Most of us grow-up in neighborhoods and die in neighborhoods. We spend time with people who are like us because they seem to like us, and the people that don’t like us, aren’t like us. They are from a different time. Their haircuts don’t change. Their clothes are in fashion, 50 years ago. And if you visit with any of them, you realize that their time is not your time, even though you are living in the same time. I have been out of place and out of time for as long as I can remember… So, I wanted retirement before retirement, and the thought occurred to me, why not live in a retirement community? The homes were a lot cheaper.
The manager’s office was a rotunda, in a round parking lot. It looked like a house of learning—a University for the old.
“Come in,” a voice said. She was sixty and plump. Her grey hair was braided into a tower. Her cheek muscles were connected to her lips, and when they pursed, they looked like they were thinking, like they tasted the truth, and I was not the truth, but some counterfeit sour mistake she might need to correct.
“How old are you?” She asked.
“Can’t you tell?”
“Don’t get smart with me, young man; you don’t look a day over 29 and this is a retirement community. Only retired folks live here. We’ve paid our dues to society and wish to live-out our remaining days in peace without your rock-n-roll and Justin Bieber dance moves.”
“I don’t like Justin Bieber and I prefer Classical.”
“Oh, an old soul. Well, in that case, I’ll let you talk to the community manager, but I doubt you’ll pass the test to become a resident.”
“There’s a test?”
“Sure, there’s a test. I hope you studied. It’s not something you can fake. It takes a lifetime of preparation, and we’ll see if you’re ready to skip a grade, or in this case, 30 years. Just walk through the double doors and up the staircase, and tell him that Kathy sent you.” She handed me a pink slip, and I walked past her, into a very unusual room. It was full of acorns in various stages of development. The oak trees were sprouting, and their green stems were longer in each glass case, until a great oak grew right out of the floor, and through a skylight. The staircase went up from both sides, and when I ascended, I saw the manager’s mahogany door with a golden sign that read Manager.
“Come in,” he said. He looked like he was 120 years old. There was a typewriter on his desk and an abacus for doing accounting. His white hair was cut at the shoulders, and his blue eyes were already testing me.
“So, you’re the young man who wants to take the test.”
“Yes; but how did you know?”
“Why else would you be here?” The lines in his face were rippling like waves, and when he smiled, great fissures cracked in the desert.
“How many questions are there? Is it multiple choice?”
“Patience. I can tell you are a straight-A-student, and a high achiever, but good grades and a desire to do well will not prepare you for the Shangri-la.”
“Then what will?” I asked.
“I’m getting to that.” His polo sweater and cords put him in the 1950s. “Now, this is a bit random, but randomness is necessary… What year did John Wayne die?”
“1979,” I said.
“That’s correct. Are you sure you weren’t born in a different time? Perhaps reincarnated?”
“I don’t know. I’ve always felt out of place, kinda like an anachronism or an aberration of the traditional timeline.”
“Those are big words, but I understand you. Over time, one develops a bigger vocabulary. The rest of the mind goes, however. Now, just one more question. Who had more style, Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart?”
“Well, Jimmy Stewart pretended to live with a giant invisible rabbit, and Cary Grant wore more stylish clothes. I would have to give the award to Jimmy—he acted the part.
“The world is a stage and we are merely actors—who said that?”
“You have a home at the Shangri-la. You past the test. Here are your keys. Would you like to pay cash?”
“I only pay cash—I don’t trust the banks, or any of this digital money.”
“Are you sure you weren’t raised in my generation?”
“My parents were older; maybe their influence rubbed off.”
The manager smiled like he knew me. “My name’s Al. What’s yours?”
“Glad to meet you, Andy. Now, I should warn you; sometimes the Shangri-la changes at night when the moonlight shines just right. Watch out, because some of these old people become young again, and when youth has a resurgence in a six hour window, it’s worse than a Freshmen Fraternity.”
“Okay… I’ll be careful.”
“You’d better be. Watch the women, especially. A fit young man like yourself has a lot to worry about.”
I thanked him and left. I didn’t really understand what he meant, but when I got back to my teaching job, the routine was just the way I left it.
Mari was talking about retirement. “Only three more years… if I can hold out until then.”
“I’m already retired,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“Moved into a retirement community last week; the Jell-O and pudding are fantastic—it really puts teacher appreciation week to shame.”
“I’m so jealous.”
“Don’t be,” I said with a smirk. “You only have three more years.”
She gave me a dirty look and went back to her classroom. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Was it my imagination, or was I developing wrinkles? I hoped living with old people wouldn’t make me old, prematurely. It might be like when two spouses live together, and start to mirror each other’s facial expressions—they eventually look the same.
I shook off the thought, went back to my classroom, and then went home.
Margaret was walking across the street with her walker, wearing only a pink bathrobe. “She’s too old for me,” I laughed. But that was a problem… Where was I going to find a woman my age?
That night, I looked forward to reading philosophy in my quiet room. The homes were quiet; the whole place was quiet; it was like everyone was getting ready to die. I started reading in my tomb—I hadn’t turned up the heat. But I didn’t get past the first paragraph. Muscle cars were flexing their engines outside. ROOOOOOOOM! I looked through the curtains, and the moon was shining on the Shangri-la like a spotlight. The residents whom I recognized by their haircuts and clothes, were dancing in the courtyard, like Elvis had come back from outer space. Margaret was still in her bathrobe, but her skin was milky white, and fresh like a baby’s behind. The whole lot of them were involved in some timeless mating ritual. The men demonstrated their power, and the women showed-off their bodies. It was scandalous.
And when I looked into the mirror, before I considered joining them, my face was ten years older. Somehow, they were stealing my youth so they could be young again, even if, for a moment. And the horror of losing time by living in the wrong time, shook me sober. I vowed to wait for retirement and search for the woman of my youth. I left the Shangri-la as quickly as I came, and from that moment on, I’ve been terrified of old people and growing old; the clinical name is Gerontophobia, so I’m not the only one. And when the moon is shining, my fear transforms into full-on night terrors.