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The International Writers Magazine: Senior Living USA

Living in Happy Valley
• Fred C Wilson 111
Retirement living - Up Close

“I retired early for health reasons; my company was sick of me and I was sick of them.”
-Author unknown-


Finding decent senior housing can be like a roll of the dice; some buildings are comfortable homes others hell holes. Life after retirement can be a blessing or a bust depending upon two variables. Point—when I taught school the kids would ask me what was my recipe for success. I’d tell them “don’t get sick and don’t go broke.” I wasn’t referring to some minor illness like catching a cold or living on a tight budget but debilitating or terminal illnesses and major money meltdowns an example being financial ruin. Same with life after retirement; having good health and financial stability are the two essentials for a successful retirement. I’m blessed with both, though my knees hurt like hell after trudging two blocks; when the weather’s cold and rainy they hurt worse and I have to pinch nickels. I panic if my retirement check is a day late. Happy Valley Home rental units are open to qualified retirees and or the physically challenged. Retirees must meet the minimum age requirement of 55 to be eligible; I’m 68, my wife is 69 . We’ve lived here five years.

When I was a boy I enjoyed listening to ‘old folks.’ The usher at my church fought in the Spanish-American War. The old cashier who worked with me at a service station fought in World War I. When I asked him what he did in the war he would only talk about the ladies he sexed in France. When I went for my physical for the Peace Corps at Glenview Naval Base here in Illinois the attending physician fought Moro tribesmen in the Philippines around the turn of the 19th century. Listening to the old guys talk provided me with knowledge about the ‘Gilded Age’ that aren’t in history books. Sad to say many, if not most, Americans could care less about history and its lessons; worse still they’re proud of it. Clicking their lives away on smart phones, and other electronic toys has killed meaningful conversation in this country. Even Pope Francis wrote about ‘techno junkies’ though he didn’t use my term.

It was one of those perfect Chicago weather days and I was on my way to the gym for my regular work out when I spotted two of my friends Susan and Thomas sitting in our breezeway enjoying the sunshine. I didn’t have to be at the gym for an hour so I joined them. Taking a seat in front of them I asked if I could interview them for this article. I changed their names for obvious reasons.
“Thomas what made you want to live at Happy Valley?”
“I couldn’t pay market prices for rent; here rent is affordable.”
“Do you like it here?”
“Yes but management is out of touch with the residents,” he replied.
“And how’s that?” I asked.
“Compared to the previous owners the management couldn’t care less about us. To them our home is just another business.” Thomas rambled on about building management being out of touch with residents and that the previous owners cared more for Happy Valley residents as people contrary to the current management whom he accused of treating residents as nameless automatons with one foot in their graves.
“Okay management policies aren’t perfect; what are some of the pluses of living here?”
“The rent’s low and we’re Downtown (Chicago’s central business district).”

Retired attorney William Stein is 96 creeps along on his walker and goes Downtown to meet with long time friends almost daily. His only observable fault is he too friendly with some of the young women he rides the bus with. Apparently it hasn’t sunk in that touching young woman inappropriately is illegal resulting in heavy fines and or imprisonment. Two years ago we have a beautiful front desk receptionist who was stalked by one of the residents. She had the old guy arrested and taken out in handcuffs. She resigned then and sued the building.

Joe and I are avid baseball fans. When he describes those turn of the century ball games it’s like being there! The man knows how to spin a good yarn. He’s seen Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth play in the old Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field) home of the White Sox. Oddly though he never talks about life in the early days.

John was one of my best buddies. When he’s not talking about how his family are trying to steal his money he’s quite a pleasant fellow to talk with. He left our building, moving out only yesterday at the time of this writing. He is also in his 90’s, in top shape, walks faster than I do and I work out four times per week and an exclusive health club; his mind is going. After being warned to stop making ‘improvements’ on the plumbing and circuitry by the management my friend’s lease wasn’t renewed. John is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition of making a nuisance of himself he committed America’s most mortal of sins; he ran out of money and had to leave. On lucid days John and I would talk of bygone days when he was a bootlegger during the Prohibition era when the infamous Purple Gang terrorized his native Detroit. I would listen to him reminisce what it was like struggling to survive during the Great Depression, about the union he founded and his rare distinction of sailing around the world with him at the helm in a large sailboat! What an adventurer. I miss my friend already though he likes his new place.

“Are there anymore things you don’t like about our building?” It was then that Susan joined the group.
“People here are vicious gossips…last tenants meeting one lady broke down in tears after telling the assembly about her erstwhile good reputation having been destroyed by vicious scandal mongers.”

Susan and Thomas took turns citing complaints against the management. She opined that the physical plant needs more attention, the rugs smells, units should be repainted and that over the past 10 years we’ve had eight managers! Reader the reverberations from past years are still being felt so strongly that the current building administration lock themselves in their offices then turn out the lights after they sign in for work! Thomas cited the need for extensive background checks.

Then there’s Olga the vivacious corpulent white-haired lady from the old Soviet Union who’s husband was a World War II era Soviet submarine commander. Still spry for her age she remembers her girlhood growing up in Stalinist Russia, how the Nazis ravaged her homeland and how the Nazis murdered her cousin. Olga had the good sense to flee beyond the Urals when the Germans invaded her native Ukraine. Had she stayed being Jewish would have sealed her fate. Olga’s been sick lately. I ask about her all the time. She’s one of my best female friends.

For those who are able our building has a lot of activities for residents to participate and enjoy. There’s Bingo that meets every Tuesday evening at 7 PM sharp and usually hosts four to five tables with eager players. Monday afternoons there’s the Happy Valley Choir. I participate in the residential art fair every fall. They host concerts during the Holiday Season.

Another resident Connie joined in as I asked them to compare their former neighborhoods with Happy Valley. Susan complained that she used to live in Marquette Park previously an all white enclave and former home for the American Nazi Party. Though the goose steppers have longed moved out Marquette Park has fell victim of urban blight. If you’re not from Chicago some of this may seem farcical and it is. Chicago is a city of strong tribal instincts where neighborhoods and peoples are segregated along racial, ethnic lines separated by physical boundaries (train viaducts, wide streets, the expressway). According to recent polls the city is the most racially segregated and diverse of all cities in the United States!
Thomas moved to Happy Valley from East Lakeview since he could no longer afford the high rent. Affordable housing is scarce and expensive in this city for a number of reasons.

We have Game Night, Movie Night, and on holidays there’s always lunch, dinners and visiting choral groups to fete our residents. On Thursday afternoons a pretty physical therapist from Northwestern University Hospital conducts hour long exercise sessions for residents. Wednesdays a nurse visits to take blood pressures and inquire about our health. Seminars on Social Security, legal issues, Medicare with representatives of the various health care associates give regular lectures providing us with valuable information regarding our place in the health care industry. There’s even a Bible Study night sponsored by nearby Moody Bible Institute and the occasional political hack who hustles us for our votes.

Then there’s the fundamentalists who lie and wait for unsuspecting residents in order to pound the Word of the Lord into their heathen heads. The Valley is an odd place where we have people with advance degrees in the sciences, letters and the arts living side by side with elementary school dropouts and holy rollers who believe the Universe was created in six literal days, the Moon landings never took place and reject Evolution as Darwin’s folly.

We have an active sky diver, a Scotsman who knows more about the art of whiskey distillation than Jack Daniels. We even have a former teacher who parades around the neighborhood wearing a multi-colored beanie with a propeller on top that spins in the breeze. If you seen the movie ‘Ship of Fools’ you’ll get the idea of life in the Valley. I’ve barely touched the surface of the large number of eccentrics in our building. They’re harmless, fun to watch; I get a kick out of watching some of my neighbors do their thing.
Living down the hall is my church going friend I’ll call Harold. A Vietnam vet who’s specialty was assassinations who can’t discuss his ‘assignments’ since most are still classified by the United States Government. Harold doesn’t talk much and I won’t ask why. He’s a nice guy but I wouldn’t rile him if I were you; it isn’t safe.

A popular tourist destination a few blocks from our building is the ‘Viagra Triangle’ a tiny public park that rests between three cross streets that divide the park into a triangle. The hook-up capitol of the Near North side it’s a well known hang out for older men with deep pockets on the prowl for young ladies of the evening.

Our building is among the best run and thus far the safest senior residence in Chicago. The residents are a multi-racial mix; a 50-50 split between whites and blacks. Overt racism is an anomaly at the Valley though we have our fair share of odd and nefarious individuals. On average the people are friendly, out going and involved. The ultra-vocal letter writing members of the tenants association has made and mangled many a manager. Troublesome tenants are asked to leave once identified. Compared to some other senior homes where drug use is rampant with dealers doing a brisk trade going from door to door on skates, people at the Valley are law abiding and keep to themselves. Living on the ‘Coast’ is a shopper’s paradise. The Magnificent Mile, Gibson’s steakhouse, Rush Street to mention a few classy stores and other tourists spots.

Despite our top notch maintenance crew and security personnel Happy Valley has a very high turnover of managers. We’ve had ten managers resign or been given the boot for reasons over the years; absconding with company funds, poor management/people skills, favoritism to conduct unbecoming a property manager. Our current manager has a heart of purest gold…so far. Her pretty assistant the one who does all the leg work is God’s gift to tight skirts; real eye candy!

The Valley is top heavy with retired world class attorneys, writers, art professionals with an assortment of university professors, high school teachers, income tax experts, accountants and other high level once-upon-a-time-I-used-to-make-a-lot-of-money business professionals. If you’re 55 or older and considering living in a retirement community here’s a few resources to get you started:
. Senior living guide Chicago
. Should you rent or buy in your retirement?

I ended the interview by asking my panel of friends their thoughts on building improvements:
“Too many kids live here and they’re noisy! This is a retirement community not a nursery!”
Absentee parents regularly drop their kids off on grandparents to keep while they work. A number of residents are raising their children’s kids since Mommy and Daddy, if they could be found are out doing their thing.
“They ought to do something about the drugs in this building. Drug dealers run a brisk business among some of the tenants.”
“Hordes of hookers are making money off some of these old farts… and the way management misuses our maintenance guys is something awful! Get rid of the hookers and treat our maintenance guys like they’re human!”

Our building publishes a monthly newsletter. The four page full color publication is comprehensive and covers the ‘rules and regs,’ laundry room etiquette, a poetry section, recipes, a calendar of monthly events, sage advice, timely articles pertaining to senior living and baring the ‘gripe brigade’ a host of items that does it justice; its’ a good read. Barring the endless unit inspections which I think are invasions of our privacy, a no-food freezer policy and the tiny apartments, the Valley’s a nice place to call home and the price is right. Like the Tag Team tune goes “Whoomp! There it is” the good, bad and ugly side of close quarter’s urban living.
© Fred C Wilson August 2014

San Francisco
Fred C. Wilson III

San Francisco has an exotic quality about it compared to your average American city with its lookalike brownstone dwellings
Fred W Wilson

This city isn’t for the weak and faint of heart. You slip up it can and will eat you alive.

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