Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement
Rodney Rothman, 2005
Simon & Schuster
Everyone says they would like to retire early, but Rodney Rothman actually did it — forty years early. Burnt out, he decides at the age of twenty-eight to get an early start on his golden years. He travels to Boca Raton, Florida, where he moves in with an elderly piano teacher at Century Village, a retirement village that is home to thousands of senior citizens.
Early Bird is an irreverent, hilarious, and ultimately warmhearted account of Rodney's journey deep into the heart of retirement. Rodney struggles for acceptance from the senior citizens he shares a swimming pool with, and battles with cranky octogenarians who want him off their turf. The day-to-day dealings begin to wear on him. Before long he observes, "I don't think Tuesdays with Morrie would have been quite so uplifting if that guy had to spend more than one day a week with Morrie."
Rodney throws himself into the spirit of retirement, fashioning a busy schedule of suntanning, shuffleboard, and gambling cruises. As the months pass, his neighbors seem to forget that he is fifty years younger than they are. He finds himself the potential romantic interest of an aging femme fatale. He joins a senior softball club and is disturbed to learn that he is the worst player on the team. For excitement he rides along with a volunteer police officer on his patrols, hunting for crime. But even the criminals in his community seem to have retired.
Early Bird is a funny, insightful, and moving look at what happens to us when we retire, viewed from a remarkably premature perspective. Any reader who plans on becoming an old person will enjoy joining Rodney on his strange journey, as he reconsiders hisnotions of romance, family, friendship, and ultimately, whether he's ever going back to work. (From the publisher.)
Rodney Rothman is now living in Los Angeles. He is a former head writer for the Late Show with David Letterman, and was a writer and supervising producer for the television show Undeclared. His writing has appeared in the the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, the Best American Nonrequired Reading, The New Yorker, McSweeney's, and Men's Journal. (From the publisher.)
Funnyman Rothman has written a funny book. And like all good joke stories, this one contains more than a kernel of social truth. Rothman, a former joke writer for both Saturday Night Live and David Letterman, is 28 and burned-out. So what else to do but retire and head to a Florida retirement community? It turns out there's a pronounced social hierarchy here, too (mean girls at any age). Early Bird will facilitate excellent discussions about our expectations for retirement and longevity, and about the way life is, no matter the age.
A LitLovers LitPick (Oct. '06)
Rothman manages to be both an observer of these strange beings about three times his age and a sad-sack newcomer trying to blend in with them. He is working a bit of a stereotype, but his descriptions of the loneliness, the cliquishness, the slow-motion desperation of the place ring true and bittersweet.
Neil Genzlinger - The New YorkTimes
With its statistics and laugh-out-loud humor, the book feels more like a stand-up comedy routine with a sociological edge than a memoir. Rothman's seniors are gutsy, feisty, frugal and sometimes irritating, as when they awaken at 6 a.m. to begin waxing and washing their cars.
Diane Scharper - Washington Post
Rothman has been a head writer for David Letterman and has contributed articles to The New Yorker, the New York Times, and McSweeney's. He has also been, at the age of 25, a retiree. Burned out after a few hectic years of work, he decided to quit and move into a retirement village in Florida. This readable account of his exploration of the world of retirement four decades ahead of time provides a glimpse of a lifestyle known popularly only through stereotypes. Rothman becomes king of the shuffleboard court. He arranges an uneasy detente with his condo mate's cats. He infiltrates the Pool Group and inveigles an invitation to canasta. Rothman has done his research, and he applies his reading on retirement to his personal situation with humorous and occasionally poignant results. Nevertheless, the book reads like one extended sketch. Some sections work particularly well, as when Rothman discusses Maribel, the woman he met via JDate. His physical reaction to dancing with a seductive older woman, however, is fair game; and discerning Rothman's guidelines for what is fair game is occasionally more engrossing than the memoir itself. Still, this readable book is recommended for purchase by larger public libraries. —Audrey Snowden, John F. Kennedy Sch., Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico
A former comedy writer for David Letterman does some up-close research on a common South Florida species-the senior citizen retiree-with "findings" more suited to stand-up routine than anthropological tome. The result: lighthearted fluff with a flair, and not without its educational value. Out of work and pondering his not-so-immediate future, Rothman, 28, decides to get an early glimpse of retirement and soon finds himself sharing a Century Village condo with a widowed piano teacher, her several cats and one early rising parrot. Undaunted, the author dives into such delicacies as the ubiquitous nine-dollar "Early Bird" dinner special; a gambling cruise with an all-female social club; a late-night patrol with the volunteer senior citizen police, and "hard-core" bingo at a nearby strip-mall. He samples senior citizen softball, shuffleboard and canasta. He penetrates the cliquish Pool Club's daily poolside chats. He serves bagels at the local Jewish bakery, visits a Yoko Ono art exhibit with the very unappreciative Art Appreciation Club and, at one point, even tries Viagra. Rothman comes to no profound conclusions here. The mostly Jewish fugitives from the chilly Northeast he encounters conform in general to our imagined stereotypes. Still, seeing them up close-waxing their cars at 6:30 a.m., pilfering Equal packets from the local coffee shop, exchanging surprisingly racy jokes over breakfast bagels-makes for fun reading. And the author's fieldwork doesn't go entirely unrewarded, yielding such oddities as Amy Ballenger, a 93-year-old stand-up comic; Artie, a 63-year-old ex-heroin addict-turned real-estate-agent; and Vivian, a sultry 75-year-old Romanian with five ex-husbands and enough sex appeal to stir even the author's libido. Rothman also provides just enough serious data on aging (for example, the positive effects of staying active and socializing) to make this breezy, humorous tour both entertaining and rewarding. Witty and conversational prose, peppered alternately with sarcasm and compassion: easy, enjoyable reading.
1. Rodney has come down to South Florida to check out retirement early. Much of his time is spent at Century Village, where he admits he would never live. "I probably wouldn't want other people on top of me quite so much, though in some ways, it's not that bad." He's figuring out how we would want to retire. Have you thought about how you would want to retire? Has reading Early Bird given you any new insight into it?
2. At the start of his new life in South Florida, Rodney often finds himself trying to fit in amongst the retiree social circles. First with the Pool Group and later with the senior softball team. How does Rodney eventually make it into these groups and what are his general observations about joining retiree social networks?
3. When Rodney moves in with his new roommate Margaret, who he discovers through Roommate Finders, he starts off feeling on edge much of the time due to her jittery and hermit-like manner. Many of the community members also felt her to be strangely anti-social. Why do you think Rodney often began defending Margaret to the Pool Group?
4. While Rodney takes time out to observe Century Village, he explains many generalized habits of its senior members such as: a need to sleep less, up early, and socialize with others in groups. What do you think is the one observation he overlooked that he later faced when dealing with his good friend Shirley? Explain.
5. In creating new friendships Rodney quickly bonds with the women. He says, "I am trying to spend even more time with elderly women. Natural intuition would tell you that young men and old men would make better buddies, but this hasn't been my experience." What does Rodney gain from his relationships with women? Why do you think he finds it difficult to bond with men his age?
6. Rodney often takes a lighthearted approach in dealing with women who at times seem very set in their ways. Margaret, his roommate, is antisocial. Amy a fellow comedian, is 94 and raunchy. And Vivian is a sultry femme fatale. What qualities about Rodney do you think these women find interesting?
7. After spending time trying to understand how exactly to fit in with the Pool Group, Rodney often spends time interacting with many of the women. He goes to them for advice and asks to learn new things, such as the game Canasta, which they are very reluctant to teach. Why were they so reluctant to introduce him to their recreational activities?
8. Throughout the book, Rodney continually makes reference to the book Successful Aging, which was written based on the findings of a MacArthur study that differentiated "successful agers" from "bad agers." What were some of the qualities that Rodney discovered about good agers? How would you define Rodney's aging process? Do you think that you're a "good ager" or a "bad ager?" Do you know any bad agers?
9. After spending time trying to understand how exactly to fit in with the Pool Group, Rodney often spends time interacting with many of the women. He goes to them for advice and asks to learn new things, such as the game Canasta, which they are very reluctant to teach. Why were they so reluctant to introduce him to their recreational activities?
10. Most of the male senior citizens that Rodney meets in Florida are World War II veterans. "It's humbling to talk to them about those years. I hear a lot of heroic stories, the kind that have already filled numerous books written by television news anchors." How does Rodney make light of these veterans' stories? Do you get the impression that he lacks respect for their experiences, or that he is so humbled he has to poke a little bit of fun?
11. Rodney is not surprised to find that a large number of retired males want to become police officers. He concludes that the transition from breadwinner to doing nothing is difficult. He goes on to quote Successful Aging, which says, "leaving their job deprives men of a major source of stimulation. They need to find it in other ways." What other coping methods are used by many of the retired men in this book? Is it harder or easier for men to retire than women?
12. Throughout the novel, Rodney's empathetic and sometimes not-so-empathetic ways help him to continuously develop relationships with a number of elderly people. He also meets Christina, a 24-year-old woman with whom he ends up spending many of his last days in Florida. How do these new relationships shape Rodney's ideas and beliefs about growing old and what it means to be young?
13. In a conversation with his friend Jill, Rodney explains that he will begin telling people at parties that he is writing a book explaining the reason for his decision for making such a lifestyle change. How important are, and how attached are we as a society to job, titles? How obsessed are we in general with working?
14. Rodney is often very obliging and ready to lend a helping hand when it comes to the relationships he developed with some of the elderly women. With Margaret he agrees to start taking piano lessons to keep her busy, and with Amy he tries to keep her actively performing her stand-up comedy routines. What does Rodney learn about these women and himself in the process?
15. Throughout the book, Rodney often seems intrigued by books that discuss interesting facts about heath and aging. "I've been reading more books about aging, and it is quite clear that the more elderly retirees socialize, the longer they live and the happier they are." What sort of influences would inspire this young writer to retirement at this time in his life?
16. Do you think older and younger people interact enough in our society? How has the elderly migration to Florida changed America's attitudes about the elderly?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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