It’s been 500 years since Ponce de León and his cronies putzed around Florida, looking for the Fountain of Youth. And yet, if you look around Palm Beach County today, you might think that search never ended.
Mere moments ago, I was passed on a sidewalk in Delray Beach by a man in at least his mid-70s wearing a Hollister shirt and skinny jeans. With him: a woman maybe 10 years his junior, flaunting some of the perkiest breasts money can buy.
Let me be clear: I am not criticizing.
Sure, now and again I have to hold back a smirk. But that has more to do with the fact that where I grew up (Metro Detroit), old people retire and die and there’s not all that much that happens in between.
Down here though… it’s like… well, did you ever see the movie Cocoon? Okay, it’s like if the grandparents of the actors in that movie were all reanimated, dressed in clothes from Armani Exchange and handed Red Bull and Vodkas.
Here’s a real life example:
I had met some friends for a Wednesday evening happy hour and there was this crowd of seniors beside us that just kept growing. Eventually they enveloped us entirely, and all of a sudden I was engaged in conversation with an old man named Terry, whose hair was just almost a faux-hawk.
Terry used to own a company that installs air conditioning units. Now he spends his time getting hammered on Palm Beach Island. Also, he loves that girl from the Black Eyed Peas. He and his posse were going to Morton’s after happy hour to keep partying. “You and your friends should come,” Terry said.
I politely declined.
Another time, my fiancée and I were grabbing some drinks before a movie when a mob of elderly drunkards swarmed in. Next thing we knew, we were being bombarded with unsolicited marriage advice and asked if we had any interest in going to the Keys for a Jimmy Buffett show.
A few free cocktails later, we slipped away and caught our movie. No harm done.
Still, I’m not always so lucky. More than once I’ve been asked what I do for a living. And when I say I’m (more or less) a writer, it’s never long before I’m asked if I would consider ghostwriting a memoir. Which is fine – I enjoy a slurred book proposal actually.
But the mood slips quickly when these strangers – usually men – start opening up about their lives… their divorces… their estranged children…
Before you know it, I’m a stand-in for the son who won’t return their calls. Or the son they never had. They tell me they’re sorry. They tell me how they wish things had been different. They tell me they would rather be home than out drinking in some terrible bar, but… there’s no one to go home to.
These conversations are soul-crushing. It’s like tying one on with Willy Loman while he fidgets with his driving gloves.
And I’m not heartless – I say encouraging things. But optimism from some 27-year-old just falls flat. Not to mention, South Florida bars are obnoxiously loud, so my end of the conversation goes largely unnoticed, anyway.
Spoken or unspoken, we both know I don’t understand. And it’s at this point that I excuse myself, say I’m heading to the bathroom, then walk down to the end of the bar and pay my tab. At the end of the night, I’m not sure what to make of these encounters, really. There is of course the don’t let this happen to you angle. But I don’t know if that’s it.
It seems to me that the AARP crowd comes down here like it’s some kind of loophole (and as a Midwest recreant myself, who am I to talk?). Florida is their sanctuary.
I’ll never forget this…
About nine months ago, I was hiking around the Maroon Bells – part of the Elk mountain range in Colorado. This old man approached me and struck up conversation.
He said he was from Boca Raton and I told him I lived near there. Then he looked over the pristine crystal lake I was admiring, scoffed and said, “We left paradise for this?”