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EVERY DAY IS SUNDAY by Ralph Schoenstein (Little Brown: $14.95).

February 23, 1986|JULIA BRAUN KESSLER

A mere upstart of 51, Ralph Schoenstein is already beginning to doubt Browning's assurance that "the best is yet to be." He worries about growing old. In this age-obsessed country, he figures, it can hardly turn out to be all song and dance. Thus, he sets out on a picaresque journey across America in search of his future.

He travels first to New Jersey's retirement communities, Clearbrook and Concordia, and then on to Florida's Century Villages, Arizona's Sun Cities, California's Leisure Worlds, looking for the new utopian way of life where, presumably, every day is Sunday.

Himself battered by the American preoccupation to "cover my spots and puncture my lines and color my hair and use Family Circle's Anti-Aging Diet to chew my way to yesterday," he finds that "the message never stopped: Get younger, get younger! Tote that cream and lift that face! I'd been going in the wrong direction by awaking each morning a day older." And Schoenstein, whose wife had already dubbed him a "recycled teen-ager," seems to force his humor a bit in these encounters with village residents, his endless attempts at wit and wisdom coming out sagging and stale. These interviews with Sunbelt colony administrators and devotees with their polyester double-knits and blue hair sometimes read more like TV parodies of the aging than the observant, delightful portraits he is reaching for.

Why, he argues, would anybody voluntarily remove himself/herself from the outside world to be imprisoned in retirement communities whose security-locked streets, structured activities, endless routines and manufactured gaiety "can be hazardous to your health"; whose clubs include such as the "Happy Hoofer," the Ukrainian Easter Egg Workshop, and the Parcheesi Club; and whose condos, Jacuzzis, manicured lawns and electric golf carts are no substitute for the freewheeling, intergenerational style of the raw, real, if dangerous, world of Manhattan?

It's a new kind of segregation, he feels; yet another devastating, phony creation that threatens the pursuit of true longevity. Just give him time. He may never go for one of the Edens that repulse him; but chances are, an older Schoenstein may soon enough understand why so many people do.

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