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 appliqu├ęs 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.”