In The Third Place

I just finished reading a story titled, Logging and Pimping and “Your Pal, Jim” by Norman Maclean, the man that wrote, A River Runs Through It. The story tells of a contentious relationship between two guys who work together as lumberjacks. The older one is pretty much a career lumberjack, the other, the narrator of the story, is a student who works in the logging camp during the summer. The older seems intent on breaking the younger one by wearing him down, but the younger is determined to stick it out until his set quitting date. Day after day they each worked the end of a saw without speaking. At the end of a particularly long hard day:

After Jim disappeared for camp. I sat down on a log and waited for the sweat to dry. It still took me a while before I felt steady enough to reach for my Woolrich shirt and pick up my lunch pail and head for camp, but now I knew I could last until I had said I would quit, which sometimes can be a wonderful thing.

One day toward the end of August he spoke out of the silence and said, “When are you going to quit?” It sounded as if someone had broken the silence before it was broken by Genesis.

I answered and fortunately I had an already-made answer; I said, “As I told you, the Labor Day weekend.”

This blog, About POPS is written by a guy, “Pops”, who is now 65. It’s theme is about living the life of a “man of a certain age,” or what I like to call my Second-Coming of Age. Now that I’ve reached that chronological point when, in American culture we think retirement, I’m asked that question from time to time: “When are you going to quit?”

I assume that those who ask are talking about vocation, cutting down trees so to speak. The answer is, I don’t know; yet. I have the privilege of working in a role, for an organization, and with people that I enjoy a great deal. And while there are likely some in that company who will feel some jubilation when I do retire, for the most part, at least to my face, people seem to enjoy having me around or at least tolerate me; something I struggle with myself from time to time.

The truth is though, as the end of the workaday world draws near, I find myself more easily frustrated and sometimes discouraged. Sometime my thoughts run like this:

I could fix that if I still had time.
What does it matter now?
Let the youngsters worry about that.
I won’t have to put up with that crap much longer.
Is there still time to leave this in good hands.

I love this line from Maclean’s short story: “It still took me a while before I felt steady enough to reach for my Woolrich shirt and pick up my lunch pail and head for camp, but now I knew I could last until I had said I would quit, which sometimes can be a wonderful thing.

Mostly now I try to imagine what my place in life will look like after the job is done.

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of “The Third Place”. She explained that while we have home and work, we need a third place. I first thought of the neighborhood bar on the long-running TV show Cheers, a place where “everybody knows your name”. For some people their third place might be church or Lion’s Club. I’ve been observing the behaviors of old geezers some. Apparently, McDonalds or any place that has cheap coffee can be a third place. Somewhere to hang out, piss and moan about politics, tell stories, and remember the past better than it was.

 Pops' Amazing-Missus at our Third Place

Pops' Amazing-Missus at our Third Place

Starbucks, unofficially proclaimed themselves the third place several years ago. And really it is for a lot of people. In a recent article in Wired magazine about Starbucks opening a place in Italy, the home of the latte, the reference came up. The writer, in trying to explain why Starbucks might actually succeed in the birthplace of espresso struck a resonant chord with me.

It’s because Starbucks performs such a service for its customers, because it essentially provides a vessel into which they can pour themselves and then buy themselves back, that Starbucks has been so successful. While its coffee may actually be better than most Italians are prepared to give it credit for, it’s nonetheless likely that this coffee is incidental to the paying for the privilege of going somewhere in public where we’re able to relax and be who we think we are. Thanks to its reputation for furnishing its patrons with “atmosphere,” Starbucks has become a global “third place” away from work and home. — From Wired Magazine.

When will I “quit” the 9 to 5? Maybe not until I find a place “to relax and be who I think I am.” In other words, how can I quit my second place (work), until I have a legitimate third place?

For while my Amazing-Missus is truly amazing, if I don’t find a third place after leaving my second place, she might become so weary having me around the first place that she’ll find me a fourth place.

And they lived happily ever after.