The New Segregation

I am currently renting a room in a modular house in a modular neighborhood, if you can call this 55+ community a neighborhood. It seems more like a ghetto to me, a place where a single group is sequestered, though in this case, “ghetto” doesn’t have the usual slummy connotations, and the people choose to live here rather than are forced by mandate to occupy the area. Still, the place is segregated from the rest of the city, populated by a distinctive group of not wealthy, not young individuals. That these folk are a mixed lot, all colors, nationalities, and opinions, does not mitigate their age-related sameness.

old manOutside the gates of this so very depressing “park” where the manufactured houses seem dealt out like a game of solitaire, there is a high school. And every afternoon, while the aged walk the inside perimeter of their cage, the young folks mill around outside, waiting for their rides. Old. Young. And never the twain shall meet. Or something like that.

When did we become such an age-segregated society? It can’t be a good thing. Don’t the young and the old complement each other? One group bringing wisdom, the other youthful idealism? And yet, I don’t see a lot of idealism among the young or wisdom among the aged. (As the father says in the Kevin Bacon movie, She’s Having a Baby, “People don’t mature anymore. They stay jackasses all their lives.”)

I don’t know what I want from myself as I grow older, but I do know the thought of living in an old folks ghetto (or even in an upscale gated community for “active” seniors) gives me the creeps. Or maybe I’m just denying the inevitability of my own aging, though I don’t think so. I can’t think of anything more depressing than only dealing with old folks (though mostly I’m doing that now — the majority of my friends are considerably older than I am, and in almost all of my dance classes, I am the baby, though I am not so young for all that.)

Of course, since I won’t have the money to live in a gated community, even a downscale one, I doubt I’ll ever have the choice of ghettoizing or segregating myself, but the other amenities that will be available to me seem just as creepy. I don’t see myself joining senior-only groups, going on senior outings, partaking of early-bird specials for seniors, or living in any sort of senior-oriented neighborhood. I certainly don’t want to be one of those old folks who gain cachet from their advanced years, and who make sure everyone knows their age.

When I was young, my mother never told me I did something good “for my age.” If it wasn’t good, I got no credit. On the back end of my life, I want to live the same way. It (whatever “it” is) is good or not good in and of itself, not with consideration for age.

And yet, what do I know? Life changes us. Age changes us. As decrepitude creeps in, as I start making the accommodation for the end of life, maybe I’ll be glad to be surrounded by others of my ilk.

But not yet. With whatever “youth” I have left, I want to live life to the fullest, to experience the world as much as I am capable, to deal with people as individuals rather than as effects of their age.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

11 Responses to “The New Segregation”

  1. Ken Coffman Says:

    To some extent, I feel the same way. The community we’re in now is mostly snowbirds and retirees. They are not poor, but they are old and I hate to hear myself saying this, damned boring. They travel to places, but don’t seem to soak it in. They have admirable cars, but drive them to the golf courses and Mexican restaurants. They have interests and hobbies, but none that touch me. Most of what they talk about is their medical conditions and what the doctor said about their prospects and treatments. Their useful careers are behind them. To take the new company’s drug test, I had the pleasure of sitting around a clinic waiting room for two hours. Depressing! I’d rather hang out with my vital, vivid writer friends, my musician friends, my prog rocker friends, my engineering friends–my younger friends. None of these comments say anything good about me.

  2. mickeyhoffman Says:

    My parents seemed to like the idea of being only with people of their age. Their behavior seemed “old” to me as well because they lost interest in innovations and contemporary culture. For those of us who “keep up” to a certain extent at least and still crave adventure, the idea of being segregated seems like living death. The problem is the society as a whole worships youth and I don’t feel like older people are well appreciated. You can really see this in how high school students react to older teachers. 😕 etc. So many older people might just feel better off behind a wall?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s not that I want to be around kids or keep up with their culture, but there is a whole rainbow of age and experience between youth and age. There has to be more to talk about than food and infirmaties. But maybe the aged feel safest behind gates and with their own kind. Maybe I should write a book about a homicidal old geezer or geezette.

  3. Coco Ihle Says:

    Well, not to rain on your parade, but I tend to disagree with the assessment that seniors in senior communities are boring, old, obsessed with illness, etc. Mind you, I don’t live in a senior community as such, but a large portion of people in my neighborhood are seniors. We are close knit, look after one another, talk and wave on the way to the mailbox. We share travel experiences and inspire some of us to travel to certain places. When I was remodeling my master bath, neighbors were enthusiastic and couldn’t wait to see how it turned out. Many of the people are volunteers in the community, many have interesting talents and are willing to share them.
    The people I’m not particularly fond of are often young, who have no sense of consideration for others with their constantly barking dogs, screaming children, loud cars and booming rap music. Recently, I approached a neighbor whose two large dogs were waking me every morning before the sun rose. I was merely trying to nicely point out that it was disturbing. The homeowner, a young guy decided to soak this 73 year old with the full pressure of his garden hose.
    So, I can see why some people choose to live in an area where people were taught in their youth to be kind and helpful and considerate to their neighbors. That’s my two cents, for what what it’s worth.

  4. dellanioakes Says:

    It’s interesting that you feel this way. I never saw it that way, but then I’m not living in a 55+ area. There are tons of them around Florida, and I have some good friends who live in them and love it there! However, the parks are often divided by the “haves” and “have nots”, making one side of the park more Posh than the other (at least that’s how it is where a few of my friends live) Like it’s own 55+ Payton Place!

  5. Carol Says:

    Like Coco, I don’t entirely agree with the concept of the old being a boring community unto themselves. How people live their lives is an individual thing, and in my experience there are just as many young people living unfulfilled, treadmill lives as there are older ones. Some of the most boring, unhappy people I know are the ones of any age who are so introspective they neglect to acknowledge the opportunities around them.

    Circumstances usually determine how one’s current days are spent, more than age. If we happen to have no responsibilities to family or community, and have reasonably good health, we’re free to pursue our own interests, whether that means skydiving or lawn bowling, and I don’t belittle the choice someone else makes if it brings them contentment, even if it wouldn’t be my choice.

    Of course, I’m one of the oldsters, so perhaps my view is biased. Perhaps, as Coco suggests, my upbringing has affected my outlook. If I reflect on my life I can see that it has evolved through stages, and I imagine there will be more and different ones yet to come. I recognize that others around me are moving through stages of their own, too. I hope they’re finding satisfaction in what each day has to offer, just as I am.

  6. Pat Bertram Says:

    I never said the old were boring or a boring community. I merely made the observation we seem to be living in an age-segregated society.

  7. frederick anderson Says:

    I’ve tried bestowing my wisdom on the young. I leave it to you to imagine how joyfully it was received.

  8. Where Generations Overlap | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] A few years ago, I lived for a short time in a gated modular home community for older adults. It wasn’t a good experience — I was renting a room in the house along with a fellow who spoke not a word of English and had mental problems of an undisclosed nature. Even worse, a key was necessary to leave the park on foot, and since the owners didn’t see fit to give me a key to the gate, I felt trapped. Worst of all, there was a high school outside the gates, which made me feel as if I were living in some sort of apocalyptic science fiction story where people were forcibly segregated by age. […]

  9. Living in a Gated Community | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] Four years ago, I rented a room in a modular house in a 55+ gated community, and the experience gave me the creeps. Although the people I generally hung around with were older than me, I didn’t like being forced into an area with only retired folks. It seemed too segregated. That these people were a mixed lot, all colors, nationalities, and opinions, did not mitigate their age-related sameness. […]

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