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 entrĂ©e 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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chapter 1, Part 9 - The Drive Down

Mom and Dad’s favorite ritual on the drive to Florida is to stop at the Florida Welcome Center just inside the Florida state line for a free cup of orange juice. It makes them feel like they’ve actually arrived at their destination, even though they are headed to South Florida several hours away. But it is one of those traditions that anyone who does regular car trips would understand – it is just something they have to do each year. A few more hours on the road and they pull into their winter home – Harbor View Condominiums of Florida, home of 10,000 former citizens of other states – 9,998 of whom are over the age of 55.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chapter 1, Part 8 - The Drive Down

It takes Mom and Dad two or three days to make their way from their home in Pennsylvania to Florida. Now if you don’t already know, I-95 is not the most exciting route in the United States. In fact, after the New Jersey Turnpike, it’s probably the most boring route…until you get to North Carolina. That’s when you start seeing signs for South of the Border. For anyone who has ever driven to Florida, you know which signs I’m talking about. If you haven’t, let me try to explain them here. South of the Border is one of the biggest tourist stops in the most convenient of locations on the well-traveled I-95 corridor. It is opportunely located, just south of the border…of North Carolina. It is a bright enclave of shops, restaurants, arcades, and various other entertainment venues designed as a Mexican village, hence the name. The whole ‘village’ is painted with bright colors – oranges, greens, and yellows, to name a few. And for about 200 miles before you reach South of the Border, there are signs…hundreds of them, it seems, in equally bright colors with pictures of sombreros and corny sayings like ‘Pedro’s weather forecast: chili today; hot tamale’ or ‘Keep yelling, kids, they’ll stop.’ All of the signs also advise you of the number of miles before you will reach this most coveted of tourist spots. Most of the signs are very colorful; some are in 3-D; and a few are actually funny. All of them seem to make the ride to Florida go by a little bit more quickly.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chapter 1, Part 7 - The Drive Down

When Mom and Dad drive to Florida, they always stop at one of those highway rest areas to pick up some green discount hotel coupon books that are stacked outside the restroom doors. These coupons promise you a night at the Blank Inn (fill in the blank – Days, Comfort, Fairfield, or Knights) for only $39.95 ($5 more for the first floor, $10 more on weekends). The catch with these coupons is that you cannot make reservations ahead of time. These are for rooms that are to be filled ‘day of’ only. Mom and Dad often waste an hour or more of travel time going from hotel to hotel in one of the aforementioned towns before finding one that will accept this coupon.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Chapter 1, Part 6 - The Drive Down

This year, Mom and Dad got lost leaving their hotel in the morning, after a night on the road. Again, I have to believe that the signs leading travelers back to 95 are clearly marked, but I wasn’t there, so I can’t say for sure. The story according to Dad is that he wanted gas and did not want to pay the prices at the stations right off the highway. So he drove into town to pay what the locals pay. I could stop right here and I am sure you can figure out what happened next. Yes, you guessed it. He took the ‘scenic route.’ He made a wrong turn out of the gas station and found himself driving down a road where on the side of the street members of the local Kiwanis club were roasting a pig at 10:00 in the morning for an all-you-can-eat pork barbecue.

“Doesn’t it bother you at all that you get lost so often?” I asked Dad after he told me this tale.

“You know it really wasn’t a bad deal. Only five bucks a head,” Dad answered me. “I should have tried some. But who wants to eat barbecue at 10:00 in the morning?” he asked.

“Dad, forget about the barbecue. Doesn’t it bother you that you get lost all the time?”

“Nah, I made up the time,” he replied.

“At least the town didn’t warrant the ‘Lock All Doors!’ scream,” I told him. It did, however, give Mom and Dad a view of life in a small southern town, and gave Dad a reason to drive 85 again once he got back on the highway.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Chapter 1, Part 5 - The Drive Down

Last year Mom and Dad stopped to visit me at my home in the Washington, DC suburbs on their way down to Florida. I want to emphasize suburbs here for future reference. I do not live very close to the city, and there is absolutely no need to pass anywhere near the downtown on the way to Florida. After their visit, I gave Dad directions to get back to I-95 – very easy and clear. The signs are well marked so you can’t miss it. Really, you can’t. Unless, of course, you’re in your early sixties and on your way to Florida.

I received a phone call from Mom about 45 minutes after they left. “I can see the Washington Monument,” she said. “Are we going right?”

“What?” I screamed. “No, you should be halfway to Richmond by now. You shouldn’t even be going anywhere near downtown Washington.”

To this day, I still cannot figure out how they drove into the city. Even if they missed the well-marked signs, they would have landed in a place nowhere near downtown. Now, of course if they had been visiting me so they could see the sights of Washington, there is no way they ever would have made it into the city so fast and easily.

While talking to Mom on the telephone, I was finally able to guide her and Dad back on the right track. About two hours later, I received another phone call from her.

“Mom, if you tell me you are looking at the Jefferson Memorial, then you should just turn around and head back home right now,” I said.

“No, we just made it south of Richmond,” she answered. “We took the I-295 bypass this time,” she added.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Chapter 1, Part 4 - The Drive Down

Two years ago Dad got lost on the I-295 bypass loop around Richmond, Virginia (or actually off the loop since he never quite made it onto the loop). Dad didn’t think he should venture off I-95, even though the bright green, oversized highway signs for the bypass were clearly marked for points south. (As an aside, it actually used to say ‘To Miami, FL’ on these signs, so people would know not to take I-95, which takes you through the middle of downtown Richmond. But the powers that be at the Virginia Department of Transportation obviously thought signs for a Florida city weren’t necessary that far north, as they have since covered up those signs. Clearly, none of them have elderly parents making a yearly drive to Florida.) So Dad stayed on I-95. Leaving the Northeast at about 9:00 in the morning with a stop for lunch puts you in Richmond right around the afternoon rush hour. Now I understand that rush hour in Richmond isn’t the same as rush hour in, say, Mom and Dad’s native New York City, but it is rush hour nonetheless. So big, brave Dad who minutes earlier didn’t want to venture off I-95 now finds himself in downtown city traffic and decides he’s going to get off 95 and find a shortcut. Let me repeat that. Dad…who has never driven in the city of Richmond before…is going to find…a shortcut.

Now, I believe there are people in this world who can do that – find a shortcut in a city they have never been to before. Let me assure you, Dad is not one of them. To Dad, shortcut becomes ‘scenic route,’ and ‘scenic route’ is usually through the worst part of town. When Dad drives through a bad part of town he always does the same thing. He screams “Lock All Doors!” and Mom puts her hand with the generous-sized diamond ring on it below window level. By the time Dad is done with his shortcut, he has usually added a good 45 minutes or more to his trip. No problem. Dad will do 85 again once he reaches the highway to ‘make time.’

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chapter 1, Part 3 - The Drive Down

Some people who winter in Florida fly there and leave a car at their condo year-round for their use when they get there. Others take the train so they do not have the arduous task of driving over 1,000 miles; they can relax and sleep en route instead. Mom and Dad drive. I’ve often wondered why they drive when they can fly or take the train. I think it’s because: A: It’s the cheapest way to get there, and B: It’s the cheapest way to get there. Not that Mom and Dad are cheap, but they do like to save money if they can.

Mom says they drive because they are in charge – they can stop when they want, eat when they are hungry, and argue in private. Dad says it’s because they are still active enough to drive. “After all, we are considered young retirees. We’re only in our early sixties and are still capable of driving to Florida. Not like those old folks who have to fly or take the train,” he explains.

Now, I’m not so sure Dad driving is a good thing. And not because of why you might think. He is not one of those little old people driving 45 on a 65 mile-per-hour highway. Dad shouldn’t be driving because of the opposite reason – he is a speed demon on the road. He says he drives fast (85 on those same 65 mile-per-hour highways) because he wants to ‘make time.’ The truth is that he doesn’t really want to ‘make time’ so much as he needs to. The main reason being because he has to make up for time he loses when he gets lost. And he does get lost. Every year.

Now, you might ask how he can get lost when it’s pretty much a straight drive to Florida down Interstate 95. And believe me, I’ve asked that same question many times myself. But somehow he manages to get lost every year. Although to his credit, it’s always in a different place.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chapter 1, Part 2 - The Drive Down

The days leading up to their departure day are filled with talk of Florida. Not facts about Florida that you learned in school, such as Ponce de Leon discovered the area and drank from the Fountain of Youth, or that the state produces more oranges than any other state. No, their discussion about Florida goes something like this:

“When are Phyllis and Herb getting down there?” Dad asks.

“They’ve been down for weeks,” Mom says.

“Ummmm, I can’t wait to taste the matzo ball soup at Nana’s Nosh,” Dad inserts into the conversation.

“Or their pickles either,” Mom replies.

“Do you think Freddie Roman will be performing at the clubhouse again this year?” Dad questions Mom.

“If he is, I’m not going. We must have seen him about 15 times already,” Mom replies.

The last two days before they leave are spent closing up their house. Now, closing up a house for a season may not seem like a big thing, but it is a whole ordeal, according to Mom. Not only do they have to clean the house and lock the doors, but they also have to turn down the heat (not off, mind you, something could freeze and break) so that their low heating bill will help make their trip to Florida worth it financially. Then of course, there’s turning off the water – don’t want the pipes to burst, God forbid. Mom and Dad also have to fill out forms to have their mail forwarded to Florida and call the phone company to have their phone service turned off while they are away.

But my all-time favorite ritual of theirs is pouring bleach into the toilets, and then covering them tightly with plastic wrap. Yes, you read correctly; they cover their toilets with plastic wrap you would use to wrap a salami. Just before they are ready to leave for Florida they go around to each bathroom in their house and lift the toilet bowl lids. Then they pour in a quarter cup of bleach, snuggly cover the bowl with the plastic wrap, and close the lid for the winter. If they don’t do this, Mom tells me that their toilets will be black from mildew when they return home because they haven’t been flushed in months. The bleach keeps the mildew away, and the plastic wrap prevents the water from evaporating, she claims.

Their friends Flo and Irv didn’t wrap their toilets one year, and the toilet in their master bathroom was ruined from mildew and Flo said it needed to be replaced. Although, the truth is it probably could have been saved with an extensive scrubbing. Mom says Flo figured that since they were replacing the toilet, they might as well redo the whole bathroom. (Not an inexpensive proposition, I might add.) Since that toilet incident with Flo and Irv, Dad has put himself in charge of wrapping the toilets. He thinks Mom will wrap them loosely on purpose so that she too can get a brand new master bathroom.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Chapter 1, Part 1 - The Drive Down

The ritual is the same each year. Mom and Dad start laying out their clothes sometime in the middle of October for their yearly jaunt to Florida in December…two months away. Why they start so early, I’m not sure. Maybe it helps to get them in the mood. Their clothes – bathing suits, shirts with large floral prints, and two-piece outfits with sequins and flamingos (Mom’s only) – stay out on chairs and dressers for weeks, until about three days before they are ready to leave, when they finally put them in suitcases. Mom claims they start packing very early so they don’t forget anything. Who is she kidding? If she forgets anything, it will just give her an excuse to buy something new when she gets to Florida.

I ask them why they just don’t put their clothes in suitcases when they begin their packing, since their house gets awfully messy with their stuff everywhere. Mom claims that their clothes won’t get wrinkled this way. As if a shirt decorated with ruby-colored studs and tropical birds would look any worse with a wrinkle in it.