When I was a little kid, every week or two, we had to visit grandma in a nursing home. The place smelled half-way between a can of Lysol and the urinals at Grand Central Station and I’d have to breathe through my mouth. In my mind the visit was about as much fun as holding your breath underwater. The first 30 seconds weren’t too bad, but then things would get progressively worse. Afterwards, we were rewarded by a trip to Dairy Queen, where the biggest thing you could buy was a banana split. Don’t really like banana splits all that much anymore.
Later, as an adult, we’d fly down to Florida, not-so-affectionately dubbed, “God’s Waiting Room” to visit my mother-in-law. Ella lived, and I use that term advisedly, in what we referred to as The Marble Palace. Every floor was shining either marble or granite. In new shoes, we’d have to be seriously careful not to take a header and I often wondered why any older person would choose to hobble across what amounted to a marble ice-skating rink. And…once again, the place wreaked of eau de Lysol, just like my grandma’s place. It was always depressing and even as an adult I always had the feeling that I was psychically holding my breath. Back in the car we’d go for a beer and pizza, vowing to never ever…ever live in a stop-over to God’s waiting room.
Boomer’s Retreat: After a visit Pamela and I would grab a beer and then scheme and joke that if someday we did end up in a retirement place it would have to be a HELLUVA lot different. If I may whisper in your sweet, shell-like ear, someday is always a decade away. Always… until one fine day it isn’t. It’s a lot like viewing a rainbow, which is always ten fields over and on the horizon…never ever, ever in your back yard. Funny thing is, several of our friends have recently reported that the rainbows are, indeed, very close. And so, without further ado, I’m going to describe and define a temporarily fictitious place which I might actually like living ten or twenty years from now. Feel free to boo, hiss, throw virtual rotten tomatoes…OR…suggest a way to improve this design to make it even better…a place you could actually be happy in.
First Proviso and a Deal -Breaker: You have to have some kind of pet to join the club. It has to be live, as opposed to a stuffed animal, and it has to be warm-blooded. A box turtle or goldfish in a bucket doesn’t cut it. Hamster, dog, cat, mouse, guinea pig…something that you have to take care of every day. Something you can cuddle, feed, name and maybe have it lick your nose. Every single curmudgeon I’ve run into rants about not wanting a pet. They’re dirty. They make messes. Sometimes they fart. But they’ll love you and cuddle you and not care what you look like…smell like…or how dottie you’ve become. This is more important than you might realize.
Happy Hour: Because older people go to bed earlier, happy hour starts at 3:30 and goes till 6:30. Beer is on tap and wine available and included in the package. More than that, you’re free to smuggle in a pitcher of martinis or margaritas if you like, though if you do, you have to share.
Once a Week is Very Happy Hour…aka Jimi Hendrix Hour or (hint hint) Stamp Out Glaucoma Night. Yes, it’s milk and interesting brownies or milk and interesting cookies. Just make sure you don’t get the little seeds stuck in your teeth. If your appetite has left you…it will come back with a vengeance! A bag of potato chips is a feast! A half gallon of ice cream…any ice cream is mana from heaven. Sex? There’s still sex? Yeah, have another cookie and you’re a happy camper. There’s MUSIC with a capital M, and it sounds…GREAT!!! The Kinks, ELO, The Doors. Whomever you kinda liked before you’ll love them on Stamp Out Glaucoma Night! A small dance floor, good amps and speakers and a mirror ball for slow-dancing. All mandatory. Life is GOOD again!
Once a Week, is Naughty Movie Night. This could easily follow directly after Glaucoma Night. Tuesdays might be for Foreign Movies, Wednesdays for the old classics, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, Elmer Gantry, Casablanca, Spartacus, From Here to Eternity. And the rest of the week is a free-for-all.
FOOD: In Sweden, they have communes and they’re set up so that EVERYBODY has to cook at least once every month. On that one day, you get to cook for the whole group…big soups or a tray of 36 chicken breasts, 36 hamburgers…whatever. The How-To is all laid out for you. In short, this works and it frees you up from having to do it for weeks at a time. And…if you can actually cook well, it’s your time in the sun!
Everyone is expected to contribute…something at least three times a week. There will be an in-house radio station available 24-7, where you can block-off an hour’s worth of time. Vent your spleen, or play your favorites. Have a call-in talk show. Or, you can teach PhotoShop, or knitting, creative writing, playing a musical instrument, or even acting. Show someone how to make a clay pot, turn wooden bowls on a wood lathe or fly a Phantom or an F-18 or a Hellcat on a computer flight simulator. Swing Dance or watercolor painting. Book Clubs, Chess Clubs. The possibilities are endless and given half a chance they’re fun.
No Proselytizing Allowed!!! There will be one small utterly non-denominational private room where Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics, Secular Humanists and Atheists can go. No Proselytizing allowed from the members…or the staff.
Everyone can do Something therefore Everyone must do Something. The good news is that the more you contribute…really contribute, the greater the amount is deducted from your monthly bill. You could, theoretically, live for free here…if you have the energy and the skills.
Protest/Gripe Board: Have an idea for an improvement? Have a suggestion to make things better? It can go up on the board for 24 hours…only… and you have to sign your name to it. No name, it comes down immediately.
The Grounds and Physical Layout: First Rule: No second stories. It’s easier on hips and creaky bones and it’s friendlier. Every apartment has a patio and double doors to the outside. Every apartment is wired for the local radio station and cable. The grounds: rolling hills, with trees and many paths. Golf carts available, ponds, bird feeders and houses, squirrel feeders and salt licks. You’re encouraged to grow your own private garden every summer.
Every Week: Spotlights another member with twenty questions and a personal interview. Here’s your chance to show the world how great you are…or were.
Mixers: Every month there’s a mixer with another Boomers’ Retreat/Hippie Commune. Dance competitions, drinking, arguing, eating, flirting…just like being back in the dorm!
Generational Overlap: Mandatory: At the very least, one young family living on the premises to help with the things that older folks may have trouble with…driving at night in the rain or snow, heavy landscaping, moving rocks, chopping trees, etc. Better if they have some kids. The two secret benefits to this are: generations actually need each other to round-out life, to respect each other’s generational differences. Plus, it helps a young family or family that might otherwise be in financial trouble to have a stable environment.
Again this is, at this moment, just a toe-in-the-water rough sketch. But I’m thinking… I’d rather have some great music to tap my foot to, a happy hour with dark beer or single malt scotch, and people with whom to bat ideas around. Oh, and the ability to maybe evenb pass on what small kernels of wisdom I may have accumulated. Any thoughts on how to refine it?
Great layout of life before the hereafter.
Different experiences on this end. No nursing homes to speak of and those that were in the pic were not dreary at all. So in my experience not to be feared, but also not to be welcomed. Final choice when no others avail themselves.
All changes made to our home in the last 8 years have accounted for the possibility of living here forever, until the hereafter of course. But if that doesn’t happen for various reasons, your plan is solid! Except for one thing. The warm blooded animal thing. I can’t consume enough zyrtec to cohabitate with any cats nor with most hairy dogs. So I’d have to default to the gerbil, which would seem so wimpy. Could I not substitute keeping the bird feeders, salt licks and other outdoor creatures with food options?
And of course the mandatory cooking thing, wow, I’d really embrace that. My biggest problem is cooking of ONLY two.
Hope all is well and keep up the stimulating work. Turning 65 not so long ago makes this highly relevant!
Rules were made to be clarified and refined and time changes things. I think we can add a paragraph to account for people with allergies, yet who still want to adhere to the spirit of the program. You shall ( if you desire) manage the feeding of the wild and furry things that wander onto Boomer’s Retreat.
You can count me in…IF you have stables.
Stables sound like a great idea! Would you be opposed to sharing a bit of your pleasure…letting someone pitch in to…pitch hay, groom a bit,in exchange for a walk around the field?
Is this facility open to all and sundry … bigots, clowns, Fox News/Bill O’Buggerlugs enthusiasts, dyed-in-the-wool ay-aitches, survivalists, literal interpreters of the bible (that’s the 48%), etc.? I think you might want to define your target audience/residents. The class “Boomers” contains legions of the types mentioned. Perhaps a questionnaire to be completed by any aspiring resident? I could supply the questions if asked. I do think there needs to be a crafts department to accommodate fringe loonies like myself who need a fully equipped wood shop/machine shop to hide from reality.
Interesting idea, though.
Though I’ve posted your charming and informative response I have graciously obfuscated your identity lest you receive dead mackerel and worse in your mailbox.
The truth is (at least for me) life is kind of like a PBS series. You need some really good villains or the whole thing becomes a pile of tepid mush. This Boomers Retreat (gotta come up with a snappier name) would have an entire spectrum of candidates. Steinbeck once said (I’m paraphrasing) If you peer through one knot hole,Cannery Row consisted of drunks, sinners, pickpockets and idiots. And if you peer through the next knothole over you will see, saints and holy men, prodigies, and children. We’re all in the same soup…thrashing around.
What is necessary however, is a benign and invisible hand to insure nothing gets too far out of line. You just might get accepted if you comb your hair and supply a small bribe.
More seriously, I would be looking at more universal traits: Do you have a sense of humor? Do you have an open mind…or at least one that’s partially open? Do you think there’s any hope? I think you’d have to have a sense of hope and a good sense of humor (preferrably self- deprecating) to live at…..CrossBow South.
Good job Henry.
How do you come up with your subjects you write about? I couldn’t even think to write about the subjects you write about. Drowning in the mundaneness of life. Keep them coming. I enjoy reading your masterpieces on glimpses into life.
Your friend Bob
Oh, I KNOW you could write a doozie of an article if you decide to. (How do you spell doozie). Should this idea grow some legs we have some interesting people who might like to join. Let me know publicly or privately what your dream retirement lodge would be like.
Good article for the AARP magazine, but it may be too irreverent . And where are you going to build? Asheville.., The weather may be a bit too cold for many. Have not been there to experience it yet, but a visit there is on our bucket list.
Years ago we discussed this concept with some gay friends, but with the evolving world and acceptance, we don’t need to be so segregated.
They have all retired to Palm Springs or Ft Lauderdale to fight the traffic-( especially Ft Lauderdale).
The places which have been set up for the advanced aged are sooooo expensive and controlled, we would never fit in.
Sounds like you have a good solution! Unstructured and fun.
Black Mountain, just east of Asheville would be the target location. Really good folks, bright, cheerful, and energetic. What seems to be the reality right now is you live at home and endure the consequences of that, coupled with increasing years…loneliness, inability to keep up the house, inherent design flaws of homes not designed to handle older people, etc. etc. OR…you essentially cash-out everything and put it into a system that is very much an institution where the goal of that institution is to keep you quiet and sedate in order to maximize profits.
I think there are many people who are now in their 50s, 60s, 70s + who do NOT want to fade and “go gentle into that good night”. (Dylan Thomas). Rather, they want to live their lives to the very last drop, wring it out and live with a twinkle in their eye. That’s the goal.
I exist solely for your amusement!
Great concept! This could revolutionize the third chapter. I have a few questions…who decides which people are accepted? When is someone too old to live there? What if a resident doesn’t want to participate? Would this group welcome people of color, gays, or weirdos? Personally, I enjoy diversity, especially salty older people like Ruth Gordon or Christopher Hitchens…two people who were honey badgers personified.
Excellent questions!!! What you’re asking essentially is “who bells the cat?” It also ties in very closely with your last question which says essentially, do we just want people who are identical to us? My gut-reaction is HELL NO, and I don’t think that’s likely to change. I suspect that the thing that older folks fear more than anything is becoming obsolete…put out to pasture…FORGOTTEN. In order for this not to happen you need interaction, even confrontation sometimes. That’s how you learn. It is also how you learn compassion and respect for those who don’t look, think, talk or eat just the way you do. Soooo…to answer your question, I think you could be any of the categories you mention and more. What you would need, however, and this is trickier than you might think. You’ll need people who can still learn and still have some form of a sense of humor however droll it might be. Ruth Gordon and Christopher Hitches would have been stellar additions.
This is a great idea! What fun! What if there were classes offered so you could learn something new you’ve never tried before? Pottery, calligraphy, poetry…. The “residents” could teach the classes if they had a skill or craft to share with the group. All voluntary of course!
I really enjoyed your latest article. I just sent over a thought but realized you already suggested something very similar.
Another idea that comes to mind that would be really cool. What about having classes for kids or teenagers that the adults teach? The kids or teens could come in for an hour once a week and learn a thing or two! Senior field trip? I wish I had learned some basic things in high school that no one provided guidance to me about- such as how to buy a car, the essential ways to build credit, how to balance a check book, to name a few. Older adults have a wealth of knowledge in these areas!
I wish I had known someone to take me under their wing and tell me what I needed to know about these types of things. I had to figure it all out for myself! There is a ton of knowledge that could be passed along…. If only I had known someone to sit down and to learn how to write a resume or what to say in a job interview!
I think you may have just uncovered what could be a pivotal aspect of such a place.
Yeah, I had alluded to having at least one “normal-aged” family living on the premises to help bridge the gap. But having a mentor/mentee program could bring a very real sense of accomplishment to retirees, as well as supplying younger generations with the bits and pieces of wisdom that can only be accumulated over time. It’s impossible to pass on wisdom or experience. Only time will do that. But we don’t all have to go back and re-invent every wheel…all the time.