My physical algebra has changed

hydrangea portugal
Pale blue and white hydrangea set against billowy clouds on the Portuguese Faial Island in the Azores (Photo: Guillaume Baviere)

Hydrangeas die in Florida.

But not so in Westchester, NY, where my wife and I will arrive on Wednesday — a day and a half from now.

Hydrangeas and wild roses are in bloom there at the moment.

We both grew up Weschester, which is just above Manhattan, but found ourselves living in Florida in our late 40s.

Right around when the NASDAQ crashed in 2001.

So we came to Florida.

This was only temporary, we thought.

Yet, we never quite managed to leave.

With each passing year, our standard of living dipped, fell, and then tumbled some more.

Our marriage suffered.

After a while we began to eat unhealthy but cheap food.  Not go to the doctor or dentist.  Not buy new clothes.  Not go anywhere or do anything.  Avoid people.  Use increasingly coarse language.  Experience increasingly crude sentiments.

Just like that, our brand new Ford Escape was 12 years old, and we didn’t have enough to live on for the rest of our lives — even counting Social Security.

Who can live off Social Security these days?

People who have to, that’s who.

People like us.

I started drinking again.

Our friends drifted away.

The ones with the new cars.

The ones who could afford to dance the snowbird two-step, while we sat here baking like cracker trash in the stifling Florida summer heat.

The ones who went to Europe, frequently, and always said to my wife — when they came back — so how was your summer, dear?

Did you have a lovely time?

The oblivious, barely concealed smugness in their voices when they said things like that.

My wife would always reply, oh I love Florida in the summertime.  It’s so empty and quiet.

I felt like a failed husband.

A shameful fraud.

Someone who could no longer provide a golden roof over his wife’s pretty head.

I began to feel sorry for myself — the most ignoble sentiment of all.

How could this possibly ever happen to someone like me?

With my obvious smarts, unassuming good looks, and somewhat impressive resume?

My hair turned grey, even falling out in patches.

Dark bags that would not go away appeared under my eyes.

I no longer could think clearly from all the drinking.

I developed a beer gut.

I indited poems when the Supremes passed bad law.

I began thinking of catching the bus, and ended up in ER with 10K deductible insurance and a stolen identity problem.

It looked like curtains.

When I walked past the pathetic-looking vet crouched in front of Publix with a tin cup and a flea-ridden mutt, he would give me a quarter.

No respect.

And then everything changed, at first gradually, then suddenly — to paraphrase Hemingway.

We didn’t become rich or anything.  Just wealthy enough to have choices.

Having the money to change our physical algebra (this phrase came to me in a dream last week) will never erase our 20-year Florida nightmare; however, it sure beats the alternative.

So now, on Wednesday, in about 48 hours, we will be landing at a White Plains airport that will no doubt be stuffed with Fairfield County phonies jamming up the only waiting area in the whole place.

We shall spend a week in our lien-free house watching Florida cable on our iPad via WIFI because we still think we are too poor to afford Verizon TV.

Like regular suburban burghers, we shall discuss the lawn situation with Ricardo our Mexican gardener. We shall take pictures that no one cares about of our blossoming blue hydrangea.

Then we’ll drive up to Middlesex County, Connecticut, to stay overnight at Madison, Deep River, and Chester — places where we recently considered buying a house.

No longer.

Instead, come late September, we’re going on a scouting trip to Caldas da Rainha, in Portugal.

If it checks out, we will kick start our D7 application.  (This process is described here.)

The hydrangeas in our home (which we now refer to as hoam) in Westchester will have died off by then, but I reckon we will be arising, like tropical zombies, from our Florida tomb to start life anew.

Do they have any hydrangeas in Portugal?

I’ll be sure to let my wife’s friends know.

By postcard.


Note:  Except for the top one, all pics were taken this past weekend by a lovely neighbor who lives next to our house in Westchester, NY.

leaving america