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“Then I would shower love on our grandchildren and those that followed. I’d see them as often as I could. And of course, I’d like to be a neat housekeeper, because that’s very important.”

Robitzek didn’t think his retirement years would have been very different as a woman. “But if I got to the place where I couldn’t keep up with the housework, I would look for a retirement place like this,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we moved into a retirement place when my wife had her stroke. My wife’s still a little feeble, especially her right hand shakes quite a bit.”

In all his years, Robitzek had never wished he weren’t a man. “Oh, no,” he shook his head. “I think men have the better of it, even though the men hold the seats for the ladies and not the other way around. No, I would never wish that I were a woman instead of a man. And if I were a woman, I would maybe want to be a man. Especially knowing as a man what I have been through. And being fairly happy at 90 years old with a few minor ailments.

“The main reason I wouldn’t want to be a woman is that I would be getting into something unknown. I don’t know what’s in their minds. Whereas I know what I’ve had. I’ve enjoyed it. Right now, I’m the chairman of the council that advises management here in our retirement community. So I must have all my marbles. Otherwise they most certainly would not have elected me.”

Are there any women Robitzek would trade places with? “No. But I admire a lot of women,” he said. “For example, Barbara Bush. George W’s mother. I admire quite a few women athletes. But I can’t think of any right now.”

Oh My God. Who Am I?

You can’t get much further from David Robitzek than Garrett Collins. Perched in a corner office at Cal State University San Marcos, 30-year-old Collins sat in front of an oversized computer screen. “I’m an assistant webmaster for Cal State San Marcos,” Collins told me one winter afternoon soon after I spoke to David Robitzek. “I moonlight, teaching an information superhighway class for the college of business.”

With his sensitive blue eyes, Collins looked like the old college boyfriend you used to hang out with to discuss the meaning of life. He wore one earring in one ear, two in the other. His jeans and long-sleeved T-shirt made him indistinguishable from his students. He seemed eager to talk about his life and engaged in the reflexive self-analysis that distinguishes his generation from Robitzek’s.

“If I had to pick my earliest memory,” Collins told me, “I distinctly remember exploring the forest with my dog. I was about three years old. We lived up in Running Springs, east of Los Angeles. We had a big Alaskan malamute named Shaska. My sister had just been born.

“Elementary school was not a real happy time for me,” Collins said, moving forward in time. “My parents got divorced probably the year I started kindergarten. We’d moved to Escondido by then. There’s a great picture of me wearing plaid pants, tears streaming down my face on the first day of school. There were a lot of things falling apart in my life. I didn’t want to be left with strangers.

“Third grade was a good year,” Collins recalled. “My best friend, who I’m still friends with, started being friends with me that year. We played off each other all through school, sat off alone together during lunch. We were both into reading a lot. We read the Tolkien novels and talked about Middle Earth. It seemed like a much more exciting place, where we could be noble beings instead of being chased around the playground.”

Collins remembers being interested in girls from an early age. “I liked my Boy Scout leader’s daughter,” he said. “I was in fifth grade.” Collins started his first long-term relationship near the end of high school. “We actually lived together,” he confessed, “when she was 15 and I was 17. I was terrified. She called me one day and said, ‘My mom and I had a fight. I want you to come get me.’ I said, ‘Come get you?’ And she said, ‘You said you’d always be there for me if I ever needed you.’ So I said, ‘Okay.’

“We lived in a campground for the summer because neither of us was old enough to get an apartment. When she was 16 and I was 18, we got an apartment. Her mom said, ‘Okay, I’ll co-sign on this, and we won’t send the police after you.’ We were together for three years.”

After graduating from high school, Collins enrolled at Palomar College. He stayed there for six years. “My dad said he would pay for school,” Collins explained. “I took all the philosophy classes they had. I took some photography classes. I flunked a lot of the classes I took. I told myself, ‘I’m here to learn. I’m not here to waste my time writing silly essays.’ ”

During his tenure at Palomar, Collins broke up with his high school girlfriend. When he married a woman who also attended Palomar, he turned his academic life around. “I got straight A’s for two years,” Collins said. “Then my dad said he was going to stop paying for school.”

Wanting to avoid the real world for as long as possible, Collins applied to and gained acceptance at Cal State San Marcos in 1993. “I got grant money to stay in school,” he explained. “They didn’t have a philosophy department, so I picked English. I started as a junior.”

During his campus-orientation tour, Collins ran into an old friend who got him a job in the computer lab. “I started working in the computer lab while taking my bachelor’s,” Collins said. “I did real well as far as school goes. I got out after two years. Then I applied to the master’s program.”

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