One-Minute Book Reviews

May 6, 2008

Sex and Shuffleboard – A 28-Year-Old Former Joke Writer for David Letterman Moves Into a Retirement Village in Florida Where He’s the Youngest Resident by Decades

Filed under: Humor,Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:20 am
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At Century Village, Thanksgiving resembles Parents Weekend at a college “but instead, it’s the kids visiting the parents”

Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement. By Rodney Rothman. Simon & Schuster, 256 pp., $13, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

An old joke says that “Florida is God’s waiting room.” Rodney Rothman showed up for his appointment early when, at the age of 28, a television show he was working on in Los Angeles was cancelled.

Rothman moved into the Century Village retirement complex in Boca Raton, hoping to parlay the experience into a book. He seems to have hoped to write a geriatric version of one of David Sedaris’s fish-out-of-water stories — maybe the one about working as an elf at Macy’s Santaland. Rothman isn’t as inventive as Sedaris, who often seems to be writing under the influence of a species of mushroom that only he has discovered. But Early Bird is still a snappy and entertaining account of life in place where Thanksgiving resembled Parents Weekend at a college “but instead, it’s the kids visiting the parents.”

The question is how much of the book you can believe. Rothman bills Early Bird as a memoir but has said that he is “not a journalist” and that some of the writing is hyperbolic. He also caught flak when, in 2000, he wrote an article for The New Yorker about sneaking in to work for an Internet company that hadn’t hired him. The magazine printed an apology after learning that he had made up an incident in the story.

Some of the claims in Early Bird would be hard to believe in any case. Rothman says that as part of his research for the book, he lied to his friends, falsely telling them he had slept with a 75-year-old woman whom he calls Vivian to see how they’d react. This is hardly reassuring. If he’d lie to his friends, why wouldn’t he lie to us?

But much of Early Bird is either believable or has been confirmed by people who appear in it, and Rothman writes engagingly about subjects from shuffleboard tp the psychology of being a young in a retirement village. And there is real bite to his observations, however amusing, on how Americans condescend to old people — for example, by calling them “adorable.”

“I don’t think Tuesdays with Morrie would have been so uplifting if that guy had to spend more than Tuesdays with Morrie,” he writes. “By Thursday he would have been cursing Morrie out.”

Morrie would have been cursing him out, too, if the guy kept calling him “adorable.”

Best line: “The rhythm of the senior softball game is unlike that of any softball game I’ve ever witnessed. The defining factor is that most of the men have much stronger arms and shoulders than legs. For all of them, the knees have started to go. ‘It’s what you get for carrying this kinda weight around for so long,’ Buddy, the WWF referee, says to me, slapping his ample belly for emphasis. Because of this, senior softball is very much a hitter’s game – as long as the hitters can get the ball in play and keep it low, odds are the fielders won’t be able to reach it in time.

“The opposite side of the ‘strong arms/weak legs’ issue is this – the hitters, once they put a ball in play, run very slowly. And the fielders, once they reach the ball, have the arm strength to fire the ball wherever it needs to go. So when people do get out, it’s in ways I’ve never seen before – like someone hitting a line drive deep into the hole in left center, and then getting thrown out a first.”

Worst line: All of the material on the aging seductress he calls “Vivian,” with whom he may or may not have had sex and about whom he may or may not have lied to his friends.

Published: 2005 (hardcover) and 2006 (paperback)

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. As much as I enjoy glimpses into other (real) people’s (real) lives (aka memoirs), I’ll stick with fiction. At least there, I know where I stand,and can enjoy the suspension of belief for what it is.

    Comment by oh — May 6, 2008 @ 7:34 am | Reply

  2. I just keep wondering: why not simply fictionalize it and treat it as “based on a true story”? Or just call it fiction, and be done with it?

    I mean, even outright fiction springs from some kernel of experience in the mind of the author. Calling it a ‘memoir’ in order to maximize sales while fictionalizing portions of the work is just sleazy. And it’s getting tiresome.

    A haze of suspicion will no doubt linger over any and all memoirs if this trend continues.

    Comment by ggelliott — May 6, 2008 @ 7:57 am | Reply

  3. Oh: Susan Cheever has said that memoirs are the new novels, but it sounds as though you’re not quite buying that one …

    GG: In this case, we don’t know if he’s fictionalized anything. Rothman has just said that he uses comic hyperbole. But I agree that many aspects of the trend are troubling. I’m not sure I’d have read this book if I’d know about the flap with the New Yorker beforehand. (I learned about it after I’d finished the book.)


    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — May 6, 2008 @ 10:23 am | Reply

  4. “Rothman says that as part of his research for the book, he lied to his friends, falsely telling them he had slept with a 75-year-old woman whom he calls Vivian to see how they’d react. This is hardly reassuring. If he’d lie to his friends, why wouldn’t he lie to us?”

    I based my observation on this portion of the review. Obviously, as you point out, this may or may not mean the memoir is entirely truthful. And, as you say, it is the trend that is troubling.

    Growing up, memoirs (such as those by the Mitfords) were my most beloved reads, and it hurts my heart to see the genre crumbling. So I will admit I am overly sensitive on the subject!

    (By the way, good work, again, on this. Wish I could somehow find time to keep up with all of your highlighted projects and recommendations.)

    Comment by ggelliott — May 6, 2008 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

  5. Thank you … hope I can review one of the Mitford books soon, especially “Love in a Cold Climate.”

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — May 6, 2008 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

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