My favorite essay in The Best American Travel Writing 2005 is William E. Blundell’s “My Florida,” about his father retiring to a condo in Naples, Florida. Located on a “senior executive” golf course, the condo affords us a disturbing, nightmarish laboratory experiment of what happens when old people cannot let go of adolescence. Blundell points out the aggressive manner in which Florida denies death while marketing itself as a fountain of eternal youth:
"Fan out the brochures on the dining room table. You will never find in them the faintest hint of Florida as the nation’s cloaca, where predigested lives, the nourishment pretty much sucked out of them, await final extrusion. You see instead a hustling, bustling state, youthful and energetic, one in which the alter kockers of Miami Beach legend are an embarrassment to be airbrushed out of existence and replaced by images of tanned cleavage and pastel hotels at South Beach, phallic rockets thrusting upward on gouts of flame at Cape Kennedy, wholesome white-toothed families at Disney World. Not a wrinkle in sight. Come to Florida and live. But absolutely nothing about coming to Florida to die. Does Iowa deny its corn? Does Kansas disavow its wheat? Is Texas ashamed of its oil? Florida may be the only state that would rather not talk about one of its major industries."
In this would-be fountain of youth, the elderly are described as being boozed-up, playing golf “as a sacrament,” driving Lincolns and Cadillacs and, wearing “raspberry slacks and hunks of jewelry the size of golf balls.” The promiscuity of the foppish tomcat is still extolled: Dressed “in huaraches, white canvas pants, and shirts cut low to show gold chains and chest hair,” old men brag to each other about their “alleged conquests.” Blundell describes one incident in which “a young woman suffering from an excess of silicone and naked except for pasties and thong, lap-danced for a man in tasseled loafers who appeared to be at least eighty.”
With death and old age propped up as the great enemies, the elderly cannot age gracefully. At one point Blundell’s father says, “This getting old business is the shits. Inside, I’m still eighteen.” Other senior citizens rage at their old age with even greater vehemence and insanity, which Blundell attributes to Florida’s intoxicating environment: “Its fragrant air and vivid colors, its warmth, its night whispers hinting at impossible rejuvenations—these snuffed out realistic anger at the dying of the light and replaced it with hormonal silliness. These people came to think they were eighteen.”
Simply put, then, what we have when we cannot let go of adolescence is nothing more complex than tackiness. Refusing to grow up results in moral failure and that failure translates into an ugliness and a vulgarity that should depresses us more than old age itself. This ugliness alone should be sufficient motive for us to let go of our youth, our past failures, our recurring fantasies of returning to our teen years and “setting things right,” of vindicating ourselves, of seizing those opportunities that we were too self-conscious and awkward to embrace. High school ended a long, long time ago. It’s finally time to let go.