Halt, Who Goes There?…

So what gives? After over a decade of residing in Florida, my Mom got a visit from us. Seeing her was the main reason for the trip but a close second was to give my daughter the fish a trip to a beach…

There are good reasons for not traveling down there to see my Mom. First it’s a very long drive and having the bug in the car for 2 days down and 2 days back was something that we were really not up for but we decided to bite the bullet (as it turns out, I went ahead and drove the 17 hour drive in one shot… down and back). Of course there are other reasons… my idea of Florida has never been very appealing, sure there is the ocean and the beaches which I love but it ends there. And Florida didn’t disappoint, or should I say it was just as I imagined it. In a way, it’s difficult to believe that I could like Kentucky so much more than Florida but maybe our little corner of Louisville has spoiled us just a bit. So what is it about the sunshine state? Well, there’s the post-apocalyptic architecture (every third building looks like it was the victim of a roadside bomb)…

I was quite partial to this example mostly because the sign heralds a future paradise…

Then there’s the heat, the flatness and the flora… the flowers are beautiful and most plants seems relatively exotic to a “northerner” but nothing is very tall (there’s no place to hide). So FLORIDA, what is it with the incessant tailgaters? I rarely notice a regional driving phenomenon (well, there’s the English always driving on the wrong side of the road and for some reason, people from Illinois have embraced the personalized license plate in numbers that are at least triple the next state down on that list) and it’s not like no one tailgates in KY or anywhere else but it was prevalent and consistent everywhere we went. When my dad was alive, he didn’t want to move down here from NY and I probably have some of his reasons as well. We grew up in the mostly deciduous woods in central NY and the flat, barren, arid landscape here with exotic succulent plants just kinda goes against some internal preference borne out of hunting squirrels in forests of maple, birch, beech and pine. So anyway, my Mom moved down here along with the millions of other “snowbirds” from NY and NJ and bought a place in a retirement community. The retirement community is the real story of the trip and it promises to be a lengthy one. First off, you have to be 55 to be a resident. Years ago this seemed to be sensible to me insofar as it should be a community of old people but now that I’m 53 (only 2 years off), I find myself a bit peeved about not making the “retirement” threshold a little higher (like 65, hell, I’m not going to be retired in 2 years… honestly I don’t see myself retiring at all, hopefully I’ll simply slump over the hump some day… but first I need to start throwing off the hump before that can happen). So we decided to drive straight through instead of a 2 day drive and arrived at 2 AM. My Mom had warned me that, because the community has a guard house with a guard and a barrier across the entrance that the guard controls, we would have to stop and state our intentions. In my mind I imagined the border guards I went through when traveling by car to Montreal… all business, no joking and armed. We drove up to the guard house in the wee hours after about 17 hours on the road and this ancient doddering gentleman limped out of the guard house (apparently no one had ever tried to enter this late/early before). I said, we’re here to visit Marion Gottuso. He said, “are you James Gottuso?” I said yes. I figured it was over at that point and was a bit antsy, fearing for the safety of my family and shaking in my boots. He says, “from Kentucky?”. I stuttered a bit as the sweat rolled down my cheek and neck but luckily stammered… yes. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had said, no, we’re from Ohio or Tennessee. There was a tense 5 seconds of silence (it seemed like an eternity) and the gate lifted. We slowly edged forward as I carefully watched the guard re-enter his post, elated that we had dodged a waterboarding session. Right after pulling away from the guard house we passed this sign…

As it turned out, this sign belies the actual hospitality and our close encounter with the SS at stalag 13 was merely the tip of the iceberg in the seeming endless rules and regulations of retirement community living. The list of prohibitions is so long that my Mom can’t even remember them. There’s no kids, no dogs, lots of speed bumps, etc. but way more fascinating to me are the caveats that accompany the rules. A child can visit for 3 weeks or less but has to leave after that and I’m not sure how much time has to pass before they can re-enter and, like all these rules, I wonder what authority oversees these comings and goings. You can have a cat, for instance but it has to be an indoor cat. There’s a lady that’s figured a way around this as she takes a walk every day past my Mom’s house with her cat zipped up inside a baby stroller… I’m extremely curious to see how fat this animal is. Then there’s the petition process. Apparently a woman who was not allowed to have a dog was able to petition an exception and the ruling was that she needed a certified “note” from her doctor (a prescription is more like it) stating that she needs to have the dog because it’s good for “her nerves”. I kept thinking of a scenario where the woman goes to the walgreens pharmacy and has them bring out a shih tzu or a weimeraner (or whatever breed is the one for “nerves”… I wonder what kind of dog they prescribe for chronic dandruff?) to take home. There was another woman resident who didn’t fare so well. She found out her daughter had leukemia when pregnant and died after giving birth and the child’s only living relative was her grandmother (a resident). She had to petition the community to allow her to have her granddaughter live with her and not become a ward of the state… they acquiesced but my Mom was astounded at how many residents voted against it. Also the residents only allowed her to live there to a certain age. As it turns out, Sofia met the girl and her grandmother at the pool and the woman told Alicia that the people have remained nasty and acrimonious about the child’s presence (even though now the kid’s only allowed to visit for 30 days at a time and the neighbors count the days and report her if she goes over). My Mom’s next door neighbor introduced himself and when he saw my bicycle said that he rode too. I was happy about this because I was curious about a route I could use. He said, “well, I usually go up to the guard house and back and that’s a good mile.” I had to remain polite and continue talking as though that was quite a ride. Of course, really I didn’t want to go anywhere near those hooligan guards if I didn’t have too. The community has 3 resident sandhill cranes that wander about (2 adults and their offspring)…

They’re beautiful birds and upon returning from the ocean one day, we stopped the car so Sofia could see them. They were in this woman’s yard and one of the adults had caught a mouse or a mole and was shaking it vigorously to try and get it to come apart to feed parts to the youngster. The woman who lived there saw them and us and came out to the car a bit distraught. She was not really interested at all about the cranes themselves but was really put out by the idea that there were critters living under her lawn. Of course we were the most obvious ears for her to complain to about the horror of an undesirable animal living within the confines of the community. Another woman told Alicia and Sofia that there were people living in the “woods” behind her house and apparently the whole community is on high alert for wild boars that also live in the thicket behind the patio homes… these boars are particularly interested in breaking flower pots (there natural food source). So trash day is friday but you can’t leave your trash out on thursday night. There is no recycling. And most importantly, Wednesday is the day the Viagra truck shows up and treats the water supply. This is much more efficient and less costly than the residents actually filling individual prescriptions. This viagrafication of the water reminds me of one scene from one of my all time favorite movies where Gen. Ripper schools Mandrake about flouridation of the water by the communists…

It also explains a lot about the retirement community lifestyle which I’ve been hearing about for years from my Mom. You see, in the pre-viagrafication of the water supply era, the human lifetime was divided into marked periods of time that, like the uruburos’ snake swallowing its own tail, started and ended in the same place. There was infancy (diapers), followed by childhoood (fun and lack of responsibility), adolescence (acne and the drama of matters of the heart), early adulthood (abusing your body with alcohol and drugs while still having an unformed frontal lobe), full on adulthood (family and career, i.e. stress), mid-life crisis (for some buying a motorcycle even though their upper body strength is insufficient to ride if for more than 4 miles at a time, for others it’s deciding that being a potter would be a good idea), early old age (moving to a retirement community, playing golf and eating benedictine sandwiches for lunch) and finally old age (diapers again). Now, what the viagrafication of the water has done is that the penultimate stage of moving to a retirement community, playing golf and eating benedictine sandwiches for lunch has been replaced with a stage almost identical to adolescence. The main difference is the lack of acne. The women outnumber the men 4 or 5 to 1 and this creates a crazy soap opera of 70 and 80 and 90 year olds sleeping with each other and cheating on each other. Of course the criteria for this activity is markedly different from adolescence. Teens might choose the drama partners because of cliques, who has a car, who has new boobs, or what music one is into where the old age version chooses their partners by a totally different rationale. For instance, “I like golf and square dancing and he likes tennis and round dancing”… obviously that’s never gonna work. Then there’s “I took care of raising 5 kids and he’s 86 years old and although he’s ok now, I don’t want someone else I have to take care of”. I remember years ago when my Mom just arrived, she had a thanksgiving date with a new beau. She was to arrive the night before thanksgiving and go have dinner. On Thanksgiving day, go golfing and have thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant. Soon after arriving, the dude rammed his toe (barefooted) into a piece of furniture and started bleeding profusely. He called his doctor and was told to elevate it for a couple days… no dinner, no golf and no holiday meal either. It shows how quickly things can go south with these matters but the viagra (not to mention the lipitor) keeps flowing and keeps feeding the drama drama drama. Then there’s the whole porch bench story which would take me longer to type out than what I’ve already written so maybe another day. All this aside, the bug had a great time swimming swimming swimming. Here’s she is on the beach…

And here’s the loves of my life both on the beach…

Then there was the swabbing because 6 years olds have a tendency to spill sticky stuff on Grandma’s floor…

Here’s another to round out the trio of flattering pictures of Grandma, at a Thai restaurant…

We had a great time visiting Aunt Susie too and I went golfing with her and Vince one day. It was the first time I have golfed in at least 15 years and I’ve lapsed on certain skills but it was great fun and I was astounded that we almost had the course to ourselves the entire day. I did manage to work in 2 30mile bike rides along the intercoastal waterway and we played many many games of Oh Hell. All fun aside, I won’t be moving to the sunshine state at any point. I’ve visited places before that have left me thinking… I should move there some day. Montreal, Acadia Island, Maine, Firenze, Italy but Florida… nah.

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8 Responses to “Halt, Who Goes There?…”

  1. gz Says:

    It feels such a sad place to be. Less a safe place, more a prison.
    I remember my grandmother living in a pensioners’ block of flats, with a warden. She lived on the top (third) floor and was overjoyed with her balcony…no carrot fly AND you could hear children playing in the park- and yes, some residents did complain about that! (“THe Noise”!!!!)
    She (at 90+ called the ones that did nothing but sit in the lounge and watch tv.in their .late 60s and 70’s mainly…”perishing pensioners”

  2. Michele Says:

    you gave me a good laugh… when i was selling real estate in NH i worked for a builder selling condos in a 55+ community. the rules were looser than where your mom lives (no limits on visiting kids). i worked out of a model home for 3 years and obviously knew everyone. sometimes it was hard to get work done because i had so many resident visitors wanting to fill me in on the latest gossip!

  3. Melanie Says:

    great post! this sums up what I think about Florida as well – although I do not have insight into retirement communities 🙂 Thanks – I have to forward this to some German friends who think Florida (especially Miami – maybe you have something to say about Miami as well??) is the place to be…

    • jim Says:

      hi melanie,
      coincidentally, the woman with the granddaughter was german too. i’ve never been to miami but i heard on the radio that it will be submerged within the next 10 or 20 years. they were talking about the city’s efforts to battle the rising tides and apparently it sits on a bed of permeable rock so that any type of barricade is useless because the water will simply percolate up from underneath… but really, what do i know?

  4. meredith@whynot Says:

    Oh I have been to Florida and feel the same way about it.
    You can have it.
    After the last time about 40 years back or more I told Mark seen it and done.
    Now maybe you could get me to fly to Key West.
    Let me know when as I can pack in 5 minutes.
    But to drive there- no thank you.
    And don’t get me started on retirement communities- who do they think they are fooling?
    Most times you can find a way in…
    Glad you are back now get to work and no slumping!

  5. Judy Shreve Says:

    Great post – sums up my feelings of my time spent there. Although Florida – before air conditioners and interstates and Disney – was really quite unique but it has really changed.

    I lived in FL for 11 years – just got back to GA about 7 years ago. It’s a really odd place now – full of northerners, south americans, cubans and vacationers. I had a bumper sticker on my car ‘not everyone is on vacation here.’ We lived in Orlando because that was where my husband’s work was. You find a way to survive – away from the crazy tourists – but the lack of seasons almost made us crazy.

    Great pictures of Sofia at the beach!

  6. artistatexit0 Says:

    I laughed the whole time…one of your more hilarious stories.

  7. pru Says:

    That’s horribly funny and a bit scary, do they really put viagra in the water, it seems so twisted. It’d do my head in, all that frustration and bother when all I’d want is a really good book. I’d have get bottled water in for sure… wouldn’t mind hearing the porch bench story too though!

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