Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement


A few weeks ago, my dad and I headed to sunny Florida. Goal: Visit his parents and sit in the warm Florida sun.

It poured for three days straight. The only sun we got was a thin beam or two  upon landing in Florida and flashes of light while taking off and back to Philadelphia.

After reading my facebook updates from the retirement community ("If you didn't hear the directions, grandmom will remind you. Fourteen times. Before the first exit" ; "Grandpop says some women are just yum. Others are yummy yummy" ; "I welcome all early bird specials"), umbrellatrix Katie Sweeney suggested that I read Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement by Rodney Rothman.

I'm no stranger to the retirement community lifestyle. I went to college in Tampa, and was incredibly homesick my freshman year. So my grandfather would drive cross state, pick me up, and drive me back to their retirement community in Sebastian, Florida. I'd lie at the pool, eat too much food, and read on their sunporch, usually borrowing books from the club house library, which is made up of community donations -- and let me tell you, those ladies like some racy stuff (on the rainy trip, I read Lipstick Jungle, which I borrowed from that library AFTER putting back a book about four office mates who seemed to boff each other daily).

I liked going because it felt like time froze. I didn't have to worry about classes or boy drama waiting for me back at college. I didn't have to figure out where I'd be sitting in the cafeteria, or about stick thin freshman prancing around the school (I was the youngest person -- everywhere!) or if I'd be stuck home on a Friday night. Everyone was stuck home here, and in bed by 9 p.m.

In Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement, Rothman moves into a retirement community in Boca Raton after losing his job. Boca is not Sebastian. He moves into a condominium tower. My grandparents live in a stand alone home in a gated community (he makes a great point that city retirees tend to go toward tall buildings while suburban retirees go to stand alone homes -- such is the case with both our experiences). My grandparens are also Christian, and Rothman chooses a mostly Jewish community. Some of the landscape has changed, too. Rothman wrote at the height of the real estate boom. I visited at the bottom, and a lot of houses in their community sat empty and for sale with no buyers.

But both communities seem the same -- the members up before 6 a.m., the cliquish pool group, the events people attend for free food, even bingo games. I played bingo once on a college visit. It was splendid, though my grandparents don't play unless I go. My grandfather prefers cards, and my grandmom baking.

Rothman is dead on in his descriptions of the retirement community life, but some of it feels forced. He does things "for the book," and while there's nothing wrong with that (might as well write a book if you lost your job and move into a retirement community when you're 28 years old), it made parts of the book feel forced, like when he shops for his future retirement home.

He comes to the same conclusion I do after every one of my four day trips to see my grandparents: Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there just yet.

This week, I booked my annual trek to St. Pete Beach, and mentioned it on twitter. "Didn't you just come back from a Florida vacation?" someone asked. Nope. That was visiting grandparents, which involved trying to tune out Fox News, not eating every time my grandmom offered food, and fighting the urge to go to bed at 9 p.m. Vacation will involve sitting on a beach in a string bikini drinking margaritas WITHOUT worrying that I'm going to give an old man a heart attack, visiting dark Russian bars after hours, and reading racy books that I pick. Oh, and staying up past 9 p.m.

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