The Unspoken Perils & Thrills of Living in a Retirement Community
By Ned and Nancy Engel
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the authors' imaginations, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales, or persons living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional. This fictional work is solely intended to entertain. The authors, publisher or anyone associated with the production of this book do not advocate breaking the law.
Copyright ©2015 by Ned and Nancy Engel
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, scanned, transmitted or distributed in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the authors or publisher (except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review).
Front and back cover desert landscape by: Gene Hanson, www.genehanson.com
Front cover Woodstock bus by: Jaime Martorano, www.jaimemartorano.com (faces added by the authors)
Front and back cover original design by: the authors
Front and back cover digital production design enhancement by:
The Highland Studio, Cold Spring, NY www.thehighlandstudio.com
CONTENTS ** Keep scrolling down to read Chapter 1
1 Mischievous Seniors?
2 Germinating an Idea
3 Turning Vegetables into Flowers -
Creating a Community Garden
4 The Kush Doctor Comes to Town
5 The Great Debate Begins –
Reefer Madness vs. Science
6 The Great Debate Climaxes -
Ganjapreneurs: To Be Or Not To Be?
7 Finding Cash to Grow the Crop –
The Most Unlikely Investors Bankroll Us
8 Dinner Theater Saves the Restaurant
9 Our Secret Underground Cavern
Yields Unexpected Benefits
10 Seniors Strut Their Stuff –
Circus, Cowboy Action Shooting, etc.
11 The Magical Mystical Experience –
The Woodstock Bus Rolls Again!
12 Getting Mellow –
Is it Time to Get Naked?
13 Feed your Head –
Reaching New Intellectual Highs
14 Mission Accomplished?
15 Residents' Reactions
About the Authors
First, we hug and kiss each other and give thanks for being true soul mates or as we like to say “cosmic twins." After 36 years, Nancy and I are still finding new things to do together – this novel is but one example of our ongoing teamwork.
Special thanks to several friends who read prepublication drafts of this book: Kelly Caci, Lenore Engel, Steve Harris, Rosemarie Gardner, Arni and Dianne Weber, Jonathan Kruk, Andrea Sadler, Jeanne Elliot, Ann Wagner, Jim Penn, Dave Giannascoli, Laurie Brown, Barbara and Steve Morris, Elizabeth Reed and Bill Casey. We value their feedback. We wish to acknowledge all those who have been helpful and kind in our lives. We have benefited from gracious mentors who guided our creative endeavors.
From Nancy: I especially appreciate the many English teachers, journalism professors and editors who helped me hone my skills, and nurtured my lifelong love of the written word.
From Ned: A special thank you to all of my excellent clients, interns, graduate students and colleagues who sought out and were receptive to collaborative consultation. We learned from each other. And finally to the two Poughkeepsie High School Human Relations class members from the mid 1970’s who, at the end of the term, gave me a custom T-shirt with “Good Story Ned” printed on it. I wore it proudly for many years. Thanks again, ladies; I’m sorry I forgot your names but your thoughtful gift continues to inspire me. I hope things turned out well for you. If you are reading this book, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Faced with a major loss of services, daring seniors throw caution to the wind and embrace ganjapreneurship. Einstein Meadows teeters on the cliff of bankruptcy soon after Ned and Nancy arrive. However, through the couple’s youthful energy and initiatives, this southwestern enclave now enjoys success. Today, less than three years later, the community is 100 percent full. Einstein Meadows now benefits from a waiting list of buyers and no Homeowners Association dues.
So how does a neighborhood go from stagnation to rejuvenation in such a short time? We invite you to join us on an incredible adventure, which was a life-altering experience. Moving to a new neighborhood can have many unexpected consequences – none of which are easily predictable from reading typical retirement guides. But, this is fiction and anything can happen at Einstein Meadows!
Sometimes finding the right location has very little to do with the climate. It’s not just where in the world you want to be – or what type of dwelling you desire – it might come down to who lives next door or down the street. Retirement communities make many promises in their advertisements and especially when you first visit. Einstein Meadows offered the possibility of a university culture transplanted into suburbia--that sounded great to us. After all, who needs a golf course when you can have equestrian trails?
We humbly offer a cautionary, albeit fictional tale about what might lie beyond the entrance gates of your new community. We recognize that many people are afraid of change and attempt to mandate conformity. Perhaps you share this belief, especially if you already live in a retirement community and have sat through board meetings where the officials were meditating on whether a flea has a belly button or making an elephant out of a fly.
In our travels, we heard so many laments about senior developments that we decided to write a story that demonstrates that change is possible and that there are always healthier paths. You could think of this novel as a fanciful and humorous look at retirement neighborhoods.
Although you probably read silently, this book is great fun to read out loud with a group of friends. They can spontaneously adapt to the different characters’ voices, and turn any party into a happening. We liberally sprinkled Yiddish words throughout the book, and they really enhance the oral reading experience. These colorful expressions are fun to use in everyday life. We define them in the Yiddish dictionary at the end of the book. If you're not sure how to pronounce the words, just say them with confidence and plenty of feeling. And if you can clear your throat spontaneously, so much the better! You might want to watch movies starring Woody Allen, Mel Brooks or Gene Wilder to perfect your delivery. Hey, impress your friends, surprise your enemies and most of all have fun.
As the wise man says, the journey begins when you turn the page….
CHAPTER 1 — MISCHIEVOUS SENIORS?
While my wife Nancy and I were enjoying the weekly wine and cheese hour at Einstein Meadows soon after we moved in, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. It was Bella Blozkop, our single and vivacious neighbor. She leaned in close and whispered in my ear.
Bella: "Nancy just told me that you love a great story. Have I ever got a hot one for you. Let's walk over to the corner so I can tell you in private. I don't want anyone to overhear me revealing our neighborhood's dark secrets to a new resident."
Ned: "Sure thing, Bella. But let me refill my glass first."
Bella: "A month before you and Nancy arrived, everyone received a note in their mailboxes on official letterhead from the Aging with Acumen Center stating that there would be a workshop on erectile dysfunction since this was a common problem with seniors. The memo said to expect partner swapping strictly for medical purposes and community members were encouraged to participate with their spouses.”
Ned: “Wow! Did you go?”
Bella: “Of course! Imagine the possibilities. We were all very excited and there was a large group gathered in the activity room. But it turned out to be an April Fool’s joke by Wild Cowboy Bill.”
Ned: “What a disappointment! I've already met three different Bills in this community. Who is Cowboy Bill?”
Bella: “He’s the neighborhood prankster and he struck again!"
OK, you’re saying every group has its secrets. And, perhaps some of us become more gullible as we age. I prefer to think my neighbors were intellectually curious and/or just plain horny! Especially, since 45 people showed up out of the 180 residents.
What Bella didn't know is that Nancy and I had met Bill the previous year. In fact, he was one of the reasons we moved into Einstein Meadows. Although I hadn't heard his nickname or this story, I already knew Bill had quite the reputation. He was a tall, handsome man with a John Wayne build. He always wore a suede Stetson and sported a western string necktie. He strutted around in alligator boots with noisy spurs and drove a huge diesel pickup. His two white-pearl handled, nickel-plated six-guns were hard to miss. It was legal to carry loaded weapons in our state, except of course in government buildings -- bars, banks and vegan restaurants were fine. However, what most new Einstein Meadowites or guests didn't know is that Bill would control raucous meetings by firing some bullets into the air. Everyone assumed the bullets were blanks; nevertheless, they usually had a silencing effect!
Bill took me under his wing since I was the only New Yorker in the neighborhood. Plus, he had heard that no one had stepped forward to be our mentors; nor were we interviewed, photographed or given a write-up in the traditional "Meet Your Neighbors" column in the monthly newsletter. He asserted that it might be wise for me to learn the ways of the West. He proved his point one day when we were walking through a trail in the wash and surprised a rattlesnake.
Cowboy Bill: (handing me one of his six-guns) “Show me what you’ve got."
Ned: “It isn’t loaded!”
Cowboy Bill: “If I were you, I’d shoot that bad boy before he bites. It’s a long drive to the hospital and you may not make it.”
Well I blew that snake's head right off, and I thought so much for all blanks in the six-guns!
Cowboy Bill: “Nice shot. I couldn’t have done any better myself. I think you’re ready to sign up for the NRA. It’s time to lose your liberal ways and start buying weapons. This part of the southwest is still frontier territory. The NRA could stand to have some sensible Democrats in the membership ranks – perhaps you could be the first.”
Of course, I didn’t own any guns at the time. So this was a tall order for a skinny Jewish guy from Brooklyn. Now I own nine! Maybe we will get to that later. OK, back to the story!
We had moved into a unique southwestern development. Einstein Meadows advertised itself as an active 55+ community with a focus on continuing learning. A trio of former professors (aka the Three Amigos) created Einstein Meadows as an exclusive enclave for retired educators. Through the university connections of the Three Amigos, every resident received full access to the university library and other typical staff/student perks including discounted admission to concerts, lectures and special exhibits.
Einstein Meadows was part of a 3,000-acre ranch in a box canyon with beautiful adobe structures surrounded by impressive mountains. The Meadowites seemed friendly, and it was very quiet since the working part of the ranch was a quarter of a mile away. Everyone was welcoming when Nancy and I visited. The weekly concerts were wonderful and the pool, hot tub, tennis court and gym were usually empty. All of the residents could ride beautiful horses for free, and it was fun to see so many Gray Panthers trotting around the neighborhood.
So, you are probably thinking what a wonderful neighborhood with some truly special attributes, right? Wrong! Nancy and I later learned that the locals and county officials called the residents "academentians" and referred to the ranch as "Rancho sin Saykhel." If anyone had mentioned this name, we might have thought twice before we bought our house.
Since I had been an adjunct instructor, it never occurred to us that transplanting academia to suburbia wasn’t necessarily a good idea. When the educators relocated to Einstein Meadows, they brought all of their old baggage full of intrigue, power grabs, endless backstabbing, insecurity and one-upmanship so prevalent in their prior work settings.
Nancy and I ignored other red flags. We were among the youngest people at Einstein Meadows; only five percent of our neighbors were under 60. And, committees ran the place with the developer Scott Gonzaga holding the deciding vote. However, Scott was awestruck by the academics, and had a much lower IQ. What normal person enjoys committees? For some of these control freaks, Viagra would be a better choice.
The year after we moved in, the economy sank. The Homeowners Association (HOA) board reduced the pool and restaurant hours and began to charge for the horseback rides. Many people wondered how the homeowners’ dues would be enough to keep everything maintained. Those who tried to sell their houses could not and people became very angry and depressed. The younger folks even started singing lyrics from the famous Eagles’ rock song “Hotel California." The closing verse seemed to be everyone’s favorite: “Relax, said the night man. We are programmed to receive. You can check out any time you like, but, you can never leave!”
Have you ever experienced buyer's remorse? You are not alone. Wow! I can't believe we made such a foolish decision. It all seemed so perfect in the beginning; if only we had listened to our real estate agent who suggested we rent first. However, Nancy and I were not about to throw in the towel. We had just spent over $350,000 on our dream winter retreat.
The stage was set for some drama. Out of the blue, a new resident appeared to give even Cowboy Bill some competition. Going by the pen name “Captain Anonymous," this secret do-gooder started placing “Dear Neighbors” letters in community center mailboxes. He called for a more thorough review of the budget decisions and questionable practices of the HOA board.
It's time to wake up -- this HOA board needs a shakeup. Let's make the board accountable; that's not insurmountable. Demand one vote per house; our dues are already too high. Just because their egos are weak doesn't mean we have to be meek. And to board members who don't comply, let's wave goodbye.
Yours truly, Captain Anonymous
This really drove some board members wild. Who would dare to question their Ivory Tower authority? Well, I wish I could describe him - or her - for Captain Anonymous could very well be a woman -- no one knows for sure. Some even suspected the new New Yorker. The mystery continues!
Everyone figured that with so many Ph.D.’s, Ed.D.’s, J.D.’s, a few M.D.’s, a DOM and one Psy.D., surely we could come up with an answer to our financial straits. Additional working groups addressed marketing, but nothing seemed to change. Then a remarkable turnaround began. Today, less than three years later, Einstein Meadows has a waiting list of buyers. You are probably surprised by this transformation and wonder how this could be possible. Well at Einstein Meadows, it would seem nothing is impossible. Let’s see what transpired.
CHAPTER 2 — GERMINATING AN IDEA
So how do you turn around a failing and dysfunctional community that advertises itself as a great spot to age in place while, in reality, it is rotting in place? Well, you harness the talents and resources of all of the people in ways that break their nonproductive patterns of behavior.
Since I was a recently retired psychologist and Nancy was an experienced Master Gardener, we decided to contribute these skills, although we wouldn’t make any money. We hoped that we could at least preserve our foolish investment.
The idea was to get people to work collaboratively. Several thoughtful neighbors agreed with us that many seniors are adverse to conflict, so we wanted to find something that would be helpful and empowering without making people uncomfortable. We weren’t willing to accept the adage that "you can’t teach an old dog new tricks". The question was where to start. And then something strange happened. One night right before bedtime, Nancy and I asked each other “the miracle question." If we woke up the following morning and all of the problems at Einstein Meadows were resolved, what would it be like? How would we know it? How would others notice the difference?
We fell asleep before we could formulate an answer. During the night, I heard Dr. Freud addressing me while I lay on his couch.
Dr. Freud: “Dr. E., I am astounded that a licensed psychologist could move into such a fercockt neighborhood. For Pete’s sake, you got two research-based doctorates, not one of those lichtgewicht Psy.D.’s, and this is the best you could do? Didn’t you notice all the German names on the board and committees? I looked at the local directory; there are not even enough Jewish men for a minyan. Oy gevalt! Not only are they biased, but they suffer from analysis paralysis – they are even more clinical than I am and they don’t have the credentials.”
Dr. Freud continued his monologue. (I wondered why he didn't have his pad. I would have liked to see his notes - or were they doodles).
Dr. Freud: “OK, you are a licensed, board-certified psychologist, what are you going to do about it?”
Ned: “It’s not my responsibility to cure this place.”
Dr. Freud: “Of course it is! It is your obligation to perform a mitzvah a day. No one else is qualified. I’m dead and you have to do it or you will get NO sleep.”
Unbelievably, when I awoke the next morning I had a clear idea of what the miracle would look like. Keep reading to see it in its entirety. Now, I know the skeptics among you may say this was just a dream. Are you curious to know whether Nancy and I could bring about change on a grand scale? Please, fasten your seatbelt, hold onto your hat and come along for the ride.
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