Ned and Nancy Engel dip satiric pens in forgiving ink
by Alison Rooney
The idea sounded so appealing to the retired psychologist and professor and his wife, an editor and journalist: a retirement community created and run by academics, located in a canyon in the beautiful Southwest. They visited briefly, liked what they saw and decided on a big move.
So they shifted from their snowy Hudson Valley home of many years, excited to partake of a laid-back life with like-minded seniors, all drawn to what was billed as “an exclusive enclave for retired educators, connected with a university and offering amenities such as concerts and access to the university library, rather than the more commonly-associated retirement community fixtures like golf .
Then — wham! — they got there. What they hadn’t considered beforehand is the subject of Einstein Meadows: The Unspoken Perils & Thrills of Living in a Retirement Community.
“When all the educators relocated … they brought all of their old baggage full of intrigue, power grabs, endless backstabbing, insecurity and one-upmanship so prevalent in their prior work setting.” On top of that, one year after they moved in, the economy sank, and, in addition to devalued property, the amenities began to be cut. That’s when these “idealistic newcomers” started to shake things up.
All of this, and what transpired over the four years following “kind of happened” to Cold Spring’s Ned and Nancy Engel. They decided to turn it into a book. Begun as a cautionary tale, it shifted from there into something entirely different, a rollicking, playful “any resemblance to real life is highly intentional” story.
Replete with the tag line “Faced with a major loss of services, daring seniors throw caution to the wind and embrace ganjapreneurship,” the book, Einstein Meadows, contains not only plot developments swirling around the sales of medical marijuana but a secret underground cavern and whispered asides from a certain Dr. Freud.
There’s also a Yiddish dictionary in the back pages, for easier reading.
Written to entertain
“In life one should learn from one’s mistakes; we wrote this for fun, to entertain,” Ned says, noting that although the events in the first chapter actually happened, quite a bit of the rest of the book skirts the truth: “We made things happen in our book that we couldn’t make happen in real life,” he says.
Ned began writing, then handed it off to Nancy after a few chapters, and they back-and-forthed — amicably, according to both — all the way through. Now when they open the book, “most of the time, we can’t tell who wrote what,” they say, almost in unison.
The authors (or a pair named Ned and Nancy who seem quite similar) are the protagonists. In the last chapter, residents of the (place name slightly changed) community in “character,” provide commentary and short reviews; copies of the manuscript were provided to all of them prior to publication, and even the disgruntled seem to feel affectionately toward it.
This has been the case ever since the Engels decided to self-publish their book. “We wrote it for the boomer population and maybe even their counter-cultural grandchildren,” Ned says. “We didn’t do it to make money, but we’re actually coming close to breaking even.” He notes “the amount of good feelings we’ve received has been overwhelming.” The couple has given two presentations in Florida, where they spend the winters — one attracted more than 80 people.
En route they hit the road with their R.V., a poster for the book in the window, then sold some copies to those whose interest was piqued. They’ve even bartered a copy of the book for pickles at Cold Spring Farmer’s Market.
“This book is giving us so much pleasure,” says Nancy. For much of the year their main residence is in Cold Spring, in Philipstown’s Lake Valhalla community, where they’ve lived since 1982, seeking a location somewhere between New York City (where Nancy worked — she was the managing editor of Popular Photography and an associate editor at Fine Gardening) and Poughkeepsie (where Ned worked as a board-certified psychologist within the school system, and as an adjunct professor at Marist College).
The Engels are at work on a second novel, which they describe as being about epiphanies and adjusting expectations, which includes a talking Chihuahua.
Their next reading and signing is scheduled for noon to 5 p.m. on July 23 at Adair Vineyards, 52 Allhusen Road, New Paltz. Readings will take place at 1 and 3 p.m. and everyone is invited to bring a picnic. Reserve a place at eventbrite.com. Copies of Einstein Meadows are available for $12 at einsteinmeadows.com or at The Country Goose in Cold Spring and Binnacle Books in Beacon.