Last week Carlos poured cement along the fence in our backyard in order to create a border for a new flowerbed. He used a curbing machine rather than the old-fashioned way, which involves trenching, setting forms, pouring, scraping and smoothing.

The job took 11/2 hours, start to finish. It was fascinating. Imagine watching a chicken lay an egg but instead of eggs, the curbing machine extruded a slanted, picture-perfect, 45-foot long gray curb.

Extruded. There's a power word. It's like squeezing toothpaste from a tube.

Carlos and I talked as he and his helper, Francisco, cleaned up.

"Are you retired?" he asked.

Was I retired? When somebody asks whether you are retired, they mean one of three things:

Did you retire early because you invented something like the cement curbing machine and it became so popular that a conglomerate made you an offer you couldn't refuse, and you didn't?

Maybe it wasn't business at all, but public safety. You worked for the fire or police department. You started at 20, retired at 50, having put in your 30 years and now you are enjoying a generous retirement program.

No. 3: You look old. You couldn't possibly be working anymore. Nobody who looks like you and who is as old as you are working.

If you were a restaurant, there'd be a sign out front reading, "Founded a long time ago."

The sign might also read, "Running out of gas. Should be closed soon."

I wondered what Carlos meant. I didn't look like a cop or a fireman, and he probably hadn't thought I'd invented a proprietary piece of software or made a fortune selling derivatives.

"No, I work," I said. "I'm going in late today. I have my own schedule."

Carlos looked at me kindly, as if to say, "Sure, Grandpa." I wouldn't have been surprised if he had put his arm around me and said, "It's OK, Dad. I'm sure you're very busy at work.

"If it makes you feel better, call it a job. I'll bet occasionally they give you a sticker for most improved employee."

I felt like Kramer in the "Seinfeld" episode when he keeps going to work even though he doesn't really have a job at the company.

It made me wonder. How old did I look? I felt young, but evidently the people with whom I was interacting were thinking, "That poor guy, he doesn't have much time left. I hope he has a will."

Carlos, I am an athlete. I work out. Can't you see my inherent youth? My agelessness?

Maybe not. Carlos, a capable man in his 40s who had recently run the L.A. Marathon, had me deader than a doornail.

We finished the chat, he produced a bill and I paid, giving him a healthy tip. A tip for a tip -- his being, "Don't delay. Give it all you have because the clock is ticking."

I am. My work is intense. Whatever it is I do.

These are Herb Benham's opinions and not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at