Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chapter 10; Part 2 - Evenings Out

There’s a whole procedure in place at Harbor View to sign up for these shows. At the end of each month, Mom and Dad receive a list of shows that will be coming to Harbor View the following month. Mom and Dad check off which ones they would like to see and drop the form off at the clubhouse office. They then receive a notice of which shows they got into and where their seats are located. It is all done by the lottery system so that no one complains they were treated unfairly. Okay, so maybe some people complain, this is a development of old people, after all. But the lottery system does at least make the process a little fairer for everyone involved.

This sign-up process always leads to discussions among Mom, Dad, and their friends about which shows they got into, which ones they got ‘shut out’ of, and whether their seats are great, so-so, or lousy. This year Mom called me to complain that she and Dad got ‘shut out’ of Du Du Fisher for the third year in a row.

“That’s too bad,” I said, not even knowing who this guy was, but immediately feeling sorry that he was stuck with such a ridiculous name.

“I don’t think I would have minded so much if we got ‘shut out’ for the third year in a row, if other people got ‘shut out’ too,” Mom complained, “But Phyllis’ sister, Harriet got in, and this is only her first season at Harbor View.”

“Well, what can you do? That’s what happens when places use a lottery system,” I answered.

“The worst part is,” Mom went on, “Harriet even got good seats.”

Of course these shows may not be the hottest tickets in town, but they’re still given by live performers, nonetheless (most of them anyway), and the tickets are pretty cheap. In fact, they only cost between five and 20 dollars per show. Five dollars gets you into a show by an old mediocre comedian from Vaudeville, while 20 dollars is warranted for relatively younger acts like Tony Orlando (yes, the one of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” fame) who will sing and dance for you. Personally, I think it should be the other way around, with the older performer garnering the most money, because you never know when it’s going to be his last performance. For Mom and Dad and the rest of the residents of Harbor View, five to 20 dollars is a great deal for evening entertainment. For the performers, I’m not so sure. I don’t think any of them are putting ‘Played at the Harbor View Clubhouse on their résumés.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chapter 10, Part 1 - Evenings Out

After an evening of indulging in large portions of food at Antonio’s, Bubbe’s, or Wu’s Chinese Buffet, Mom and Dad and their friends sometimes go out for a night on the town, or at least a night on the Harbor View grounds. Often this means attending a show at the theatre in the Harbor View clubhouse. I am told that many people actually choose to live in Harbor View over other retirement condominiums in Florida because of the theatre that is in the clubhouse. It is the largest one in the area. And with the vast theatre comes the best acts that come to Florida. During the high season (December to April) there are approximately 20 shows per month – live shows – musicians, comedians, and dancers who are famous – or at least once were.

I never get too excited by the performers that Mom tells me about, mostly because I have never heard of them. In the past few years Mom and Dad have seen shows with the following performers: Freddie Roman, Alan King, Mal Z. Lawrence, Marilyn Michaels, and Sam Butera. Mom informs me that they were all big stars in their day, and that the shows are usually fantastic. She always seems to get annoyed when I tell her I haven’t heard of some of these people.

“What are you doing tonight?” I ask Mom on the phone one day.

“Oh, we’re going to a show with Donna McKechnie,” Mom replies.

“Is that the nice woman who lives downstairs from you?”

“No, we’re going to see Donna McKechnie. You mean to tell me you’ve never heard of her?”

“No, who is she?” I ask.

“She’s a very talented dancer and singer. She danced on Broadway for many years.”

“Oh, sorry, I never heard of her.”

“She’s danced with some of the best of them, honey. I can’t believe you never heard of her,” Mom’s voice rises an octave at the second sentence.

“Sorry, Mom. She must have been before my time,” I say. “If I had heard of her, that would probably make me eligible for residency at Harbor View.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chapter 9, Part 4 - Eating Out

I must say this, though, eating out IS a real bargain in Florida when compared to eating out in New York, Washington, or other Northeast cities. At an Italian restaurant in DC, for example (and not just in the city either, even in the suburbs) they charge a minimum of $8 for a plate of pasta and this usually does not include salad and certainly not dessert. Salad is an extra $3.95 ($4.95 for Caesar) and dessert is close to five bucks nowadays – for a piece of pie. So a meal in Florida that costs $7.99 is more than twice as much where I live. Which is probably a good thing, or else I’d probably be eating out all of the time, too.

Not that I don’t like to eat out; I do. In fact, I like to eat out as much as the next person (unless ‘the next person’ happens to be a resident of Harbor View). However, I feel as if that is all we do when I visit Mom and Dad in Florida – eat, eat, and eat some more. I always look forward to going for my weeklong trip to Florida each winter because it gives me a chance to go outside and take longs walks in the nice weather, after being cooped up inside up North all winter long. But then at the end of the week we go to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and I lose everything I’ve gained from exercise (or rather I gain everything I’ve lost). Oh well, I often think, biting into an egg roll, (slice of pizza, piece of cheesecake or whatever food I am eating at the time), I’ll go for an extra long walk in the morning.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chapter 9, Part 3 - Eating Out

Food is a favorite topic for Mom, Dad, and their friends to talk about, no matter where they are. They talk about it at the pool in the afternoon.

“Phyllis, where do you want to eat tonight – Nana’s Nosh or Antonio’s?” Mom asks while slathering suntan lotion on her legs.

“Oh, Herb and I ate at Nana’s last night. They never brought us any pickles and we asked them about three times. Let’s go to Antonio’s instead,” Phyllis replies.

“That’s fine. Actually, Flo did mention to me that the service was going downhill at Nana’s. It’s a shame, too because they really do have the best matzo ball soup.” Mom says.

“You think so?” Phyllis says, “I like Bubbe’s soup much better.”

They talk about food when they are on the golf course.

“We’d better play an extra nine, Herb,” Dad says. “We’re eating at Antonio’s for dinner tonight.”

“Oh, you’re right. Thanks for reminding me. Gotta make room for that delicious New York cheesecake,” Herb answers.

They even talk about food while they are eating out.

“Ummm, this egg drop soup is delicious, and the noodles are extra crispy today. I can eat here again tomorrow,” Phyllis says one night at Wu’s Chinese Buffet.

“Phyllis, we’re eating at Barney’s tomorrow night, remember? They have that special with the all-you-can-stuff-your-face salad bar on Tuesday nights,” Mom reminds her.

“Oh yeah. You’re right. Maybe we’ll come back here the day after.”

A few days before I was set to visit Mom and Dad this year, Mom called me up and said, “We have to take you to Finnochio’s when you get here. They have the best chicken marsala. And it comes with a delicious Caesar salad, nice warm dinner rolls, and dessert – choice of pudding, ice cream, or cake.”

“Sounds good, Mom,” I muttered.

“Oh, and the portions are so huge. I usually take home half the chicken and eat it for lunch the next day. And I often try to sneak out one of those good rolls, too.”

“Sounds good, Mom,” I tried to fake enthusiasm.

“Oh, and the best part is,” she continued, “it’s only $7.99 for the whole meal. Can’t beat that price,” she chirped.

“Sounds good, Mom,” I said. For some reason, I just can’t seem to match Mom’s excitement over a piece of chicken. Maybe in 30 years.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Chapter 9, Part 2 - Eating Out

Speaking of people who do not live in Harbor View, I must make mention here about Mom and Dad’s other friends in Florida. Mom and Dad moved from New York to Pennsylvania when they were in their thirties. Having both been born and raised in New York, they left a lot of friends behind. Now that they are spending their winters in Florida, they have reacquainted with a number of them, since many New Yorkers, as it is well-known, have also retired to Florida.

“Oooh, I feel like I am back in New York again,” Mom said to me one day.

“Why, because of the food?” I asked, knowing that many Florida restaurants feature New York delicacies such as bagels, bialys, black and white cookies, and egg creams.

“Well, that, too. But I go out with so many of my old friends, it’s like we never moved away.”

The proof that so many New Yorkers have retired to this southern state is that there are actually class reunions for New York high schools – more than 1,000 miles away in South Florida. If you open one of the local Florida papers in any given week, you will see announcements like “Stuyvesant High School class of 1951 reunion at Willow Lakes on Sat. February 28” or “Bronx High School of Science 50th class reunion being held this Saturday.”

Mom and Dad knew that some of their old New York friends had retired to Florida, but they have run into many of the others by coincidence. For example, Mom will be talking to a woman on the Harbor View shuttle bus, and the other person will mention the neighborhood she lives in back home in New York. Mom will ask her if she knows an old friend of hers. And the other woman will say, “Oh yeah, they have retired here to Florida, only about 10 minutes away.” It has happened so many times that Mom doesn’t even find it uncanny anymore. Of course, Mom then goes and calls these old friends up, and they make plans to get together and reminisce – over dinner, of course.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chapter 9, Part 1 - Eating Out

If you compared the activities at Harbor View to an ice cream sundae, then eating out at night in restaurants would be the whipped cream on top (and in Florida that would include all-you-can-pile-on cherries, sprinkles, and nuts). Every evening, after a morning of activities or shopping, and an afternoon of lounging by the pool, the residents of Harbor View and other condo developments in Florida embark on their evening rituals, which usually begin with eating out. Eating out in Florida is an activity in and of itself, and I do believe that it is this activity, rather than golf or Mah Jongg, that many of the retirees at Harbor View actually come for.

To begin with, there are more choices of restaurants than your stomach can imagine – Chinese buffets, Jewish delicatessens, Greek diners, Italian trattorias, Cuban bodagas, Mexican cantinas, bagelries, bakeries, and more. And of course, there are several to choose from in each of these types. With so many restaurants, one might think that the best of the restaurants in each category would drive the others out of business.

But ‘the best’ is always subject to interpretation, and when it comes to old people and food in Florida, there’s a lot of serious interpretation going on.

“You must try the matzo ball soup at Nana’s Nosh,” Mom said to me on a recent visit.

“Only if you want your blood pressure to rise 20 points. It is full of salt,” her friend Flo retorted. “Bubbe’s is much better. The matzo balls are fluffier, too.”

Or in the case of some restaurants, there’s a general consensus that one food is the best at a certain restaurant, while another food in the same category is the best at another. So, if you are in the mood for chicken picata, you go to Giuseppe’s, where the chicken picata is fantastic, but all of the other entrees are lousy. On the other hand, if you are craving veal parmesan, you go to Antonio’s, where the veal parmesan is out of this world, but the picata is very much in it. If you are dying for some chicken picata, and your partner is craving veal parmesan, then you are out of luck. So you go to Tony’s where nothing is great, but it’s all-you-can-eat for $6.95.

Going out to dinner is an almost nightly event among Mom, Dad, and their friends. Like many other residents, Mom and Dad sometimes go out by themselves. Other times they dine with Flo and Irv, and still other times they eat with friends of theirs from the ‘Young in Spirit’ club. Furthermore, if Mom and Dad want to get together with friends who do not live in Harbor View (and who are unwilling to pay the $3 visitor’s fee to sit at the pool), what better way to catch up with them than over dinner? “Besides,” Mom says, “with the cheap prices at the restaurants here, it just doesn’t pay to cook.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chapter 8, Part 4 - The Doctors

Unfortunately, nearly every season or two, Mom, Dad, or one of their friends has had to pay a visit to the emergency room at the local hospital. The first couple of years they were there, Mom and Dad were lucky enough not to have to go. Flo, however, tripped in aerobics one morning during her second season in Florida, and her leg swelled up like her husband’s stomach after dinner at a Chinese buffet. She was in a lot of pain, too. So, Irv drove her over to the emergency room where she sat and sat and sat. After two and one-half hours of sitting in the waiting room, they finally brought her into an examining room to look at her leg and take a couple of x-rays. Then she sat around there for another hour before they could get a doctor in to read the x-rays. Fortunately, it turned out only to be a bad sprain. They gave her an air cast and some painkillers and sent her on her way.

Spraining her leg, however, did give Flo the benefit of having something to talk about at the pool for a few days. “Would you believe that when I called to cancel my reservations for the ‘Young in Spirit’ square dance because of my leg, they said I couldn’t get my money back?”

“You’re kidding. Did you tell the person in charge that you fell and are unable to dance?” Mom asked.

“Of course, I told her,” Flo replied. “You know what she had the nerve to say? That she wouldn’t refund my money because I am still able to get around. She said some of the members in wheelchairs are even coming to the dance, and that I should come to sit and watch the others dance. Like watching other people do-se-do while my leg is in a cast would be any fun.”

Spraining her leg, also gave Flo a chance to commiserate with some of her other comrades who also have had to pay visits to the emergency room at one time or another.

“Oy, the wait in that place was atrocious; you get bread in Russia faster than they see you in the emergency room,” Flo said at dinner one evening. “I was there for over five hours.”

“Well, that’s because they triage you,” Dad explained, “Obviously someone with chest pains would get seen faster than that. If it’s not that serious of an injury, I’ve heard that waits of five to six hours are common in that hospital.”

“Well, I would hope they see you faster for chest pains or you could die in that place waiting. To begin with, most of the people in the emergency room aren’t too young when they get there. The average age in the waiting room must have been 83. Then they have to wait several hours to be seen. Gosh, it was so crowded there with old people. That emergency room really packs them in”

“Well, that’s who does a good business in Florida,” Mom said, “hospitals.”

“And doctors,” Flo added.

Unfortunately, the following year Dad was able to prove his triage theory to Flo. At about eight in the evening, he began to have a couple of chest pains. Mom got so scared that she drove him over to the emergency room herself, even though she normally doesn’t drive in Florida. All Dad had to do was say, “chest pain” and the nurses took him in to be seen right away. They checked his vital signs, took some chest x-rays, and gave him an EKG before they determined he had a bad case of indigestion, probably from the large meal at Barney’s earlier that evening.

“I told you they triage the patients. They took me right away,” he told Flo the next day. “I made it out of the emergency room in a record two and a half hours.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chapter 8, Part 3 - The Doctors

Either once a week, every couple of weeks, or once a month, in between participating in their club activities or shopping in the morning and relaxing by the pool in the afternoon, most Harbor View residents have to take time out of their busy schedules to visit their doctor or doctors.

Mom goes every other week to the allergist for her allergy shots and once a month to her general practitioner to have her cholesterol level checked. Dad goes just once a season to an orthopedic doctor to have him check on his bad knee. Flo and Irv each go once a week – Flo to an internist to check on her circulation problems and to have her legs massaged, and Irv to a general practitioner who specializes in diabetes to have him check on his insulin levels. The Harbor View condo development even gets in on the action by offering blood pressure checks every Tuesday afternoon at the clubhouse. ‘Get your blood pressure checked in between ceramics and water ballet’ the signs in the clubhouse proclaim.

Of course, when they are not currently on a visit to the doctors or getting their blood pressure checked, the discussions among the residents will sometimes center on the subject of health.

“How do you like your new doctor?” Mom asks Flo.

“Oh, I like him much better than that young woman doctor I went to on 34th Street. I don’t think she believed anything I ever told her.”

“Was it that Dr. Feldman on 34th?” Sylvia joins the conversation.

“Yeah, it was. How did you know, Sylvia?” Flo asks.

“Because you said she’s young, and she doesn’t believe anything you tell her. I used to go to her, and she can be like that; she pooh-poohs everything. Wait till she gets to be our age, then she’ll understand what we’re talking about.”

“I just don’t think the doctors down here are as good as the ones back home,” Mom says.

“I agree. I think they all just come here for the weather,” Flo adds.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Chapter 8, Part 2 - The Doctors

Residents with diabetes – and there are many of them at Harbor View – have to take special precautions with their health, mostly with their diet. In addition to the medication they take, they have to make sure they eat the correct foods at restaurants like Bubbe’s, Antonio’s, and Harvey’s. If they love sweets but have diabetes, they do not have to worry. Bubbe’s and most other restaurants in Florida offer two kinds of cake for dessert – regular and sugar free, in addition to sugar-free pie, sugar-free ice cream, and sugar-free candy. As Dad’s friend Irv, who has diabetes, says, “Diabetes is not a pleasant thing to have anywhere you live, but if you are unfortunate enough to be afflicted with this disease, it is best to have it while living in Florida.”

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chapter 8, Part 1 - The Doctors

When old age hits, people usually experience a decrease in health and an increase in the number of ailments affecting them. Chronic ailments are as common to residents of Harbor View as chronic colds are to children in daycare. Some of the most typical ones affecting residents include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, bad knees, bad backs, and bad hearts.

With this increase in illnesses comes an increase in the amount of medication the elderly folks have to take. Popping pills is nothing to be ashamed of for residents at Harbor View. Being on medication is not something to hide as it may have been in residents’ younger days. When they were young, they probably wanted to keep the news that they were on medication a secret. Now that they are old, folks at Harbor View pop pills out in the open for all to see.

They pop them while eating out. Mom takes three pills before embarking on her evening meal, thus turning a three-course meal into a six-course one. Her friends Flo and Irv each take two pills after dinner, in addition to several more they each take at other times of the day. Dad is lucky to only have to take one pill a day, and he takes it at breakfast, in the privacy of his own home.

Others take their pills earlier in the day as well. Both men and women can be seen taking pills while sitting around the pool in the afternoon. In the middle of a discussion of tomorrow’s dinner, for instance, Mom’s friend Phyllis will overtly put a pill in her mouth, which will lead to a change in topic from the new menu item at Antonio’s to the latest medication. Some of these residents are so intimate with their knowledge of illnesses and the different medications used for those ailments that they throw around terms for diseases and prescriptions like they are doctors at a medical convention.

“So what are you taking for your osteoporosis? I hear most people now only have to take a pill once a week,” Mom says to Phyllis.

“I’m on the alendronate sodium tablets. I still do the once daily routine, though” Phyllis answers.

“You really should talk to your doc about getting a different prescription. Hardly anyone does the daily routine anymore.”

“Believe me, I know more about the options available to me than my doctor does; I’ve been on this medication forever. The reality is that I’m one of those few people who still has to take it every day,” Phyllis replies.

Still other people take their pills late in the day. Mom said sometimes she will be sitting at a show at the clubhouse in the evening when all of a sudden an alarm will go off, which will cause her to jump out of her seat. She will look around to seek out the source of the noise and inevitably, it is someone’s watch alarm. Mom says she always wants to scold the person, but then she will see the offender pop a few pills in his mouth, and she will nod understandingly.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chapter 7, Part 6 - The Pool

The most typical conversations around the pool, however, are about the everyday goings on in Florida of the other residents of Harbor View, and not always (okay, almost never) in a complimentary fashion. These conversations usually take place a minute or so after the person has left the pool.

“Did you see the new car that Phyllis and Herb bought? They paid a fortune for it, and it’s the ugliest color.” Stan says to Dad and the other men as Phyllis and Herb exit the pool area.

“That’s funny, Phyllis told me they got a good deal on it,” Flo answers.

“Nah, they got ripped off big time. Herb doesn’t know how to bargain.”

“Are you talking about that hideous-colored car that Phyllis and Herb bought?” Sylvia cuts in on the conversation. “Phyllis’ sister told me that they paid cash for it. Who has that kind of money lying around?”

“Stupid ones, that’s who,” Stan answers.

“Shhh…Herb will hear you,” Mom says, “I think I see him coming back for his towel.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Chapter 7, Part 5 - The Pool

Mom tells me that sometimes the conversations around the pool resemble a childhood game of ‘Telephone’ (or ‘Whisper Down the Lane,’ as we used to call it in Pennsylvania). In early January this past season, Phyllis and Stan were driving up to Charleston for their niece’s wedding in their 15-year old car with high mileage on it. On the second day they were gone, Mom and Dad went to the pool in the afternoon, as usual.

“Did you hear?” Flo asked Mom as soon as they got there, “Phyllis and Stan’s car broke down in southern Georgia and they couldn’t get someone to fix it, so they had to call a taxi to drive them several more hours to Charleston.”

“What’s he doing driving a car with 200,000 miles on it more than eight hours away, anyway?” Irv asked.

“Especially since they broke down once before – last spring on their way home from Florida,” Hymie added.

The next day when Mom and Dad went to the pool, Susan said to her, “Did you hear that Phyllis and Herb’s car broke down and they had to find a ride to the nearest airport so they could fly to Charleston? Now they have to find a shop that will fix their car or they will have to fly home too. My God, they will end up spending a small fortune for last-minute airline tickets.”

During the next few days when Mom and Dad went to the pool the story kept changing, and the situation was always described as more dire than the day before. The mileage was up to 250,000, the estimated repairs to the car reached astronomical proportions, and the story had become that Phyllis and Herb had to hire a private driver or the bride was going to have to delay the wedding, so that her beloved aunt and uncle wouldn’t miss it.

A few days later when Mom heard (at the pool, of course) that Phyllis and Herb had came home, she called them immediately.

“How are you doing and how’s your car? I was so worried about you,” Mom said to Phyllis, relaying the stories she had heard at the pool.

“Oh my goodness, it wasn’t anywhere near that bad. The car was smoking on the highway – the car has 180,000 miles on it, after all. We called a tow truck and had them bring us to the nearest service station. There we were told that they would have to fix the radiator and it would take about four hours. I called one of the neighbors in my building whose husband was a mechanic to ask her if he thought we were paying a fair price. Which, by the way, he said we were. The guy at the service station actually had the car ready sooner than promised – in three and half hours, and we were on our way. Wow, I can’t believe the stories that were told about us,” Phyllis said.

“Oh, I’m just glad everyone is all right,” Mom told her, “It’s good you weren’t gone any longer, though, or the people at the pool would have had you buying a new car up there just so you could drive home.”

“Well, I do think we’ll get a new car after this experience, but we will buy it down here when we have time to shop around. This one really isn’t too dependable anymore. Besides, if we don’t get rid of this car,” Phyllis said, “the next time we take a trip, the situation might become as bad as the rumors that were flying, or rather swimming, around the pool.”

Friday, May 8, 2009

Chapter 7, Part 4 - The Pool

And of course the subject of the crazy drivers in Florida always comes up around the pool.

“The people down here cannot drive,” Dad complains to his pool buddies. “This morning some old man in front of me made a left turn from the far right lane.”

“Aaah, that’s nothing. That happens all the time. I was stuck behind some woman yesterday doing 15 in a 45.” Hymie adds to the conversation.

“That’s an old one too. I have the clincher. I saw a woman last week steer her husband’s car from the passenger seat, while he drove,” Stan says.

“They should make people stop driving when they turn 85,” Dad suggests.

“Hey, watch what you say. Some of us here are already 85,” Hymie says.

“Are you only 85, Hymie? I thought you were 87,” quips Stan.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chapter 7, Part 3 - The Pool

Other topics of conversation around the pool among both men and women include which service people to retain while they are temporarily living in Florida.

“Phyllis do you like the beauty parlor you go to? I cannot seem to find a hairdresser down here who does my hair as well as my stylist back home,” Mom asks.

“Yeah, my hair salon is the only place in the area that is any good. But make sure you ask for my hairdresser. His name is Phil, and he’s the best around. If he’s not available, you can go to Marco. But, no matter what you do, don’t go to Linda. Her haircuts are good, but she doesn’t know how to color. She always makes my hair too red. I have to warn you, though, they charge a small fortune at this place.” Phyllis says.

“That’s okay. I pay an arm and a leg back home, too. Speaking of legs, how is yours doing?” Mom turns to Flo.

In the meantime, the discussion between Dad and his friends changes topics to services as well:

“Hymie, where do you take your car for an oil change?” Dad asks.

“I go to the place on Palm and 34th. The one with the big coconut out front pouring out oil,” Hymie says.

“Oh, no,” Stan interjects, “‘Oil, Not Toil’ is a much better place. The one on Hinden Boulevard, though, not the one on Lake Drive. They’re all a bunch of young kids at the Lake Drive shop.”

“Aah, they’re all young kids to me.” Hymie replies.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Chapter 7, Part 2 - The Pool

While the women gossip, the men are discussing a more pressing issue – their money. Of course, you might think that the men are talking about some important topics such as which stocks are prudent to be invested in, how the country’s economy is doing, or what the insurance needs are of the elderly. But let me explain something here about financial business in Florida. Because there are so many aged people and therefore the commission potential very high, financial planners and other investment-type people compete aggressively for the old folks’ business. And since retirement communities like Harbor View house thousands of residents with financial retirement needs, the businesspeople of Florida have come up with a lucrative marketing scheme – one they knew the elderly wouldn’t turn down – if a retiree attends an information seminar about their financial product, he gets a free lunch. Keeping that in mind, a conversation about finances between Dad and his friends around the pool usually goes something like this:

Dad: What are you doing tomorrow, Stan?

Stan: Johnson and Covney are offering a long-term care insurance seminar at Crispy’s – a three-course lunch in exchange for listening to a two-hour seminar. I’d invite you, but you had to reserve in advance.

Dad: That’s okay. My wife’s dragging me shopping tomorrow. The weathermen said it’s supposed to rain.

Stan: Hey, do you want to come with me on Thursday to a talk on keeping wills current? The lunch isn’t much – it’s just at one of those all-you-can-eat buffets, but the talk is only an hour long.

Dad: Is it, by chance, at Harvey’s buffet?

Stan: Yeah, I think it is.

Dad: Okay, then I’ll go. I like Harvey’s

At this point, Mom interjected: Ooh, I want to go with you. I like Harvey’s, too.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Chapter 7, Part 1 - The Pool

The pool is the social hub of Harbor View. It is there that plans are made, dates are set, restaurants are critiqued, and Harbor View residents are talked about, discussed, and talked about some more.

The people of Harbor View generally participate in their clubs or go shopping in the morning. By mid-afternoon when the sun is too warm to do anything physical, except maybe shuffleboard, most people meet up at the pool to relax and socialize. I actually think the pool scene would function quite well without the pool itself. Only about 10 percent of the people ever seem to go in the water. Most of the remaining people sit on the many chairs and chaise lounges and gossip.

Mom and Dad go to the pool every afternoon at about 2:00 and sit there until dinnertime. They usually meet up with Flo and Irv and various other members of the ‘Young in Spirit’ club. A typical conversation among Mom’s friends goes like this:

Flo: Did you hear that Stan and Susan are taking a cruise in February?

Mom: Of course, that’s old news. I heard it last week. Stan bought it for her as a sixtieth birthday present.

Flo: Susan said she wasn’t thrilled with the selection of islands that he picked, but it’s too late to change it.

Mom: She shouldn’t complain. At least she’s getting taken to the Caribbean on a cruise. I got taken to a seafood dinner on Bay Avenue for my sixtieth.

Flo: Speaking of seafood dinner, we went to Barney’s last night to eat and we ran into Herb and Phyllis. They want to have us over to play dominoes next week. She said she’d call us. Anyway, I ordered the salmon and Irv ordered the flounder at Barney’s, and I don’t think the portions were as big as last year.

Mom: I heard they’re not. Sylvia told me that Barney’s has started skimping on their meal sizes. It’s too bad because I really like the food there. Is Phyllis having us over for dinner or just coffee and cake?

Flo: Probably just coffee and cake. You know she doesn’t like to cook.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chapter 6, Part 7 - Shopping

Finally, there are the craft shows, which are similar to the art shows but are smaller in scale and are usually held in local shopping centers. The merchandise at this show includes more crafty-type items rather than ‘art’. There are people selling painted sweatshirts, wood shelves, carvings, knitted sweaters, and painted tablecloths. While these people aren’t necessarily professionals, one can usually count on the merchandise being of reasonably good quality and created by talented folks. Although at the last craft show he went to, Dad swore he saw some residents from the Harbor View lapidary club selling the beaded jewelry they had hastily made while sitting around the pool.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Chapter 6, Part 6 - Shopping

Just about every other weekend there is an art show in one of the many Florida towns. They close off several main streets, and artists set up their stands. Mom always gets so excited by these shows. “Oh, darling,” she says to me on the phone, “there’s going to be the Vista View Art Show in town when you come to visit.” I don’t know why she gets so wound up about these shows. She never buys anything. Besides, I went to the Bay Breezes show last year and to the Atlantic Sea Art Show the year before that, and I have concluded that they sell virtually the same merchandise at each one.

Each of the stands consists of dealers from all over Florida and neighboring states selling art. There are the typical stands that sell paintings of beach scenes and lighthouses, and those that market nature photographs of fish and birds. There are also the more unusual stands that sell vases with large, brightly-colored hand-blown glass flowers in them, or those that sell hand-decorated ceramic welcome signs that the purchaser can have personalized with his name to place outside his condo door.

Then there are the far-fetched stands selling outright unbelievable stuff, like life-sized stuffed figures of people that you can display on your couch or in your bed. The people can be the old variety, like a grandma; or the young kind, like a small child; or anyone in between. I cannot imagine who buys these stuffed people. I suppose it’s maybe widowed folks who buy them; perhaps so they won’t be lonely.

My favorite whimsical stand, however, is the one that sells these oversized sculptures of outlandish-looking people doing various activities. The sculptures are very realistic-looking, that I’m certain some of them have been stopped and asked the time of day by passersby. There’s a sculpture of a man bending over to pet his dog. And a little boy putting his head in a box of cookies. And an old lady sitting on a park bench with her girdle showing. The sculptor must go to every art show in Florida because I see these sculptures every time I go to one of these art shows. This stand is always the most crowded with people – real and sculpted.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Chapter 6, Part 5 - Shopping

One other kind of store that flourishes in Florida is the discount store. It is usually a single store that exists in strip shopping centers. The type of discount store varies. It could be the clothing variety, which sell last year’s styles and winter clothing that do not sell well in the heat of South Florida. Or, it could be the general store type, which sell everything from out-of-date batteries to ice scrapers to mugs with last year’s Super Bowl winner emblazoned on them. Mom loves all of these types of discount stores. She says you can get some really good buys there, especially if you go on Tuesdays when everything is discounted an extra 10 percent for senior citizens.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chapter 6, Part 4 - Shopping

On the other end of the shopping spectrum are the upscale outdoor shopping plazas with manicured landscaping. The stores there include fine jewelers, clothiers, and gourmet food shops. This type of plaza does not cater to Harbor View residents. Instead, the clientele usually includes multi-millionaires who have grand homes along the water and at least 50-foot yachts. The shoppers are always very well dressed compared to the typical casual beachwear you usually see in Florida. Many of them walk with their cute little dogs – poodles, bijons, and yorkies, equally stylish in ribbons and barrettes.

Mom and Dad like to take me to these luxurious shopping plazas to walk and shop amidst the beautiful grounds. When they go, they try to dress up in their best-label clothes (for Dad that usually means clothes he bought in the late 80’s) to look like they belong. Once when I was visiting, we stopped at a trendy-looking restaurant in one of these upscale plazas. This was not one of those all-you-can eat buffets you hear about in Florida. The other diners had finely coiffed hair, tailored clothing, and had driven up in Jags, Mercedes, and Rolls. We drove up in a Toyota, and when the waiter came to take our order, Dad ordered a Coke and asked, “Are there free refills for that?” I almost crawled underneath the table. I don’t think Mom and Dad fooled anyone into thinking they belonged.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chapter 6, Part 3 - Shopping

Swap shops are similar to flea markets in that the merchandise is displayed on stands by various vendors. The goods sold at swap shops also consist of items quite like those sold at flea markets. In fact, I’m not really sure what the difference is between swap shops and flea markets except that all the swap shops I know of are located outdoors, and they are usually in a bad section of town (not a part of town that would require a ‘Lock All Doors!’ scream if you got lost there, but not a section you would wish to buy a condo in). Most of the swap shops seem to be situated in abandoned warehouse parking lots that are massive in scale. And often they have sideshow events in addition to the shopping opportunities they offer. The swap shop my parents go to has various magicians performing every weekday morning from 9:00 to 12:00 (9:00 to 1:00 on weekends). I guess the idea is that potential shoppers go to the swap shop in the morning to catch the free show and then they stay to shop. The first year I went there, I wasn’t convinced that the swap shop’s marketing scheme with the magicians would work. I thought it was kind of hokey. But every season when I visit the swap shop, it is always packed with shoppers. So, I guess the owners knew that if they offered something free in Florida they would continually attract a crowd of old folks to shop there.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Chapter 6, Part 2 - Shopping

While flea markets are not unique to Florida, the ones you see there are different than those found elsewhere. They are not really flea markets, per se. Usually flea markets sell old stuff that someone has unloaded from his garage or basement. What people in Florida call flea markets are usually mini-malls that consist of stands or stalls and small stores. They often have cute-sounding names like Circus Tent Flea Market or Celebration Stores. And people go there to get a bargain. Each stand generally sells one type of item, such as belts. So there will be leather belts, canvas belts, vinyl belts, suspenders, and children’s belts at one stand, all types of watches – leather, gold, silver, tricolor, stopwatches, and pocket watches – at another stand, and only silver jewelry including bracelets, necklaces, earrings, charms and rings at yet another. In the larger flea markets, there are usually several of each type of stand per mall. So if you want to buy a white vinyl belt (and shoppers at flea markets in Florida do) and wish to spend only $15, you can go to three different stands that sell only belts before you meet your price.

Also housed in these flea markets are unique stores with merchandise you would find only in Florida. There is the stand selling women’s pant sets in a rainbow of colors, adorned with metallic appliqués that only old women in their sixties and seventies would buy. There’s the seashell store, which sells seashells covering every type of item imaginable – mirrors, picture frames, trashcans, and trivets. You give them an item, and they will cover it for you in seashells. There is the flamingo stand that sells prints of flamingos, not just in picture frames, but also on everything from aprons to tote bags, and baseball hats to jackets. There’s the plastic container store where you can get your name painted on any type of plastic container – napkin holders, jewelry boxes, make-up cases, remote control holders, and magazine racks. And there are whole stores selling only housedresses. If you don’t know which ones I mean, they are those loose-fitting dresses adorned with flowery prints that your grandmother wore around her apartment. At Florida flea markets, they come in every flower species imaginable. Finally, there’s the tourist trap store that sells oranges. You can buy not only real Florida oranges but fake ones, too, in the form of bubble gum, hard candy, cookies, balls, and balloons – all in the shape of the state’s famous fruit.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chapter 6, Part 1 - Shopping

If golf, tennis, Mah Jongg, and aerobics are considered the top four activities at Harbor View and other retirement communities in Florida, then shopping is number five.

On rainy days and on humid days (and even on perfect weather days when people just want to get away from Harbor View), many residents go shopping. Now, up North that usually means browsing at the shopping mall or possibly a strip shopping center. But, in Florida the shopping possibilities are endless. They include shopping malls (indoors and outdoors), discount stores in strip shopping centers, flea markets, swap shops, art shows, and craft fairs.

One day last year when I was visiting Mom and Dad in Harbor View, I decided to get away for a few hours and figured I would check out the new shopping mall, Coral Sands Mall. I wanted to see if they had any different stores than the ones I was used to back home. I figured they’d have stores that cater to older folks and was fairly certain they wouldn’t have stores for younger ones. When I got there, I noticed that the people shopping at Coral Sands looked a lot like the residents of Harbor View (in fact, I thought I saw Mom and Flo several times), so I was quite surprised when I walked down one corridor of the mall and saw a children’s clothing store.

Who would be shopping there? I thought to myself. No one in this part of Florida seems to have young children. I strolled in to take a look. The only people in there were the saleswoman and an elderly woman shopping with what looked to be her nine-year old grandson. While I was in there, however, an older gentleman walked in, and I concluded that they must do a good gift-giving business. After all, most of these old folks do have grandchildren. But then the old man just asked for directions to the nearest bathroom. At that point I speculated that within six months the children’s store would be replaced with one more suited to the residents of Florida – a clothing store for older, overweight women. I told Mom my theory when I returned to her condo that afternoon. (About a week after they got to Florida this year, Mom called me to tell me that the children’s clothing store, in fact, was no longer at Coral Sands Mall. I gloated into the phone concluding that my theory was right. Then she said that the store was replaced by an all-you can eat buffet restaurant. Well, I was nearly right, and with that type of restaurant in the mall, a clothing store for large women is bound to be next.)

In addition to the people actually shopping at Coral Sands, there were a large number of mall walkers – you know the ones – those elderly people who walk around the mall for exercise. They wear those sleek nylon jogging suits in bright colors, have headbands or scarves around their heads, and bright white sneakers that have not been dirtied by the outside. Most of them wear lots of gold jewelry, too – watches, bracelets, and earrings, even though they are exercising. And several of them have all of their make-up on, including lipstick as if they were going out for the evening to a nightclub. I think the mall walkers at Coral Sands Mall looked a lot like the mall walkers at malls across the country. The only difference is at Coral Sands the other shoppers looked a lot like them, too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chapter 5, Part 7 - The Activities

Finally, there’s the ‘left-out group’ – those people who are not involved in any of the above so-called ‘serious’ activities. Sure, they may participate in minor clubs such as Spanish, piano, or chess, but they don’t belong to a major group. Mom is a part of this left-out group, as is Flo’s husband, Irv (playing cards is not considered a ‘serious’ club). Some of these folks started ‘The Sixties Club’ three years ago – not the 1960’s, but a group for people in their sixties. When started, the founders of the club made it open only to residents who were 69 or younger. The idea of the club is to do activities when the others are playing golf, tennis, Mah Jongg, or aerobics. For example, they hire buses to take them to the local museums, they go on excursions to local wildlife preserves, or they go shopping at local shopping malls. The only problem with this group is that some of the members who were in their sixties when they joined are now in their seventies, which, according to group by-laws, makes them ineligible for club membership any longer.

When the organizers of the club realized they’d be losing all of their members within 10 years, including themselves, they changed the name of the group to the ‘Young in Spirit’ club. The new by-laws state that once you are a member you can never be kicked out because of your age. The founders concluded that even with new arrivals joining their ranks, the group would never get too big; they figured they would ultimately lose members the natural way.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Chapter 5, Part 6 - The Activities

The aerobics exercisers are a relatively small group at Harbor View, understandably, as the average age of residents is 74. It seems to be more popular with the newer residents, those who are generally between the ages of 55 and 64, for reasons that need no explaining here.

This group consists of hard-core exercisers, most of whom are women. Mom’s friend Flo belongs to this group. The aerobics fiends have an array of opportunities open to them. There are classes at the clubhouse morning, noon, and night. There is ‘wake-up’ aerobics at the clubhouse every morning at 6:30; low impact aerobics at mid-morning; step aerobics in early afternoon; water aerobics in late afternoon; and abs and thighs at night. I say kudos to these women. If everyone at Harbor View (or in all of Florida, for that matter) took as good care of their bodies as this group, the state might shed its image as one whose residents are old, overweight people who sit by the pool all day playing Mah Jongg. You can usually figure out which women are the hard-core aerobics people by listening to their conversations at the pool.

“What’d you think of that new instructor at ‘wake-up’ aerobics this morning?” one woman asks another.

“Too skinny and she moved too fast. What does she think, she’s instructing college kids?”

“So should we try her again tomorrow or should we do water aerobics instead?”

“No water aerobics for me; you know that the water messes up my hair color. Last time I went in the pool, my hair came out looking green.”

If you do not overhear the women speaking, you can often spot an aerobics person by her clothing. She is usually sporting leggings or shorts with a large t-shirt and sneakers, and bright-colored headband on her hair. She wears this outfit wherever she goes – whether she is on her way to an aerobics workout class or not.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chapter 5, Part 5 - The Activities

Mah Jongg is an ancient Chinese game played with tiles. If most of the men came to Harbor View to play golf, then most of the women came for Mah Jongg. About twenty percent of all Harbor View residents play Mah Jongg – 1,999 women and one man. This group is a serious bunch. Most are content playing Mah Jongg from morning to night. They can be heard at the pool clicking their tiles and saying what sounds like directions to the nearest Chinese restaurant, “First right, across, first left, second left, across, last right.” You can see them in the clubhouse walking toward the game room with their Mah Jongg cases in hand. And you can hear them in the apartment below you, gossiping until the wee hours of the night as they play.

The Mah Jongg players are the most overtly identifiable group. They wear Mah Jongg tiles made of 14K gold around their necks and carry key rings made up of Mah Jongg symbols. If you are visiting a Mah Jongg player in her apartment, she will have pictures of her grandchildren framed in Mah Jongg tiles.

Each December a group of Mah Jongg players from Harbor View takes a Mah Jongg cruise, where players from across the country compete for the title of ‘Mah Jongg Champion’ (and a nice cash prize, too, of course). Losers get yet another Mah Jongg memento.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Chapter 5, Part 4 - The Activities

The tennis players are an interesting group. They are a much smaller club – only about 5 percent of Harbor View residents play tennis. Tennis players are an easy group to identify, too. You can tell they feel they don’t quite live up to the golfers. If you meet a person for the first time and want to know if they play tennis, just ask them, “So you play golf?” and if they answer, “No, I wouldn’t waste my time; I like athletic sports,” you know that you have just met a tennis player.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chapter 5, Part 3 - The Activities

As I just mentioned, there are hundreds of clubs at Harbor View from book clubs to Yiddish clubs. All of these activities can be classified into the serious clubs and the ‘I’m not into anything serious, so I’ll join one of these’ clubs. Golf, tennis, and Mah Jongg are considered serious clubs. French, knitting, and ping-pong are not. The serious clubs are a big deal at Harbor View. In fact, some people retire to Harbor View for the sole reason of joining one of these clubs. The residents at Harbor View become so caught up in the clubs they’ve joined that one of the more noteworthy observations I have made about the retirees there is that you can easily identify which club most of them belong to without asking them directly.

First, there are the golfers. They are by far the largest group. Fully one-quarter of Harbor View residents are golfers. Now, because men die younger than women, most Harbor View residents are women; yet nearly all of the golfers are men. Which means statistically, if you are a man and you live at Harbor View, you either came to live at Harbor View because, like Dad, your wife dragged you or you came to play golf.

The golfers are an easy group to identify. You would think you’d be able to identify the golfers by the clothes they wear – plaid pants landing three inches above their white shoes, bright-colored shirts, and derby hats. But frankly, at Harbor View that’s not too different from what the rest of the residents wear.

Actually, the best way to figure out which residents are the golfers is to figure out which residents are not the golfers. For example, if you see Sheldon at the pool at 1:00 in the afternoon you can bet that Sheldon is not a golfer. If Marty calls you at 10:30 in the morning and asks you to head over to the clubhouse with him, you can take your odds that he is not a golfer. And if you run into Jack at the supermarket at lunchtime you can guess that Jack’s not a golfer either. (None of this holds true if it’s raining outside, however, then there is a chance that these men are golfers.) See, the fact is, if someone is a golfer, you will usually not see him until after two in the afternoon when the Florida sun makes it too hot for him to play. Dad is a member of the golfers’ group, although I do not think he is quite as serious as most of the other players since, unlike them, he does not play every day. Most of the golfers do not miss a day on the course unless it’s raining.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Chapter 5, Part 2 - The Activities

On my first visit to Harbor View, Dad brought me by the clubhouse to show me the beautiful indoor pool. We were fully clothed and not carrying any gym bags. We were obviously not there to go swimming.

“Please, sir,” Dad pleaded with the guard, “I just want to show her the pool; we are not going to be swimming” (as if I would want to swim in a pool with wrinkled, hairy, old men with names like Marvin and Harry).

“Sorry,” the guard said, “she needs a pass even just to look at the pool.”

“What about the bathroom?” Dad continued, “Can she just use the bathroom?”

“Nope, sorry, sir; she needs a pass to pee, too.”

We ended up caving in and buying a pass later that day just so I could look around the clubhouse. I saw old men playing pool, couples playing bridge, and women knitting sweaters. I even saw old women with sagging skin jumping around in brightly colored leotards and body suits doing aerobics to the sounds of Yanni – the musician most people listen to for relaxing and unwinding.

In addition to the aerobics room and card room there was the aforementioned indoor pool, a 1,000-seat theatre, a dance floor, a bocce court, a ceramics studio, a woodworking room, a library, and a wall with a list of activities a mile long. I wish they had offered me this many activities in my single days. Aerobics, bridge, calligraphy, drawing, egg decorating, French, guitar, handicraft, Indian cooking, Japanese bunka, karate, lapidary, mambo, nature lovers, origami, pinochle, quadrille, Russian, salsa, tea making, underwater dancing, violin, water aerobics, yoga, and zoology were some of the more than 100 clubs listed. I was very impressed by all of the activities I saw going on, but I still didn’t know if it was worth the $3 it cost to get in. Then I remembered the sight of the old ladies with the skin on their arms flapping as they jumped around to Yanni and concluded that it was money well spent.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chapter 5, Part 1 - The Activities

Harbor View is such a vast place that the condo development offers every activity imaginable to man, woman, and senior citizen. There are an 18-hole golf course, three pools, a few lakes for fishing, and the clubhouse. What the condo buildings lack in character, the clubhouse makes up for with its beauty. It is a grand, exquisite building with white columns and a circular drive leading up to the entrance. It is pictures of the clubhouse that they put in all of those glossy brochures used to sell the condos. (Funny, I never saw any wheelchairs in those brochures.)

Once inside the lobby of the clubhouse, you see a beautiful crystal chandelier and yards of red carpet. That is if you can get inside. They guard the clubhouse as if it were the Holy Grail. Big, young security guards, who are completely unlike the little, old guard at the entrance gate, protect it. (I suppose the higher-ups at Harbor View think they will taunt would-be trespassers by letting them into the development grounds but then stopping them at the clubhouse. I have no idea why.) Only residents with valid Harbor View ID cards and guests with a current visitor’s pass ($3 daily, $7.50 weekly) can get inside. Otherwise you do not enter, no exceptions, period. They mean business here. You have to wonder if there is more going on inside the clubhouse doors than water aerobics and ping-pong.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chapter 4, Part 5 - Condo Rules And Regs.

Filling out an application and getting character references was a piece of cake, however, compared to the condo board interview, Mom tells me. “There were three men and two women seated at a long table. Each one wore an official badge on that said ‘Building 51 Condo Board’ across it. What they should have had on were military fatigues,” Mom said. She informed me that around Harbor View the nickname for the condo board members are the ‘Condo Commandos.’ “None of them smiled, and they shot us questions down the line like they were a firing squad.”

Questions such as (Mom and Dad’s answers appear in parenthesis; my comments on their answers appear in brackets.):

--Why do you want to live in Harbor View? (Well, before we started this whole application process, we thought it would be a nice place to live in our old age.) [And why didn’t you change your mind after this ludicrous interrogation?]

--If you saw a neighbor having visitors in her condo without condo association permission, would you report her to the condo board? (Yes, of course.) [I have visited Mom and Dad at least three times without prior association permission.]

--Will you keep your business to yourselves and not involve yourself in others’ affairs? (Yes, we are quiet people and are not interested in others’ business.) [Mom and Dad gossip at the pool each day with their friends.]

--Do you ever plan on renting out the unit? (Perhaps down the road if God forbid one of us should die.) [Isn’t that inevitable, Mom?]

--We like our residents to be active. Will you be joining a minimum of three activities each? (Of course, that’s why we’re retiring here – for all of the activities.) [To date, Mom has joined just one activity.]

When Mom and Dad finally got the approval from the Building 51 Condo Association, they called me up very excited.

“We were approved!” they screamed into the telephone.

“Congratulations!” I said aloud into the phone. To myself I added, “If you still want to live there after all of those questions they asked you, then I think you’ll fit right in.”
Then I added out loud, “But please, Dad,” I pleaded, “Do the family a favor, don’t run for a position on the Condo Board.”

Monday, March 30, 2009

Chapter 4, Part 4 - Condo Rules and Regs.

Mom and Dad didn’t think getting character references would be a problem for them as they have a lot of friends. So they were surprised when they received notice that one of their character references had been rejected.

”Rejected?” Mom screamed, “How can they reject one of our character references?”

“It says here that the people writing the reference didn’t know us long enough,” Dad answered her.

“But that was Flo and Irv’s reference. We’ve known them for 10 years and they also own a place in Harbor View. Isn’t that good enough for the Condo Board?” Mom asked.

“Apparently not. It says here in the fine print that the people providing the character references must have been acquainted with you for at least one-quarter of your life.”

“That seems like a kind of severe requirement,” Mom replied

“Well, compared to the shower question, that character reference rule is pretty reasonable,” I said to Mom after she told me about the reference being returned. “I’m surprised they didn’t ask your character references to get references.”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure that will be the next step.”

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chapter 4, Part 3 - Condo Rules and Regs.

Before Mom and Dad bought their condo unit, they had to be approved by the condo association. Getting approval included filling out a lengthy application, getting character references from friends and neighbors, and having an in-person interview with the condo board. Dad told me that the application they had to fill out was more detailed and complex than one you’d expect to fill out when applying for a job with the FBI.

“They asked us how many times per day, on average, we shower,” Dad said. “As I was filling out the application I thought that it was a ridiculous question to ask. But Flo and Irv told me why they ask it. The walls and floors are so thin in that building that you can hear everything that goes on in the neighbors’ units.”

“So I guess if a person wrote that he showered three times a day, he would be rejected admission to Harbor View?” I asked.

“Probably; no one in a downstairs apartment below wants to be disturbed by someone above him who showers too often.”

“So basically, residents of Harbor View are concerned if they hear their neighbors, but they don’t mind if they smell them,” I said.

“You got it,” Dad replied.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Chapter 4, Part 2 - Condo Rule and Regs.

The color of paint to use on the exterior of the building is actually one of the more benign issues the condo board deals with. “The Rules and Regulations of Building 51 of Harbor View Condominiums” (hereafter referred to as “The Rules and Regs.”) encompasses 237 pages of fine print, as well as a 68-page addendum. When combined, it covers all of the critical and not-so-critical issues for which the condo board has control. (The rules for conduct in the Clubhouse is a separate, but equally colossal, document.) When Mom and Dad were in the process of purchasing their condo, they received “The Rules and Regs.” at their home one weekend while I was visiting.

“What is that – the new phone book?” I asked Dad when he carried in a massive book with the morning mail.

“No, apparently it’s the rules we have to abide by once we become residents of Harbor View.”

“You’re kidding – how can they have that many rules for just 800 square feet of space?”

“I don’t know, but they do. And, wow, are these rules particular,” Dad said, skimming through the document. “Here’s one example – You shall not decorate the outside of your condo door with any ornaments or signs without the written permission of at least two members of the condo board. Exceptions to this rule include seasonal decorations under the size of 12 inches square which may be hung on your door for 30 days or less.”

“Better bring your measuring tape with you,” I replied.

That rule actually seemed to be one of the more lenient ones, as it allowed for an exception. The rules in and around the condo unit and the swimming pool area alone composed a full 105 pages of “The Rules and Regs.” These rules ranged from the maximum decibel level of your speaking voice outside the condo units to the length of the grass in the common area. Some of the more notable “Rules and Regs.” went something like this (as I remember them, anyway):

--You may not eat outside your condominium unit unless it is when you are in transit to another location. For example, you cannot hold a picnic outside your unit, but you may eat a sandwich if you are in the process of walking to another location, such as your car.

--When you are walking on the condo pathways, please keep a minimum speed of 2 miles per hour. If people walking at a faster pace are behind you, you must step to the right and let them pass. This rule only applies to those people walking without the aid of canes, walkers, or wheelchairs. Those using the above devices only need to keep up a speed of 1 mile per hour.

--You must be 55 to live in this development. If you are at least 55, and you have plastic surgery that makes you look younger than 55, it may result in the investigation of your qualifications to live in the development. If you are so vain enough to not be able to provide proof of your year of birth, you may be evicted from the condominium.

--You may not hang a clothesline or have a drying rack on the balcony or patio of your condo. If you must put clothes outside to dry, please hang undergarments out of the public’s view.

--No guests are permitted to use your unit while you are not there unless they have a signed and notarized written permission slip from you. Said guests must carry this permission slip on their person at all times while occupying the unit.

--If you use the swimming pool, you can swim laps or just relax in the pool. However, all splashes in and around the pool must be kept to a maximum of one foot high.

--If you have guests who are children, they may use the swimming pool. Exceptions include children who are wearing diapers. Children in diapers can be in the pool area but are not allowed in the swimming pool itself. If a Harbor View resident wears an adult diaper, he/she, however, is allowed to use the pool.

--All music played inside a unit must be turned down so that residents and guests outside the unit cannot hear it when they walk by. Unless that music is Frank Sinatra, in which case you can keep it at a volume loud enough for outsiders to enjoy, but not so loud as to disturb residents inside their units.

--When walking outside of your unit, even if it is just a quick trip to the mailbox, you must be fully clothed with outer garments. Bathing suits are only permitted if you are on the way to the pool. Pajamas, nightgowns, and housedresses are never permitted outside the condo unit.

--When you pass another resident in the street, be kind and say hello. This is a community of elderly folks, and there is a chance it might be that person’s last day in this world.

--Any sightings of any of the above violations will result in a $25 fine from the Building 51 Condo Board Association. If the fee is not paid within 30 days of violation…”

And so the list went on and on.

“Wow, it sounds like you’re going to be living in an occupied country,” I said to Dad.

“Yeah, and from what I’ve heard, some of the residents think it’s the last chance they will have to rule a country before they depart this earth,” Dad replied.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chapter 4, Part 1 - Condo Rules and Regs

For most people, moving to a retirement complex is a leisurely pursuit. For others, however, the purpose of retiring to a senior community is the pursuit of making others’ lives miserable. It is the people in this latter group who make up the bulk of the members on the Harbor View condo boards.

As I mentioned earlier, Harbor View is a huge complex. There are 10,000 residents who are housed in 100 buildings. And each of these buildings functions as its own condo unit with its own fees, its own rules, and most importantly, its own condo board association. Any negative stories that you may have heard about condo boards in Florida are absolutely true. So whereas one condo board president in a retirement community would be quite enough, Harbor View has 100 of them! Mom refuses to go to the condo meetings because all the people ever do there is fight. Even if the topic is petty, or perhaps especially if it’s petty, they will fight about it. Mom told me about a typical meeting they had the first year she arrived:

“What flowers should we plant this year – vincas or pansies?” the secretary of the condo board, Helen asked.

“Can’t we do roses instead? Building 63 has roses, and it looks beautiful,” Marilyn stated.

“Only if you want to pay higher condo fees this year,” the treasurer responded.

“But Building 63’s fees are lower than ours!” Marilyn reported.

“That’s because they’re probably in the red. We have some reserve that will carry us through for another 10 years,” the treasurer argued back.

“That’s because you’re tight with our money,” another resident screamed. “Why are we saving it anyway? Most of us won’t even be here in 10 years.”

Mom broke down and went to a meeting last year because they were going to discuss what color to paint the building. The choices, according to the president, were tan, medium brown, and dark brown. Dark brown had been the clear favorite among the condo board, according to the monthly Building 51 Newsletter. Mom wanted to go to the meeting to convince them to go with a brighter color. “We’re in a sunny, tropical climate and we should blend in with that feel,” Mom argued to the board.

“But we can get a better deal on a brown,” the treasurer counter pointed.

“Aaaah, who cares what color the building is? Who looks at the outside of the building?” Helen retorted.

“Last time I was here, you argued about the flowers outside our building,” Mom replied.

“Well, flowers are different. Everyone in Florida notices flowers,” Helen answered back.

“Well, the building color is much more important than flowers, I think,” Mom said, raising her voice a little. She was beginning to lose her cool.

In the end, Mom was only able to convince them to go with the tan. “Oh well, at least it’s better than that dark brown,” she said to Dad. “I don’t need to look at that dark color to get depressed. I just have to look around at all of the walkers, wheelchairs, canes, gray hair, and hearing aids to do that.”

Or listen to them argue, I thought, when she told me the story.

“On the bright side,” Mom added, “the condo board did convince Sam that the paint job was too big of a task for him to handle.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chapter 3, Part 7 - The People

Mom and Dad – What can I say about the parents that raised me? They are two of the most wonderful people I know. They have given more to my brother, my sister, and me than we could have asked for. They are generous, loving, and warm people who care deeply for their family and friends. But, enough of the sweet stuff; let’s face it, they fit in perfectly with the other Characters at Harbor View.

Mom cannot get out of the house before 10:00 in the morning because she cannot upset her leisurely morning routine of reading the paper, drinking a cup of tea, and fixing her face and hair, or her whole day will be ruined. She is too scared to drive in Florida because of the other crazy drivers, so she takes the shuttle bus everywhere she goes. Mom participates in very few of the organized Harbor View clubs, because she has little interest in structured activities, preferring instead to shop, eat, or sit by the pool. And lastly, even though she and Dad do not use the condo eight months of the year, she will not let any of her children stay at it when they are not there, because she is afraid we will not keep it just the way she would like.

Dad moves with the Harbor View flow of things a little bit more. He plays golf with his friends a couple of mornings a week, plays pool at the clubhouse with his cronies, and fishes in his spare time. But, he doesn’t hear any better than Hymie and refuses to get a hearing aid for fear it will make him look old (he’s 64 for the record. If you can’t get a hearing aid at 64, then at what age is it acceptable to get one?) Mom is the one who convinced Dad to retire to Harbor View, and he lets her make most all of the other decisions for them (mainly because one of Mom’s shortcomings is that she always has to get her way, and Dad usually gives in to her). Dad’s other quirk is that he refuses to buy new clothing. He always says he doesn’t need anything, although I suspect he just doesn’t want to spend the money. I am certain that he is still wearing clothes from my childhood. In fact, his clothes are so old that I am sure they will be back in style any day now.

For all of their peculiarities, I still lovingly call them Mom and Dad.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chapter 3, Part 6 - The People

Minnie and Hymie – Minnie and Hymie are 83 and 87, respectively. It’s a second marriage for both of them. Minnie was a widow of four years and Hymie a widower for 12 when they met at the Starlight Valentine’s Dance at the Harbor View Clubhouse three years ago. They are what I call ‘little people.’ Each stands at about four feet six or four feet eight inches tall, although I’m sure they each must have been five feet at some point in their lives.

Hymie is hard of hearing, therefore he screams every time he talks. Minnie says she doesn’t mind that he can’t hear well. She says that she was attracted to Hymie not only because he still has his own full set of teeth, but also because he danced like Fred Astaire.

Minnie’s hair is dyed an orange-red and she wears lipstick almost the same color. She always wears shoes with at least two-inch heels to make up for her small stature. I think with her shoes on she comes up to the average-sized person’s elbow. Even though they are little people, between her bright hair and his screaming, you can always tell when they are around.

I call them Minnie and Hymie in private. With names like those, who needs nicknames?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chapter 3, Part 5 - The People

Marilyn and Sam – Marilyn and Sam live in the condo right next door to Mom and Dad. They’re not Mom and Dad’s friends so much as they are their neighbors. Sam is a retired painter, and he likes to make a little extra money on the side by painting people’s apartments. Sadly, Sam is getting on in years. His hands shake when he holds anything as he suffers from arthritis (he’s 82, after all), so his painting is pretty sloppy. Unfortunately, none of his friends or neighbors has the heart to tell him. So Sam has painted the bedroom in Mom and Dad’s apartment, along with nearly everyone else’s condo in the building.

Marilyn is Sam’s wife, and she sometimes helps him with the painting. Her strokes are a little neater, but the problem with her is that she doesn’t stop talking. When Mom and Dad had them over to paint their bedroom, Mom made the mistake of saying, “How are you doing, Marilyn?”

Rather than just say, “fine,” like most people do, she actually answered the question and then some. “I’m okay,” she answered, “but we’ve had better days; Sam’s arthritis is acting up again. Thank goodness this rain is supposed to stop. We haven’t been to the pool in a week. Although, we have gone out to dinner quite a bit. Last night we ate at…”

Before she was even finished talking, Mom was thinking to herself, “I am having my bedroom painted by an 82 year-old man with an arthritic hand, and I have to listen to this woman who doesn’t shut up. Is this what I retired for?”

After listening to Marilyn talk on and on for three hours and being less than thrilled with the job Sam did painting their bedroom, Mom and Dad have since gone out of their way to avoid seeing Sam and Marilyn in the hallways. Not that they don’t like them, it’s just that Marilyn talks too much, and Mom and Dad feel that at their age they don’t have a minute to waste listening to her. “And besides,” Mom says, “I don’t want Sam to find out we need to get our bathroom painted.”
If you ever find yourself in the market to buy a condo at Harbor View and you find one with shoddy-painted walls, you can be assured it was painted by Shaky Sam and his wife Marilyn the Mouth.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chapter 3, Part 4 - The People

Sylvia – Sylvia is a 68-year old woman who has been divorced for over 20 years. She mostly spends time with the other ‘single’ women at Harbor View rather than the couples, unless she is currently dating someone. Of course, most of the ‘single’ women are widows. If you were to overhear a conversation of Sylvia and her friends without seeing their faces you would swear you were listening to a group of high school girls. All they talk about is the single men of Harbor View, which ones have their own teeth, which men are available, which ones are dating, and which ones are the greatest catches – those who still drive their own cars. (For your information, those who drive at night are considered ‘Most Eligible Bachelors.’)

“Sylvia, did you see that new guy in Building 8? He’s some looker.”

“Ugh, you mean the one who’s going bald?”

“Sylvia, he’s 77, what’d you expect?”

“He’s only 77? He looks to be at least 83. I could be his daughter.”

“So, do you want me to tell him you’re interested?

“No, I’m not interested.”

“I’ll bet he was real handsome in his day.”

“Well, his day is not today.”

“He drives his own car.”

“Oh really? All right, so maybe I’ll go out with him for a date.”

Sylvia’s nickname should be similar to a former TV show title, ‘Desperately Seeking Someone.’

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chapter 3, Part 3 - The People

Stan and Susan – Stan and Susan are also from New York, as are many of the residents of Harbor View. However, back home Stan and Susan live in an expensive enclave of greater than $2 million homes in Oyster Bay, Long Island. If they sold their home in Long Island and moved to Harbor View permanently, they could afford to buy no fewer than 20 condos.

Yet the fact that they are filthy rich doesn’t stop Stan from using ‘buy one entrée get one free’ coupons at neighborhood restaurants. Now, you might think that’s not so bad, as nearly everyone in Florida uses these types of money-saving coupons. But let me assure you, Stan uses them differently. One day he asked Dad to grab a bite to eat with him at Nana’s Nosh.

“I have a ‘buy one sandwich, get one free’ coupon,” he enticed Dad.

“Great,” Dad said, thinking that eating a half-priced sandwich would be a nice way to spend the afternoon.

When they got to the deli, each of them ordered a pastrami sandwich on rye, which were priced at $5.95 a piece. After the meal, when the waitress came with the bill, Stan attached the coupon to it for his sandwich and asked Dad for $5.95 for Dad’s part. Stan didn’t even offer to pay for the tax or tip.

Stan’s wife Susan is a tiny woman who looks like she couldn’t hurt a fly. She also talks very quietly that you have to strain to listen to her. But that doesn’t stop her from sending food back wherever she goes. She will order a hot turkey sandwich in a restaurant, and send it back because it’s not hot enough. She will complain that her portion of fries isn’t big enough and ask for more. Mom and Dad have refused to eat out with her since the time she ordered an onion bagel with cream cheese at Bagel and Blintzes Bakery and sent it back because there weren’t enough onions on it. This was after she had already eaten more than half of the bagel.

My suggested Character names for them are Cheap Stan and Send it Back Sue.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chapter 3, Part 2 - The People

Phyllis and Herb – Phyllis and Herb are Mom and Dad’s other good friends. Mom and Phyllis have a lot in common, as neither of them are real active – that is, neither has a passion for any particular activity. Unless, of course, you count frequenting the beauty parlor a passion, then Phyllis has one. Like most of the older women in Florida, Mom goes to the beauty parlor about once every six weeks to have her hair cut and colored. Phyllis, on the other hand, can be found at the hair salon twice a week, sometimes three, because she is enormously concerned about how she looks. She has her hair washed and set every Monday afternoon and gets her nails done every Friday morning. This is in addition to her monthly color and cut. And on special occasions, Phyllis (or rather her husband, Herb) also springs for a waxing or a pedicure.

Herb plays golf with Dad, that is, when he is not driving Phyllis around to the beauty parlor or other places. He can’t play golf on Sundays because Phyllis likes to go food shopping for the week, so Herb takes her to the supermarket. Of course he can’t play on Monday either because he has to take Phyllis for her wash and set. And on Friday mornings he drives her back to the beauty parlor to get her nails done. See, Phyllis does not drive. She never learned to, as she and Herb have always lived in New York City. Phyllis didn’t think it was worth her learning when they retired to Florida because she can have Herb drive her everywhere she needs to go.

My nicknames for them are Beauty and The Chauffeur.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chapter 3, Part 1 - The People

Mom lovingly refers to her friends and neighbors at Harbor View Condominiums as The Characters.

“We’re going to dinner with some of The Characters tonight,” she says.

Or, “I’m on the phone with one of The Characters, I’ll call you back,” Mom tells me when I call.

Personally, while I think The Characters is a good start as a term to describe the people who live in Harbor View, I don’t think it goes far enough. I think each one deserves an individual title similar to a cartoon character or a peculiar person in movies. Here are some examples of their friends and neighbors, and even Mom and Dad themselves, and you’ll see what I mean.

Flo and Irv – These two people are Mom and Dad’s best friends. They live in the same town as Mom and Dad back home. Flo is an exercise-aholic. If there is a club at Harbor View that involves physical activity, she will join it. She belongs to aerobics, water ballet, line dancing, and jazzercise. In addition, every morning at 6:30 she goes walking for 45 minutes with ‘the girls.’ For your information, ‘the girls’ range in age from 58 to 73.

Irv joins activities too, but only if they involve card games. Unlike his wife, he does no physical activity whatsoever, and the size of his stomach proves it. (In addition to doing very little exercise, Irv also likes to eat.) The only exercise he gets is picking up cards from the table and adding them to his hand. Irv belongs to the poker club, the pinochle club, the bridge club, the canasta club, and the rummy club. When he is not at the clubhouse with one of his card groups, he can be found at the pool. But Irv is never in the pool swimming or even on a lounge chair napping; he is always sitting around a table under an umbrella with three or four of his buddies, playing cards and munching on some snack food.

I call Mom and Dad’s best friends Flo Fonda and Five-Card Irv.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chapter 2, Part 7 - The Condo

Arriving at their Harbor View condominium and setting it up for the season is a big chore, Mom says. Almost as big as packing up the home they have just left. Each year when Mom and Dad get to Florida, they have to first clean up their apartment, which gets filthy very quickly in the Florida humidity. Then they have to unload all of their belongings, which have been up North with them all summer. Lastly, they have to turn on the water and all of the appliances that that have been off all summer. Let me just inform you here that Dad is as good at doing these small handyman jobs around the house as he is at understanding driving directions. He is a smart person, but one of his strengths is not doing mechanical tasks. In the past, he has called to ask me where the knob is to turn on the water to the dishwasher, how to reset the breaker in the fuse box, and even how to set the alarm on their clock radio. So I can understand why setting up the condo is a big deal for them.

One year Mom and Dad arrived to find hundreds of dead ants scattered throughout their apartment. The ants were on the floor, in their bed, and in the kitchen cabinets. Mom and Dad spent more than three days trying to get rid of them. That season Mom swore she was selling the place, but after a few days in the nice weather, and hearing about the snow and ice back home, she changed her mind. Except for that year when it took a full week to get rid of the dead ants, it is usually two or three days of hard work before Mom and Dad have the condo set up for the season.

But setting up the condo is not even the end, Mom says. Next, they have to deal with the incompetence of the phone company, she tells me. Each year, Mom temporarily stops her phone service in Florida and then has it turned on when she gets there. She usually asks to have it turned on a few days before she arrives just to be sure it’s working. Yet in three out of the past four years, she has gotten there to find the phone not connected. She is able to make local calls, but not long distance calls (fortunately, she can receive them, however). So, if Mom ever wanted to get in touch with me in those first days (it is usually about five or six more days before they turn on the phone service), she had to call Flo to call me to call her. Luckily, Mom and Dad bought a cell phone this year, so they can use that while the phone company works out its problems.

But the worst offender of all, Mom and Dad complain, is the postal service. Mom and Dad have their mail forwarded from their home up North to Florida for the time they are residing there. It should be a neat and orderly procedure, as the post office has forms particularly for this purpose. However, each year it takes weeks, if not more, to get mail forwarded to their place in Florida. One day last year in late-January Mom called me to say she had just gotten a holiday card from our cousins in Texas – nearly five weeks after they sent it. But at least it came. Two years ago I sent pictures to Mom and Dad at their address in Pennsylvania a week before they left. What arrived at their Florida address about three and a half weeks later was a ripped envelope with a handwritten note on it that said, “This is how these materials arrived at our post office.” The envelope was empty. This year Dad received a magazine cover in the mail – yes, only the cover. I suppose some postal worker up North is enjoying planning his retirement using the rest of Dad’s ‘Retire Young’ magazine.

Before they went to Florida this year, I tried to tell Mom and Dad that they should rely on their computer for communicating, as they can do a number of things online – send and receive e-mails, instant message people, and read online magazines. I informed them that there would be little need to depend on the phone and the post office for those first few days they are there.

“Great idea,” Dad said. “When you come to visit, you can set up the computer for us.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chapter 2, Part 6 - The Condo

The truth of the matter is Mom and Dad really could have afforded to buy a condo in a much nicer development than Harbor View. And they did consider other places – there were Villa Lakes, Harbor Cove, Tuscany Atlantic, and Spanish Waters, which, if you go by the names of them, all sound like dream retirement spots. Of course while most of these developments are somewhat more luxurious than Harbor View, they aren’t the exclusive enclaves that they sound like. That’s the funny thing about the retirement complexes in Florida; most of them sound very lavish. I’ve noticed that nearly all of the developments have either a body of water or a Spanish word in their names, neither of which, necessarily, has anything to do with the complexes they label. Apparently the builders add a Spanish word or a body of water to the title and voila, their community suddenly sounds very prestigious. Most of these communities, however, are just regular developments of condos, townhouses, or single-family homes. Although admittedly, most are a bit nicer than Harbor View.

It’s not that Harbor View isn’t nice; it has all of the amenities one could want at a retirement community. It’s just that it is basic and not too picturesque. And I really do think that Mom and Dad deserved something prettier and more luxurious. Dad worked hard at his job his whole life, while Mom worked equally hard taking care of the house and our family. They did not live extravagantly, and while they gave us kids everything we needed and probably more, they still managed to save well for their retirement. However, Mom rationalizes living at Harbor View because she says she really didn’t want to spend a fortune on a condo she uses just three to four months a year. “Besides, there’s so much to do here,” she tells me. “They have more activities than any other condo development around.”

Dad, on the other hand, justifies choosing Harbor View by pointing out all of the wealthy people who chose it as their winter home over other condo developments in Florida. “You know Bernard,” he says, “he is a hot shot orthodontist back home and he comes here. Don in our building has another vacation home on Nantucket. And our friends, Susan and Stan are both attorneys with a lot of money. If this place is good enough for all of them, then it’s good enough for me. ”

“Yeah, I suppose so” I say. Then I just have to add, “but I bet all of them have two bedrooms.”

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chapter 2, Part 5 - The Condo

As I mentioned, Mom and Dad’s condo is a one-bedroom. ONE bedroom! All of my life I have listened to my friends tell me about vacations visiting their grandparents in large condominiums by the beach or have had cousins describe trips they had taken to see their parents in luxury vacation homes. Now Mom and Dad finally purchase a place in a Florida vacation spot, and at last it is my turn to do some visiting, and they buy a ONE bedroom! The message came across to me loud and clear – NO VISITORS.

When Mom and Dad first bought the condo about five years ago, Mom called me up, happily chirping into the phone, “We did it! We finally bought a place in Florida like we’ve always wanted – a one-bedroom condominium.”

“One bedroom?” I whined. “That’s it? Couldn’t you have gotten something bigger?”

Now, for all of you readers who right now are thinking to yourself that I sound like an ungrateful daughter, and that I should just be happy for Mom and Dad, or perhaps that a one-bedroom is all they could afford, YOU ARE WRONG. See, the thing about Harbor View Condos is that they offer both one- and two-bedroom condominium units, and they are practically the same size. The one-bedroom offers one larger bedroom and a large living room, while the two-bedroom offers two smaller bedrooms and a smaller living room for virtually the same price. Believe me, Mom and Dad could have bought the two-bedroom unit just as easily as the one. They just do not want visitors. Mom claims she liked the layout of the one-bedroom better, but I don’t buy it. Let me tell you about the rest of our phone conversation and you’ll see why:

Me: Congratulations. A one bedroom, huh? Well, I guess I’ll sleep on the sleeper sofa when I come to visit.

Mom: Well, um, we bought a regular sofa. It’s not a sleeper.

Me: No problem, I’m just one person. I suppose I can just sleep on the top of the couch.

Mom: Well, I’m not so sure. It’s a light-cream color and I really do want to keep it clean. Perhaps Flo and Irv will let you stay in their place.

Me: What? Stay with your friends? When you have a place in the same development? You’re crazy!

Mom: Well, there’s a nice hotel down the street. You could always stay there.

Me: If I’m already paying for a hotel, I might as well go somewhere else than visiting you at a camp for senior citizens in Florida. Thanks anyway, Mom.

In the end Mom and Dad ended up returning their cream-colored couch and exchanged it for a sleeper sofa. I was able to stay after all. However, every time I would visit, I would come home with an aching back. I suspect they bought a low-end mattress for the sofa just to ensure that my visits weren’t too long.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chapter 2, Part 4 - The Condo

The other thing you immediately notice about Mom and Dad’s condominium is all of the mirrors they have. They have them not only on their bedroom walls, in their dressing areas, and above their bathroom sink, but they have them on their closet doors, too. It seems to be the style among 60- and 70-year olds. Mom told me, “For my whole life, I always wanted mirrored closet doors, and now that I’m retired I finally have them.”

Now, I don’t have anything against mirrored doors. It certainly isn’t my style or anything, but I don’t have anything against them. However, if you have to have mirrors on your closet doors at some point in your life, shouldn’t it be when you’re in your twenties and looking your best, rather than when you’re old, have gained weight, added wrinkles to your face, and shrunk two inches? Do you really want to look at yourself at this advanced age each time you open your closet to take out a pair of pants?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chapter 2, Part 3 - The Condo

Mom and Dad’s condo is a one-bedroom, one bath apartment. If someone from the sky dropped in on the apartment blindfolded and didn’t know what state he was in, he would know the minute he took off his blindfold in Mom and Dad’s place. The apartment screams ‘Florida!’ from its cream and white furniture with peach accents to the framed pictures of palm trees, blue oceans, and flamingos. There’s even a fake palm tree in the corner of the living room. This always struck me as odd. I can live with the pink flamingos and the peach furniture, but a fake palm tree? Most people who buy fake palms are those who are pretending that they are somewhere tropical. Mom and Dad already live in a tropical location, with real palm trees right outside their door. Why have fake ones inside? As I said, their condo screams ‘Florida!’ Perhaps it just says it with a New York accent.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chapter 2, Part 2 - The Condo

There are three modes of transportation around Harbor View. They are (in ascending order of how many can be found at the condominium complex):

1. The Harbor View shuttle bus;
2. A resident’s personal automobile (whether he is capable of driving it or not); and
3. The wheelchair.

I’m not kidding on number 3. The wheelchair not only exists as a way of getting around Harbor View, it is the most prominent mode. Not that there’s anything wrong with people getting around on wheelchairs, it’s just that they catch you off guard if you’re not used to seeing them. And you do see them – everywhere – on the sidewalks, in the streets, and at the pool. Even on the golf course.

When Mom and Dad first looked at Harbor View as a potential condominium to buy, Mom said, “Hon, we can’t buy here. Look at all of the old people. So many of them are in wheelchairs.”

“Sweetheart,” he replied, “a lot of those people in wheelchairs are younger than you are.”

“But, I can still get around and do things.” Mom said.

“Some of those people in wheelchairs are doing more activities than when you were in your thirties,” Dad said to his wife, who has never been a very active person.

“True,” she replied, “But I don’t look that old. Do I? I’m only 58, after all.”

“Honey,” he said, “let’s face it, we look like we could be at home here.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chapter 2, Part 1 - The Condo

Harbor View Condominiums – Mom and Dad’s winter home. If you have ever dreamed of what your retirement home would look like – perhaps a light-colored stucco home sitting gracefully among tall, swaying palm trees, overlooking a cool, blue body of water – this is not it. Now, don’t get me wrong, their place is not a dump, but it’s not exactly the Vanderbilt Estate either. My sister has nicknamed their development ‘The Army Barracks’ – one hundred identical two-story brown and beige buildings with palm trees and a few small lakes scattered about. And of course there’s the occasional old man driving around in a golf cart. There is no harbor view to speak of, as the name implies.

Now, when you are coming into Harbor View, you might think you are entering an expensive luxury complex that is worthy of the large imposing gate with the guardhouse and guard it has at its entrance. Do not be fooled. This place is hardly luxurious, and the guard is usually a little old man weighing all of 90 pounds. He seems to have his pants pulled up to his ears, both of which, incidentally, have hearing aids in them.

I don’t know why this relatively basic condominium development is gated, except that it seems most Floridian retirement complexes are housed in gated communities. It’s as if when people turn 55 they suddenly feel that they have to protect the treasures they have accumulated over their lifetime – their hi-fi stereos, their collections of spoons from 50 years’ worth of vacations, and their oversized pieces of gaudy costume jewelry. As if any self-respecting burglar would want to steal any of those things.

There are two lanes to drive through at the guardhouse. One is for residents, which is an open lane that is to be used only by residents who have the brightly colored HV sticker on their windshield to prove that they live there. And one is for guests, which is a closed lane with one of those large orange and white arm barriers. If you are a resident, you drive through the resident lane, wave to the little old man, and he waves you in. If you are a guest, you are supposed to stop at the imposing orange and white arm barrier and tell the man the name of the resident you are visiting. He is expected to make a telephone call to the resident to confirm that you are indeed supposed to be visiting. However, the little old man rarely ever calls the residents. In fact, you can make up any name you want and tell the old man you are visiting that person. He won’t know that you made it up, since he doesn’t call to verify. And I’m pretty certain this old guy doesn’t know the names of all 10,000 residents by heart. But all of that doesn’t matter anyway, since he probably hasn’t even heard what you said.

So you drive up and say, “I’m visiting Mr. and Mrs. Blank.” (Insert name – Miller, Cohen, Blank). He’ll wave you in. Or, do what Dad did the first year he visited. He drove through the resident lane (sans the HV sticker) and gave a wave and a smile to the guard. The guard waved him in each time. I tried it the first time I visited Mom and Dad, and he waved me in. Did he really think I lived there? I was only 26 years old at the time.