Monday, March 20, 2023

French pension problems on their way here

     My brother, freshly back from Paris last week, reports piles of garbage everywhere.
     “Though it’s French garbage,” he observed. “More refined.”
     Until rioters set it on fire, that is. All burning garbage is alike.
     It’s the result of the nationwide protests that have rocked France for weeks, outcry over the national retirement age being raised from 62 to 64.
     We should be watching this unrest carefully here in Chicago, a city with a nearly $34 billion unfunded municipal pension liability. Double the size of the annual city budget. It’s almost funny to see our two mayoral candidates talk about how they’re going to finance their pie-in-the-sky, cop-on-every-corner dreams of urban perfection by digging into the sofa cushions and holding bake sales and cutting corruption. One dollar in five spent by the city services its pension debt. The next mayor will be lucky to maintain the status quo, to send the occupying army of retirees their checks while continuing to put out fires. We should scrap our motto, Urbs in Horto, “City in a Garden,” and replace it with Urbs in Foraminis, “City in a Hole.”
     It’s fun to sneer at the French — socialist shovel-leaners complaining about their sweet retire-at-62 perk shifting to a not bad retire-at-64. But at least they’re trying to do something. Our solution is to sell the family silver, or parking meters, kick the can down the road, and hope for a miracle.
     I should point out that U.S. Social Security also kicks in at 62, though it starts out at such a pittance, the general advice is to wait as long as possible, so it can grow into something you can scrape by on, maybe.
     If I combine it with the smoldering scraps of our exploded newspaper pension, and judicious, this-has-gotta-last-me sips at my 401(k), and it might add up to a kind of subsistence. I certainly won’t be nursing a pastis at a cafe on the Rue Mouffetard.
     Then again, I might be an oddity. Most of my fellow columnists have already hung up their spikes — whether defenestrated by the corporate butchers who bought the Chicago Tribune or shown the gate for an ill-considered joke at the Washington Post or various colleagues stepping down at the Sun-Times.

To continue reading, click here.


  1. I have one neighbor that took early retirement from CPS as a grammar school principal at 55. Now he's 76 & getting far more than he ever paid into the system & we the taxpayers are paying for it.
    And the idiot CPS board continually signs a contract with that rotten union where the employees pay just 2% of the cost of their pension each pay period, while the taxpayers pay 16%. Both sides should be paying 9%!
    We get screwed every time, which is why I will be voting for Vallas, at least he won't cave to that corrupt union that insists Venezuela is a paradise like that union owned stooge Johnson!

  2. Just curious, Mr. S. Did your father work at NCAR during his many years in Boulder? When I lived there, I knew a couple of people who did, and they enjoyed living there and they enjoyed their jobs. Thirty-four years of retirement. Wow. Almost half-a-lifetime. A dream come true for some, a living nightmare for others.

    And it's always been obvious to me that you still enjoy your job, and it shows in your work. Wordsmithing is still meaningful and fulfilling for you, unlike it is for some writers. I'm reminded of the famous line from sportswriter Red Smith, who influenced an entire generation of scribes. He is largely forgotten today, except by those over a certain age, because he died forty years ago. He's the one who said: "Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed onto the page."

    Your column, your blog, and your books don't convey that image to me. Love and work are supposedly the cornerstones of our existence. But loving your work might be the keystone of the arch. If that's how one feels about what they do every day, then they are among the luckiest beings on earth. Even more fortunate than those who've retired from the game.

    1. Yes he did, Grizz. For two summers, in the mid-1970s, and then for a few years in the mid-1980s, before he retired to Boulder in 1989. He enjoyed painting and hiking and started writing a bit. I think that's true, about my writing. I'm not an agonize-over-each-word sort. I'm a get it down, get it in print sort.

    2. Even here, I pick and choose my words carefully. I'm constantly revising, and I constantly use my search engine for definitions and synonyms of words. Gotta be careful these days, Mr.'s easier than ever to get one's ass in a sling online. One ill-chosen word or phrase will do it.

      Your mention of WaPo is a perfect example. A columnist gets booted for a snark that crashes and burns...and subscribers earn lifetime commenting bans for excessive harshness. But what the hell...despite the proverbial stick up the proverbial wazoo, they've also been a prime go-to-source for breaking news. Lately, though, I find myself preferring the good old Sun-Times.

  3. I'm lucky in that I enjoy my job and never really thought about retirement. Then life changes, and freshly divorced and sober (the two were linked only in the beginning) I find that I still like my job, but also wonder what part time or volunteer gigs pique my interest.

    And once that ball started rolling, it's (forgive me) empowering (hate that word) to realize that this is my last year of full time work. Like a new life, the fluff is seen as silly and wasting time is unacceptable.

  4. The thing about agonizing over each word is that one eventually says, "The hell with it" and chooses the worse word almost every time.


    1. S.J. Perelman considered it a good day when he could get one paragraph written. When he agonized over a word he came up with "firkin" and "nainsook" and "shagreen." Not to mention "chopfallen." On the other hand, Art Buchwald said it took him only one hour to write a column. I began reading him in the early 1960s and can't recall (though my memory is weak these days) a word he used that caused me discomfort. It's the talent of the writer that counts, not the amount of time it takes for him or her to write the piece. Hack writers choose the wrong word, not writers dedicated to their craft.

    2. Better and worse are subjective, and in the eye and ear of the writer. If a word "looks right" or "sounds right" stays. Otherwise, it gets replaced by something else. Sometimes letting it stay is a mistake, sometimes not. The thesaurus is my longtime friend and advisor.

  5. I'm kinda surprised there aren't more comments. I thought that if anything would resonate, one way or the other, with the newspaper-reading demographic, it would be today's column.

    But what I want to know is, where does David Roeder get the nerve to poach your oft-visited Atlas Stationers (now primarily first-rate pen impresarios, as you previously reported) for a big article on page 6 today? ; )

  6. I always thought that I would work until I absolutely couldn't or until I died. I've always liked my job (s). Not that I really had a series of them. I've had many at the same time most of the time being. A cabinet maker/ finish carpenter doesn't really make you the kind of living that allows you to just work. One job done. Property management/ general contracting pretty much like three full-time jobs for the last 15, 20 years

    I felt young for a long time. I would say right up to 60 but then damn I got old quick the last couple years. I know it doesn't help to gain the weight and not exercise enough and smoke too much. But man working has got to the point where it just sucks. I hate it

    I'm going to retire here in a couple of months. I'm done with it or more accurately. It's done with me.

    Signing up for the Medicare taking my social security and moving to New Mexico Make my hobby a full-time thing and enjoy the chicken show


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.