A Country for Old Men

By on Apr 22, 2018 in Featured, Fiction

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I sat in the driver’s seat for a moment, the blood vessels in my head pulsing. I had to confront Himmelfarb. I tore out of the parking lot and headed for his office. His secretary told me he was in a lunch meeting. I knew where I would find him. I ran out of the office to my car and started north on I-95.

When I arrived at Jerry’s, I demanded to see Himmelfarb, and the hostess immediately grabbed my arm and rushed me past the brunch line into the back of the restaurant, and then back into the kitchen, and then through a side door into a windowless room. A small lamp was hanging from the ceiling. The walls were sparse except for a few black-and-white photographs of long-dead businessmen. Sitting at a table were Silverberg and Himmelfarb. Silverberg motioned for me to have a seat in one of the dozen or so empty chairs. On the table was a map of Palm Beach County.

“Alterman, I understand you ran into some trouble at work today,” Silverberg said drily.

“Yes, I had some trouble,” I blurted out. “A partner told me that the firm got conflicted out of a case because of the work I did for you. I’m probably going to get fired over this.”

“I suppose we owe you an explanation.”  He motioned for me to sit down. I seemed to be in a strange room where time stopped, where my personal anxieties were utterly irrelevant to a master plan in which I had been a pawn. I obeyed Silverberg and took my seat.

“Fifty years ago, human life was changing beyond recognition.  Medicine was advancing to the point where people would start to live to a hundred.  The highway system and air travel were transforming our idea of distance. And more and more people were rich, in a way that would have been unimaginable a generation before. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, dentists, insurance brokers were living better than even the wealthiest had lived a generation or two earlier. Everyone observed these things happening around them, but nobody else could see that this was making possible a future in which hordes of people would demand to retire to Florida. They all wanted it, but they didn’t realize that they wanted it until we started building the retirement communities. Now, we have something similar happening. Medicine and science are advancing further than anyone could have imagined.  New wealth is being created in a way that is dwarfing the postwar boom. But what is everyone doing with their money? You see, most people lack imagination. They get richer.  They buy a bigger house, a bigger pool. They buy one more car than they actually need, and then another. Just the stuff they already have, but more, and bigger. They would like to buy something new, but they haven’t conceived of what is possible.”

Himmelfarb took out a map of the rural western portion of the county and set it on the table. There was a red circle in the middle of the pale green, labeled Belvedere.

“We’ve been buying this entire set of parcels, mostly under holding companies so that nobody would know, like Disney did in Orlando years ago. We have enough space for a mixed-use lifestyle center. Condos, shopping, restaurants, green space. But here is the unique feature, the thing that will make Belvedere different from all of the other communities that have sprung up over the past ten years.” He pointed to a small white square in a far corner of the red circle.  “This is the cryonic freezing facility.”

“What?”

“Cryonics. The preservation of bodies in a near-frozen state indefinitely until technology advances to the point where they can be resuscitated. As of right now, it’s only been tested on animals, but this kind of freezing will be possible for humans within the next five to ten years, which will coincide with the completion of this development.  The residents of Belvedere will have access to this treatment. They’ll pay for it in advance through their HOA fees.  Don’t you see, Nathan, fifty years ago we invented the concept of the retirement community. This is the logical extension, the next phase of life to be created after retirement ends.”

I was dumbfounded but, lawyer that I was, a nagging detail occurred to me.

“Wait,” I said. “How are you going to build houses and shopping centers here, let alone a cryonic freezing center?” I could barely believe the words coming out of my mouth. “This land is all zoned agricultural. The county won’t let you do anything here but grow sugarcane.”

“Not if we incorporate as our own city, Nathan. If we have our own city, we can set our own zoning ordinances, regardless of what the county says. There are currently six people living on this land. Yesterday afternoon, we filed papers with the state to incorporate as the town of Belvedere. Of course, the county opposes this and immediately told lawyers to file an injunction to stop it. That’s what your partner was doing. But now he can’t. Of course, the county will adjust after a day or two and find new counsel, but by then it will be too late. The incorporation papers will be on file in Tallahassee, and the town of Belvedere will be a reality.”

I stared blankly at the map, attempting to comprehend the vision. I tried to imagine this cold, bleak near-immortality. It struck me that Silverberg had something of Ponce de Leon in him although, instead of the Fountain of Youth, he had found the Fountain of Old Age.

 

EPILOGUE

I offered my resignation the next day, to save the firm the trouble of firing me. I could barely face Hayley, let alone her family. The next day, I decided to drive back from Florida to Long Island and stayed back home for a couple of weeks to contemplate my suddenly uncertain future. It felt like a cruel parody of spring break.

I dreaded returning to Florida after the traumatic end to my last job, but my fiancee was there, not to mention that it was the only state where I was licensed to practice. Over a humiliating dinner in Coral Gables, I did ask Jacob to help me find a position and, to my surprise, he delivered. I now work for an obscure personal injury firm in Delray.  No doubt the story of how Jacob heroically saved my career will be told and retold to generations of Teitelbaums.

When I ran into Himmelfarb again at Jerry’s later that year, he informed me that it wasn’t a bacterial infection in his ear, it was a fungal infection all along. That’s why the antibiotics didn’t work.  The foregoing is a summary of a much longer conversation.

Belvedere never came to pass. Once the real estate market started collapsing, Silverberg’s various silent partners started bowing out, leaving a half-completed development in the middle of the west county swampland.  I heard that Silverberg is in litigation with a Taiwanese manufacturer over a cancelled order for thousands of cryonic tanks.

One day, while we were up in Palm Beach Gardens to visit Haley’s parents, I decided to pay a visit to Friedman. I had been curious why he had left the deal before everyone else. To my surprise, he remembered me instantly.

“It just seemed like a stinker to me the more I found out about it,” he explained. “Especially that farkakte freezing thing. I wanted no part of it. You know, Morty has never really understood retirement. This is a wonderful rest. And the fact that you’re going to die one day is what makes it possible. They say, the worst thing you can do is outlive your money. Now, that usually is taken to mean that you need to work hard, work long, save enough, and live within your means. But it also means that you can’t overstay your welcome. The fact that you’re going to die is what frees you from having to keep working, keep socking money away, keep planning for tomorrow. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to be late for my tee time.”

I watched as Friedman left the dining room, the scraps of a tongue sandwich on his plate, a cigar protruding from his shirt pocket. He stepped onto the veranda and proceeded towards the golf course, unburdened by the future.

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About

Aaron Sokoloff is an attorney in San Diego. His short story "The Red Panda" was published in Wild Violet in July 2017. He was the editor of The Brown Jug humor magazine, and his ranking of the entire Pink Floyd discography was published in Nerve.com under his pen name, "Aaron Sokolof." He wasn't just trying to be controversial by listing Atom Heart Mother at #3; that is actually his opinion. He is currently working on a biography of his brother entitled Other Peoples' Cars: The Life and Times of G-ron Sokoloff.

3 Comments

  1. You are so very talented. You must have very talented and amazing parents.

  2. I know for a fact that he does.

  3. I knew it was a fungal ear infection.