Friday, October 03, 2008

The youngest old person

I visit South FL once every 3-4 months without much fanfare (I pick myself up from the airport) and yet, every time I come, this place manages to find a new way to freak me out -- this after living here for nearly 25 years.

I landed in Ft. Lauderdale last night around 5 and by 6, I was already rushing my rental car west toward dinner with my Aunt, Uncle, Cousin and Dad. They'd decided on the Olive Garden in Coral Springs because some awful person had given my Aunt a gift card to the place.

On the cell phone while waiting for my luggage, they asked, "do you know where it is?" Of course. It was where I first waited tables back in '92.

The outside of the place is still the same box (fitting since most of the "authentic Italian food" is delivered in boxes, too). Upon entering, however, the inside has been completely gutted (unless they singled out the Coral Springs one for special interior design treatment, I imagine the same thing has happened to all Olive Gardens?).

I felt like one of the old farts who used to come into Lundy's, a landmark seafood restaurant in Brooklyn where I last waited tables in '02. At least once a day, elderly customers would wax nostalgic to me about the 80-year-old restaurant, "I used to come here as a kid. Back then, only negroes waited tables here and the biscuits were always so light and fluffy..."

So, there I was, telling the young server that, like her, I peddled General Mills' own brand of "Hospitaliano" 16 years ago. Leaning in like a senior citizen about to let a whipper snapper in on a secret, I told her about the scam we ran during the bottomless soup/salad lunch rush (dropping the same check at different tables and pocketing any who paid with cash).

She laughed, saying they still did the same scam. "Imagine: I was only 5 years old then!" she observed, bouncing off to greet a new table.

Christ on a stick. I really am one of those old farts now.

It was surreal but things got even weirder after dinner. I dragged my cousin Frankie down to Galaxy Skateway in Davie for Round 2 of "Adult Skate Night in the Land that Time Forgot" (see "Time Travel to Another Galaxy" blog entry).

While shuffling to Clay D's "Boot the Booty," I spotted an Asian man who looked familar. By the third time I passed him, I was certain I knew him from somewhere but couldn't figure out where (a common occurance since alcohol morphed my memory into Swiss cheese).

By the time the DJ was mixing "Egypt, Egypt," I remembered who he was: the token attractive Asian guy at the Coral Springs Roller Rink. He was probably in his late teens/early 20's then but everyone in my middle school used to sweat him. I'm sure I knew his name when I was 12, watching eagerly as he laced up his speed skates, but my mind was now blank. I remembered only muscles.

I skated over to him and said, "hey, did you used to skate at the Coral Springs rink back in the day?" He smiled widely and said he used to go every weekend before it became a Pep Boys. That's when the editor in my head went on a "stay-cation."

"I knew it was you," I replied. "You used to be really built," I said, motioning to where his rippling muscles once were, now replaced by a sunken chest and middle-aged arms. I should've noticed the expression on his face (it was probably the same one I had when the server told me she was 5 back when I was a fresh-faced 20-year-old working at the Olive Garden) but I continued.

"You used to wear white tank tops all the time to show off your muscles." For some inexplicable reason, the asshole in me left the "what happened?" part unsaid.

So, that was yesterday. Feeling old and sorry for myself, I decided to do the only thing I can at this point to feel better: hang out with people way older than me.

My Dad lives in a retirement community (I'm proud to say he was one of the first Baby Boomers to infiltrate these particular condos) so today I made my way to one of its many pools, where a cluster of alligator-skinned senior citizens was floating in the mid-day sun.

From the moment I entered the gated pool area, all eyes were on me. "Who is that young person?" "Who does she think she is, being young here?" I propped my relatively-nubile body on a sun chair and fed myself grapes while reading, feeling quite happy to be the youngest person in a 1-mile radius.

Out of the corner of my eye, a lizard caught my attention, winking at me from where it was perched on the fence. It was a small, young lizard and seemed to be saying, "we're all animals, but at least you and I are the youngest."

At the Petco near my house in Brooklyn, these critters go for $14 a pop but they're as common as flies in South FL (maybe I should stuff a few in my carry-on?).

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