By Pat Rakowski

For years, as I struggled to work, raise two children, and make ends meet, I daydreamed about winning the lottery. A 1977 Johnny Paycheck song, "Take This Job and Shove It," fueled some of my favorite fantasies. In one version, I sat in a sunlit beach house, looking at the ocean while I called my boss on the phone. In another, I arrived at the office in a shiny, black, stretch limo to personally announce that I'd quit.

But now that I'm older and actually considering retirement, work doesn't seem like the chore it once was. It's like having to eat vegetables when you're a kid. When you're forced to do it, they all taste terrible. Later on, when you have a choice, you're surprised to find out some of them are actually pretty good.

My friend Lou is 71 and, so far, he's retired twice. The first time was shortly after his older brother died suddenly at 65. Back then, when Lou was 64, he realized that "tomorrow" wasn't guaranteed and he decided to enjoy his remaining days. In the mornings, he worked out at the gym, had coffee and a bagel while he read the newspaper, then watched the stock market report. Restaurant lunches with his wife were a regular treat. In the afternoons, there were movies or news channels to watch and gardening to do. He took frequent sightseeing trips and, once in a while, visited the Atlantic City casinos.

Lou realized he was procrastinating in updating his will and putting other paperwork in order. The stock market wasn't doing as well as he'd hoped, either. After 18 months of retirement, he took a temporary job. When it ended, he retired a second time. Three months later, though, he accepted yet another offer, and he's been working since.

Being employed has advantages, even beyond the money. Entertainer Sally Starr retired at 83 because she was tired and went back to work a year later because she was bored. I think what I'd miss most are my sociable coworkers and the free coffee. Without work time, would I appreciate leisure time? What about having a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction?

According to a 2005 AARP article, 30 percent of those 65 to 70 are interested in doing meaningful work; many of them think of retirement as a chance to switch to work that suits them better. Hmmm . . ..

Now, Lou is thinking of retiring for a third time. I wonder whether he really will - and for how long.

It's funny how some of us don't want to work when we're younger and don't know whether we want to stop when we get older. Maybe it's just one more example of the grass always looking greener on the other side of the fence?

To paraphrase a line from

Hamlet

, "To work or not to work: that is the question." Did I mention there's free coffee at work?