CJ Kaplan discovers the most popular pastime of residents at his parents’ adult living community: complaining.
“Young may-an! Youuuuuu ahr a guest he-ya!” a shrill voice screeched at me from across the exercise room.
“I beg your pardon, ma’am?” I replied in my most innocent tone.
“You ahr a guest he-ya, and it is yahr responsibility to wipe down the equipment after you use it,” pressed the voice, which belonged to a 60-something woman with brassy red hair, ill-fitting spandex pants and a New Yawk attitude.
The other half-dozen or so seniors in the room looked up from their treadmills and yoga balls to see who the offending party was. Feeling cornered, I quickly acquiesced.
“I was just about to, ma’am,” I said, grabbing a paper towel and earnestly dabbing at the sit-up bench that had been dusty from disuse until I had lain on it just a few moments before.
Fixing me with a final glare, Red went back to climbing imaginary hills on her Exer-Cycle. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the treatment I received. After all, this wasn’t my first trip to the clubhouse that my in-laws shared with several hundred other 55+ people in their Adult Living community.
With both children out of the house and starting families of their own, my wife’s parents eschewed the Florida game plan when they retired. Instead, they bought a plot of land in a planned development, chose one of the five models that were offered to them and built a house that was ultimately bigger than the home they had lived in for over 30 years. Except now, it was just the two of them.
Developments like theirs have been popping up all over the Northeast for the past 10 or 15 years. I have to admit, it was a brilliant idea. Find cheap land on the fringe of a commuter zone, build a 9-hole, Par 3 golf course, surround it with large cookie-cutter houses that would easily accommodate visiting children and grandchildren, drop in a clubhouse with an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis courts, card room, aerobics studio/gym and an arts and crafts suite and voila, you’ve got an instant Adult Living community.
For retired and semi-retired Northeasterners who don’t want to snowbird or just wanted to stay close to family and friends, it’s an attractive option. You can find a poker, bridge, canasta or mahjong game every night. There are social clubs, eating clubs, knitting clubs and even drama clubs. It’s like summer camp for the senior set. And if you want to go into the city for business or pleasure once or twice a week, it isn’t such a hardship to get on the train for an hour. The only thing missing is the year-round nice weather. But, when you have all this, who cares? It’s ideal.
Except for one thing.
What those pioneering developers failed to take into account was that by building these communities they were taking a large number of people whose favorite pastime is complaining and putting them all in one place.
I don’t know how much money the builders made off their original investment. But, even if it was in the tens of millions, it couldn’t possibly be enough to justify the sheer number of complaints they field on a daily basis. Even during my limited involvement during the building process, I heard that the floors were wrong, the cabinets were too small (then they were too big), the fixtures were off and the lights were too bright. (This last problem was fixed with the addition of something I like to call a “dimmer.”) And this was only one of the 200 or so houses in the original development. Worse still for these poor bastards, the new residents would call each other daily to tell each other what was wrong in their respective homes. This would prompt people to check their houses to see if they, too, had the same problem as their neighbors so that they could add it to their list.
Now some of you might be thinking that my in-laws and their friends had a right to be picky about their new homes since they were paying a lot of money to the developers. And you’d be right if, in fact, it ended there. However, the complaining during the building process was merely an appetizer, an amuse-bouche if you will, for what was to come.
Their homes completed to their satisfaction (or as near to that as one could hope to come), the residents turned their attention to the facilities. The clubhouse was the first amenity to come under attack. Its small weight room had been outfitted with several treadmills, stair climbers and recumbent bikes. However, the builders had bought the kind for personal use rather than industrial, heavy-duty use like the ones you’d find in a Gold’s Gym. I guess they figured the older ladies and gentlemen of the community wouldn’t tax the apparatus any more than a single soccer mom would in her basement. Well, they figured wrong.
When the first treadmill broke down, the hue and cry was so great that a special committee was formed to get the machines replaced. The builders complied, and then the slippery slope to hell began to tip downward. The committee, seeing its power, began to make demands on a regular basis.
Everyone was unhappy with the water fountains in the gym, so they brought in a water cooler. Then, people complained that the 5-gallon bottles were too heavy to lift onto the cooler, so it became the janitor’s responsibility to replace the bottles when they were empty. But, the janitor often waited days to replace bottles because he was busy doing other things. Like cleaning. So, the committee made the developers bring in a water purifying machine that didn’t require a 5-gallon bottle. However, the little paper cups that came with the machine ran out frequently and weren’t being refilled often enough. So, everybody just went back to using the water fountains.
From the gym, the committee (now growing exponentially in members) marched on the indoor pool where they imposed a strict schedule on the lap swimmers and water aerobicists who were warring over space in the super-heated water. Both factions, however, were overruled by the politically powerful men’s water volleyball team, which commanded the entire pool three times a week during prime swimming hours. There was universal accord, though, on the Grandchild Rule stating that no un-toilet trained child shall be allowed in the pool ever. Ironic considering what many of those seniors were surely doing in the pool themselves.
Complaining reaches a fever pitch in the summertime when the golf course, tennis courts and outdoor pool are all open. The gang just about blows a gasket when someone isn’t wearing a collared shirt on the driving range. In fact, one of the club pros lost his job when it was discovered that he allowed someone to hit a bucket of balls in a t-shirt. The tennis crowd is a little more tolerant unless you book a court before noon without the presence of a resident. In that case, bring your boxing gloves because you’re gonna have to fight your way out of there. And if kids are splashing in the pool or making too much noise, you can be sure that a lifeguard will be dispatched to quiet the rabble-rousers. (Have you ever known a child who didn’t splash or make noise in a pool? What the hell else are you supposed to do in a pool when you’re six?)
The best complaint moment of all time came when they opened the new and improved gym. My father-in-law, who never uses the gym, went down to check out the new facility. After walking around for a few minutes, he determined that the entrance was too drafty and would chill the people on the Stair Climbers (the same Stair Climbers upon which he had never set foot). After he and a few others complained, they put up a half-wall between the entrance and the Stair Climbers. He hasn’t been back since.
On a recent visit to my in-laws, I ran into my old nemesis, Red, in the gym one morning.
“How are you, ma’am?” I inquired, trying to make nice.
“Oh, I can’t complain,” she replied.
“Yeah, right,” I said.
But, not loud enough for her to hear.
This essay comes from CJ Kaplan’s new book, Jews Clues: You’re Doing It All Wrong, which is now available on Amazon.com. It’s a hilarious look at all the things he was told growing up in a Jewish household. However, you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the humor that comes from being raised by neurotic parents. Written with his friend and fellow Jewish mother survivor Mitch Blum, Jews Clues contains nearly 300 Clues (smart-ass aphorisms touching on multiple subjects), over 100 Chai-Kus (Jewish-themed Haikus) and 16 humorous essays. It’s available in paperback and on Kindle. So, check it out if you get a chance.
—Photo Ivan Milnaric/Flickr