The Rockaway Flaneur

By Lou Pastina

I recently ran into a friend on the boardwalk who said that he was reading a history of New York and came across the word “flaneur.” He said that the definition was a person back a few hundred years ago that walked around and observed the goings on around them. He said he thought the word could be applied to me. I was not familiar with the word, but when I got a chance, I looked the word up and learned a few things. Wikipedia reports that the word is typically used to refer to a male figure and indeed it does refer to a person who wanders around somewhat detached from society with no other purpose than to make acute observations about contemporary life. In fact, the word itself comes from the Old Norse verb flana and means to wander without purpose. I thought to myself, I think this friend of mine nailed it!

Next year, will be the tenth year since I left full-time employment. I’d like to say I retired, but when the request comes from the company at the end of one’s career, it’s really not that! Would I have stayed and worked a few more years? Probably. I did like the people I worked with, and I loved the NYSE and its place in history. But I did not like what the modern world and technology had brought to the brokerage business. It seemed to me to take all the fun out of the business. And it certainly eliminated all the “colorful characters” that were attracted to the business, people who were very smart, knew their eighths and quarters, and could think tactically. In the management ranks, I met a different type of smart, strategic smart, and learned so much from them. But every season has it’s turn, and when mine came, I was well prepared to move to the next phase. In speaking to a younger friend recently who just experienced a similar fate, he explained to me that he “googled” what to do in retirement. He came up with three different things he could do that would keep him active, engaged, and create a little cashflow. After a near 40-year career in banking, he is now a “background actor” and has appeared (in the background) on TV and film; he is a NYC tour guide telling the story of downtown Manhattan that he is so familiar with; and he is a substitute teacher. How wonderful! I wished I had hit google when I retired! If you are retiring soon, either voluntarily or not, there are many phases to life, and there is much ahead. Just google it!

The one thing that I really did do when I retired, which the pandemic interrupted, and the recent social disorder keeps at bay, was and is, to simply wander around New York, observing what I had rushed past before, or never noticed, or never took the time to really look at. I was lucky enough to have the Rockaway Times offer an outlet to report on my wanderings and observations and share them via the Lazer Speaks. So, when my friend tagged me as a flaneur, I have to say, I think he was right on target.

So, this past week, I have been idling away my time, not wandering, but simply waiting for the arrival of a new grandchild. This one will be a boy, and join his three girl cousins, my granddaughters. I hope one day to take them all on walking tours of New York before what I once knew disappears, as so much of old New York tends to do. Much is still there, but you really must look between the cracks to find it. If you see me wandering aimlessly, know that I am wandering with purpose!

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