had waved an adios at more tender ages than Alec’s 64. The sales process for commoditized securities had gone electric where the best a strong relationship could bring was a chance to compete with half a dozen firms offering nothing better than the same price. After a while, the strong relationship withered and the sales folk in question were driven out. Jack Devlin lasted until he was 58, old by the norms of the business until he was found sitting in a puddle of urine at the end of one sad day by the cleaning staff. One of the traders had put Jack’s already cool fingers in a bowl of warm water to the amusement of the rest of the department. “He’ll piss himself,” said another trader with gleeful anticipation. Then they went out to a client dinner.

Others? Cindy Dibiasi, mother of three with a mouth that would make a truck driver cringe, got remarried after a particularly nasty divorce where she was accused of domestic towards her husband. She landed a near billionaire hedge-fund manager and didn’t need to work other than to redecorate the various homes they owned. Marcus Tang’s fight with cancer was a full-time job until he lost that battle. 

Only two were born before Jimmy Carter was President was left and both worked in the mailroom. When Alec mentioned that he would be leaving, they didn’t bother to look up. “We heard,” said one. “We’ll forward the mail.” The other, however, generously suggested Alec take copying paper and whatever else he needed. “You won’t be the first.”. He wished them well. Neither responded.

He wondered about that. Alec had worked with them for over ten years, gave them a very decent bottle of single-malt whiskey at Christmas, ordered in lunch once in a while, and sat with them to talk about whatever, though reminiscing was a good part of that. He almost considered them friends. The cold response bothered him.

Alec was emptying the dross from his desk and mentioned the incident to some of the younger traders who happened to be there after five o’clock – a late hour for the desk. “It’s funny. No, sad. I’ve known those guys since, well, forever. Maybe that can’t stand to see me go.” It was a lame attempt to put humor on it.

“Ya think?” said Jeff Dieck, a 30-something who spent a good deal of his day yelling at his wife over the phone. “Think again.”

“What do you mean?” asked Alec.

The ensuing dialog was heated. Dieck went on about the good years, which anyone under 50 had missed. Those were the easy times, easy to make money when the markets were growing. He likened it to a latter-day gold rush for a while until the gold ran out, the later generation of Forty-niners stuck with expensive leased cars and high mortgages. “You were there when the going was good,” he said, spitting inadvertently. “You were lucky, you gotta know that. Those mailroom guys probably know that all too well.”

   Alex sat back in his Hermann Miller Aeron chair, a relic of a cheap remodeling that he hid in his office. It was the last of its kind on the trading floor and another source of petty jealousy. “Who does he think he is?” asked one of the young traders on the deck who eternally complained of a bad back and inadequate bonus. The vice-chairman was walking past at that moment. “Son, he’s Alec. Stick in the business for as long as he had and you’ll get to sit on whatever you want.” That young trader was Jeff Dieck.

Alec closed his eyes, thinking how he wouldn’t miss this place, the job, the business, or his career of the last thirty years. Thirty years. He could hardly believe it. He remembered leaving the office when his wife called to say she was in labor. How many times had he left early to catch a Little League game, Scout Meeting, and eventually a graduation. He missed that. He wouldn’t miss the commute. Thirty years went by too quickly, but Dieck was right about one thing; it once had been a lot of fun.

“Jeff, I have a trade for you,” said Alec. The other sitting around perked up, less embarrassed by Dieck’s rant and interested in Alec’s trade idea. What a thing to offer on his last day at work. It must be good, or stupid. Hell, it was going to be his money at risk.

Dieck was curious now. A trade idea. He could use one and Alex, well, Alex had been good at it. No, great. Famous in the narrow scheme of this narrow industry. Once.

A smile came across Alec’s face. “Okay,” he said. “Here it is.” Alec laid out more details of his personal life than he ever had to someone other than his accountant, estate attorney, financial counselor, and his wife. What he offered Dieck was everything, absolutely everything. He turned to his computer, typed in details for his high-net-worth account, and displayed it for all to see. “Fifteen million,” he said with no sense of modesty. “Fifteen million. Plus, the house, paid for, which is at least two million. And the beach house, so add another ‘mil but that needs some work. College educations and grad schools are done. Will you take it?”

Dieck was flustered. Another fellow on the desk asked about taxes but wasn’t serious. “The offer is only for Dieck. Right of refusal. Dieck?”

Dieck stuttered a “sure” but caught himself. “You said it’s a trade. What do you get?”

Alec offered a long ah. “Smart question. Here’s what I want.” And Alex spewed forth. He’d give away everything, down the cars, too, but would keep the fishing rods and camping stuff. He laughed when he said that. “The real crux of the matter is time. I’m thirty years older than you. You have it all, all you covet, the winnings from those flush years. I get thirty years. Your thirty years.”

Dieck was confused now. “What are you talking about?”

“Simple,” said Alec. I get thirty years, your thirty years. And you get, well, the money, but you also are now 64. You get that heart attack I had on that business trip and the stupid walking angina that came with it. You get to be monitored, blood and urine, every quarter to see if your cancer progresses. You get to support mom, any mom, like I did for a few years in assisted living at seven-grand a month. You switch from being a father of little tykes to two kids in their 30s who you see once or twice a year if you’re lucky. You get all my great memories while I rebuild the ones I’m giving to you. You get to look around and see friends, colleagues, people your age plus and minus, let me be blunt, die on you. Or get ill.

“They’re doing miracles with medicine these days. You could easily have another 20 years ahead of you. More even. I’ll introduce you to my cardiologist, proctologist, and not but two oncologists, and next year you’re on Medicare so it won’t cost you too much. Which reminds me, you’ll get my Social Security which won’t exist when you reach 70. That’s about fifty grand a year, not taxed in some states, and adjusts for inflation on top of the millions I’m offering. All that for just thirty years. Deal?”

Young Dieck responded, “You’re joking, right?”

Alec didn’t wait for an answer. He called his wife and said they should eat out that night, to celebrate. “Your retirement?” she said. “No,” replied Alec, “A life well lived, wisdom gained, and a thanks be to God I’m not thirty years younger.”

September 30, 2022 19:03

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2 comments

Delbert Griffith
21:57 Oct 12, 2022

Love it! It resonates with me, an oldster.

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Carl Tengstrom
13:40 Oct 08, 2022

I liked this story. It gave a good picture of the dilemma for a person standing for the retirement. The language was good to understand. The story would have won to be a bit shorter. The ending was not expected but very well found.

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