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There's still nothing to do - just more of it these days

Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.
When we used to find ourselves going out of our skulls with boredom and made the mistake of saying “There’s nothing to do” within earshot of my mom, we would invariably get that same reply that moms around the world have been uttering for centuries:

“Nothing to do? Mister, If you want, I’ll FIND you something to do!”

Then, of course, if we made the grievous error of not completely disappearing within the next two to three seconds, we would be regaled with a long list of things that every mother since the beginning of time thinks children really ought to be doing. In my day, those things included (but were not limited to) cleaning up one’s room, doing yardwork, cleaning the garage, washing dishes, washing the car, weeding the garden, cutting and stacking wood, picking up apples that fell off the tree, breaking rocks with a sledgehammer, digging ditches, building train tracks, making or repairing clothes in our own private sweatshop, digging mines to look for coal or gold or diamonds or platinum or whatever else might be beneath the surface of the lot we lived on.

In other words, moms have an insanely warped sense of what there is to do. Their idea of “something to do” was never, ever, ever anything even remotely fun or interesting. It always entailed stoop labor, long hours or the kind of toil sure to age us prematurely and send us to an early grave.

Last week I almost fell out of my recliner when the other person who lives at our house suggested something “that might make a good column topic.”

This was shocking to me for several reasons, the primary one being the fact that she does not like it when I write anything of a personal nature for the newspaper — mainly because she knows I sometimes hear from readers who don’t understand what a nice guy I am and often conclude their remarks with the fervent wish that I spend the rest of my time on Earth dying a slow, painful death.

And even though I almost never respond to suggestions for column ideas (mostly because they seem dumb and almost never very funny to me), I really thought her idea had some merit.

“You should write about how there’s not very much for old people like us to do,” she said.

It was a Friday morning, and we’d been discussing what we might want to do that evening. I’d suggested going to a movie, going out for dinner — and maybe even (I know this is crazy) we could do both.

We do like going to the movies, even though they’re outrageously expensive these days. We watch a lot of them at home — for free, because we get them from the library. What’s more, we have quite a collection of gift cards for local restaurants, so a dinner out would be either free or very cheap.

Getting the idea that we’re tight? You are correct. After 40 years in community newspapers, we have no choice. We are not among the 400 people in the United States who pull in most of the money “earned” in this country. We are, like most of you out there, part of that shrinking middle class that is just hanging on as best we can.

Now, here we are, one of us retired, the other thinking about it, so our options are fairly limited.

We know we can always go listen to live music somewhere, because Portland has lots of that to offer, much of it pretty affordable. But that is kind of a hipster activity, even in the neighborhood joints where very talented musicians can still earn a buck performing for small crowds. And it does still cost something, even with small covers and modest drink minimums.

One of our favorite pastimes is walking — another offering that Portland has plenty of. We have Forest Park, the Terwilliger Trail, the Eastbank Esplanade, the riverside trail at George Rogers Park and many other scenic options at our disposal — but wintertime in Oregon is not conducive to anything but middle-of-the-day outings, certainly not beyond normal work-day hours.

So, what is a person supposed to do when they’ve passed the 65-year-old mark and money is an issue? We’ve investigated community education offerings through Portland Community College and found lots of enticing possibilities. But so far, we haven’t found the right fit with locations, days and availability, though I expect we will eventually.

When we lived in Klamath Falls during the late 1980s, we went to every event that happened in town — and many out in the hinterlands as well — because we feared (who knows?) that maybe this would be the last thing to come here. As a result, we went to every concert, every show, every art event and every fair, rodeo and community celebration. We stayed very busy. Of course, we were 30 years younger then.

And yes, I still hear my mother’s voice reminding me of the many projects all around me that desperately need doing. Being an old cranky person myself, I don’t need to be reminded of that anymore. I’m painfully aware that the fence that blew down last week has to be rebuilt (and it will definitely be me who does it), that the gutters can always stand cleaning, that we could gather up a lot of stuff to donate to local thrift stores, that there’s wood to cut and stack, a garage to clean and organize, landscaping to tend to, and on and on and on.

I’m not bored, Mom. Really. I’m just tired.

Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Mikel Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.

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