Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oh, The Places I’ve Been!: Leisureville, by Andrew D. Blechman (2008)

Continuing in a premature nostalgia vein ...

I knew what I was getting into before visiting my parents at their home in a Florida retirement community last month. I’d heard the stories about those places. Sexagenarian shenanigans. Septuagenarian salaciousness. Octogenarian ... you know what, I’m going to stop now.

Point is, I knew. I also knew that a recent book on retirement in America focused specifically on The Villages, the largest such development in the area where my parents live. (CAUTION: Music may automatically start.) I put off reading it until after my trip, so I could draw my own conclusions.

Leisureville was inspired when author Andrew Blechman’s active retiree neighbors abruptly left New England and went south to putt and putter. Blechman does a sturdy job of tracing the history of retirement communities and of raising valid questions posed by The Villages’ sprawling success: the autocratic nature of the place, the long-term social, economic and environmental effects.

But the bulk of the book chronicles his experiences during the month he lived in The Villages. In short, he finds the place isolating and weird, filled with aging lotharios racing to assignations in their pimped-out golf carts before their Viagra wears off.

On my brief foray there, I found The Villages somewhat disorienting myself. We visited one of their prefab downtowns, with its man-made lake and a radio station pumping out feel-good music around the clock. The fake town has its own fake history, complete with phony tracks for the trolley that never ran there. As for the mack granddaddies, I can only offer as an example the fact that my married and visibly pregnant sister was hit on at the community pool. Repeatedly.

To which I say: so what? Yes, it would be nice if the older generation knew a little about safe sex – did they learn nothing from Robert Mitchum and Noah Beery, Jr.? – but where’s the harm in letting them swing? Communities like The Villages offer people of a certain age the chance to live with others who remember the same presidents, all within fifteen minutes of everything they need including health care. After forty or fifty years of hard work, especially at the sort of difficult jobs my parents had, they’re entitled to that comfort if that’s what they want.

It’s not for me, and I doubt it will be. When I reach what my father calls “a big age” I’m fairly sure I’ll still crave the stimuli that only the city and the company of younger people can provide. But who knows? They do drink an awful lot down there, and maybe the cold will finally get to me.

My problem with Leisureville is that Blechman, like many participants in our current discourse, takes things far too personally. He’s not simply aggrieved by his neighbors’ choice but offended, as if their decision is a judgment on him. It’s not a good sign when people who agree with you think you lay it on a little thick.

ASIDE: A while back I noticed a flurry of hits on the website from The Villages, all of them interested in VKDC’s most popular feature, this photo of actor Pat Harrington. I knew it wasn’t my parents, because they don’t have a computer. But I mentioned it to them anyway.

“Oh, that’s because he was down here,” my mother said. “He was visiting his brother. It was written up in the paper. Would you like me to send you the article?”