“I was the jar opener for 8,000 people!” Rodney Rothman tells me on a sweltering afternoon in May, sitting at the rearmost table of Cultura y Sabor, a Hollywood coffee shop. He’s dressed in a T-shirt and wears the relaxed and slightly disheveled look of someone just returning from vacation — something Rothman, 31, doesn’t plan on doing for some time, given that he has already retired.
That’s right, retired. And unretired. Rothman won’t be eligible to collect Social Security for three decades, assuming any of us will, but in 2002 he spent six productively unproductive months at a Boca Raton retirement community, mastering shuffleboard, making old friends, literally, and researching his new comic memoir, EarlyBird:AMemoirofPrematureRetirement.It was in Florida that Rothman discovered his jar-opening talents — at Century Village, surrounded by cheek-pinching septuagenarians, where he endlessly experienced the ritual humiliation of being “everyone’s favorite grandson.”
“Most of the guys down there who were single were getting a lot more action than I was,” says Rothman. “They called me a waste of a young penis.”
But not a waste of a young pen. EarlyBirdwas funny enough to convince NBC to let Rothman, formerly and precociously the head writer for TheLateShowWithDavidLetterman,adapt it into a pilot. Unfortunately, he learned last week, it wasn’t funny (or young) enough to be picked up by the network. “It’s hard to get people over 25 or 30 years old on television,” Rothman says dejectedly.
Still, Rothman has no regrets about the six months he spent researching the book’s comic episodes: a soporific ride-along with a volunteer senior-citizen neighborhood-watch patrol, his unwanted attempt to revive the career of a saucy 96-year-old former comic named Amy Ballinger, and his near seduction by a “sultry” 75-year-old Romanian woman he compares to Sophia Loren. “When I was dancing with her I got a legitimate hard-on,” Rothman admits, another of the experiences he’d never thought he’d have while writing EarlyBird.
“I literally began telling my friends I slept with a 75-year-old woman, which I hadn’t, but it was almost an act of anger that they’d judge me for it.” By the end of his trip, he’d gone a little bit native, or at least found himself transforming from grandson to equal. His best friend was a 63-year-old former heroin dealer named Artie. “He liked to say, ‘I still haven’t found my thing,’ ” says Rothman. “We’d take turns being each other’s fathers.”
Rothman still isn’t sure whether he’s found histhing, but he’s back in the rat race; his cell phone does a jig on the table every few minutes; he checks it obediently. The book has gotten decent reviews, and later today he is appearing on JimmyKimmelLive.In hindsight, though, life in Century Village looks pretty good.
“I’d walk outside and see 50 people I knew,” says Rothman. “I kind of liked it — it was like being back in college. I got back to Los Angeles and to my apartment, and I thought, this is too quiet. There’s so much emphasis among our generation on having your own space, doing your own thing, being independent — I think that’s going to screw us if we keep going down that path.”
Given the uncertainty of Social Security’s future, it’s possible that many young people won’t have the luxury of seeing that path to its conclusion. Which is why Rothman suggests the entire nation go the same route he did. “Everyone should retire now,” he says. “Take the $1.5 trillion, and everyone can retire for six months and let everybody get a taste of what could have been. It’s a blast.”