The Revolution Comes to Rossmoor 

As the Vietnam War generation invades senior communities, an old generation gap rears its ugly head.

Page 4 of 7

Despite the retro lineup, Rossmoor's social life is changing. Fraternal service organizations were once the foundation of social life here -- the Kiwanians, the Lions, and the Masons boasted hundreds of members apiece. They did much more than throw pancake breakfasts and cocktail luncheons. Masonic organizations such as the Shrine Club and High Twelve raised tens of thousands of dollars for children's hospitals, meals on wheels, and the Rossmoor Scholarship Foundation. But their members began dying off, and their leaders recruited fewer replacements every year. In January, these two groups held their final meetings and dissolved, disbursing their final donations and drinking a toast to old times. "I was sad, but on the other hand, it was so hard to get people to participate any longer, that it was almost an impossible task," says former Shrine Club president Bob Campini. "Both of them had a final luncheon at no cost to the members, and it was hard to get even 60 percent of the members. ... The dance clubs, dinner dance clubs, entertainment clubs are the ones that catch their attention, to the detriment of the old standby service clubs."

For their part, younger residents have started consumer clubs like the Macintosh Users Group, or support groups dedicated to therapy and New Age spiritualism. Rossmoor may have become more sophisticated -- while the Organ Melody Makers came within a hairbreadth of disbanding last year, the sixth annual Rossmoor Women's Conference offered novelist Ayelet Waldman as the keynote speaker -- but it also has become less generous, more inward-looking. As the Shrine Club and High Twelve ended their decades of volunteer work, the Metaphysical Discussion Group, the Bacchus Society, and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays were in full blossom.

Even when younger Rossmoorians get involved in civic life, they often do so more out of a boomer affinity for rebellion than a genuine sense of community. Gilbert Doubet snuck into Rossmoor ten years ago at age fifty, through a loophole that skirted the requirement that all residents must be at least 55. He still relishes the memory of that first time he bucked the system, and he has been needling Rossmoor's leaders with cyberpranks and political theater ever since. "An awful lot of people here are very conventional, very middle-class," he says. "Especially the older people. I call it the burgher mentality, where they just want to be good burghers, good neighbors. ... I went through the '60s, you know, Vietnam and stuff. I've got a different perspective; I've got a different outlook on the whole thing. You know, raise hell, and if you don't like something, change it."

Perhaps Doubet was a little too young for Rossmoor. He made few friends, except for a smattering of old '30s leftists and red-diaper babies. Among the manicured lawns, he grew annoyed by the Fun Day singers who play the retirement home circuit and croon ninety-year-old standards, or the chipper tone of the official news media. "The TV station is run like a goddamn romper room!" he exclaims. Denouncing the Golden Rain Board and Steve Adams, Doubet joined CORG and developed its Web site, YourRossmoor.com. He also began a running feud with Rossmoor News editor Maureen O'Rourke, whom he calls an administration stooge and who refers to him with an equally acidic tongue.

Since 2001 Doubet has administered a Yahoo chat board for Rossmoor affairs, which he uses to disseminate the complaints of Rossmoor employees and swap grievances with other residents. Its slogan: "Speak freely here -- no [Golden Rain] censorship." Last May, Doubet even found a way to stir up Middle Eastern politics at the retirement haven. The Rossmoor TV station regularly broadcast a local lecture series, airing the same speech seven days a week. But when it showed a talk by Allison Weir, an advocate for Palestinian grievances, viewers flooded the station with complaints, and editor O'Rourke, who runs the station as well as the newspaper, pulled the program. "It was a little over the top, so we took it off the air," she sighs. "In a community like this, what's the use? Why get everybody all riled up? If it's that offensive, sure, take it off the air."

Doubet promptly logged his response to the censorship on the Yahoo chat group. "Rossmoor appears to have caved in to the pressure of a small but vocal group of loudmouth 'brownshirts,'" he wrote. "Our basic rights and freedoms have been trampled upon once more. And look, wasn't that CEO Steve Adams ducking around the dark corner with that smile on his face again?"

Condemning what he saw as a Zionist stranglehold on Rossmoor media, Doubet proceeded to form Human Rights in the Middle East, a pro-Palestinian film society, and plans to begin showing documentaries in the valley's clubhouses -- along with the Weir lecture. "I've got a VHS copy of the broadcast before they took it off the air," he declares. "And we're gonna fuckin' show it in Peacock Hall to anyone who wants to come!"

Doubet's rabble-rousing got some older residents so worked up that one -- a retired Air Force colonel who flew combat missions in World War II and Korea -- suggested the federal government should shut him up. "Who is 'Gilbert Doubet'?" he wrote in a post to another chat group, which Doubet enthusiastically reposted on his own. "What are his formal educational qualifications, his background, and his history? ... Would it be prudent to do a local, regional and federal law enforcement agency background check? ... Do we have a civil rights abridgement legal issue with him that needs to be pursued?"

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