With a Little Help
Autobiography of Rick Wagner

Chapter 9: Retirement

Move to Hawaii

In August of 2010 I set my retirement date for November 1, 2010 (October 31, last day of employment). We put the house on the market and in mid-November we moved to Oahu, Hawaii, leaving Thomas in charge of the house in Torrance. I also left him my 1998 blue Saturn coupe as Andrea and I shipped the white Malibu station wagon to Oahu.

Robotics Team Mentorship

When we arrived in Honolulu (all of Oahu is the city of Honolulu) in early November, 2010, greeting Andrea's Mom at her house. We then flew to the Big Islan for a one week vacation and aerospace conference. We stayed at the Orchid Hotel in Kohala. Then we returned to Oahu and settled into the house where Andrea grew up.

My first post-retirement projects, a rigid icosahedral hot air balloon. Photo by Andrea.

we used some of our contacts in the educational robotics community to see how we could support robotics students in Hawaii. We visited Andrea's alma mater Saint Andrew's Priory (elementary and high school) and saw what their VEX team was up to. We had heard that the high school team in Mililani needed help, but it was too far away. The private schools Punahou and Iolani have FIRST robotics teams, but we felt we could do the most good at a public school. Kaiser High School in Hawaii Kai is public and close but they did not have a FIRST team, and we didn't think it was practical at the time to attempt starting one. Kalani High School is also close has a FIRST team that started in 2008 when they won the Rookie Allstars Award. They won the Chairman's award in 2009. So we visited the team and their mentor/teacher Brian Silver. We joined the team as mentors and have continued since then. As with Beach Cities Robotics, I created some team supplemental pages to document team and mentorship activities. In 2016 the Kalani High School robotics team changed its name to Team Magma.

House Addition

We moved into the house in Wailupe Valley that Andrea had grown up in. Andrea's Mom, Lenore, welcomed us to her home and we began to make plans to add on a room and bathroom for us, as soon as the house in Torrance sold.

The house was originally built in the early 1950s as a single wall construction of eight-by-one mahogany tongue and groove boards. Because the wood was in good shape, we salvaged all the mahogany boards. I built bookshelves of some of the wood, and some of it we took to Zelko Woodworks in Kailua to have custome cabinets built for the bathroom.

Becky came to visit us during the remodel process. Here she is standing on the slab of the demolished bedroom.

The room addition started in the winter of 2011 and was completed in 2012.


Both of us being retired, Andrea and I both became active in volunteerism. After all the help I received in my lifetime, both from friends and strangers, it is only fitting to give back to the community. Here is a list of volunteer organizations and activities we have been involved in since 2011 (in alphabetical order):

In the Winter of 2016 ago I was at Sans Souci Beach, walking by the Natatorium, barefoot in my swim trunks, when I saw two young men go racing by. One was barefoot with a backpack and the other was shirtless and wearing zoris. Both had long pants on. What was unusual is that they were running at full speed, so I assumed they were racing each other, perhaps on a bet that bare feet were faster than slippers. But when they came to the walkway behind the Aquarium, they slowed down and kept running instead of stopping and giving high fives or something like one would expect at the end of a footrace. Just then two young women came running up in pursuit. Then I got it. I asked “Did they take your backpack?” One said yes. I said, “Call the cops,” and I took off in pursuit. I slowly gained on them. The barefoot one split off toward the street and the shirtless one paralleled the beach walkway at Queen’s Surf Beach. I continued gaining on the shirtless one as he put on a black t-shirt as he ran. He ran through the bushes at the beach bar café and I was very close when he emerged on the opposite side of the café. I stayed on the flagstone walkway and he slowed to a fast walk. I had winded him. I kept a slow jog as I followed about ten feet behind and to one side. I had my cell phone with camera with me in my left hand the whole time, so I got it ready to take a photo, then zoomed ahead about 20 feet, stopped, pivoted, and got ready to snap a picture. He saw what I was doing, turned his head away, and veered off toward the street where just then police cars drove up in front of him and made the arrest. Both fugitives were apprehended. Later, when the young ladies were making their statement to the police, I went over to make sure everything was OK. They thanked me and I went back to the beach.

Self Interview

Andrea and I signed up for a writing course at UH's lifelong learning institute in the spring of 2016. Andrea developed a scheduling conflict so I attended the course on memoir writing by myself in the spring semester of 2016. Our first writing assignment was to do a self-interview. Here it is:

Why do your views always seem so controversial?

Actually, as most of my views are fairly conventional, it must be that my controversial views are the ones that get noticed more, so that people get distracted from how ordinary I am in many ways.

One of your views that often seems to irritate people is your philosophy of neo-hedonism. Tell us how that got started.

Most people who know a bit about philosophy regard hedonism as an archaic and unsuitable approach to life and unworthy of a modern-thinking and ethical person. However, my education in science leads me to say, similar to what Einstein said about a scientific theory, that a philosophy ought to be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. So perhaps I am simplistic, but if simple serves, then I see no reason for unnecessary complications.

So hedonism is suitably simple. What else does it offer?

Because the term “hedonism” has received such a bad reputation among philosophers, a better term might be “the science of desire.” The ancients noted that pleasure might be the only intrinsic good, and they were indeed onto something. What the moderns have failed to note is that a human being can desire far more than sensory pleasures, and far more powerfully too. We can define pleasure as what one experiences when one does what pleases him or her. For example, most people get pleasure from learning new things, in solving a problem, or from understanding a complex idea. Pleasure can be derived from helping others, from teaching children, and so on. Kant’s ideal of living one’s life as if it were to be held up as an example to others seems like a long drink of tepid water in comparison to the pleasures of altruism and upholding justice.

I’m still not convinced. How do you explain the bad choices of hedonists who end up as heroin addicts?

Drugs and other addictions can be horribly distracting vices, and those who give in to them are obviously not optimizing pleasure over their lifetimes. That’s why I say “science of desire.” Maximizing one’s pleasure return on investment of effort is another way of putting it. William Burroughs in his novel Naked Lunch said of heroin that “if God made anything better, He kept it for himself.” Burroughs then noted that a heroin addict will eventually get tired of sitting on the floor looking at his shoe, and move on to something else, assuming he lives long enough. Hence, pursuit of short-term sensual pleasures is easily seen as a diversion at best and often a horrifying dead end.

But other philosophies make similar recommendations about virtue, work ethic, and so on.

Yes, but the philosophical principle of Occam’s Razor suggests that the simpler approach is the better one.

We’re just about out of time. Is there anything more you want to say about your neo-hedonism before we move on?

I want to say a bit about that greatest of human emotions, love, in its several forms. Romantic love is known to be pleasurable along with the various sensuous activities shared by lovers. Divine love, brotherly love, love of constructive work, companionship, building of community and camaraderie, etc. are all associated with positive feelings. I have studied many philosophies and systems of ethics, and I keep coming back to hedonism. Simpler is better.

We understand that you are a practitioner of bonsai. Can you tell us a little about it?

Bonsai is the art of growing trees in containers, usually with the aim of evoking the spirit of a tree in nature. It’s one of the few arts that use living media, and it’s one of the few things in life that improves with age. Some bonsai are over 500 years old.

How did you get started with bonsai?

When I was fourteen I read an article on bonsai in Sunset magazine. It looked interesting so I went out to the front yard and dug up one of my mother’s junipers, pruned the roots and branches, put it in a pot, put it on my windowsill, and watched it slowly die over the next month. Not to be deterred, I tried it again with the same result. Then I forgot about it until I was in my 30s when I saw a bonsai class advertised at a local adult school. I was hooked by the pleasures (there's that word again) of bonsai and have been doing it since. I have about three dozen bonsai, most grown from seed.

So what is it about bonsai that you find so interesting?

Bonsai is really about looking at trees: trees in nature as well as trees in pots. All of the trees in nature have something to tell us. Old and venerable trees show a difficult but successful struggle to live. Examples of this can be seen in Chinese and Japanese art, as well as in the images of modern photographers and painters. Having a bonsai is bringing a part of nature into intimate contact with a human living space. Growing and working with a bonsai is fulfilling an intimate contract with the tree as well as producing a collaborative work of art.

Contract with the tree?

Yes, the bonsaist is saying by his actions, essentially, “I will protect you from predators and competitors, but you have to live under the constraints I impose. I’ll try not to kill you.”

How have your thirty years with bonsai changed you?

With bonsai one becomes more accustomed to long term thinking. When looking at a tree I’m working on, it’s not uncommon to be looking five to ten years into the future. Even near-term activities have a time scale of a month or so and usually more than six months. If you remove a branch, it will be years before the scar heals completely. When you fertilize, don’t look for much change until several weeks have gone by. You begin to look at trees differently. You pay more attention to trees in nature. You try to see what it is that makes a particular tree beautiful or memorable. You appreciate the quality of venerability in an old tree. There are also contemplative aspects to the enjoyment of bonsai. The motto of my bonsai club in California is “Serenity through bonsai.” Co-founder of the club and sensei Leila Kusumi used to tell of coming home from work with a headache, but five minutes with her bonsai would make the headache go away.

When you first attempt styling a tree for bonsai, it seems impenetrable and baffling. After a few years you begin seeing things easily, like how to find the front of the tree, how to change the planting angle of the tree for best effect, which branches to remove, how to form them wire, and whether to cut branches or break them.

Finally, bonsai people are a community of some of the nicest people one will ever meet. We like to get together for club meetings, bonsai shows, dinners and other events. Participating in the bonsai community has enriched my life and that of my family. Eventually I became active in the club and became responsible for arranging for sensei to give demonstrations to the club, and when I was elected club president, it was personally rewarding to be responsible for putting on club shows and other events. Later I became active in politics, and, due in part to experience in bonsai leadership, I extended my influence to a larger portion of society.

My Photo Journal

In 2011 I began keeping a month-by-month photo journal that documents Andrea's and my activities post-retirement. For a month or two I started keeping it by weekly pages at daughter Becky's suggestion (because the pages tended to become long in a monthly format), but that was unweildy and unworkable, so I reverted to the monthly format. Here it is, my photo journal.

This link to my photo journal ends my autobiography. If you have gotten this far, thank you for your attention! Let me know if you found it interesting (I know, you wouldn't have read this far if you hadn't). Mahalo.

Embedded Windows media file (01wotan.wma)

Sixtieth birthday music sent to me in 2009 by Anita Meldt: "Wotan" by Klaus Schulze and Lisa Gerrard,
from the album Rheingold: Live at the Loreley, composed by Klaus Schulze.

My mother named me after the German composer Richard Wagner, creator of operas about German mythology, so this German abstract music titled Wotan is fitting, I think. Wotan (AKA Woden) was one of the major Nordic/Germanic gods. Thank you, Anita.

Disclaimer: In spite of his creating some beautiful music, Wagner was also a notorious anti-Semite. That does not describe me.

Outrigger Reef Hotel, Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii, with rainbow. November 23, 2011.

Note to other Rick Wagners about the use of our name: I am Richard J. Wagner, and I know there are lots of us Richard Wagners who go by "Rick." I use our name, "Rick Wagner," in the title of this autobiography because that's the name I go by. I established my personal home page under that name back in 1995, long before many people even knew the Internet (much less the Web) existed. So I consider that I have a kind of Web presence precedence, and therefore am entitled to use my nickname in the title of my work. I know and/or hope you will understand.

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This page created November 19, 2016.
Updated December 15, 2016.
Last updated April 30, 2017