One common issue among the wives in my Fl condominium community is finding projects to keep our retired husbands busy. Whenever my hubby concludes that he’s exhausted his ideas for daily activities, he stands over my shoulder, rubbing his fuzzy belly against me while I write at my computer. He’s often wearing only plaid boxers, when he asks, “Can we go to the pool yet?” His tone takes me back to a time when my five year old son whined, “Can we, Ma? Can we, please? Ma, can we go to the pool, now? Can we Ma? Ma?”
Still, the whining and desire to go to the pool are better than doing nothing. There are other days, where my head pounds from the background noise of talking heads on a 24 hour news program. Eventually, I pop-up from my office chair, march into the living room, hand on hip, and summon my most authoritative teacher voice to address my husband in his easy chair.
“Oh no. Uh,uh,” I wag my pointer finger. “Don’t think for one moment that you're sitting in that chair all day and doing nothing! You better find something to do and fast!”
“Hey, I worked for 37 years! You have a long way to go to catch up to me.”
It’s true, he is thirteen years older and I saw how hard he worked as a Superintendent of Schools, when I was an English teacher. Yet, I never thought the change from being in a leadership position to retirement would be so dramatic in just five years. As a Superintendent of Schools, my husband dressed impeccably with a perfectly pressed suit, a starched white shirt, a yellow speckled power tie, polished shoes, an impressive Rolex watch, and a twinkling diamond pinky ring.
Now, in retirement, when he does get dressed, his uniform is khaki shorts and a golf shirt with Birkenstock sandals. He looks like a supersized Osh Kosh B’Gosh catalog model. True, this is appropriate wear for Florida, but every time we step out of our dark condo into the sunlight, the warm rays illuminate caked spaghetti sauce stains dotting my husband’s shirt. Shocked, I point them out and say, “You have stains all over your shirt!”
“So,” he says as he picks at them like a scabbed knee.
“So? You’re not going out like that, Mister! Get in there right now and change that shirt!” With his head down in shame, he complies.
To avoid having my husband looming over me all day, I usually dictate the most bizarre grocery list to require him to go both to Publix Grocery store and BJ’s to extend his time shopping. Cream of Tartar, Anise seed, cuticle oil, basmati rice—heck even Eye of Newt are added to the list.
Compiling his list on a piece of yellow legal pad paper makes him joyous. He folds the yellow, lined paper in four and places it into his khaki pocket as if to say, “Once again, I am a man of purpose.”
My good friend, Rosie, shared her experiences with keeping her husband occupied as well. When she begins her story, it’s immediately clear she hails from Brooklyn, NY because she pronounces her, like Huh, and mother like motha, and whore, like whowhere. This only adds to the fact that she is one of the funniest people on earth. Her looks and personality are the perfect combination of hot-blooded Italian and light-hearted Irish. Her hair is ebony black and worn in a bob. Her nearly 70 year-old face is speckled with adorable freckles and a white easy smile warms her listeners immediately.
Here’s how her story unfolded:
Henry and I were in Walmart’s and he decided that for a little hobby, he has to buy this Topsy Turvy Tomato. Henry said, “We’ll have tomatoes all summer for $14.99. I can grow it right on the balcony. See, you hang it. Perfect for condos.” Rosie elevates her voice, “Do you know how many tomatoes I can buy for the price of that.” When Henry turned sullen, she said, “Fine, get it.” She figured he would at least be out on the balcony instead of following her around with a dustpan.
Since retiring as a union steam fitter in New York, Henry has made it his sole purpose in life to ensure the grout in the tile floor of their condo remained spotless. This has driven Rosie crazy. She makes it a point each day to walk from the kitchen to the living room, carrying a ham and cheese sandwich, breaking off small chunks of the sandwich and purposely dropping them onto the floor as she goes.
She chuckles, “I like to clock him to see how quickly it takes before he picks it up. He’s freaking crazy.” Like most of us as we age, Rosie has blossomed from being called Bony Paroni as a teen to a full figured woman. Now, in the midst of heated discussions, she screams at Henry, ‘My skinny friends are all divorced. If I lose five pounds, will you get the hell out--for Chrissake?”
Rosie continues... when we got it home, Henry and I stood side by side peeking down into the contraption to see the stuff inside the planter. “Crap,” we realized that the Topsy Turvy doesn’t come with any tomato plants.
We headed back to Walmart to spend $30.00 on tomato plants.
Henry planted 15 pounds of tomatoes in the planter and then made his way to hang it on a hook on the balcony wall. He stood back to admire his work and realized there was not enough sun there for the tomatoes.
We went back to Walmart to buy a longer wrought iron plant hook for $10.00.
Henry drilled the balcony wall and hung the Topsy Turvy tomato pot. Done. Later in the day, he realized that half the container would always be against the wall and wouldn’t get any sun. He decided it would be better if he built a stand for it.
He drove to Home Depot to buy $20.00 worth of wood and $12.00 worth of screws.
He built a plant stand in the exact shape of the stick stand you would draw on a piece of paper if you were starting to play the Hangman word game. When Rosie arrived at the pool that day, she said, “If you see a body dangling from a hangman stand on my balcony, call the police.”
After inviting my husband into his garage to show off his new plant stand, Henry was still unsatisfied. He said, ‘You know, I can’t just keep this wood natural. It don’t look right.’
Henry ran to Home Depot to buy the best quart of white semi-gloss paint for $14.00.
Once Henry painted his plant stand bright white, he put it onto the balcony, hung his Topsy Turvy tomato plant and stood back to admire a job well done. But, all the next morning, while checking on his tomatoes every hour, Henry realized that his plant was only getting a few hours of sun a day. His 3 bedroom condo, a coveted corner unit, allowed him to see the ocean, but was shaded for a major portion of the afternoon.
Henry got an idea. He looked at Rosie’s beloved seven foot tall cactus that she kept since her granddaughter grafted two cacti for a science project in first grade, 20 years ago. Henry took the wheels off that plant and added them to his tomato stand. This way, he could wheel the stand around all day to catch the sun for his Topsy Turvy tomatoes in various locations on the balcony.
After three days of peace, Henry called Rosie outside. He was red, sweaty and upset. He noticed a round water stain on the floor of his balcony. “Well, this ain’t no good,” he mumbled to himself. Since he now defines himself based on the cleanliness of his floor, this rust color stain was completely intolerable.
Henry headed to Home Depot to buy a few 2” x 2” and 1” x 12” pieces of wood for $16.00.
He built a rectangular tray to catch the water that drips from the Topsy Turvy plant. Meanwhile, Rosie received a letter from the Condo association stating that there was far too much hammering, sawing and other noises coming from her condo and neighbors were complaining. Yet, Henry was still unhappy because he didn’t want the new wooden tray, he just built, to get ruined by dripping water. He ran into the kitchen pantry and grabbed one of Rosie’s favorite serving trays to put it onto the wooden tray he build to protect the wood from water stains.
When Henry was finally satisfied and saw that it was good, he invited me over to see the Topsy Turvy tomato. I’m a city girl, but my husband has grown many tomato plants in our yard in PA over the years. After overtly admiring his monster plant stand, I had to pause and think about whether to hold my tongue or not. Finally, I said, “Henry, I hate to even say this, but the leaves on your tomato plants look shriveled.”
Henry’s shoulders sunk. He ran his hand through his pure white hair and said, “You know, you’re right. I knew it too.” He walked over to a small plastic tool cabinet and said, “I didn’t tell Rosie, but a few days ago, I went Walmart’s and bought this tomato food for $12.99. I’ve been giving it to the tomatoes every other day. I mix a ½ capful of food with a gallon of water.”
“Henry, I’m no expert, but are you supposed to feed tomatoes every day. Let me see that bottle.” He passed me a yellow plastic bottle and after putting on my reading glasses, I read aloud, “Mix 1/3 cap of food with 2 gallons of water for 20 square feet of garden every 14 days.” “Henry,” I added, “I think you’re killing your tomatoes with kindness.”
Henry paused and stared, thinking hard. He walked around the plant stand once and said, “Rosie, get in the car. I have to go to Walmart’s to get some new tomato plants.”
“You’re not going anywhere!” Rosie erupted. I’ll hang you on that Goddamn monstrosity. It is what it is.”
Stay tuned. The saga continues.