Cannonball Read III: Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement by Rodney Rothman
By J.K. Barlow | Books | March 18, 2011 |
When Rodney Rothman was 28, "Undeclared" got cancelled and Rodney, a writer, was out of a job. While legions of fans mourned, Rothman was relieved. He was burnt out and remembered being happy once in Florida when he was eight. Reasoning that, being Jewish, he'd probably end up retired in Florida anyway, he decides to speed things up and heads down there forty years early.
The result is a gently funny, wry, bemused memoir of a brief and confused interval in one young man's life. There's an edge of sadness too, as all the efforts and passions and activities of the people he meets there are contrasted with mortality, depression and senility. He's not going for tears, you understand, but some sadness is probably inevitable in a book like this, not just because its subjects are old, but - well, actually, it is because they're old. It's because they're all old.
Historically speaking, there's something weird about cities full of old people and no youth. In a brief description of the societal changes that led to the retirement phenomenon, Rothman reflects on the fact that most retirement communities have a minimum age requirement of 55 (something that made it difficult for him to find a place to live). He writes: "To me, that seems delightfully vengeful and vindictive. It's like an act of civil disobedience. Millions of senior citizens shouting, 'You don't want us? We don't want you!' from the Florida peninsula, which suddenly resembled a giant downward-facing middle finger." It's a funny observation but uncomfortable, too. Most senior citizens retire south because they don't fit in their old lives anymore. And so they try to reconstruct those lives somewhere else.
Rothman discovers that seniors from the eastern seaboard tend to retire on the Atlantic coast of Florida, while Midwesterners retire on the Gulf Coast, for the simple reason that this is just where the freeways drop them. Easterners prefer condominium blocks, while Midwesterners retire to detached homes with lawns and gardens. They play baseball, but those from New Jersey and New York prefer tennis and shuffleboard. Though even these last two sports create a division between the young-old and the old-old, a division I had not previously considered.
Rothman is young-young, though, and there is something undeniably creepy about a twenty-eight-year-old man moving in with an old woman of no relation whom he had never previously met. It's something he discusses a lot in the first few chapters, before he gets settled in. Everyone asks him whose grandson he is, and all are disconcerted when he tells them he's no one's grandson. It makes sense when you think Rothman is probably a friend of Jason Segal. Perhaps they share that same well-meaning, sweet weirdo vibe. Rothman eventually assimilates and learns a lot, some of which is predictable and some less so. For example, he learns to play shuffleboard, bingo and canasta. But he also learns the definition of "dinner ho" (an elderly woman who dates men only to get them to take her out to a nice dinner) and acquires a retired heroin dealer as a golf buddy. He is nearly seduced by a six-times-divorced Romanian femme fatale. He finds that senior citizens can be as cliquey as high-schoolers. He tries to help his reclusive, depressed roommate Margaret, whom nobody likes. Naturally, he returns to Los Angeles a better man.
I really enjoyed this book. If you find the Apatow association off-putting, you shouldn't -- while there are similarities in the humour, this really is just an honest observation of something most young people don't really get to see, and it's interesting for that. It's a book about Rothman too, and his quarter-life crisis, something I know I can identify with. I can't think of another book like it, and if nothing else, I recommend it just for that.
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