I haven’t seen mine yet, but apparently all Jews have a contract with God or Jesus or somebody really important that says when you hit 65, you must move to Florida. I have no idea how Florida became the Hebrew Beltway, but it is. Maybe the heat is similar to Israel – but I’ve never been to the Holy Land. I don’t want to die in a grocery store. People tell me every day how beautiful Israel is and how I’m an idiot for not going but I’m sorry – I’m not jumping out of an airplane and I’m not going to a country that is in a constant state of war, where crazy people strap bombs to themselves as routinely as I wipe my ass.
What I do know about moving to Florida is that once you get there, time stands still. How else can I explain that my parents still don’t have “call waiting,” and I constantly get a busy signal when I call them? Who are they talking to anyway? They are so busy. My parents have a bigger social calendar than I do. It seems like there is a lot to do at their over 55 Floridian Complex in Delray Beach. I’m pretty excited for when I move there.
I lost about six hours of my life one day trying to get my parents on Facebook. I could have taught them how to build a rocket ship quicker. If you want to know the true meaning of guilt, yell at your parents. It’s akin to screaming at a nun. I know we didn’t choose our parents, but seriously, how can you ever get angry at the people who gave you the gift of life? Now, I ￼am as hard and cynical as they get, but I am so grateful just to be breathing. I don’t know if the alternative is cloud dancing and cocktails, so I really truly do relish being here on the ground among the living.
I think my parents are here to remind me to be nice to old people. Oh, and to tell me gossip about the kids I grew up with. According to them, I am the only successful one. The other kids are massive fucktards and can’t keep a job or a woman or a house or a calendar. I hate to be the bearer of bad news to my parents, but I have no kids, no husband, the bank owns my house and quite frankly, my career could end tomorrow. But fiddle dee dee, why let them worry about reality? I have also come to realize that my parents are here to inform me of all deaths of people I don’t remember. The conversation goes something like this:
Mom: “Remember Bobby Feldersomethingwitz?” Me: “No.” Mom: “He was married to Jodie Blahblahstein?” Me: “Sort of.”
Mom: “Well, he’s dead.” Me: “Okay. Thanks?”
My parents are British. My dad is from Leeds, England and my mother from Liverpool. If you think this makes them cool and hip and Beatle-like parents – you are wrong. They are still Jews after all, and that trumps “cool” every time. My parents moved to America when they first got married back in the ‘50s, and for some reason they thought it was a brilliant idea to move from England to Staten Island. This would later prove to be a horrible decision – unless you enjoy living on a landfill surrounded by Mafia – but I’m sure it seemed like a ￼wonderful idea at the time. I hate telling people I was born in Staten Island and in fact, I tell people I was born in France. I believe that the Statue of Liberty – a gift from France that you can see from Staten Island – is our own little Isle de la Cite. It works for me.
The problem with having British parents is that the English are about as different from New Yorkers as you can get. They don’t emote the same way and in fact, they don’t really emote at all. The British are refined and reserved and keep their feelings in check. This does not fly in America, and this is a really hard way to grow up in a city where all people do is to shout their emotions and stab you in the front with their feelings. The good thing about having British parents is their complete lack of knowledge of American children. I got away with murder as a kid. I started drinking at age 13 – and was smoking pot at about the same age. I dropped mescaline to go to school and tried pretty much every drug before I ever got to college. I even got high with my history teacher. My parents had zero idea. They just thought I sucked at school because I was stupid, which I may very well have been. (Have you ever met a smart 13-year- old?)
Everyone loved my parents. They dressed well and threw fabulous cocktail parties. But they were big believers in “Children should be seen and not heard,” and sitting around the dinner table in our house was SILENT. There was no shouting or arguing allowed. You would enjoy your Veal Cordon Bleu in silence, and you would eat everything on your plate even if it took until 2 am. I don’t understand this concept at all. If my child wanted to only eat one pea at dinner I’d be fine with that. She’d be thin.
￼My house was also very, very neat, and there were a few rooms we weren’t even allowed in unless we were serving guests at a dinner party or performing for them. I once played a song I wrote on the guitar for a bunch of my parents’ party guests. It was about a hooker. My mother was not pleased. When we were very small, our parents took us into the dining room to teach us manners. We spent the whole meal saying, “Please pass the salt” and learning to use our knives and forks correctly. I am super- grateful for this, actually. I find the way some people eat akin to watching monkeys throw their own poo at the zoo.
If you’d walked into my childhood bedroom, you would have thought I had just moved in that morning. We were not allowed to hang pictures or have any kind of mess. All I wanted to do was hang posters of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy, but that was not allowed. It would ruin the paint. I shared a room with my sister Alison, who lived in the upper part of the room that was separated from mine by one step. If I ever stepped on her “part,” I would be beaten to a pulp. All the dressers and closets were on my “part,” so she had full access. This was how I learned the concept of “unfair.” I was the baby. Everything in my life was unfair. Everything was monitored, even our phone conversations. We had one of those little telephone tables that sat in the hallway between the two upstairs bedrooms, and that’s where you had to have your conversations with your friends. When no one was paying attention, I would try to drag that phone into my room. You could JUST get it inside behind the door and barely shut it – but it was better than being out in the open. You kids with your cell phones today have no idea how hard it was to be attached to a ￼land line—a rotary phone land line. Our phone number started with “Gibraltar 8.” That’s how old I am. I might as well have been making calls from my covered wagon.
I was not allowed out of the house at all during the week until I went to college, and the first night there I went completely mental and partied like an animal. It has taken me 30 years to reign myself back in. My parents told me nothing about sex. In fact, they told me nothing about everything. I freaked out the first time I got my period. I had no idea what it was. I figured my vagina had died. My mother shoved a tampon at me like I was an idiot. How could I not know these things? This was not the conversation a refined British woman was supposed to be having with some sweaty 13-year-old. Even if that 13-year-old was her kid. I most definitely did not grow up in some real-life version of “Sex and The City.” Back in the ‘70s, girls didn’t talk about that kind of stuff. No one was walking around Susan Wagner High School shouting, “Hey, you bleeding yet?” I miss the ‘70s.
I went to visit my parents recently after I was reminded that it had been a while since I’d been to Florida – about 10 years. The idea of spending time in my parents’ condo was not exactly number one on my “to-do” list. It was, however, number one on my “to- don’t” list. I booked my ticket and emailed my flight info to my Dad. He wrote back: “Can’t wait to see you. Even if only for a day.” What? A day? I looked at my itinerary and yes, I had in fact booked a trip for just 24 hours. Oops. I told my folks it was an oversight and rebooked my flight. I figured I’d go for three days, but I don’t know how to tell time and thought that a flight that leaves at 12:05 pm on Wednesday meant that you leave ￼Wednesday night and not five minutes after midnight on Tuesday. Now I was going to Florida for four whole days, and what the hell was I going to do for four whole days? Ohmigod, I should rebook this but then they’ll get upset! Breathe. I broke out in hives.
“I’m so happy you’re here!” my mother cried as she hugged me moments after I landed in Florida. “I made you a home-cooked meal tonight in honor of your trip. Brisket and chicken soup!” I then informed my mother that I had been a vegan for the past four months and hadn’t had meat in about a year. Her face fell. I ate the brisket. It was going to be a long four days.
Delray Beach is like a giant summer camp for old people. My Mom and Dad’s complex had everything I had back at Camp Indian Head. There was a pool and a clubhouse, and there was a constant variety of things for them to do. My first day there, we stopped at the clubhouse and I met a bunch of ladies playing bridge, Mahjong, and even canasta. I thought all of these games died years ago, and now I’m worried that I’m running out of time to learn them and won’t be allowed in some of these communities when it’s my time to check in because I am Mahjong-illiterate.
The second you start meeting your parents’ friends, you find out what your parents really think about you and lucky for me, my parents seemed to think I was pretty great. In fact, some of the people I was meeting thought I was probably too great to be true and when they met me they kind of rolled their eyes at how much they had been forced to hear about me: “Your mother can’t stop talking about you and that show you write. What’s it called again?” I thought, “I know you know what it’s called, you smug old people.” ￼Every day we would go to the pool, because that’s where the action is in a Florida condo development. I could have sat at that pool and listened to people all day long, which is a good thing because old people know how to talk. All the women would gather in the pool with their noodles. If you don’t know what these are, they are long Styrofoam things that help you float. Apparently when you check in to my parents’ community, they give you a noodle. (I hope I get to choose my color. I want pink.) I met a woman named Pearl who I instantly fell in love with. She floated out to the pool area like Jackie O. She has short white cropped hair and wore big black round sunglasses. She had on a one-shoulder navy blue swimsuit and was pin thin. I get the feeling people tell Pearl she’s too skinny and should eat more. To me – she was perfection. She was beyond chic. Pearl walked up to me and said, “I’ve heard so much about you, and I just want you to know that I appreciate celebrities and your mother doesn’t. You should have been my child. I want to hear everything you know about the stars. I should have been a star. Either that or a princess.” I couldn’t agree more. I thought – “I want to be Pearl when I grow up.” Pearl’s husband Hank takes her to the pool each day to make sure she gets her exercise. It seems Pearl can be a bit petulant when it comes to doing things she doesn’t want to do. This made me love her more.
On my second day in Delray, I met “Mr. Turkey Timer.” This was the nickname I gave to the man who came to the pool every day and began a ritual that I instantly knew had been years in the making. The pool area at my parents’ place is fairly large. There are plenty of places to sit without being on top of anyone else, and yet this minute man would always sit right next to me.
￼He would arrive in shorts, a T-shirt, and those hideous Velcro mandals men wear that should be outlawed. He would spread two towels out on a chair, one for the top half and one for the bottom. He would apply lotion and then get out the kitchen timer, set it, and lie down. Then for the next 20 minutes, the sound of that dammed timer would drive me insane. TicK. TiCK. TICK. I wanted to scream, “How about a watch? Has this age-old system failed you in some way, sir?” He once spoke the word “hello” to my dad. I detected a slight accent, and my brain decided it was German and then that brain went off on an entire “Timer=Oven=Jews=Death Camp” rant. What can I say – that’s how all Jews think. Every time I hear Heidi Klum say anything, the translation in my head is, “Get in the oven. Get in the shower.” I can’t even step foot in Germany. It’s a whole thing. Something must have gone terribly wrong in “Mr. Turkey Timer’s” past tanning days that led him to this system. It worked for him. I decided to keep my mouth shut and my headphones on.
One day, I overheard this conversation.
Man: “You know what I’m gonna do today? I’m gonna go out and get myself some of that – what’s it called – that smelly stuff – Faberge? Yeah, Faberge. I’m gonna get some of that Faberge. I’m gonna light a Cohiba and I’m gonna pour myself some wodka (he actually said “wodka”) and then I’m gonna smoke the cohiba and drink the wodka and then I’m gonna spray the place down so she don’t know nothing about anything.” (He was referring to Febreeze and how he could have a moment of happiness in his home without his wife finding out.) I thought, “Eighty-something, and still hiding things from a spouse? Color me permanently single.”
The most amazing thing I saw, however, was while driving down the highway to dinner one night. Suddenly there was an electronic sign for a “Silver Alert.” I asked my dad what that meant.
Dad: “Old people missing.”
I laughed for a full five minutes. And dinner itself is a whole thing in Florida. The most popular time to go is about 5:30 which is when NO ONE is hungry and the portions you get are the size of your head. No one can eat the size of the meals they give you, and so everyone gets a doggie bag. This makes the diners extremely happy. Basically, if they don’t get two meals out of the one meal – the place is shit and they’re never going there again.
My parents are now in their 80’s, and I have to say, I’m thrilled with their aging progress – it bodes well for me. They both have their minds completely intact. No one is drooling and mumbling things incoherently – at least not without the aid of vodka. The only real problem is loss of hearing. My Dad wears a hearing aid, which does not stop me from having to scream everything. When you say things like I say on a regular basis, screaming anything should not be an option. My Mom’s hearing is also on a slippery slope to non- existence, but she refuses to wear a hearing aid. I get it. They’re not at all sexy. I’m terrified of losing my hearing. My Mom says you basically just hear the sound of your own voice in your head. Uh-oh. I already have that problem, and it led to some severe drinking. At the beginning of my trip I thought, “How am I going to survive four days here?”, and by the end of it, I was thinking, “I’m so glad I spent ￼this time with my parents” – well, that and, “I’ve got to start a retirement fund immediately.”
I studied Kabbalah for a couple of years. It’s some 4,000-year old-mystical side of Judaism, and they believe in reincarnation and that we actually choose our parents. They say that when we are souls in heaven, we decide which people will raise us in our next lives based on things we need to learn. I’m not sure what I needed to learn other than the obvious – Jewish guilt – but I’m so glad I chose my parents. I may not understand why they did what they did when it comes to how they raised me, but I think I turned out okay. When I was young I wished my parents were more like my friends’ parents. The girls were all really close with their Moms and did things together and gossiped about boys and clothes and how to frost-tip their hair. But as I’ve grown, I’ve realized you can’t change people, and you have to just accept them for who they are. So I accept my parents for who they are – the wonderful people who breathed life into me and love me unconditionally. And they accept me for who I am – the loud-mouthed weirdo who can’t seem to find a man and didn’t give them grand kids. My Mom may not have spent nights braiding my hair and showing me how to scrapbook and whispering to me all of life’s secrets, but before I left Florida she told me she was glad I was leaving my sneakers in the guest closet so she could look at them and think of me when I wasn’t there. It broke my heart.
I’m not as scared about getting old since my visit. I may even check in to my parent’s complex when I hit 60. I’ll be the spring chicken in the group. I even have my eye on one single old geezer who was pretty sexy. I’ve
￼got my fingers crossed he doesn’t bite it before I get there. Together we’ll swim with our noodles and he’ll think I’m the sexiest young thing in Del Ray Beach. Finally, I’ll be able to start eating again. I can almost taste the cake now.
More stories like this can be found inside the pages of Welcome To Heidi.