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I might be old, but I won’t play bridge. Won’t shuffle off to shuffleboard like Fran and Eddie did. Won’t cash in my money or pack up my tent. Don’t really know where my easy chair went.

We moved. To one of those 55-and-over retirement communities, where a lot of people go to live and a lot of people go to die. It’s something I swore I would never do.

Years ago, I visited my in-laws, who packed up all their cares and woe and moved to Fort Lauderdale.

“You have to see our clubhouse,” my father-in-law said. “We play bridge, we play Ping-Pong, we play shuffleboard all day.”

Given that it was 3 degrees back home, I decided to sit out by the pool. My in-laws, let’s call them Fran and Eddie, introduced me to all of their friends. And I never got a word in edgewise.

“So,” one of the friends said, “we hear you got to interview Raquel Welch. Are those her real boobs?

“And your son Scott scored three goals in his soccer game last week. You should be very proud.”

Honestly, the FBI had less on me than those strangers at the pool. They knew everything. This is what they do in retirement communities. They have brag-a-thons.

A few years later, I was asked to speak at a retirement community outside of Philly. Because I was such an honored guest, the president of the men’s club had me sit at his table with the other officers. The conversation was fascinating.

“Barney,” one of them said to another, “don’t forget about your urology appointment tomorrow. And you call me when you get home.”

“Yes,” Barney said, “and don’t you forget to take your Lipitor.”

Shocked by the conformity, I moved to a place that conformed. A place that has rules. And believe me, I am not a rules person. I’ve spent most of my life breaking them.

Here, your deck can only be brown or gray. The railing can only be white. And both have to be made of a certain material. Here, you can’t plant just any tree you want. It has to fit in with the esthetics of the neighborhood. You can’t turn on your Christmas lights before Thanksgiving. Anything you add to your home has to be approved by the homeowners’ association.  And, most of all, you can’t paint your house pink.

“That’s crazy,” an outsider told me. “This is America. You can paint your house any color you want.”

“Not if it’s not in the bylaws,” I said.

“Bylaws,” he said, “what about the Constitution. Freedom of speech. Freedom of expression. The Constitution trumps your bylaws.”

Umm, not so much. But here’s the thing. This is why we left our old neighborhood. Freedom of expression was killing us. Some neighbors put 20-foot ornaments on the front lawn and built rock gardens that looked like the Grand Canyon. And then there were the pink houses. Why would you paint your house pink? Not that pink isn’t a nice color. For an angora sweater.

Our real estate agent told us the pink house on the next block would lower the price of our house, even though our house was brown. So, we packed up everything we owned and we moved.

We moved to a neighborhood where one neighbor shovels our walk when it snows. Where another brings us flowers when it’s a gloomy day.

My wife is now part of a knitting circle – women of a certain age who sit around drinking wine and dishing with knitting needles in their laps.

And I have become a regular social butterfly. Considering I never talked to any neighbors before moving here, that’s a pretty big jump. But I like these people. I really like them. As long as they don’t make me play shuffleboard.

So, that’s my story. I’d tell you more, but I have to go remind my neighbor that it’s time to take his Lipitor.

February 2015
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