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Having fun slows the aging process

As I entered the ladies' room, the woman washing her hands turned to me and asked, "You're in the violin section, aren't you?" Which one of us was more confused, I wondered until I walked down the hall and heard the music makers - about 25 instrumentalists mostly playing together. This was Century Village in Pembroke Pines, where I had come to speak at the invitation of the Long Island, Queens Club. I was an alien in a Third Third playground. The inhabitants who buzzed around this clubhouse were beyond youth except for the somber staff. These folks were busy, moving purposefully, even with the aid of a cane, a walker or wheelchair.

They had things to do, places to go. The bus, one of eight in the driveway, had just unloaded a new group of amusement-bent passengers and awaited the boarding of dutifully queued villagers to be delivered to their respective home sites.

WATCH YOUR BUTTS

Identification is required of anyone trying to come into the premises. Entree to the area is by membership linked to ownership of an apartment in the massive complex. The grounds of an English manor estate could not receive more constant attention. The greenery is clipped and trimmed to a pristine appearance that would intimidate anyone daring to drop a postage stamp or, perish forbid, a cigarette butt. There probably are litter police lurking in the bushes.

This beehive of activity, typical of many condominium complexes, is filled with seemingly carefree elders. In response to my speech about conditions in the Third Third, they were so spontaneously positive that it would be an inducement for baby boomers to hurry up to this next stage of life that awaits them. Residents daily come to the clubhouse for a variety of interests. The morning crowd works out at the fully equipped gymnasium that would challenge an Olympian in training. Heated swimming pools in this central clubhouse complement 'neighborhood" pools.

PLENTY TO DO

Chess clubs, video clubs, computer clubs abound. And board games and card games are played morning, noon and night, including bridge, poker, canasta, mah-jongg, Scrabble, Boggle or the game of choice. Others prefer ping-pong, bowling or billiards in a room that would please Jackie Gleason, a k a Minnesota Fats. There are volunteer activities, poetry readings, and even their own publication, Village Voices. Everyone and anyone can find a role here.

There is a drama club, a culture club, a women's and men's club, a travel club, opera club, theater club, book club and movie club and more. There are clubs geared to native locales such as Brooklyn, the Bronx, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, D.C., and, of course, those united by having come from Long Island, Queens. One man, curled into his motorized chair, seemingly crippled out of shape, commented: "It's good to wake up each morning. As long as we have our marbles."

Applause rang out through the auditorium. I couldn't have said it better myself. Often, when Third Thirders meet, there is acrimony about having left behind "back home" family, friends, the doctor, the butcher, the mail carrier. But here, one finds the understanding that that life was another time, another place in the past. The future is before us, no matter what the age or physical condition. "When we first migrated to Florida, " one woman commented, "we were sad that our kids didn't call often enough. Today, when my daughter says, 'You're never home when I phone', I answer: 'I'm at the clubhouse having fun.' " This is social history in the making. Ah, to be 60 again.

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