I have to admit, sometimes advertising makes getting old look like it’s worth saving some money for. Ladies in capri pants wearing sun visors and giggling on golf courses. Ralph Lauren coated silver foxes entwined with their GILF significant others while holding an iPad, lying before some exotic vista. White teeth gleaming, retracted roof speeding, tanned skin, not a goddamned care in the world. Still fucking, for sure.
Retirement. It all seems pretty fantastic, until you realize those ads are aimed at able-bodied workers with disposable funds to dump into industries that sell the future. If you get up early enough, you’ll see a different kind of advertising on TV — the kind directed not at a younger working class dreaming of freedom as they approach their golden years, but ones already in the shit, so to speak.
On any given weekday morning, I’ll be on a treadmill at my local gymnasium staving off my own deterioration by watching Speed 2: Cruise Control on the AMC network for the fifth time in a month while maintaining a steady pace of 6 mph at a 4% incline. It is here that I’m most often exposed to the horrors of aging. Home alarm systems, palliative care, digestive aids, catheters, grave plots, motorized chairs, bars to help you on and off the toilet, endless insurance ads, and class action lawsuits that instruct you to “JUST CALL 1-800-BAD-DRUG.” Forget sex. These mornings make it look like you’ll be lucky if you can tie your shoelaces.
What’s the point of saving money when the future looks like that? It seems the only thing you really need is a steady stream of intoxicants to keep the oppression of mortality at bay, and something to record your thoughts. This, I can afford. That’s why my retirement plan consists of a good drug dealer and a pencil. Spending money on something you’re too incapacitated to enjoy is a poor investment.
I assure you, like all writers, I’ve made nothing but fantastic financial decisions all my life. Which is why, lately, I’m starting to fear that a happy medium exists somewhere between these two extreme representations of life free from work. There are, indeed, people out there living wonderful, productive lives of travelling comfortably, enjoying the company of others, pursuing hobbies, dining, making art, making love — all of it performed as a euphoric waltz to the end.
There was only one way for me to find out what existed post-work, and that was to drop the needle on Engelbert Humperdinck and pack my bags. My goal? Capture a glimpse of what life was like in the advanced stages of atrophy. My strategy? Embed myself amongst the senior set in Palm Springs, California, for as long as I could.
After a few Google searches for “ideal places to retire,” I secured a condo via palmspringsrentals.com where my request for “a place where it’s mostly seniors living or renting there” returned a list of places that looked rather bland in comparison to the luxury hotels that my I’m going to die tomorrow so spend it all today budget normally procures.
Pushing around every available dollar I had on a piece of paper to allow for accommodation, food, alcohol, and the odd meal out quickly revealed that actual retirement would not be impossible. I could maintain the facade for 30 days, which I hoped would be long enough to form an opinion as to whether I should start saving or increase the velocity at which I’m approaching the end.
Emerging from the fuselage of a jet into the desert climate and open-air concourse of the Palm Springs International Airport is a transformative experience. Even more so since it all happens so quickly. Within four hours, I had keys to a new life and 650 square feet of living space at the Deauville II Vacation Rental complex. Almost immediately, I was under the sun beside the pool — the centre of activity at Deauville II.
Integration with my fellow retirees, however, would prove more challenging. “You’ve got to do something with all that white skin there fella,” an older gent called out to me over the calm, chlorinated water as he cracked open a can of beer that acted as a warning to the other residents lazily floating on neon-coloured foam noodles. It was obvious to everyone here that I had recently been working.
My unit at Deauville II didn’t add any cover to the fact that I hadn’t put in my time to belong here, either. Opening its front door, which was located on a large balcony with a view of the mountains in the distance, was like stepping into a world of beige. Off-white, thick shag carpet covered every corner of the place, even its two bathrooms. The only offsets of colour were Spanish-themed knick-knacks placed thoughtfully throughout each room.
My suite had everything one needed to make the transition to another world not only easy, but pleasurable. Endless television channels, a BBQ for evening after evening of grilling, an ice machine built into the fridge door for constant chilling, a garburator — I have no idea how to operate a garburator or what to put in one — and a La-Z-Boy reclining chair, the cornerstone of any retirement plan.
Complexes like Deauville II dot the landscape of Palm Springs. Abundant in amenities yet not overly fancy makes them comfortable, safe, and affordable — all things ideal for long-term rentals or outright purchase. It’s within these gated, security-patrolled walls that many Canadians escape the extremities of our winter months. Current immigration laws allow these snowbirds to spend 182 consecutive days in the U.S. inside a 12-month period, leaving the other 183 days for Canada’s ideal summers. Last year, this migratory demographic spent somewhere around $5 billion in the big-four sunshine states of Florida, Arizona, Texas, and, of course, California, alone.
The presence of a body 20 to 30 years their junior doing morning salutations by the tennis courts then laps in the pool, only to then be hauling on blended drinks and Camel cigarettes on a lounger by noon, was only half welcomed. Except for the constant monitoring of my tan levels by one resident, I never engaged in any kind of substantial conversation. I was never asked what the hell I was doing in the middle of the desert at Deauville II.
Regardless, by day three the routine of early retirement began to take hold: wake up, coffee, a bit of fibre for breakfast, extensive moisturizing to protect myself from the aging effects of the sun, flip-flops, daringly short swim trunks, and pool by 11:00 a.m. Once there, I would read, swim some laps, do some light yoga, look around, and realize everyone else was out golfing or shopping — activities I couldn’t afford to do. The only means of passing time within my budget were drinking and writing. Negronis, Fizzes, Rickeys, Slings, Highballs — you name it, I shook it. America’s alcohol prices are very agreeable to fixed-budget retirement living.
Quickly, the beginning and end of a day began to overlap. Everything became cyclical: take a drink, apply sunscreen, cool off in the pool, turn onto my back, eat a steak, wash the crusts of dried Campari out of my chest hair, cannonball into the pool, get back on the lounger, turn onto my stomach, apply more sunscreen, repeat all day with sleep and a Brando movie somewhere in between. Interruptions were few. A phone ringing from a nearby unit, idle and instructive chatter from the groundskeepers, the sound of dice hitting the felt of a backgammon board from a nearby patio, a dog barking, a jet taking off, a siren in the distance — these were the only audible hints that a world existed outside of this seemingly endless cycle of pleasure.
This euphoria wasn’t lost on the other snowbirds at Deauville II. Every afternoon, while pretending to read Vanity Fair by the complex’s main pool, I would observe the same group of residents discuss the weather in Winnipeg, the morning’s golf scores, and last night’s show downtown. While the men would say things like, “I love fish tacos; we do them on the BBQ. Real nice, just fantastic,” the women would often add to the conversation with less interest as they bobbed in the middle of the pool under large floppy hats, occasionally diverting the discussion to the sandals they picked up at Stein Mart. Others would seek shade under the umbrellas placed about, at times looking up at the desert mountains as sunset approached to announce, “Damn, this is the life, isn’t it?”
I could barely stop myself from screaming over my Vanity Fair article about Tutankhamun, “BUT WE’RE ALL DYING.” Because, as I sat there amidst the pacifying nature of resort living, I thought about cruise ships and how many people probably spend most of their life working and saving up for them only to die mid-voyage. These thoughts invaded my retirement at Deauville II on a regular basis. The future was a perverse concept, and saving for it implied you had some kind of control over it.
Then it was over. As I waited for a cab beside my packed suitcase in the parking lot of Deauville II, yet another happy hour raging in the pool behind me, the guy monitoring my bland pallor walked past with his mail in one hand and a leash containing a pomeranian in the other. “Giving up already, are ya?” he asked. “Looks to me like you’ve still got some work to do.”
And as I stood there, with my shoulders in mid-shrug, I realized he was right. It was time to return to the city routine, the rhythm of the day-to-day, and the dreams of a future packed into 30-second television ads viewed at a steady pace of 6 mph at a 4% incline.