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Jewish World Review Aug. 10, 1999 /28 Av 5759

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Come to think of it,
stars seldom are the
retiring type --
YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE of how famous athletes and entertainers are different from the rest of us was presented to the world last week.

Barry Sanders, a talented football player for the Detroit Lions, announced that he was retiring after 10 years as a pro.

Immediately analysts were asking: When do you think he will come back, and who will he play for?

The Tribune's sports page headline was: "Sanders definitely retired--for now."

His father, when asked by ESPN whether Sanders was really retired, answered: "This year, I'm sure."

The celebrated athletes and entertainers who seem to write their own rules as they stroll through life have managed to redefine a word whose meaning was once absolute. When the rest of us retire, it means we're gone, we quit, we're out of there, goodbye.

Increasingly, though, when the very famous announce their retirements, it translates to: "I'm going to take a long vacation. After which I will come back and make more money because you all missed me."

There is a word for what the athletes are really doing: sabbatical. They're taking sabbaticals -- a little time off. But you don't make headlines and inspire televised special reports if you say: "I'm going on sabbatical." Retirement sounds so much more . . . final.

Except it isn't.

Michael Jordan retired and came back, Ryne Sandberg retired and came back, Sugar Ray Leonard retired and came back, George Foreman retired and came back, Frank Sinatra once retired and came back. . . .

When Jordan retired, and then decided to play professional baseball en route to playing basketball again, he explained at a press conference:

"Retirement is a stage of life that you get to choose whatever you want to do."

Well, no . . . not if your choice is to come back to work again.

It was for Jordan; it was for Sinatra; it was for Sandberg; it was for just about every boxer you could care to name. It very well may be for Barry Sanders.

But for the rest of us, retirement is not a stage of life during which we can decide that we were only kidding.

For the rest of us, retirement is a stage of life during which:

- Your company takes your security access card away before you leave the building on your last day.

- Your voice mail code and computer log-in password are deleted the minute you are out the door.

- Your company rejoices that it may not have to replace you at all -- and that if it does replace you, it will be with some kid just out of college who is thrilled to work for a fraction of your pay.

- The people who once returned your calls promptly now put you at the bottom of their list; you may be nice, but in the business world you are irrelevant.

- Your loved ones discover that you are a much more boring and demanding person now that you are home all the time.

- You spend way too much time suddenly being outraged by the prices of things at the grocery and drugstore, matters to which you never had the idle hours to dwell on before.

- When you drop by the old office to have lunch with your colleagues, there are uncomfortable silences during the meal and furtive glances among the others when you start a story: "Remember the time that . . ."

- You, with a jolt, miss the steadiness of that old paycheck, and mull over the idea of whether you left too soon. You consider picking up the phone to ask someone at the office, just theoretically, what would happen if you ever wanted to come back. Wisely, you decide not to make the call; you already know what the answer would be (assuming your call even got returned).

- You are asked by people what line of work you are in, and you answer, "I do some consulting."

- You know not only the location of every cable channel on your TV set; you also know the daily schedule of all of them.

But for those at the level of great fame, the word "retirement" has come to mean "good career move." You retire in order to get yourself a better deal later. Your retirement is your agent's tool. It's like holding your breath until you turn blue, so that you will get your way. Just because you retire doesn't mean that you're retired.

(Not you -- them. You, when you retire, you're history. Good luck, don't let the door hit you, and happy consulting.)

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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