BY BOB SMITH
We recently visited Sarasota, Florida to shop for a condominium near the Gulf of Mexico. Now that both of us are retired, there seems little point to hunkering down all winter in frigid New Jersey when we could just as easily be spending those ugly eight weeks called January and February on a powdery beach drinking Coronas at sunset. Given the particular nastiness of winter in the Northeast this year, that seems like an ideal plan.
Still, I’m a bit reluctant, at the relatively early age of 59, to take on the role of full-fledged “snowbird.” What’s next – hitching my pants up to my nipples and shuffling into deserted restaurants for early bird dinners? Wearing loafers and black socks with baggy golf shorts? Surreptitiously shoveling sugar packets, fruit, and rolls from the all-you-can-eat buffet into my voluminous old geezer pants pockets?
Maybe someday, I suppose. But for now, we’ll be the “cool” and “younger” retirees enjoying the “Florida lifestyle.” We’ll boldly stride into the early bird dinner without walkers, and “go commando” That’s right – no incontinence underwear at all. Woo-hoo!
We stayed at a friend’s condominium, located in Bradenton. The complex is tucked into a lush green enclave hidden in a tract of land between two nondescript Florida four-lane roads. The bordering streets are lined with drugstores, strip malls, movie theaters and, of course, a Publix and a Wal-Mart. Inside the complex, however, you’re in a mini tropical forest dotted with exotic colorful flowers, vines, and broad-leafed plants and trees. Oh yeah, and nine million tiny lizards. Walk anywhere, and three or four of these two-inch critters will scurry across your path, scrambling frantically to get out of the way. They’ll stop, look around, then dart away again, peripatetic refugees from a Geico commercial.
We went to the pool, and my heart sank as I overheard the conversations around me. One slim, older, gentleman in the hot tub was explaining to two women on the patio nearby the difference between wet and dry macular degeneration (Apparently, in addition to the obvious moisture-related distinction, one is far more threatening to the eyesight and harder to treat.) While he droned on about the potential total loss of central vision, and the relatively benign need to treat it by taking a prophylactic needle to the eyeball every couple of weeks, one of the women (a spry mid-60’s type) noted that the other woman was now using a cane – which she had carefully set aside before starting her gingerly descent into the bubbling whirlpool.
“Yeah, I don’t really need it, but it makes me feel better,” Ms. Cane sighed as she slowly settled into the swirling bubbles. “That feels good – not too hot.”
“They were talking about raising the temperature in the hot tubs at the board meeting the other night,” wet/dry Mack pointed out, with only his chin jutting above the surface. “I’m glad they didn’t. This is just right.”
“Not too hot, not too cold,” Ms. Cane agreed, her bathing suit skirt coyly rippling above semi-submerged tree-trunk thighs. “Come on in, Grace, the water’s fine.”
“I don’t think you’re using that cane right, though,” said Grace, picking it up and twirling it a-la-Charlie Chaplin before setting the black rubberized end down on the concrete.
She proceeded to explain that a cane is intended to support the weak side, but only temporarily, and only lightly, and that you can develop a rhythm and really walk at quite a smart pace with your aluminum third leg. She demonstrated by taking a couple of relatively nimble, aided circuits around the hot tub, with wet/dry Mack and Ms. Cane expressing approval amidst the bubbles.
Blah, blah, blah.
My eyes glazed over as I dozed on the lounge chair eight feet away. I had intended to soak in the hot tub, but demurred for fear of getting drawn into the gang-of-three’s scintillating discussion of degradation and decay. I thought about taking a swim instead. At the low end of the pool a straw-thin guy with a floppy hat, wraparound visor sunglasses, and a zinc-white nose, was doing ultra-slow laps – walking, not swimming – while three bulbous older women, their backs supported by buoyant neon noodles, kicked their way down the length of the pool, chatting chummily. That didn’t seem like the place for me either.
I read my newspaper, and dozed in the warm sun, imagining myself on a beach with people who didn’t appear to be on the verge of death. Young, supple, energetic folks with muscular bodies, firm butts, high-proud breasts, and vibrant manes of non-blue hair. The only problem with that fantasy is that, to those fictional nymphs and Greek gods, I’m as decrepit as Ms. Cane and wet/dry Mack.
I read my newspaper by the pool. I dozed. I daydreamed. I exchanged innocuous pleasantries with the hard-core retirees around me, hoping perhaps that if I refused to participate in their conversations, or acknowledged our shared concerns, I could delay the inevitable.
Who am I kidding? I have met the enemy, and he is me.