Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You’re living in a WHAT!?

The voice of one of my lawyer friends comes through the telephone: “So now that you’ve relocated to Florida, where are you living? Did you buy a condo? A house?”

Me: “We bought a doublewide.”

Voice: “-------.”

Voice continues: “--------.”

Me: “You don’t know what that is, do you?”

Voice: “Not exactly.”

So I explain in measured, simple-to-absorb terms, that I live in a mobile home park in the Tampa Bay area with a bunch of other 55-plus-year-olds.

Voice: “A mobile … uh, a TRAILER??!!”

Me: “Yes, exactly, although the more delicately constituted of us refer to it as a manufactured residence.”

Voice: “-------.”

This is cognitive dissonance in its purest, most joyous-to-behold form. I spent my legal career – “legal” is not the only career I’ve had – hauling in what many would call big bucks, although I had friends at the rainmaking end of the rainbow who would have starved on my pay. I loved the law – still do – but had grown weary of the more practical aspects of the law business – schmoozing clients, drumming up business, worrying about generating cash flow – in short, all the perfectly honorable stuff that pays the bills. I admire those who are driven by the law because they are so deeply satisfied and because they make the very best lawyers. But I was never driven and did not want to continue plowing that field until I was 65 or 66 or, as some have done, until I dropped in the traces.

With my kids securely launched, my Connecticut home almost paid for, and a modest nest egg – shockingly modest, some would say – tucked away, my choices were retire in Connecticut at 66 with my then-current lifestyle or sell everything and retire to Florida at 60 to a life of genteel poverty. Or at least I hoped it would be genteel. The nuns who instilled in me my lifelong fear of religion and penguins preached to us 13-year-old boys, “If you think it, you have done it.” So, having thought it, I did it: off to the sunny south for me and Judy.

We live in a home made of metal and particle board. My lawyer friends do not live in metal homes or have substantial chunks of their homes fashioned of ersatz wood. They are – though most would never say so – appalled. I have waited all my life to appall people with impunity. In the past, fear of punity has always had its way with me.

Me: “Yes, it’s a trailer park, the kind that draws tornadoes and makes a mess on the front page of the Hartford Courant every hurricane season. Ours is a high-class trailer park, though, insofar as management does not allow junk cars to pile up in what passes for the front yard or chickens to peck around the back dooryard. But it is a trailer park. My house is put together with paneling and staples and bathtub caulk. I love it here.” In truth, I do not like the bathtub caulk, which sticks everything in the place to everything else, but that’s a quibble, and I am learning to cope.

Voice: “------.”

I have opted out. Neither an old hippie nor otherwise disaffected, I nonetheless live a simple existence that satisfies me and Judy. There is money to pay for whatever medical issues may arise in my dotage and for a few luxuries to boot. I write, read, volunteer, and sit on my ass to my heart’s content. I fly or drive north to see my grandchildren when I want, and I bring them here when they want. If I were to sink a suitcase full of money into a house, thereby freeing my lawyer friends from their rising state of appallment, then I couldn’t do those things that have quickly become so important to me. Instead I would stay home in my stucco hacienda, worry about mill rates, and tend what passes in Florida for a lawn

My tacky little doublewide is full of the stuff I have loved since Judy agreed to marry me 41 years ago. (This much-loved stuff does not include the two cats, but they make Judy happy.) Everything that was not much-loved when I left Connecticut, I gave to my kids or sold to my neighbors. Now, when I visit Connecticut, everything looks vaguely familiar. Oh, and I kept my 7-year-old sports car, which is where I store my masculinity. I still love that. The car, I mean. And the masculinity too, I suppose.

A curious coda is developing. Lawyers whom I had expected to one day drop in their traces have called to inquire, oh-so-casually, how I have done this – whatever “this” means to them. I tell them that there is life after law. I am living with that greatest of all treasures – impunity. In a trailer park.



  1. Dear Mr Elder Newt,

    Your heir, with whom I share a residence with here in our own gated community in Oklahoma sent me the link to your blog this evening. To be polite, I followed the link so Erik wouldn't be offended. You might not realize this but Erik is sometimes easily offended.

    I felt the need to comment because this short passage was exceptionally well written. The sentence "I have waited all my life to appall people with impunity." has made my night. Thank you very much. I'm looking forward to reading more when time allows.

    Kurt Suitor

  2. Hi Kurt

    So far, Erik is my heir only in his fondest hopes. On the other hand, MY fondest hope is to spend it before he gets his hands on it. Glad you enjoyed.

    For other readers, the gated community to which Kurt refers is in Ft Sill, OK, where he and the rest of my son's unit are training for their upcoming mission to the Middle East. I have an address for those whose fondest wish is to send cookies to soldiers. Just ask.