May 3, 2013

One word: Florida

By J.P. Devine
Correspondent

I don't like old people. Old people have scared me since I was a kid at my father's funeral. They kept coming by the row of chairs, hugging my mother, and then standing there smiling and staring at me. Then they'd take my hand and squeeze it. Their hands were ice-cold, and had big brown spots all over them. They smelled of talcum powder.

I'm standing in the bathroom shaving as I write this in my head. I notice my hands. They're cold and have big brown spots on the backs of them. Yes, I'm old people now -- well, sort of. I look better than they did. I move faster, talk better. I don't drool and squint. I'm better at being old people than they were.

Old people are after me again. They're coming up to me in the market, in the parking lot, at funerals and in her church, where the priest says, "Peace be with you."

I close my eyes, keep my head down and pretend to be praying. I really am praying, praying they will not squeeze my hand or hug me or try to kiss me on the cheek and give me one of those things that old people get that kill them.

This happens just because the priest intones, "Peace be with you. Now kiss and shake hands and hug each other, and may the force of evil germs be with you."

Yes, old people are after me again, and this is the new reason: The word has gotten out that she, who kisses them in church, is retiring. "Retiring" is the magic word, and they've all got some advice for us.

It's like the man in "The Graduate" who says to Benjamin, "I've got one word for you ... 'plastics.'" Only their word is "Florida."

"So what are you going to do now?" they ask. "You ought to think about Florida." They talk about this one section on the Gulf where almost everyone who lives there is from Waterville, Sidney or Augusta.

"You won't be lonely," they say. Then they list a series of names a page long. She, who grew up here and has been kissing old people in church since she was a baby, knows all the names. She suggests two.

"You won't be lonely," they say. Then they list a series of names a page long. She, who grew up here and has been kissing old people in church since she was a baby, knows all the names. She suggests two.

"Oh no!" they say and whisper, "They've passed. He died in October. But the Lapanettes are there. Remember the Lapanettes?" She does. She remembers all the names of the deceased, the nearly deceased and those who look like they're deceased.

They tell us that there are so many living in this one town on the Gulf that we will think that we're still in central Maine. That's exciting. It's the same, they say, except for no snow, no autumn leaves and no barns and apartment buildings burning down.

"They have malls there," one says, anticipating my one fear, "better than Augusta, and a Panera and Red Rooster like in Augusta."

I'm sure they have an Olive Garden for those given to joyous corpulence, and a Starbucks where the baristas are 50-year-old former spring-break girls who didn't go home.

One snowbird excitedly told us about a trailer park with several vacancies.

"You can see flamingos walking around, and peacocks. It's quiet because they don't allow kids, and everyone there is from Saco."

I've never seen a flamingo or a peacock up close, and I never met anyone from Saco. Saco is as mysterious a place to me as Broward County.

On the other hand, it must be disquieting to watch holes open up suddenly in the earth and swallow your neighbors, along with their 50-inch TVs, sofas, coffee makers, and to live where alligators, or crocodiles, I forget which, swallow babies, dogs, cats and even retirees -- plaid pants, straw hats, white belts, sensible shoes and all.

She, who got a bad sunburn in 1956 in Fort Lauderdale and got sick on bad mahi mahi, refuses to consider the move at all. The trailer park doesn't sound that bad. What are people from Saco like?

 

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