by Al Erlick
Al Erlick, long-time resident of West Mt. Airy who died May 24 at the age of 88, had retired after 24 years as editor of The Jewish Exponent and then wrote this article for the Local in 2006. We are running it in his memory:
The announcement of my retirement occasioned a question that would be repeated ad nauseam until the moment I rode off into the sunset: “So, what are you going to do now?”
It was a fair enough question, I suppose, but it took me by surprise at first because all I was thinking about was what I wasn’t going to do when I retired.
I wasn’t going to worry about the next board meeting or the story that got away. I wasn’t going to have any more of those terrible, sweat-inducing dreams that the entire paper came out printed in Spanish, or the Jewish Federation president’s picture appeared upside down, or one of my reporters was missing somewhere in the troubled Middle East.
I wasn’t going to grab lunch at my desk with a telephone grafted to one ear and a sentence that wouldn’t parse burning a hole in my brain. And — wonder of wonders — I wasn’t going to hit the floor running every morning at 6:30 to start another grinding day.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The dog vowed that the 7 a.m. walk, a mandatory exercise even on weekend mornings, was not going to be interrupted by as minor an occurrence as the master’s retirement. No need to go to the office on a daily basis? Well then, let’s create a new, improved office at home with bigger and better office toys. I was a newspaperman who kicked and screamed when the “office police” came and took my old, beaten but oh, so trustworthy manual typewriter away.
Enter the computer age with a new and foreign jargon, frighteningly unfamiliar hardware and the absence of paper. Nothing to rip out of the machine and hurl into the wastebasket when the right words wouldn’t come? Unthinkable. I did not go gently into this new world. For a long time, my favorite New Yorker cartoon was a depiction of a newsroom at a large metropolitan newspaper, with an army of reporters and editors seated before a long gray line of computer terminals. One pitiful wretch, as confused by his high-tech nightmare as I, is saying to his deskbound neighbor, “Do you know what I really miss? Paper airplanes!”
So here I was, relieved of daily responsibilities and able to strike out in any new direction I fancied. What did I do? I went off and bought a computer system suspiciously akin to the one I had complained about as a working stiff.
There were a few new wrinkles in my electronic wonderland, however. I added some games — things like blackjack and poker, a baseball game guaranteed not to go on strike and a few other trifles.
Pardon a digression: I am old enough to remember cutting Wednesday high school classes to catch the new big band opening at the Earle Theater at 11th and Market Streets in Center City. (Actually, I am old enough to remember a lot of things I’d sooner forget.) Just a few blocks removed from the Earle was the Troc, a home to burlesque, an entertainment form we innocents believed then was just about as scandalous as theatrical fare could ever get.
It was a great place to go after enjoying the swinging sounds of Benny Goodman or Tommy Dorsey or Lionel Hampton. With all the sophistication a 15- or 16-year-old man of the world could muster, we would discuss the relative merits of burlesque’s baggy-pants comedians: Was Billy “Cheese ‘n’ Crackers” Hagan really funnier than Abbott and Costello? As if we cared. The Troc was where the strippers performed, and that’s what cutting high school was really all about.
Back to my computer system — and just about everybody else’s, if you want my opinion. We buy them to crunch meaningful words and create wondrous stories and graphics, we tell ourselves and anyone else who will listen to our technobabble. We intend to put the household on a strict computer-monitored budget and finally balance that unruly checkbook.
Or we get lost in the seductive byways of the Internet. It’s the comic and the stripper all over again — just half a century later, that’s all.
What am I doing with this wonderful gift of retirement, you ask? At the moment, I’m deeply immersed in “Myst,” a fabulous adventure game my son loaded into my computer on his last visit. If I can just figure out the code to turn on the engine of this rocket ship, I can be in cyberspace by lunchtime.