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I PASSED FOR OLD

I was an illegal alien in Del Webb's community of oldsters.
For seven months in 1984 and 1985, I lived in a Sun City condominium owned by my parents. Because I was only 28 at the time, this was a problem. In fact, it was more than a problem, it was downright illegal. The Homeowners Association rules said someone age fifty or older was supposed to be living with me. I was living by myself.

I'm lucky I lasted seven months.

It was my parents' idea for me to move to Arizona. In 1984, I was living back East, working at a well-paying job I didn't like. I was unhappy with everything in my life: relationship, career, location. Writing was the only thing in life that mattered to me. I wanted to go somewhere, get a job as a waitress and write.

My father cornered me at his birthday celebration. (My parents spend each summer on a lake in Connecticut.) He asked me to consider coming out to Arizona with them.

My reply was instant. "Oh, Daddy, that's nice of you," I said. "But I really don't think I could live with you and Mom. I'm 28. I've lived on my own for a long time now."

Then he told me about the Sun City condo.
"It was on the market," he explained. "But your mother and I have agreed to take it off, if you want to give Arizona a try."

It was cold that September and getting colder by the day. Six months of sunshine, low overhead, a chance to write in a safe, quiet environment sounded pretty good.

I said yes.

The first snafu we ran into was getting me my own Rec Center card. Rec cards are not distributed capriciously in Sun City. For $52 a year, they might be the best deal going.

There are requirements, of course. First of all, you must prove you rent or own a Sun City dwelling. Second, you must be polite. Third, it helps if you look older than fifty.

We were in trouble.
My mother, who knows the ropes and perhaps anticipated a battle, accompanied me on my Rec Center card quest. This was a good thing. The word "no" has a funny effect on Mom: It seems to spur her into overdrive.

When the Rec Center ladies informed us I needed I.D. to prove I was a resident and not just a visitor, my mother had a one-word response: "Fine." She grabbed me by the arm, put me in the car and drove me to the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division on 99th Avenue. There, barely in the state two days, I took and passed the written test. While oldsters all around me failed their eye tests, I passed that, too. I surrendered my New Jersey driver's license, registered to vote, and, voila, I was a resident.

Back at the Rec Center, the card ladies were not too pleased. They decided to take another tack. "Do you live with your daughter?" they asked Mom.

Without a moment's hesitation, my mother responded. "Yes, I do," she lied.
The Rec Center bureaucrats were pros at interrogation. "You live at this address," they repeated, eyebrows raised.

Luckily, my mom is skilled at dealing with the bureaucracy. She tapped her fingers on the counter. "Yes," she insisted impatiently.

It was a stand-off. I got the card.

Using it was another matter, however.
Every time I borrowed books from the Bell Library I was proofed. After I handed the librarian my card, she'd look up at me and smile sweetly. "May I see a driver's license, please?"

At first, I resisted. "Why?" I'd say. "You have my Rec Center card."
Underneath, I could tell she was hard as flint, but on the surface she smiled sweetly. "We just have to be sure it's really you," she'd say. Or, "We ask everyone for additional identification, dear. It's to protect you." Funny, I never saw them proof anyone else.

And forget using the attractive Rec Center facilities. Though I would have loved to swim laps or use the weight room or sauna, I never even tried. The few times I went with my parents, the glares nearly killed me. The thought of going there alone never entered my mind. Fear of hassles nixed it.

Through a temp agency, I found part-time employment as a receptionist at a nearby electronics plant. My hours were 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. After work, I'd drive home, maybe pick up some groceries at Gemco, return to my apartment and write.

Every afternoon, while I sat at my typewriter, I could hear my two neighbors on either side of me playing their organs. This was how I knew they were alive. They'd play show tunes or Big Band tunes or Sixties pop songs. The music was sort of soothing, their feet rhythmically gliding over the pedals. I didn't know my neighbors. When I first moved in, the woman next door stopped by to introduce herself. She and I shared a carport. When I opened the door, I saw her face fall when she saw how old I was. "Oh," she said, somewhat befuddled. "I saw the New Jersey license plate on the car and thought I'd say hello." "Hi," I said.

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P. J. Seagraves