F&*@ing Old

Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster in The Incongruous Quarterly (via bookforum):

Nearly 500 years later [after Juan Ponce de Leon searched for the fountain of youth], hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of aging Americans scamper like lemmings to seek eternal youth in Florida. Nowhere expresses this quest better than The Villages retirement community in Lady Lake. We went there by chance recently on the way back from a disastrous canoeing trip with family. Perhaps that trip was the first sign of things to come – what you haven’t mastered should be left alone, particularly with respect to nature.

The Villages was designed by the same people who themed Universal Studios, in nearby Orlando. One can only marvel at the artifice: a virtual geriatric theme park. Ironically, invoking the de Leon heritage, you enter through Spanish colonial fake stucco gates with painted-on signs of aging – cracks, cement weathering, evidence of brick beneath the plaster, and spray-on rust for the replica cannons and cannon balls. It is a strange, childless world of vibrant seniors where visitors younger than 19 can only stay for a maximum of 30 days a year. The Fountain of Youth, it seems, can only be quaffed by eliminating all traces of the young. Walking around The Villages one realizes that the price of paradise is a perverse withdrawal from the world.

Now, rural Central Florida is a rather inhospitable, unforgiving environment, something we encountered on our little excursion – a swamp of slow-moving rivers banked by seemingly ancient Cyprus trees and an alligator every cubic meter of water. After miles and miles of country road, The Villages arises out of this backwater like a beacon of strip-mall light, replete with every modern convenience. With 40,000 homes, 70,000 residents – expected to pass 100,000 before long, 34 golf courses, 9 country clubs, 2 Disneyesque downtown squares replete with bars, restaurants, shopping, movie theaters, and, of course, many, many real estate offices, The Villages appears to be the epicenter of a new way for old living.

Our family had visited an old friend there recently, a woman in her 60s who had moved to The Villages from south Miami and couldn’t be happier. Why? After a lifetime of failing at the singles scene, winding up alone in her 50s with three cats and an administrative job at a university, she retired to The Villages and found herself with a date almost every other night.