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Authors: Andrew D. Blechman

Leisureville

BOOK: Leisureville
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Leisureville

Also by Andrew D. Blechman

Pigeons:
The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most
Revered and Reviled Bird

L
EISUREVILLE

Adventures in America's Retirement Utopias

Andrew D. Blechman

Copyright © 2008 by Andrew D. Blechman

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, or the facilitation thereof, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

Note:
Some characters' names and other identifying information have been changed to protect their anonymity, and some scenes have been compressed for narrative purposes
.

Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America

eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-5558-4844-6

Atlantic Monthly Press
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
841 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Distributed by Publishers Group West

www.groveatlantic.com

For Erika and Lillie

PETER
: Forget them, Wendy. Forget them all. Come with me where you'll never, never have to worry about grown-up things again.

WENDY
: Never is an awfully long time.

—
Peter Pan

Contents

1. For Sale

2. Where's Beaver?

3. The Golden Years

4. Free Golf!

5. How Bananas Got Their Curve

6. The Chaz Incident

7. Mr. Midnight

8. Government, Inc
.

9. Necropolis

10. Foreign Policy

11. Cluck Old Hen

12. Chasing the Elephant

13. An Idiot's Farewell

14. Cat's in the Cradle

Epilogue

Leisureville

1
For Sale

I
T WAS A TYPICALLY COLD, BLEAK
F
EBRUARY MORNING WHEN
I
LOOKED
out the kitchen window and spotted a sign across the street on Dave and Betsy Anderson's front lawn: “For Sale.” This came as a complete surprise; I had assumed the Andersons—cheerful acquaintances and active members of our small-town community—were neighborhood lifers. Hadn't they just retired? Weren't they still in Florida celebrating their new freedom with a snowbird vacation?

People like the Andersons don't just pick up and leave, do they? And why would they want to go? We live in a small, traditional New England town, one that people pay good money to visit. Tourists travel from hours away to take in our bucolic vistas, marvel at our historic architecture, dine in our sophisticated restaurants, and partake in our enviable number of cultural offerings. It's a charming place to live, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. In fact, Norman Rockwell once lived here.

Although we lived across the street from one another for about two years, the Andersons and I weren't particularly close. We didn't barbecue together in the summer, or sit around the fireplace in the winter sipping cocoa. In fact, I don't think I ever invited them inside my home. But we were friendly. When I left town for a few weeks of family vacation the summer before, it was Dave who
mowed my lawn, unsolicited. “I had the mower running anyway, so I figured what the heck,” he modestly explained.

Dave and I frequently toured each other's yard, comparing notes about gardening and lawn care. His was immaculate, the lawn cut at a perfect ninety-degree angle to the house “to soften the edges” of his rectangular home. If a leaf fell, Dave was out there lickety-split with his leaf blower and preposterously large headphones. The shrubs were trimmed into perfect ovals, circles, and cones. Dave even tied a rope around his large pine tree and drew a tidy circle with it to mark the boundary between an acceptable accumulation of pine needles and a green lawn.

My yard, by comparison, was a far more haphazard work in progress. Dave started to take pity on me, stopping by to give occasional fatherly pep talks. “Been a rough year for crabgrass,” he remarked to me one summer day. “I've seen it all over town. Must be the hot weather.” Despite my best efforts, huge, gnarly clumps of it had thundered across my lawn. I found his words somewhat soothing (It's not just me!) until I glanced across the street at his dense, verdant turf.

Over the course of these two summers, I also got to know Betsy. Whether Dave was methodically detailing his van or organizing his garage so that every tool had a proper perch, he moved with precision. But Betsy was a firecracker. She drove a candy-apple-red Mazda Miata, and waved energetically whenever our eyes met across the street. She was the one who loudly cheered me on as I shakily rode my new skateboard down our street. I appreciated her for that.

We were at different stages in our lives and seemingly had little in common. As the Andersons pondered retirement, my wife and I celebrated the birth of our first child. And the Andersons obsessively played one sport we had little interest in learning: golf. But this disparity of ages was one reason we had purchased a house in this particular
neighborhood. The generational span seemed to add stability and was somehow endearing.

Besides, I just plain
liked
the Andersons. They were great neighbors: cheerful, low-maintenance, and reassuringly normal. That is why the sudden appearance of the “For Sale” sign threw me for a loop.

The Andersons didn't return until early April, during another frosty spring. I ran into Dave a few days later, while I was out shoveling my driveway yet again. I asked him about the sign and he said something about moving to “sunny Florida.” Frankly, with my boots and mittens full of wet snow, I didn't blame him, and I wished him the best of luck selling his house.

“But aren't you a little sad to be going?” I asked.

Dave puffed on his pipe. His face was one big warm smile, childlike in its intensity. “Nope.”

Given the glut of houses on the market—three on our street alone—the Andersons' didn't sell right away, and so we spent another summer trading war stories about landscaping. One day Dave found me knee-deep in my shrubs, drenched in sweat, bugs swarming around my face, and my infant daughter perched on my back crying hysterically.

“How's it going?” he asked.

I had spent the morning overseeding my lawn in an unpredictable wind, and most of the seed was now in the street. Then I stepped on the sprinkler and broke it.

“Oh, not bad,” I managed. “And you?” I got up and tried to shake his hand, but I was too busy swatting at bugs.

“You know, they make a product that you spread on your lawn that takes care of all these gnats and flies,” he suggested, offering me the use of his lawn spreader.

“What does the lawn have to do with all these bugs?” I asked, perplexed.

“Well, that's where they come from, where they live. Haven't you noticed?”

The conversation soon turned to Dave's imminent move. I still felt a little let down by his decision to move away so abruptly. Didn't he feel at least some regret? Weren't he and Betsy going to miss strolling into town for dinner and waving to old friends along the way?

“We never intended to leave the neighborhood, Andrew,” he explained. “As you know, I'm not someone who makes rash decisions. But then we discovered The Villages. It's not so much that we're leaving here as we're being drawn to another place. Our hearts are now in The Villages.”

The Villages? The name was so bland it didn't even register. All I could picture was a collection of English hamlets in the Cotswolds bound together by narrow lanes and walking trails. But I thought Dave had said they were moving to Florida.

Over the course of the summer, Dave cleared up my confusion. At first, his descriptions of The Villages were so outrageous, so over the top, that I figured he must have been pulling my leg. Then he started bringing me clippings from The Villages' own newspaper. As I sat and read them, I was filled with a sense of comic wonder mixed with a growing alarm.

The Andersons were moving to the largest gated retirement community in the world. It spanned three counties, two zip codes, and more than 20,000 acres. The Villages itself, Dave explained, was subdivided into dozens of separate gated communities, each its own distinct entity, yet fully integrated into a greater whole that shared two manufactured downtowns, a financial district, and several shopping centers, and all of it connected by nearly 100 miles of golf cart trails.

I had trouble imaging the enormousness of the place. I didn't have any reference points with which to compare such a phenomenon. Was it a town, or a subdivision, or something like a college
campus? And if it was as big as Dave described, then how could residents travel everywhere on golf carts? Dave described golf cart tunnels, golf cart bridges, and even golf cart tailgates. And these were no dinky caddie replacements. According to Dave, some of them cost upwards of $25,000 and were souped up to look like Hummers, Mercedes sedans, and hot rods.

The roads are especially designed for golf cart traffic, Dave told me, because residents drive the carts everywhere: to supermarkets, hardware stores, movie theaters, and even churches. With one charge, a resident can drive about forty miles, which, Dave explains to me, “is enough to go anywhere you'd want to go.”

According to the Andersons, The Villages provides its 75,000 residents (it is building homes for 35,000 more) with anything their hearts could possibly desire, mostly sealed inside gates: countless recreation centers staffed with full-time directors; dozens of pools; hundreds of hobby and affinity clubs; two spotless, crime-free village centers with friendly, affordable restaurants; and three dozen golf courses—one for each day of the month—with plans for many more.

More important, The Villages provides residents with something else they apparently crave—a world without children. An individual must be at least fifty-five years old to purchase a home in The Villages, and no one under nineteen may live there—period. Children may visit, but their stays are strictly limited to a total of thirty days a year, and the developer reserves the right to periodically request that residents verify their age. As a new father, I found this rule particularly perplexing, although I hesitated to say as much.

I asked Dave, a schoolteacher for thirty years, if he felt uncomfortable living in a community without children, and I was surprised when he answered that he was actually looking forward to it. “I was tired of trying to imagine what a thirteen-year-old girl in my classroom was going through,” Dave said. “I'm not thirteen, and I'm not a girl. I want to spend time with people who are retired like me.”

When I asked about diversity, Betsy said that she didn't much care for it. Dave explained that diversity to him is more about interests and background than about age or racial demographics. “There are very few blacks—although I did play golf with a nice man—and I don't think I've seen any Orientals, but there's still so much stimulus there. Diversity exists if you want to find it. There are hundreds and hundreds of clubs to join, and if you don't find one that suits your interests, they'll help you start one.”

Orientals? I hadn't heard that word since the 1970s, when chop suey was considered an exotic menu item. It never occurred to me how culturally out of sync I was with my neighbors. Although Dave and Betsy were young retirees (fifty-five and sixty-two, respectively), we were clearly of two different generations.

BOOK: Leisureville
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