From Yuppies to Yentas
I never planned to live in Florida. I first visited Boca Raton on a business trip. My employer, Big Fucking Card (BFC), had a call center there. It was a warm, sunny escape from winter in Manhattan, and SPF 70 was a small price to pay for three days in paradise.
My cousin fixed me up with a charming Cuban in Miami Beach. Forewarned of his womanizing, I expected nothing more than a good-looking tour guide. He must have charmed the front desk clerk, because he knocked on my hotel room door unannounced. “Just a minute.” I ran to the bathroom, sprayed my honey-col- ored bob against the humidity and put on mauve lipstick. My favor- ite little black dress hugged my trim figure. Whatever curves I had were on display. I opened the door.
“Where’s the funeral?” he asked. Not the reaction I envisioned. “What do you mean?” I looked down at my dress. He put his finger under my chin and lifted my face. He was six feet tall. Even with my three-inch heels, he had six inches on me.
“Why’s a beautiful girl like you wearing black?”
“I’m from New York!”
He flashed a dimpled smile. “I’ m teasing you, flaca. Y ou look stunning!” This is some tour guide!
We dined and danced at a famous Cuban restaurant on Lincoln
Road in Miami Beach. Palm trees grew between the tables with skylights overhead. I’d never seen anything like it—or him. He lived in the moment, and in that moment, so did I.
I returned to Florida a few weeks later for a wedding in Key Biscayne. An Argentinian friend from business school was marrying his childhood sweetheart, and I invited the Cuban as my date. The ceremony started at 7 p.m. My date picked me up at 7:15. Seven fifteen!
“Flaca, you’re wearing color!” I’d bought a red dress for the occasion. Does he own a watch?
“I start the ceremony singing ‘Ave Maria,’” I said. “We’re late! I’ve ruined my friend’s wedding!”
“Relax, flaca. It’s an Argentine wedding, right?” I nodded. “They’re on Latin time.” Time is time, and the ceremony started 15 minutes ago! I took deep breaths; they didn’t help. “We’ll be early. Don’t worry.”
I couldn’t look at him, I was so angry. We arrived at 7:30. I ran to the hotel door while he sauntered past the palm trees, hands in the pockets of his beige linen suit, admiring the birds of paradise and the bougainvillea spilling onto either side of the sidewalk.
Panting, I opened the door and ran inside to apologize. The equipment room was empty. Guests started arriving an hour later, and I began singing at 9 p.m.
Back in New York, exhaust fumes greeted me at the pickup area outside LaGuardia. In the taxi to my apartment, I stared out the window. The weather, the buildings, everything was dull and gray. I hadn’t noticed before.
But I love New York! I had a coveted marketing job at BFC. Great friends. Still, I worked long hours. And my yearly raise barely cov- ered the increase for my one-bedroom, rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side. I couldn’t imagine ever being able to af- ford something bigger. I’d just turned 28 and wasn’t meeting any- one. I was in a rut.
The next morning on my way to work, I hit gridlock in Mid- town. I jumped out of the cab at Times Square and ran toward Sixth Avenue just as a drizzle turned into a downpour. Weaving through the crowded sidewalk, I dodged an umbrella aimed straight at my head. I was cold, wet, and miserable when it dawned on me; I needed a change. Color and warmth. Sunshine. I saw myself danc- ing in the Cuban restaurant, singing at the wedding, wearing a red dress. I was ready to live in the moment . . . Florida! But I can’t just up and move . . . can I? I’m not seeing anyone . . . my landlord would love to end my lease and jack up the rent. But I’d need a job . . .
I was 29 when my transfer finally came through. I moved to South Florida as one of BFC’s directors covering Latin America. At first, I rented an apartment on the beach. I bought my first car—a hard- top convertible. No more subway for me!
When black mold seeped out of the walls of my apartment, I complained to management, who sent a maintenance guy to in- spect.
“Mold? I don’t think that’s mold. Have you tried cleaning it?” A lady down the hall was in the hospital with a lung problem. When her dog got sick, I knew I had to get out of there. There was no point arguing with the building. Two months before my 30th birth- day, I paid off the remainder of my lease and bought my first home—a condominium.
My one-bedroom, rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side cost more than my South Florida condo mortgage and monthly maintenance combined. I bought a two-bedroom apartment with a balcony overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway in a place called Con- doland. It had FOUR closets, an in-unit washer and dryer, floor-to- ceiling views, and a garbage disposal! UNBELIEVABLE!
I moved on a Friday. My parents flew down from Newton, Massachusetts, to help.
“I still don’t understand why you want to live here,” said my mom. “ This is where alta kahkers1 go to die. ”
“No, it’s not,” I said. “It’s changed. It’s full of young people!”
She got to what was really bothering her. “You’re so far from us!” Her face grew somber. “What if we have an emergency?”
Being an only child was a blessing and a curse: I had my parents’ undivided attention. My mom was 65, and my dad was 72. He’d had bypass surgery, but they were both still strong and independent.
My dad turned to her. “Look, it’s a four-hour drive from New- ton to New York and a three-hour flight to South Florida. She’ll actually be closah!” My mom pursed her lips. My dad grabbed my hands. “The most important thing to me—to us—is yah happiness, Alice. Don’t worry!” I managed a smile, wiping my eyes, the same hazel green as his. He pulled some tissues from his shirt pocket and mumbled about allergies. “Yah mothah and I will be just fine.” His voice softened. “ Y ar only young once, bubbaleh. 2 This is an advent- chah. I’m excited for you!”
By Saturday night, we’d unpacked all the big boxes and were ready to celebrate. As an owner in good standing, I had access to Condoland’s Club House, replete with a movie theater, gym, spa, game room, swimming pool, basketball and tennis courts. Its crown jewel was a residents-only restaurant. As we entered, the Restaurant Manager greeted me by name (word of the new “young girl” had traveled fast). I was home.
Saturday nights in the Restaurant were festive. A wooden dance floor in the center of the room filled with diners moving to the sounds of a one-man band. Couples were swinging. When the “band” played “Hava Nagilah,” dancers joined hands, weaving side- ways in the traditional circle.
That Saturday was Lobster Night. Seated in a cream leather booth in the upper section—perfect to see everyone and everything below—a group of widows attacked heaping plates of lobster. Their sequins and diamonds caught the light. One wore a white fur cape (this was June). Another wore four-inch Jimmy Choo shoes, her feet dangling above the floor. Thick makeup covered their Bo- toxed, Restylaned faces.
My dad observed them attack their shellfish.
“The ladies who lunch,” he said with an amused smirk.
“They look like clowns!” said my mom.
“They don’t have your skin, Diane,” said my dad.
Below this kosher crime-in-progress and two tables over, Sol
Rabinowicz was celebrating his 90th birthday. His wedding picture sat on an easel beside him, surrounded by balloons. Several of his shellfish-eating guests wore yarmulkes. When it came time to toast, they wished him to live “biz a hindut und tzfuntzik.”3 My dad beamed; I was happy he approved of my new environs. Did I just move to the Florida Catskills?
The next morning, we ate breakfast on my balcony watching boats and yachts go by on the Intracoastal. In the afternoon, we ex- plored the property. Manicured walking paths with exotic flowers and palm trees encircled each of Condoland’s three residential tow- ers. There were water fountains everywhere.
My favorite path ran alongside the Intracoastal where unit own- ers moored their boats. It was so beautiful, I pinched myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. The water, clear as glass, broke into waves, crashing against the seawall as a yacht the size of a cruise ship passed. My mom cringed as smaller boats followed, filled with teenagers blasting Latin pop music.
“How inconsiderate!” she said. Maybe, but it beats honking horns and garbage trucks.
My dad hooked her arm, leading us toward the Club House overlooking the Intracoastal. “Let’s see the gym,” he said.
The gym was on the lower floor of the Club House. The lobby’s floor-to-ceiling windows maximized spectacular views. The floors were marble. Our footsteps echoed as we walked toward the ele- vator. My mom frowned at the dated décor. I wasn’t complaining. It was a HUGE step up from my pre-war New York building where double locks and a basement laundry room were the only ameni- ties. We walked past the Restaurant to the movie theater. My mom ran, childlike, to the upper section, sinking into a plush chair.
“I could get used to this!” she said.
We took the elevator down to the gym. There was a room for fitness classes with mirrored walls, and an equipment room with outdated but functional machines and free weights. Use of the Club House facilities was included in my monthly maintenance.
Outside, we passed people dining al fresco under large umbrellas. There was a lap pool, around which deeply tanned, leather- skinned unit owners sunned in chaises. They look like raisins!
An attendant went from raisin to raisin offering pitchers of wa- ter and lemonade. Another brought fresh towels.
“Better they should offer sunblock,” said my mom.
“ You can do laps here, ” said my dad.
We followed a rock-lined path to the tennis courts behind the
Club House. Even with sunglasses, the glare was blinding. How can anyone play in this heat?
Returning to Condoland I, we explored the public rooms in the lobby: a party room, game room, conference room, and a card room filled with ladies sitting four to a table. My mom wandered into the wood-paneled library. Searching shelves of donated books, she pulled out poetry by Emily Dickinson.
“Mommy, take it with you.”
“We’re on the honor system. Just bring it back when you finish.”
“I can’t get over it!” she gushed. “My daughter has her own li-
“Come on, honey,” said my dad. “Let’s help Alice finish un-
He checked my mailbox while I took my mom to the ladies’ room. We joined him in the mailroom just in time; the widows from last night were encircling. He was the perfect trifecta: breath- ing, ambulatory, and alone. He seemed oblivious, and I pulled him out of there before my mom noticed. One widow turned to another and whispered loudly, “Oy, he’s married.” I glared at her. She glared back, defiant.
The night before their flight home, I served drinks on the balcony. As the sun set, the ocean changed colors—green near the shore, to aqua to sapphire to navy near the horizon. The sky flared bright orange as the sun set, filled with white cotton balls. My dad said he wanted to reach up and touch them. I’m still tempted.