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The Pain of Airline Travel

Crabby Old Lady returned home Tuesday afternoon from an overnight trip to Washington, D.C. believing that air travel can now be categorized as passenger abuse.

The so-called security measures are arbitrarily applied, inadequate for catching terrorists anyway and neither airports in general nor the security checks take the needs of elders (or parents with small children) into account. Stupidities abound.

There was a time when Crabby was capable of traversing mile-long airport corridors hauling enough luggage to carry her through three extremes of climate during a two-week trip along with a hundred pounds of video cassettes and all in high-heeled shoes. Crabby is no longer that spry young thing and she never noticed during her heavy travel days the number of stairs there are with no escalator or elevator in the obvious vicinity.

It appears that people of any age in wheelchairs are well accommodated at airports, but those who are slow or who have difficulty on ramps and inclines while pulling their bags along are left, but for the kindnesses of strangers, to struggle on their own.

As hard as the stairs, ramps and distances are for elders (and Crabby can’t imagine doing it all while wrangling a kid or two and an infant together with their accoutrements), it is the least of her current complaints.

The security system is a disaster. First, they have no imagination. One guy - one guy - boarded an airplane several years ago with a shoe bomb, so now shoes are the only consistent check, although it is applied idiotically. At Reagan airport, a security officer required a woman to remove her toddler’s shoes, for God’s sake. An old man was having a helluva time bending over to untie his shoes. [NOTE TO ELDERS: wear slip-on shoes when traveling on airplanes.]

In Portland, a security guard told Crabby she had to throw out the contact lens drops in her coat pocket. When Crabby complained that she needs them for dry eye during the flight, he relented but insisted they must be stowed in the little plastic bag, and placed in her travel baggage, but only – get this! – until she cleared security. Then the bottle could go back into her coat pocket.

Huh? When the man wasn’t looking, Crabby stuck it back in her coat pocket anyway while she was still in the security area and guess what? The plane didn’t blow up.

Don’t get Crabby started on the liquids-in-a-baggie requirement. She had duly packed them as required only to find that her baggie was larger than regulation size. Passengers, Crabby was informed as the security person handed her one, may use only the smallest baggie available, so she had to ditch her specially purchased tiny toothpaste, mouthwash and plastic bottle to which she had transferred some of her moisturizer, to fit the rest into the dollhouse-size baggie.

Crabby is now wondering if the Transportation Safety Administration, which devises these regulations is in cahoots to improve the revenue of miniature toiletries manufacturers. Crabby had to re-purchase everything at her Washington hotel at astronomical prices compared to her local drug store chain.

It’s not the money that bothers Crabby; it’s the stupidity of it. Did Crabby feel any safer for all this? Not a whit. She was singled out to have her bag searched and it was done in such a superficial manner that she could have had a pound or two of explosives and the security officers wouldn’t have noticed.

And finally, since boarding passes for return flights are no longer issued at the originating airport, Crabby had an annoying incident on her trip home.

At the airline counter, an attendant who, in the entire transaction never uttered a word, pointed Crabby to the ticket kiosk. She explained that her ticket had been purchased by a third party and therefore her credit card would not work; he would need to issue the boarding pass. He pointed at the kiosk. Crabby explained again. The man pointed at the kiosk again. Crabby resisted, he insisted.

This continued, as passengers behind Crabby muttered in restlessness, for about ten minutes. At last, the man took Crabby’s drivers license, punched his keyboard a couple of times and handed Crabby her boarding pass. Why couldn’t he have done this in the beginning?

It’s not that any one of these difficulties is important. It is that in the aggregate, in the space of one trip (and it’s always this way), the irritation and tension they cause travelers is exhausting and unnecessary.

One airline wants to see your picture ID not only in security, but when boarding the plane too. The next one doesn’t. At the Washington airport, Crabby’s water was confiscated; it hadn’t been in Portland. These rules all come out of the same federal agency; why aren’t they standardized? Inquiring Crabby minds want to know.


Gifts For Elders on Your List

[This was originally published in slightly different form at Blogher.]

When asked what they might want, elders frequently say, “Oh, don’t bother with me. I don’t need anything.” Pshaw. Everyone wants something. But with elders, you might need to do some investigative work.

One of the characteristics of many elders is a loss of interest in “stuff.” In fact, some spend a great deal of time in later years cleaning out a lifetime accumulation of clutter in their homes to simplify their lives. Others may have moved to smaller living quarters – apartments, retirement communities or assisted living facilities, where there isn’t space for new acquisitions.

So it is important in choosing gifts for elders to find something that is useful, needed, won’t unnecessarily complicate their lives and of course, is something they will enjoy. Unless an elder on your list is a passionate collector of, for example, ceramic frogs, tchotchkes are not good choices. They’re just one more thing that needs dusting.

Also, consider that many elders are on fixed incomes. Annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits are almost always offset (and more) by increases in Medicare and other premiums which are not optional expenditures. So gifts that might seem too ordinary and mundane for a holiday can fill an important hole in an elder’s life.

Here are some ideas:

Entertainment
Eyesight often dims with age. For readers, consider a large-print version of a book they would enjoy. Or a year’s subscription to the large-print edition, if there is one, of the local newspaper.

Even without large-print available, subscriptions to favorite magazines could be welcome.

Movie buffs might like a year’s prepaid membership to Netflix. Or a small collection of DVDs starring a favorite actor or built around a theme or genre they like. Or a dozen pre-paid tickets to the local movie theater.

Personal
For a woman, a monthly prepaid visit at a salon for haircut and manicure. It’s good to include a pedicure too for elders who have trouble bending over to do it themselves.

Find out if your elder likes a particular kind of clothing that needs regular renewing. I have a fondness for a specific brand of flannel nightgown that is hard to find. Two friends know this and starting long before I entered the realm of elderhood, they have kept me supplied over the years.

Perfume and cologne fall into this category too. It doesn’t appear to be so common now, but people of my age (65) and older, often settled on a particular scent when we were young and have used it all our lives. The price of mine is now so high that I often feel it is an unwarranted extravagance, so it is always a welcome gift.

Practical
If an elder you know has had to give up driving, consider a voucher for a local car or taxi service. Even better, if you have the time, make up a certificate promising a weekly or bi-weekly trip to the supermarket or a monthly ride to the local mall.

My great aunt Edith, who lived to be 89, told me how she, in her early 80s then, had scrubbed the kitchen floor one day and then couldn’t push herself up off her hands and knees. She laughed when I suggested to her that there is now this newfangled invention – a mop with a long pole attached – but she said they didn’t get the floor as clean as she wanted.

Thereafter, a cleaning service was hired. Elders often won’t admit they can no longer do common, everyday chores because they don’t want to be a burden to others. So you could promise a weekly cleaning or hire a biweekly service to come in – and maybe do the laundry too.

Home
A lifelong gardener who no longer has a yard would appreciate a Plant-of-the-Month membership. There’s no upkeep, and there is a continuous supply of nature’s color in the house.

Get your child or children to do a special drawing for grandma or grandpa and present it already framed for hanging on the wall.

For cooks and bakers among the elders in your life, there are new, silicon pans, cookie sheets, muffin tins, etc. recently in stores that don’t need greasing and can be cleaned easily without scrubbing.

Electronic
If an elder in your life uses a computer and the internet, check to see if they might need a large-key keyboard. Such ailments as arthritis and the natural decline of feeling in fingers can make normal-sized keyboards difficult for elders to use. You could also pay for a year’s broadband connection.

iPods and digital cameras are marketed so relentlessly to younger people that it is easy to forget elders can enjoy them too. A camera can give an elder a reason for a daily walk they might not otherwise take. You could give an iPod already filled with music you know your elder likes.

Unless your elders are sufficiently geeky on their own, be sure to make time soon after Christmas to help them learn how to use electronic gifts.

These ideas don’t begin to cover all the possibilities, but I think they should give you a place to start thinking. And when giving such things as subscriptions to magazines, monthly flower clubs, a cleaning service, etc. that are only a piece of paper, be sure to include a token gift – a box of candy, a bottle of wine, a scented candle. Even after 65, 70 and more years, it’s still fun to tear open packages with the family.


Online Friends

[A new piece, How To Be Old, has been posted at Blogher this morning.]

A couple of days ago, I received an email from joared who blogs at Along the Way. Her internet connection had been iffy for a couple of weeks leaving her without predictable internet/blog/email access:

"I became consciously aware I felt more alone, simply because I couldn't get out on the Internet…As I think about it, there seems to be something about being able to send an email when I feel like it at any hour of the day or night that is comforting, even though I know the recipient may not read it until another day…”

A year or maybe two ago, I wrote a piece in which I said, “Don’t tell me you don’t check your email and blog comments first thing in the morning and as soon as you return home.” To which Millie Garfield responded, “Yes, yes. Me too.” Or something to that effect.

When I began blogging, there is no way I could have predicted how important blog friends would become. Conversely, on those occasions when the world appears to conspire against us and for a day or two or three, no one sends an email or even responds to one we’ve sent, it feels to me like I might be dead and don’t know it yet – that I can still perceive my world, but the world can’t perceive me.

Silly fantasy, but it points up how much our lives are enriched by people we meet only by bumped into them online; how intimate we become with one another; and how much we depend on this new kind of friendship that hardly existed a decade ago.

It was true back in the day when we communicated with hand-written letters and it is true today with email and blog comments: while we are writing, we are thinking of that person in all the particulars of the history we have with him or her. And we are, for those moments, not alone.

As we get older, particularly when we retire from full-time work, our social worlds tend to shrink. There is not the daily camaraderie with office mates. A spouse and other friends may die. Children may live in faraway places.

Whatever did we do before blogging friends.


Those Whiny Baby Boomers

Oh, geez, boomers are at it again. This time they’re complaining that they’re not getting enough attention on television. In a recent Harris Interactive poll, 37 percent said that television doesn’t reflect their generation, that there are too many programs designed for young people.

Say what? It appears to Crabby Old Lady that half the programs on network television star 40- and 50-somethings, especially the cop and medical programs. And what about the 10 thousand sports channels. The 5,000 cooking shows. Those all war all the time documentary channels. Hundreds of movies every day. The zillion shopping networks. Don’t boomers watch those?

And did they really not watch The Sopranos? Or Deadwood? Or 24? Six Feet Under? Studio 60? The West Wing? The Simpsons? Is there something too young about those shows for baby boomers? (Crabby realizes she is a little behind on recent drama series. She hasn’t watched much TV in the past year, but you get what she’s saying.)

What does a program need to do to be reflective of baby boomers? There aren’t many shows about people Crabby’s age, but when she wants to veg out to television, there is usually something to hold her interest for an hour or two, and it doesn’t need to be about 65-year-olds to do so.

But that’s what Crabby suspects boomers want: programs about them, because everyone knows the baby boom generation is more fascinating than any that came before or after them. Didn’t a boomer invent the internet, for god’s sake?

And get this: according to the same Harris poll, 50 percent of baby boomers don’t like the commercials:

“…half of baby boomers say they tune out commercials that are clearly aimed at young people. An additional one-third said they'd go out of their way not to buy such a product.”
- Cincinnati Enquirer, 22 November 2006

Give Crabby Old Lady a break. There’s hardly a boomer alive who doesn’t own an iPod and they aren’t marketed to anyone over the age of 19 if the music in the commercials is any indication.

And who looks at commercials these days anyway? Crabby Old Lady gave up watching television in real time years ago; she records anything she wants to see and watches it later so she can zap through the commercials.

Baby boomers really must get a grip. No other generation is so widely talked about than they are – so much so that is a common misconception that boomers led the civil rights, women’s and anti-Vietnam War movements in the 1960s. Nothing could be further from the truth; they were way too young then. Those campaigns were organized by people born in the 1920s and 1930s. Boomers did their part following along, but they hardly created them.

Crabby Old Lady has often complained that the media in general doesn’t pay attention or, rather, the right kind of attention to elders, a group boomers are fast becoming part of. But to demand that entertainment must be age-specific to oneself to be compelling is to be narcissistic in the extreme.

Oh, wait a minute. Crabby just had an idea. Generations X and Y have little use for baby boomers for the same reasons elders don’t. Let’s get together and gang up on the boomers. It could bring the youngest and oldest generations together in common cause.


One Last Turkey Story

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Crabby Old Lady has posted a story, Why Elders Are Needed, at Blogher.]

category_bug_journal2.gif The day after Thanksgiving isn’t much of a blogging day. Except for bully bosses who force people to work (have they no soul?), half of America is recovering from overexposure to roast turkey with all the trimmings, and the other half is at the mall.

The latter have more tolerance for crowds than I do. Me? I’m hoping Home Depot isn’t a big-time gift destination; there are some hooks and a special kind of door stop I need that I should have picked up last week.

I know you've had enough turkey, but as one last gasp of the fowl season, here’s the lede to a story in the local Portland, Maine newspaper that amused and still puzzles me:

“Cindy Kaiser was driving on Mackworth Island last spring when she ran into trouble: a tom turkey blocking the road and guarding a dozen hens.

“Kaiser, 58, threw her car into reverse, but the turkey followed it. She steered the car down a side road, but the 20-pound gobbler stopped her there as well. The bird darted at the silver station wagon and began pecking it from all sides. Kaiser ducked under the dashboard and hid. After 20 minutes, she peeked through the windshield.

"’He was still standing right there,’ said Kaiser, who works as a cook at the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf on the island. ‘It was very intimidating.’”

Intimidating? A 20-pound turkey up against a 5,000-pound passenger vehicle? Oh, come on now. Who’s kidding whom? Did someone make this up on a slow news day?

Still, I like the image of pissed off turkey taking on a stationwagon…


An Elder Thanksgiving List

PRELUDE: New stages of life are most often begun in hope and joy and marked by ceremony: a wedding, the new baby's baptism or bris, dressing up for the first day of a new job. Some turn out badly; some turn out spectacularly well. A few new stages are begun in sadness, anger and even rage. But they are just as likely to turn out differently.

Once upon a time, a crabby young woman fulfilled her childhood dream to live in New York City. When she moved there in 1969, she was soon caught up in the media scene and was granted many privileges: backstage at the Fillmore East and Woodstock, regular attendance at music and film parties, acquaintance and sometimes friendship with entertainment stars of the day – a result of producing the number one radio show of the day in the Big Apple.

Later, the crabby young woman traveled on corporate media’s dime, producing network television programs with kings and queens and movie stars and heads of state. Awards were presented for some of those shows. It was a heady couple of decades, keeping a bag always packed to jet off at a moment’s notice halfway across the country or the world.

Later still, the now crabby middle-aged woman had a role in the beginning of the commercial internet, a medium that caught her fancy as nothing before. By the time she had gone to work in radio and television, the techniques of storytelling were mostly set in stone; on the internet, she was part of inventing new storytelling methods. It was thrilling.

Another decade passed, and the young turks doing the hiring on the internet weren’t interested in the Crabby Old Lady she had become. She knew she was faster, better, smarter, more knowledgeable than she had ever been. But no one cared.

Crabby Old Lady was frustrated not to be using her skills. Crabby Old Lady was also angry to be forced out for something as stupid as her age. And Crabby Old Lady was scared; so much money going out and nothing coming in.

To avoid penury Crabby Old Lady sold her home, a wrenching decision after almost four decades in her beloved Greenwich Village, and she reluctantly moved to a small town she hardly knew where living is less expensive. She wept when she left New York.

Now, six months later, Crabby Old Lady is as happy as she has ever been and has new kinds of things to be thankful for on this holiday.

  • A lovely, larger home with, for the first time in her adult life, a room for overnight guests who already stop by regularly for a day or two or three.
  • A room for a real library that Crabby has dreamed of having all her life.

  • An ocean only two blocks away to walk beside.
  • Sunrise to watch every morning from her own private deck. And stars to wonder at in the night sky. It has been decades since Crabby has lived where stars are visible.

  • Sky around in all its multitude of variations. New Yorkers know nothing of sky.
  • And quiet. Crabby thought waking in the night was an artifact of old age. It was only the never-ending noise in New York City.
  • The start of new friendships in a new place.
  • Old friendships at a distance now. How grateful Crabby is for email and cheap phone services.
  • After a lifetime of writing in other people’s voices - words for other people to speak on television - Crabby has her own voice and a place to put it each day.
  • Amazingly, some people are interested in what Crabby writes and this Thanksgiving, she is deeply grateful to all her readers. They make her think and laugh and teach her new things every day. Some have become cherished friends.

Compared to jetting off to exotic cities and staying in four-star hotels, these new pleasures may seem tame. Don’t you believe it. Crabby Old Lady is in a different season of her life now and this new one suits her as well as her other lives did then.


Choking on Being Retired

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A new story, Gifts For Elders on Your List has been posted on my Blogher blog.]

category_bug_ageism.gif A week ago The New York Times, which has lately been covering the “aging beat” with increasing depth and frequency,” published a QandA with Dr. Robert N. Butler. The man has a remarkable resume which the Times enumerates in its introduction:

He also coined the term “ageism,” and this list does not begin to cover Dr. Butler’s lifetime contributions to the field of aging.

The Times QandA is too short and at least one of the questions is awesome in its stupidity:

“Q. Your report mentions that the elderly are left out of most emergency planning. Why is this important?” [emphasis added]

Being more a gentleman than I would be in the face of such ignorance of the obvious, Dr. Butler patiently explained:

“Because most of the people who died in New Orleans were older. Following 9/11, my wife, Myrna Lewis, who was a social worker and who died in 2005, went to seek out the elderly in the neighborhoods around the World Trade Center. She found lots of older people who were really neglected in the emergency. They went without medications. Home health aides couldn’t get through to them. Some were living in feces.

“Both events should get us thinking about what happens to older people in assisted care and nursing home facilities during emergencies — tornados, blackouts, hurricanes. Society is not sensitive to the fact that old people are not as able to survive under perilous circumstances. Homeland Security needs to be considering this.”

No kidding. But I was interested too when, in response to a question about ageism, Dr. Butler, who will soon turn 80 and works full-time, focused on a word that comes up more frequently these days in my life: retired.

“I’m fairly vigorous. I have financial resources. And I’m the boss here, which certainly protects me from ageism,” said Dr. Butler.

“But there are two things I’ve noticed. One relates to the ‘R’ word, ‘retired.’ When I stepped down as the chair of geriatrics at Mount Sinai to build the Longevity Center, people began referring to me as ‘retired.’ I quickly realized that ‘retired’ was not a good word. If you are applying for grants from the N.I.H., you don’t want to be perceived as ‘retired,’ which seems to be a synonym for ‘over the hill…’”

Personally, I choke on the word “retired.” On the rare occasions I have used this term to describe myself, I’ve seen the same kind of veil come over the eyes of people who ask what I do as I saw on the faces of young interviewers (before I gave up looking for full-time work) when they saw how much older I am than I sound on the telephone.

In my job search, that veil meant I didn’t have a chance of being hired. Now, when I use the word “retired,” it is amusing (or would be if it weren’t so infuriating) to watch the other person searching for a way to politely extricate him- or herself from our conversation.

Apparently, in the eyes of the culture, as is believed about elders in general, retirement causes stupidity and hence, retirees couldn’t possibly have anything of interest to say, let alone contribute society.

Like almost every elder I know who qualifies as retired through having no full-time work and/or having reached the age of receiving Social Security benefits, I have never been more intellectually engaged in life and in the world around me. And if the thousands of comments and discussion on this blog over several years now is any indication, I am hardly alone.

Still, it is language again - in the kneejerk, negative response to “retired” - that isolates elders from the mainstream. Even a man as eminent as Dr. Butler falls afoul of it.


For News Junkies

It’s been my experience through this blog and in the world outside it that elders I know pay more attention to news and politics than some of the younger people I know. Perhaps, having passed through the busiest period of our lives - building careers, raising children, etc. - we have more time for concern about the world around us.

For an extreme news and political junkie like me, the advent of worldwide newspapers online has been treasure trove of easy access to information that was previously hard to find and often involved a trip to the library.

Now, thanks for the internet, one of my late-life pleasures is to follow a particular story online through newspapers of differing stripes and political points of view based in the U.S., Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia, Africa and South America.

You soon get to know the voices, personalities and political leanings of the newspapers as they choose different facts to emphasize to go along with the interests and imperatives of their country of origin, and often add their own original reporting. In the end, a reader has more complete information on which to form opinions.

So I had a good laugh last week when I ran across the following list from Maureen, an ex-pat American who blogs at The View from England. Like so many of these lists, it may have been around for years and you've already seen it, but it is new to me and is closely on target for these U.S. newspapers:

  1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.
  2. The New York Times is read by people who think they run the country.
  3. The Washington Post is read by people who think they should run the country.
  4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't really understand The Washington Post. They do, however like the smog statistics shown in pie charts.
  5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country, if they could spare the time, and if they didn't have to leave L.A. to do it.
  6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country.
  7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country, and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.
  8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country either, as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.
  9. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country, or that anyone is running it, but whoever it is, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions if the leaders are a handicapped minority, feministic atheist dwarfs, who also happen to be illegal aliens from any country or galaxy as long as they are Democrats.
  10. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country, but need the baseball scores.


More ElderMovies

Readers of TGB have been quite diligent in coming up with additions to the ElderMovie List. There are eleven new ones this week, including one documentary and the list now numbers 86. The earliest are two from 1952 - Ikuru and Umberto D.

I’m tempted to say that having come up with such an impressive list, we cannot any longer complain about filmmakers ignoring elders. And those who do make movies about old people or include them as major characters do so realistically and without cheap jokes.

But counting from the 1950s, this list averages only a little more than 14 films per year and there is no telling how many others present elders as gratuitously goofy, demented and silly or stupid. Nevertheless, I am surprised and pleased with how many we have come up with.

Only a handful are unavailable on DVD or tape. If you are looking for any of those, try eBay or a Google search. My brother found a 1951 favorite of ours (not an ElderMovie), You Never Can Tell starring Dick Powell, from a private collector.

However did we get by in life before the internet? Or before video and DVD?

I’m currently reading Gore Vidal’s new memoir, Point to Point Navigation, and as he notes about going to the movies when he was a kid in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s, we saw movies only once in those days and perhaps we watched then with deeper concentration than now knowing that when the theater run was over, we would not see them again. And if we missed a movie in the theater, there wasn’t a second chance.

Even after the advent of television, for many years we could view movies only at the whim and on the timetable of a television station, and not our own. Today, we can find most of the films we want to look at, but I’m still waiting for the time when all movies are always available for instant download to our television sets or computers and we can do away with DVDs, Netflix and other hard copies.

Please continue to send along any other films you find – old and new - that fit the ElderMovie category. This is a valuable list you’ve all helped to create and it would please the librarian in my soul to keep it as complete and up to date as possible.


A New Kind of Ban on Elders

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A new story, The question of elder sex has been posted at Blogher.]

category_bug_ageism.gif There appears to be no end to the variety of ways people can invent to discriminate against elders. A friend who lives in London sent along a story from thisislondon.co.uk titled BBC Station Bans Elderly Callers.

“Mia Costello, managing editor of regional station BBC Radio Solent, sparked outrage after telling presenters in an official e-mail that they should prevent any ‘elderly’ callers from being allowed on air.”

Good grief. What will they think of next to banish elders from the mainstream of life?

At least there is some "outrage". Ever since Britain’s new legislation banning age discrimination in the workplace went into effect on 1 October, employers have universally whined about how they’ll all go out of business now that they can’t list “young” and “recent graduate” in their job ads.

But back to the BBC story. Ms. Costello

“…told presenters,” reports thisislondon, “they should be broadcasting to ‘Dave and Sue - people in their 50s’ and added: ‘Only put on callers sounding in the 45-64 age range - I don't want to hear really elderly voices.’

“The controversial moves come as the station announced it was getting rid of some of its oldest and most well-known presenters…”

Ah, so according to Ms. Costello’s edict, elders like children of yore, may not be heard.

We all know “elderly voices” when we hear them. They are thin, less resonant than younger voices and sometimes jittery-sounding. It is caused by changes in the vocal folds, muscles and cartilage in the larynx as we age, and occurs to varying degrees among some elders, although not all. I have often been told by people who meet me after we have spoken on the telephone that I sound younger than I am. Give me a few years; that will probably change.

Forty years ago or so, I produced a zillion radio phone-in programs and the only callers we shut out were the cranks, zealots and potty-mouths – all of whom, I will admit, appear to have an affinity for talk-radio. But those folks come in all age groups.

There are already so many ways elders are discriminated against that we don’t need any new ones. Even though our vocal cords are located relatively near our brains, their decline doesn’t affect our cognitive functions.

The BBC could help improve its already damaged image by reversing Ms. Costello’s banishment of elders from the radio.


Oliver’s Toy Story

category_bug_oliver No jokes now, please, but old ladies and cats seem to go together. If you have lived with cats most of your life, you probably, like me, flatter yourself that you understand the obstinate little creatures. You would be mistaken.

Just when you think you’ve got their number, they come up with something so unfathomable to tease or irritate you, that you are humbled by their ingenuity.

Olliewindow1 Oliver has taken to his new home in Maine with enthusiasm. He has a lot more room to run and as the number of squirrels, cats and birds in our neighborhood appear to outnumber people by magnitudes, he spends most early mornings, ca-ca-ca-ing at them out the window while I post the day’s blog, answer email and read the news.

When he is not napping during other parts of day, he has a large collection of toys. Some are store-bought, others are small household items he has adopted as his own. There was a time he favored my fleece-lined, wooden clogs which he grabbed and threw into the air. I forestalled the possibility of broken windows by finding him his own scrap of fleece and fortunately, he seems now to prefer that over the clogs.

Leopardtoy I bought this toy for Ollie because the leopard design matches his coat and he had previously shown great interest in feathers. This one has magnificent feathers and if I were a cat, it would be a favorite. But nooooo. I throw it and he looks at me like I’m nuts. I play with it more than he does.

Martymouse Although I detest the icky green color of this toy, Ollie’s esthetic tastes differ from mine and he has many a good romp with “Marty Mouse.” He seeks it out most often in the evening than daytime. Maybe the color is less blinding then.

Feathermouse But Ollie’s all-time favorite is this little mouse covered in what appears to be and I hope is rabbit fur (otherwise, I’d rather not know) with three feathers attached to its ass and a rattle inside.

Fur, feathers, noise – what more could cat ask for in a toy – and I’ve been supplying Ollie with these for two years. I haven’t been able to find them in Portland pet shops, so I called Louis, the proprietor of my previous pet store in New York, and he sent about 25 or 30 of them which I thought would be a year’s supply.

I suspect now I’m wrong and we’ll need to call Louis again much sooner due to Ollie’s newest obsession.

DrownedmouseFor the past two months, I wake most mornings to at least one bedraggled mouse in his water bowl. What’s up with that? I guarantee you that fishing a drowned mouse out of the water bowl is not the most fun you ever had before breakfast.

Countermice On any given day, there are two and sometimes three mice drying out on the counter and Ollie doesn’t appear to care, later, whether a mouse has been drowned and dried or is new. They’re all the same to him.

Until a couple of days ago, Ollie had drowned the mice at night. Then, just this week, he switched from stealth mode.

I watched as he retrieved one from under the sofa. He walked purposefully to the water bowl, carefully set the mouse on the floor and sat down. After a minute or two intently pondering the mouse, he picked it up, dropped in the bowl, peered at it, poked it once or twice and settled down to eat some crunchies – apparently having completed his task - whatever the purpose could possiby be.

Now what do you suppose is going on in that walnut-sized brain of Ollie’s? Most of time, if you put yourself in a cat’s place, you can see the entertainment value in what they’re doing. On this one, I’m befuddled.

Olliewindow2


Medicare Part D Renewal Time

category_bug_journal2.gif Beginning today, elders have six weeks – until 31 December – to re-enroll in a Medicare Part D plan, the prescription drug program. If you want to keep the coverage you have now, you need do nothing. But before you make that decision, it is a good idea to check the changes that may have been made for 2007.

Your plan is required to have sent you, by 31 October, an Annual Notice of Change letter, but that doesn’t mean they did. Mine had not. So if you have not received the letter, call your provider. Do it soon; I phoned more than a week ago and it hasn't arrived yet.

While on the telephone, I asked what changes are being made to my plan. Price creep is in the air from most providers and in my case:

  1. The monthly premium increases by $1.59
  2. The coverage before the “doughnut hole” kicks in increases by $150
  3. However, out-of-pocket expenses during the doughnut hole increase by $250
  4. The co-pay for generic drug prescriptions increases by one dollar

And don’t forget that monthly premiums continue throughout the doughnut hole period during which you pay full price for prescription drugs.

There are many more plans from which to choose this year. A few offer coverage for the doughnut hole although at much higher premiums and then only for generic drugs. The Medicare website has a fairly easy tool to compare plans in your state. The one glitch is to enter your start date for only Part A OR Part B. If you enter both, the tool refuses to move forward, without explaining the reason.

If you decide to switch plans, just enroll in the new one on the Medicare website or by calling the Medicare help line (1.800.MEDICARE) or by calling the plan directly. You do not need to un-enroll from your current plan. It's a good idea to do this by 8 December so receipt of your new Part D card is not delayed past the 1 January start date.

Nancy Pelosi, who will likely become the new speaker of the House of Representatives, has said she wants Congress to overhaul Plan D within the first hundred hours of the new session to allow Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies.

Even if she can accomplish that (I doubt it), the new Congress will not be sworn in until after the deadline for enrollment in Plan D and Democratic control or not, Congress does not move quickly. Plus, White House spokespersons have already indicated the president is likely to veto any such measure. So we should assume the current rules for Plan D will obtain at least until next year’s enrollment period for 2008.

You have six weeks from today to switch to a new Part D plan if that is your choice. It’s not difficult, but it’s a good idea to get started now.


The Second Draft of Our History

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A new story, Thoughts on Being Old, has been posted this morning on Blogher.]

category_bug_politics.gif If newspapers are the first draft of history, then certainly end-of-life memoirs must be the second draft. The best of them, written with an eye toward summing up before shuffling off this mortal coil, cast a hard, cold eye on what was, what is now and what might have been.

In an extraordinarily good piece titled Political Firebrands from Decades Past Still Burn Hot posted on alternet.org last weekend, Anneli Rufus notes that we “rely on our golden-age dissidents to write the most stinging critiques of American society.” In her take on four new memoirs, she tells us why these books by political observer and novelist Gore Vidal, progressive art critic Robert Hughes, rocker David Crosby and former Black Panther Flores A. Forbes are must-reads:

“We have reached an era in which firebrands wear Depends.

“If these authors are tribal elders dispensing lore around campfires - if these memoirs are the Iliads of shaky-handed, age-spotted bards - then what do they say? How do the old gods and creation myths hold up?

“A bit bent. Bruised. In some cases flayed. Gazing way back, these authors now write neither in the heat of youthful passion nor even at the middle-aged putative peak of their powers.

“They appear unwilling to candy-coat. Maintaining their principles, and aware that in this Information Age countless Sherlocks are fervently winnowing truths from lies, these authors cast the past in such a pure unfiltered light as to make us flinch.

“Because heroes in that light appear only human. Because some hopes and dreams never came true. Because we realize that history repeats itself, that ideas and ideals we prize as avant-garde, as our own inventions, really aren't.

“Writhing under their own gaze, these authors wonder what was worth what.”

I don’t know how old Ms. Rufus is, although she is clearly a good deal younger than these authors, and it is refreshing to hear from someone who takes seriously what the best of elders have to contribute.

“Is it that reeling in the years lends clarity - or that outlasting your associates and your idols burns away residual layers of love, regard and fear?” asks Ms. Rufus. “You know what they say about he who laughs last.

“Or is it that, as their reward for survival, the old are allowed a certain honesty, a where's-the-beef bluntness? The young make a habit of mocking the old. When not rendering the old invisible, when not imagining them irrelevant, the young ridicule the old with jibes they would never dream of inflicting on other minorities. Want to tell someone she's out-of-it? Call her Grandma. Ha ha.

“And yet among actual golden-agers, the ones who didn't die, are activists and insurrectionists and right-on queers. Gore Vidal is past 80. When he looks back, it is in terms not of decades but half-centuries...

“It is the old who truly know the ball-and-chain of remorse and regret. They write with a special kind of sorrow, either because so little has changed or so much.”

Ms. Rufus gives a tantalizing sampling of particulars from the books of these four old men and I am chafing not to quote more. So go see for yourself. It is a long piece and worth every minute it will take you to read it.

Vidal’s memoir, purchased on advance order a couple of months ago, arrived just yesterday and the other three are now on order. I have often rued that I will not live long enough for there to be the distance necessary to know which events from my life will have historical importance. Now, based on Ms. Rufus’s overview, I believe they will go a long way to providing some clarity and understanding to the eras through which we elders have lived – a second draft of our history.


Saying Goodbye to Old Friends

category_bug_journal2.gif Writers, politicians, moguls and musicians. Actors, sports stars, journalists, even people who are famous only for being famous. Celebrities die every day. Few, if any, are personal losses. We note their passing, maybe mention it to a friend and move on. Not infrequently we’re surprised to find out they were still alive until their recent demise.

But there are some who, even though we knew them only at an impersonal distance, unknowingly touched us in some manner and we mourn them as though they were friends. The Kennedy brothers, John and Robert, were two of those for me. So was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And John Lennon.

Working on a blog post last Thursday while election follow-ups on CNN droned in the background, I was surprised to feel tears well up when the news anchor interrupted to announce the death, at age 65, of 60 Minutes correspondent, Ed Bradley.

Ten years ago or so, I was introduced to Mr. Bradley in the halls of the CBS Broadcast Center in New York where I then worked at cbsnews.com. We shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and went our separate ways. Mr. Bradley never saw me again, but I kept in touch with him, as I always had, via 60 Minutes on Sunday evenings.

Ed Bradley didn’t do “gotcha” journalism. He didn’t get in anyone’s face. He wasn’t a grandstander. He just insistently probed and prodded and reported in an understated manner that got closer to the heart of the matter than more prickly reporters. He was more intelligent than your average journalist too. And he had style.

Walter Cronkite was dubbed “the most trusted man in America,” but it has been decades since he held the news anchor chair. The man I have trusted most of all to tell me stories straight and true was Ed Bradley, but he was a not a personal friend and I didn’t know I would miss him until he died.

It is said that old friends are the best friends which can be so because there is a comfortableness in having known someone a long time. There is another kind of comfort in having known over many years, even at a distance, people we have come to appreciate, to look forward to seeing or reading for their talent, integrity, achievements and, in Mr. Bradley’s case for me, how well they instructed us.

A sad fact of getting older is that as these contemporaries die, the field of “friends-at-a-distance” who have defined our era and enriched our lives grows smaller. Often, having been there from our youth, they are replaced by younger people with whom we have little personal history. And so with each passing, our worlds become less and less familiar.

Ed Bradley’s death is one of those moments - a small, but important corner of my world is gone.


ElderMovie List Update

With the help of many readers, the ElderMovie List is an exceptional collection. I hope everyone will consider it their own and send suggestions for additions as you find them.

Keep in mind the criteria: Features or documentaries…

  • about being old or getting old
  • with elder characters that are well acted or portrayed
  • that may not be about aging overall, but include good scenes about or with elders
  • that add to our understanding of or celebrate what getting older is really like
  • that do not demean elders

Five more films have been added to the ElderMovie List this week. Some others are being considered. When additions are made, they will be marked for a week or two with a “new” button:

Anyone is welcome to add the list to their blog. Just please label it The TGB ElderMovie List with a link back to Time Goes By.

You can send suggestions for new listings to ronni AT timegoesby DOT net.


Blogher ElderBlogging

In the summer of 2005, I attended the first Blogher conference where, at the invitation of one of the Blogher founders, Elisa Camahort, I spoke on a panel titled How To Get Naked with Koan Bremner of Multidimentional.Me and Heather Armstrong of Dooce. The panel was moderated by another Blogher founder, Jory Des Jardines of Pause whose mother's blog, Joy of Six, just happens to be linked in the ElderBloggers blogroll on the left sidebar here.

(We all know by now, don’t we, that six degrees of separation is a misnomer; it’s really two or three degrees most of the time.)

That 2005 conference was the first event of the then-fledgling organization which, in the intervening 18 months, has grown into one of the most influential women’s communities online. The website, blogher.org is the largest directory of women bloggers on the web with more than 6,000 members. A major feature of the Blogher website is a collection of blogs written by some of the smartest, most well-informed, sometimes funny and always thoughtful women online.

The beats they cover range from art and design to business, feminism, law, politics, crafts, spirituality, sex, health, mommies and many others. Recently, Blogher blog posts are also being syndicated at The Huffington Post.

So I am proud to announce that beginning today, I will be covering the Elders beat at Blogher, thanks to an invitation from Lisa Stone, the third of the triumvirate of Blogher founders.

The addition of the Elders topic (listed under Life on the left rail) to a website as highly trafficked as Blogher is important because in most of the media, baby boomers and their (or, perhaps, it is the media’s) insistence on remaining young forever is what passes for public discussion of aging. So perhaps at blogher.org I can help correct that.

The first Blogher Elders post will be familiar to regular readers of Time Goes By. It is a theme that runs through this entire blog: the importance of language and how it can be used either respectfully or to demean.

In the future, I will be covering many of the same issues we discuss on Time Goes By but with an emphasis on women and addressed to a broader age range than the 50 and older who are the majority of readers here. I’ll post a note at the top of the main TGB page on the days I publish at Blogher (Tuesdays and Fridays) and I hope you will not only follow me there, but take the time too to read those smart, terrific other contributing editors at Blogher. I’m pleased to be joining them.


Freedom From Sex

That the culture we live in is soaked in sex is not news. In addition to movies and television, it comes at us in song lyrics, magazine advertisements, billboards, newspapers and about 80 percent of the spam in my email inbox arrives with *****SEXUALLY EXPLICIT***** as the subject line.

Although I haven’t run across them yet in Portland, Maine, in my former neighborhood in New York City, sex toy shops display their oversized dildos and other erotic gear in windows next door to sandwich shops and movie theaters.

Also, it has been common for a long time that a day at the beach means a sea of bare bottoms, male and female, now that thong swimsuits are the number one choice of those with behinds worthy of exposure (along with some that are not). And I’ve never been comfortable with three or four inches of bare flesh between skirt top and shirt hem on young women in the workplace. But I’ve obviously reached the age of fogey Puritanism in that regard.

We are so swamped in all this public sex that although an argument can be made that it vulgarizes what is, at its best, a joyous human activity, it is not shocking.

Sex is used to sell everything from little girls’ underwear (thongs for five-year-olds is shocking) to cars and (plastic) surgery. But what it most sells is itself. As Mark Greif writes in the November issue of Harper’s magazine [not available on line]:

“One of the cruel betrayals of sexual liberation, in liberalization, was the illusion that a person can only be free if he holds sex as all-important and exposes it endlessly to others – providing it, proving it, enjoying it.”

Although Mr. Greif is making a different point in his piece, he and I agree that if there were true sexual liberation,

“…we would have also been freed to be free from sex – to ignore it, or to be asexual, without consequent social opprobrium or imputation of deficiency.”

This is particularly poignant for elders whose naturally waning libidos must be denied as aging has evolved into a condition or disease to be overcome instead of as a normal stage of life.

These days, elders are expected to “age well” which appears to involve remaining as sexually active as we were at 25 – or that is what the plethora of Viagra commercials would seem to imply along with the hundreds of questionable compounds, capsules and creams which promise to rejuvenate women’s interest in sex.

All this sex at every turn of our lives began with "the pill" and the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s and God knows I took every advantage of it with enthusiasm. When I first noticed a few years ago that sex had become less of a driving force in my life, I was sad to lose that "hot chick" definition of myself. After awhle, however, it was a relief to settle into a less hormone-driven life and now I wonder how I found time for all that bunny rabbit activity which, I realize in retrospect, was often no more than scratching a primal itch.

We are not all blessed (or cursed) with a high level of desire. It comes and goes throughout life depending on circumstances and it gradually diminishes as we get older. But nowadays, as Mr. Greif points out, the culture so overvalues sex that any elder (and younger person, too) who admits to less than total interest is viewed with suspicion and pity.

Jettisoning the shame and secrecy attached to sex in the past is undoubtedly a good thing. But when we stigmatize those who are not flaunting it, we devalue them unreasonably.


The Rite of the Right to Vote

category_bug_politics.gif American voters clearly expressed their anger yesterday handing control of the House to Democrats and leaving the Senate, it appears from pre-dawn news, hanging in the balance. Probably for weeks.

It is now the Democrats' turn, between today and January, to jockey for committee and subcommittee chairmanships and other accoutrements of power while the first woman speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, figures out how to overcome 12 years of bitter division created by the Republicans, and find a path to legislative cooperation and compromise between the parties.

Don't expect that to happen just because Ms. Pelosi is a Democrat and a woman. Her party and gender do not mitigate the fact that she is, above all other descriptions, a politician in Washington where bribery, corruption and political thuggery are coin of the realm.

If the new, Democratic-controlled House spends its time on retribution, on impeachment of the president and hearings into misdeeds of the previous Congress, it will be as though the Republicans won this election. What we need is immediate and demonstrable progress on a new strategy for Iraq, on universal healthcare and the dozens of other important issues that have been neglected from the start of the Bush administration.

But I really came here today to say something else...

Yesterday morning was my debut vote in the state of Maine. Unlike New York City, there is no waiting line here, even when the polls first open. There are far fewer people (the total population of Portland is no more than that of Greenwich Village) and so my name was found on the list in a moment and I liked marking a paper ballot, which I’ve not done in decades. However…

As I approached the doors of my precinct, candidates assaulted me with grins, handshakes and greetings. It was like a receiving line at a formal dinner; I had the sense this is a required ritual. “Be sure to vote,” each said. “Don’t forget to vote.”

What the hell else would I be there for? I resented the last-minute electioneering which I had believed is not allowed. I’d never seen it in New York. (Well, once a campaign worker was handing out fliers at the polling station, but other arriving voters and I pummeled him verbally until he fled.)

Inside, a poll watcher answered the question, explaining that candidates may stand within a specified number of feet of the polling place and may speak with voters as long as they do not hand out literature or say, “Vote for me” or “Vote for Mary Jones”, etc. But it is obvious when you walk past the line, that’s what they mean.

By election day, haven’t we had enough campaigning? As I drove to my precinct, I thought over the choices I’d made, asked myself if I was certain, and considered the sadness I feel (when I’m not pissed off) that although we – Americans – have a system of selecting leaders many countries can only envy, I have no confidence that it works anymore - that all elected officials aren't there to pull off a coup as magnificent as that of Billy Tauzin.

[You remember Billy Tauzin, right? He's the representative from Louisiana who held a key position in shepherding the Medicare Part D bill through Congress - the bill that forbids Medicare from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for better prices. Two months after passage of the Part D bill, Tauzin announced that he was quitting Congress to become head of PhRMA, the powerful pharmaceutical trade group. It was estimated in some quarters that his annual salary began at $2 million.]

Whatever my (well-earned) cynicism regarding our representatives, I still like exercising this Constitutional right to vote, and making it a private rite too – a few minutes of quiet to appreciate that I live in a country where my voice might still count.

It is a small point, but don’t you think candidates should be required to leave us alone with our thoughts on this one day when elections are held?


Your Mission Today: VOTE!

category_bug_politics.gif If you are registered (and shame on you if you are not) or if you have not voted by absentee ballot, the most important mission you have today is to vote. It is the most important vote in your lifetime.

This Congress has done nothing in two years but abdicate its responsibilities as a branch of government co-equal with the executive by rubber-stamping a presidency that has grabbed unconstitutional powers that have left the nation – you and me – without the rights and liberties once guaranteed by the Constitution. It will be decades before those rights are restored.

In every instance, the Congress has gone along with the president’s jabberwocky world in which up is down and fiction is truth until the only question left is what planet do the minority of citizens who still support the president and Congress live on.

No one in Washington has done anything about global warming or about the more than one-sixth of the nation who cannot afford health coverage (and therefore healthcare), while voting billions of dollars for a war against a country that did not attack us thereby piling up a national debt that cannot be repaid until after our grandchildren are in their graves.

These officials, elected to serve the people, don’t even work. They arrive in Washington each week, after raising money for four days in their districts, on Tuesday and leave on Thursday. In between, they block any rational debate on important issues and vote again and again to support whatever the president demands of them.

Their other transgressions are too numerous to mention and no candidate in this campaign has addressed the serious difficulties our country faces. Instead, we have been treated to arguments over which novel – Mrs. Cheney’s or Jim Webb’s – has the raunchier sex scenes.

The strongest signal we as a nation can send Congress that we aren’t going to take it anymore is to vote out every incumbent. They and the newly elected will then be on notice that they have two years to make real progress or we’ll vote them out too. And we will keep doing it until they hear us.

There are those who disagree, who say that the Republicans can then maintain control of Congress. But mark my words, even if the Democrats win enough seats to control Congress, nothing will change. A few will try to impeach the president (does no one who advocates impeachment understand who becomes president if the move is successful?) and hold as many investigations as they can squeeze into their less than three-day work week to ferret out which Republicans did or didn’t do what to screw up the country.

But nothing will come of those investigations. Nothing will change and there are far too many crucial, time-sensitive issues to address to get the United States back on course than to waste time playing the blame game.

Oddly enough it is the Republicans, now running scared as polls show they are likely to lose control of the House and perhaps the Senate, who may gradually be gaining a greater understanding of how angry Americans are. Given a couple of years out of power, they may become more attuned to the needs of the country than Democrats, although I don’t really believe that.

I don’t align myself with either party. Democrats may lean a bit more populist; Republicans more supportive of corporate America, but they are all bought and paid for by obscenely rich multinational corporations who hold allegiance only to profits and not the United States. Until there is real campaign financing reform (right, as if Congress members of any political stripe will ever do anything about that), the only thing the rest of us have to wield is the ballot box.

But that power is useless unless we, whatever our political leanings, work in concert against a Congress that has forsaken the public and dishonored their oaths of office.

However, it may turn out that our biennial election ritual is moot. The president, vice president and Karl Rove have been making eerily confident statements (which feel to me to be more than mere bravado) that the Republicans will maintain control of Congress. And, it has been hard to miss the many news stories on how easily electronic voting machines (which 80 percent of precincts use) can be manipulated.

One of the things about surveys and polls that has always irritated me is how accurate they are the majority of the time. I don’t like to believe we are all so predictable, but only rarely has an election gone counter to the polls.

This year, all the polls (except those secret ones Mr. Rove says show otherwise) predict a Democratic success at least in the House. So, do Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Rove know something about those voting machines that we don’t? Are their frantic appearances supporting Republican candidates throughout the country only for show?

I have no illusions about my advocacy of voting against all incumbents; few voters will follow suit. So if, tomorrow morning, we find that the House does remain in Republican control, it will be hard to convince me that the machines were not manipulated; and I suspect I will not be alone.

The last thing the U.S. needs right now in a country so starkly divided is another contested election as in 2000. That event, plus subsequent mangled voting counts in Ohio and other states, will further erode trust in an election system that is already questioned by millions.

But that is an issue for tomorrow morning. Today, for whomever and whatever you choose on your ballot, please vote. It is the only voice we have.