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Coercing Personal Behavior

category_bug_journal2.gif Momentum is growing throughout corporate America, the health care industry and Congress to control workers' health behavior. There are proposals in Congress that would make it easier for employers to offer financial rewards or penalties to employees for certain health behaviors, and would provide various federal subsidies to employers who offer wellness programs.

One proposal from two Democrats, Max Baucus of Montana and Tom Harkin of Iowa, would focus on tobacco use, obesity, physical fitness, nutrition and depression:

Under Mr. Harkin's proposal, employers could obtain tax credits for programs that offer periodic screening for heath problems and counseling to help employees adopt healthier lifestyles.”
- The New York Times, 10 May 2009

Already, many corporations, mostly large ones, offer wellness programs that include prevention information, health risk assessments, monitoring of chronic diseases and conditions, nutrition seminars and health coaches. Some have in-house fitness centers.

Among incentives for reaching health goals (such as lower weight, cholesterol and body mass index) are retail gift cards, paid gym memberships and insurance-premium discounts. Among the penalties are insurance-premium surcharges and the State of Alabama has announced that in 2010, it will begin charging its employees an additional monthly premium for health coverage if they do not participate in the state's wellness program. One company in Michigan not only mandates nicotine testing of employees, but requires employee spouses to be non-smokers too. (See Harvard School of Public Health.)

A third of American adults are obese, and heart disease - related, in many cases, to obesity, tobacco use and high blood pressure - is the number one killer in the U.S. Clearly, healthier behavior can go a long way toward reducing disease and death and health care costs too.

Nevertheless, I am distrustful of turning over the monitoring of workers' health to corporations. There is too much potential for unintended consequences, abuse and coercion particularly when a company, like that Michigan employer, demands certain behavior of non-employee spouses, which is appalling. I am not responsible for my husband's (if I had one) behavior.

Although statistics can give an overall picture of cause and effect, they cannot deal with individuals and applying standard goals for weight, blood pressure and other indicators of health is certain to penalize some people.

I have a friend of 30 years who, by actuarial standards, is obese. For as long as I have known her, she has spent at least an hour a day on a treadmill, lifts weights, has been a vegetarian all that time and maintains normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But her weight, at its lowest has never been below 180 pounds. She's just built that way.

Should she be required to pay a surcharge on her health coverage because her employer thinks she should weigh 130? I don't think so.

How long will it be, given federal tax breaks, before corporations begin discriminating against employees who can't meet their standards? Or refuse to hire them at all? Will people be demoted or be denied an otherwise deserved raise if they don't get to the gym as frequently as the company requires? Will the company health czar require people to take cholesterol and blood pressure drugs? Will people who have ice cream with lunch be turned in by their co-workers?

After a couple of hours searching the web, it became apparent that I am in the minority on this issue. Recognized health care organizations, in addition to Congress, the president and concerned individuals, are all gung-ho for corporate regulation of employees' health behavior – as, of course, corporations themselves are.

In that New York Times story yesterday, there is only this tepid critical statement:

”Critics say that holding people financially responsible for their health behavior is potentially unfair and that employers have no business prying into their employees' private lives.

“Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, a research and advocacy group, said financial rewards and penalties were often a form of lifestyle discrimination. 'You are supposed to be paid on the basis of how you do your job, not how often you go to the gym or how many cheeseburgers you eat,' Mr. Maltby said.”

Additionally, the dollar cost of corporate health monitoring will be high. You and I are sure to see it in increased prices of our refrigerators, television sets, cars and food.

All this would be moot if, as in all other industrialized nations, we had a national health care program. The better and more reliable place for health care information is with our physicians, not our employers.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, in honor of yesterday's holiday, Johna Ferguson writes of Mother's Day.


category_bug_eldermusic There was no going back to sleep when I awoke at about 2AM a couple of weeks ago, so I turned on television – usually a guaranteed sleeping potion for me. But not this time.

Clicking through channels, I landed on an old M*A*S*H episode and had fine ol' time with Hawkeye, Hotlips, Radar, Klinger, Frank and the rest of the gang I hadn't seen in 20 or 30 years, and the theme song was as familiar as if I'd seen the program yesterday. Here is the complete version with all verses of Suicide is Painless. [2:53 minutes]

Another fine, old TV theme is from Cheers where, of course, “everybody knows your name.” A hundred years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, I had a neighborhood bar like that, but I've never found another. Must be because I haven't hung out in bars for decades. Like the M*A*S*H theme above, this is the entire song with a bunch of short clips from various episodes. [2:28 minutes]

In 1977, the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a must-see event even for friends who liked to pretend they never watched television. I never liked the sappy song, but the hat thrown in the air was the perfect visual punchline for spunky Mary. [:54 seconds]

This is from the first season of All in the Family in 1971. I'm pretty sure they never changed the opening. The people who create show titles are often brilliant at setting the tone of the program, as this one is. [1:04 minutes]

Who couldn't love perennial screw-up Vinnie Barbarino who was mostly a rougher version of Tony Manero, the character John Travolta played in the movie that celebrated disco, Saturday Night Fever. (Or, I suppose, it could be said that Manero was a somewhat cleaned-up version of Barbarino.) This is the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter. [:48 seconds]

I didn't watch The Munsters or The Addams Family more than once or twice, but somehow I'm thoroughly familiar with the opening of The Addams Family. Weird, funny and wonderful. [1:00 minute]

I have been a fan of Star Trek from the day the original series premiered in 1966. There is an episode titled, The Trouble with Tribbles that I can still recall in detail – offbeat for a science fiction show, and it worked. Here is the theme from the first Star Trek series. Note the wording of the voice-over: “...where no MAN has gone before.” [:58 seconds]

My favorite of all the Star Trek series is “The Next Generation” with Captain Jean-Luc Piccard, the android Data, the Klingon Mr. Worf and all the rest. The producers occasionally updated the opening and I don't know which season this is from. In the clip above, I asked you to note the wording of the voice-over. By the time this spin-off series began, the women's movement had won a change from the producers: “...where no ONE has gone before.”

Now let's go way back to much earlier days of television and the theme of Bonanza which premiered in 1959. It's another show I never saw more than a couple of times, but somehow still recognize the theme. [:36 seconds]

Even farther back is Dragnet which was a favorite in my home when we got our first television set sometime in the early 1950s. This is a short bit of an episode from 1954, showing the opening and, at the end, the standard closing. It also stands out for the appearance of 23-year-old Leonard Nimoy who, 12 years later, would begin playing the Vulcan Mr. Spock on Star Trek. In this Dragnet story, he's one of the bad guys – the one with the thin mustache you will see in the arrest scene and the closing. [5:08 minutes]

This Week in Elder News - 9 May 2009

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

On Tuesday, I made an open call for an elderbloggers meetup in New York City on June 7 or June 8. (See the last two paragraphs of this post.) Anyone interested please email me with your preferred date using the Contact link at the top of this page.

Oprah Winfrey has a powerful media voice. When she speaks, millions listen and it is high time she left behind her incessant urgings to look young forever and and add some respectful elder topics to the mix on her television show. Dr. Bill Thomas as recorded a video appeal for her to do so. I'm repeating here today and you can do your part to persuade Oprah.

Jan Adams of Happening Here posted the video and a story on her blog as did Candace Craw-Goldman at In Repose and Nikki of Nikki's Place. You can do that and/or take other action too. Information on how to do that is here.

Researchers in Belgium say they have discovered that night owls have a slight cognitive advantage over larks. Damn. I've always been an early riser and have trouble staying awake past 9PM or 10PM. The difference is only six percent and the number of test subjects was small, so I'm not sure if it really means anything. More here. (Via Norm Jenson of One Good Move)

I love this photo Peter Tibbles sent via email from an Australian newspaper – two widely separated generations competing equally:


As Peter wrote to me:

“This is about Peter Rennie, who at 62 is still playing football. This is not in some seniors' league, but an open competition. Okay, he's not running around for the Bulldogs in the AFL (go Doggies) but still. Tomorrow he plays his 750th game. He's younger than I am but looks about 10 years older. I bet he's a lot fitter though. The photographer caught his opponent, who looks like his grandson, at an interesting time.”

David Kravets at reports on Congressional bill H.R.1966 (full text here) which would mandate a two-year prison sentence for electronic communication meant to “coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.” It is so loosely worded, I could probably be prosecuted for what I wrote about Oprah Winfrey on Thursday.

The bill has been sent to the Judiciary Committee. I wish our representatives would stop such posturing nonsense and go after the real criminals at the banks.

Jan Adams of Happening Here sent along a link to this animated editorial cartoon from Walt Handelsman of Newday titled “Worst Slide Story Singalong” to the tune of West Side Story music. Enjoy.

One-time $250 stimulus payments are being sent out this month to Social Security beneficiaries. Some working seniors who also receive Social Security may be eligible for the $400 Making Work Pay tax credit too which is reflected in lower withholding from their paychecks.

However, they will not be allowed to keep the $400 tax reduction and it will need to be reconciled on 2009 IRS returns next April. You need to know this if you are a working senior. There is a good explanation here.

It surprises me that supposedly stodgy New England (and Iowa) instead of California and New York are leading the country in legalizing gay marriage. The governor of my state, Maine, signed the bill this past week, although some procedural hangups may delay its implementation for several months.

Here is the story from the local newspaper, The Portland Press-Herald. And here is an impassioned Op-Ed piece from Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post urging President Obama to get off his “civil union” fence and take the right stand.

comScore Media Metrix notes:

"Although Internet penetration within the 40-and-over crowd is lower than among younger demographic groups, boomers and seniors outnumber younger adults in the general population—so that lower Internet penetration still translates into greater numbers of older Internet users."

Here is the breakdown of numbers of users by age group.


In a sting operation, federal investigators from the Food and Drug Administration caught a medical review firm, which oversaw hundreds of human studies for drug and medical device manufacturers, in fraud. Without any due diligence, Coast Institutional Review Board had taken on a trial of a make-believe product to be conducted by doctors who did not exist.

Undoubtedly, Coast Institutional is not the only such firm to cheat. So one down, how many to go? And who can we trust about anything these days? More here.

There isn't anything much more frightening in old age than the possibility of losing our memory and there aren't many of us who, when we've misplaced keys or can't remember why we walked into the bedroom, don't wonder if we are experiencing early Alzheimer's Disease.

HBO has produced four related documentaries about Alzheimer's that begin airing tomorrow evening. Not having seen them, I cannot recommend the series or not. But here is a review from The New York Times, and this is the trailer that is running on the HBO website.

Crime Followup and Recession Frugality

category_bug_journal2.gif First, a large shout-out and thank you to so many of you who offered sympathy, concern and suggestions regarding the condominium embezzlement problem I wrote about on Monday. What a terrific community of caring people we have here.

For those concerned that there is laxity in the management of the condo, be assured that it is incorporated under the laws of the State of Maine to which the bylaws conform, containing the standard remedies for misuse and other transgressions. However, no amount of legal language can prevent someone bent on ignoring or defying the rules, and enforcement is not as easy as bylaws make it sound.

Now, all that may be moot. Daddy bailed out his 27-year-old son, delivering a certified check for restitution of the embezzled money before the deadline on Wednesday afternoon.

On the same day, Mom and Dad spent several hours loading their SUV with bags and boxes of stuff from the son's apartment. So although they have not informed the condo, apparently the son doesn't live here anymore. He hasn't been around since the day the father (co-owner with his son) was informed of the embezzlement.

The father has said he is putting the apartment on the market so ironically, the embezzlement may turn out to be the best thing to happen, having triggered the removal of the kid who has made life here miserably annoying and unpredictable for three years.


Recession Frugality
We have discussed the need for and methods of saving money several times here in the past year. Last fall, as the heating season was beginning, I made a few small changes in an effort to reduce the cost of staying warm through winter which is my largest expenditure after property taxes:

  1. I upgraded the weatherstripping on the exterior doors.

  2. I did not turn on the radiator in the guest room except when friends stayed for a few days, and kept the door closed so not to suck heat from the rest of the apartment. And I did not turn on the second radiator in the dining/parlor area, reducing the number of radiators in use from six to four.

  3. I kept the thermostat at 67 degrees during the day and 60 at night.

  4. The laundry/storage room is on a different heating system – a seven-foot-long, electric baseboard heater which is way too much for the size of the room. So I bought a small, electric space heater for about $40, set it at 55 degrees and was diligent about turning it off when we had above-freezing days.

  5. I have been equally diligent about unplugging appliances when not in use.

None of this took much effort. It's easy to fold it all into the daily routine and I was never cold, although I make wearing layers – usually a teeshirt under a sweater – a habit. Shearling slippers keep my toes cozy.

Each year, I sign an 11-month contract with the heating oil provider so that I pay an equal amount each month, established at the beginning of the contract. When I received my final heating season bill a couple of weeks ago, I calculated and compared the amount of fuel used in this 2008/09 period to that of the 07/08 period. And this year I saved – {drum roll} – 25 percent.

I was so pleased with myself that I pulled out the records and compared my electric bills for the same periods of time. {another drum roll please} I saved 16 percent on that!

Is anyone else out there busting their buttons with pride over their success at frugality?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz has a new family tale: Oh! You're John's Girl.

Hello Oprah – An Elder Advocate's Appeal

The last time Oprah Winfrey was mentioned in these pages was the occasion of the launch of her magazine O in 2005. With the exception of single, short paragraphs from Maya Angelou and Linda Ellerbee who had some wise words about growing old, the 320 pages of that first issue overflowed with stories and advertisements promoting youth and beauty reinforcing, as I wrote in 2005, “our ageist culture’s demand to put a bag over our heads when the first wrinkle appears.”

Nothing has changed in the intervening years. In under two minutes on the website, I collected the following headlines and phrases:

  • Reverse the aging process

  • Turn back time

  • Fighting the major agers

  • How to be 10 years younger

  • How antioxidents stop the aging process (emphasis added)

  • How to turn back time

  • Dr. Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen are back with more from their book YOU: Staying Young. Dr. Oz has said it's within your power to now find out how to do it!

For years, those two physicians have been regulars on Oprah's television show promoting youth as the gold standard of life, and Oprah herself is the poster girl for ageism; her advocacy of all things anti-aging translates directly into disrespect for elders.

Oprah's is a powerful voice for whatever she decides to publicize. Her television program, The Oprah Winfrey Show, is one of the most popular on television, regularly appearing in the No. 4 position of highest-rated syndicated shows. When Oprah speaks, millions listen – for better or for worse. For elders, it is worse.

Geriatrician Bill Thomas, on the other hand, is the best thing to happen to elders in years. He created the Eden Alternative which, since 1991, has labored to improve the culture and environment of long-term care facilities worldwide. The Green House Project he developed is creating group homes for elders that radically change the institutional care of the past by emphasizing the dignity and emotional well-being of residents.

Dr. Thomas's extraordinary book, What Are Old People For? has been one of my top two reference bibles for this blog since it was published in 2004. (Oprah should recommend it to her book club.) And somehow in his busy schedule, he finds time to blog almost every day on elder issues at Changing Aging.

Now, Dr. Thomas has created an open-letter video to Oprah Winfrey titled Hello Oprah in which he makes a personal appeal to the talk-show host to give elders equal camera time with youth. Take a look: [2:45 minutes]

It is true, what Dr. Thomas says, that television producers think elder topics are a ratings killer and – having been a television producer myself for many years – I know they are slow to keep up with trends outside the boundaries of their target audience.

So they apparently haven't noticed that the population is rapidly aging, that the number of young people are decreasing in proportion to the number of elders. And that younger people spend more time with their computers, iPhones and MySpace than with television, while elders in large numbers stick with TV.

Oprah's television audience is primarily female and older than 55. According to Quantcast, her online readership at is mainly older women too. Yet what Oprah's television show offers this audience is a demeaning, prejudicial view of aging, urging them repeatedly to do everything possible to deny their age.

Oprah's influence is vast. Her recommendations sell millions of books and her endorsement of candidate Barack Obama last year was as big an event as the candidacy itself. Imagine, then, if Oprah – who at 55 is on the cusp of elderhood herself - paid less attention to looking young forever and adopted a positive attitude toward aging and elders. The impact would be huge and go a long way toward changing the attitude of the culture at large. Oprah Winfrey is that powerful.

But first we need to persuade Oprah and every one of you reading this post can help Dr. Thomas get her attention. Here's how:

  • If you have a blog, post Dr. Thomas's video, make your own appeal to Oprah to listen to him and urge your readers to do so too.

  • If you don't have a blog, watch the video at YouTube to boost the viewer numbers.

  • Get your friends, neighbors and relatives to watch the video at YouTube.

  • Flood Oprah's show producers with email including a link to Dr. Thomas's YouTube video and request that he appear on her program. You can email them here.

  • Include young relatives and friends in all the above too. When elders are respected, people of all ages benefit.

When you have posted a story and the video on your blog, send me a link to it (use the Contact link on the top left of this page) and I will list your links on the Saturday Elder News post.

If enough of us do these things and keep up the pressure, Oprah's producers will notice. This is our chance to help make a difference on a big scale in how elders are perceived. And we can have no better advocate than Dr. Bill Thomas.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson offers a poem for Death of a Marriage.

REFLECTIONS: Seeger and Me

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the bi-weekly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.

Category_bug_reflections I don't personally know Pete Seeger and I don't think he knows me. And I doubt that he remembers the couple of times I sang with him. But it's worth remembering and reflecting upon, for the separate histories of Seeger and me represent a certain mellowing in this country towards our kind of radicalism.

I first saw and heard Seeger in the very early forties, when he was making a modest living playing and singing at school assemblies. I don't recall whether he came to my elementary school, P.S. 225, or Abraham Lincoln High School, in Brooklyn. It could have been either for they were both, shall we say, progressive.

My graduation from 225, for example, featured the songs of the Red Army and the Chinese (Communist) National Anthem plus, of course, the Marine hymn. At the Lincoln graduation, we sang "United Nations on the march with flags unfurled...together fight for victory and a brave new world!"

I should say here that in my last year at Lincoln, my good tenor voice got me into the All City High School Chorus which gave a couple of concerts at Brooklyn Tech where we sang, among other things, a special arrangement of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and The Messiah's Hallelujah Chorus.

Anyway, I remember Seeger at the school assembly as a scrawny guy in shirt sleeves with a red nose and a big and bobbing Adam's apple. His banjo was a new sound. And despite the usual student skepticism, he had us singing songs that later made him famous like Michael Row the Boat Ashore. I didn't know it then but that bobbing Adam's apple planted in me a love for folk music.

Much to my regret, the war, World War II, was over by the time I was old enough to get in it. But in our neighborhoods, mostly Jewish Brighton and Manhattan Beach, even the kids on street corners argued about the war and politics. Everyone was at least a left-wing Democrat. And in 1948, when we were still in mourning for Frankly Roosevelt and charging Truman with encouraging a cold war, even my apolitical mother got political, taking me to Philadelphia to the Progressive Party convention that nominated former vice-president Henry Wallace for president.

That's when I got involved in campaigning for the first time and my efforts included Wallace and the incumbent, left-wing congressman from upper Manhattan, Vito Marcantonio, who won his seat as a Republican and switched to the American Labor Party. And it was during one of the rallies for Marcantonio on the streets of East Harlem that I sang on the back of a flatbed truck with Seeger and others, although I do not remember the songs.

About that time, I was working in lower Manhattan for a camera shop and was a member of Local 65, which represented garment industry wholesale and retail workers and had its headquarters at 13 Astor Place. (There's a Starbucks now on the ground floor.) It was, to put it bluntly, the center of left wing, Socialist and Communist, pro-labor activities. And in the bar on the top floor, I became acquainted with labor songs and sang on occasion with an informal group known as the Almanac Singers.

The group had begun in 1940, says Google, with Lee Hays and Seeger playing for left-wing political rallies and labor union events. In 1941, they were joined by the legend, Woody Guthrie, and his songs seem to give them wider appeal.

Guthrie and his sidekick, Cisco Houston, had popularized the works of the New Deal and the songs of the Depression, like Tom Joad. They were also part of what was called the Popular Front, an alliance of liberals, leftists and communists.

They, including Seeger, opposed Roosevelt and his moves towards war until the Soviet Union was invaded in June. That remained an embarrassment for Seeger, a pacifist. Nevertheless, the Almanac songs, which I came to learn - Union Maid, I Don't Want Your Millions Mister, Which Side Are You On - were and still are labor anthems. But to hurry to my point, the Almanac Singers, including Seeger, Hays and Guthrie were clearly pro-Communist. And they paid for it.

In 1942, according to Wikipedia, the FBI decided the Almanac Singers were seditious threats. And they were forced underground to play for trusted, friendly audiences. But in 1950, as folk music began a renaissance with Burl Ives and Peter, Paul and Mary, the Almanac Singers emerged as The Weavers and this time Seeger and Hays were joined by the great Ronnie Gilbert and guitarist Fred Hellerman.

They made it to the top with Good Night, Irene among others. But Mcarthyism caught up with them and they disbanded in 1953, after Seeger refused to testify and declined to join the Weavers program in sponsoring a tobacco ad. But the Weavers had set the stage for Joan Baez and the folk music revival of the '50s. More important, Seeger had made Communist Guthrie's ballad, This Land Is Your Land, the unofficial national anthem.

Seeger, of course, retired to his Hudson River home and began a crusade the clean up the river. But he was called out of retirement again and again for the civil rights struggles and the anti-Vietnam war movement. On the road from Selma to Montgomery, in 1965, he made up new verses for We Shall Overcome. Thousand gathered in Washington in 1970, to sing with him, Give Peace A Chance. Today, his great anti-war song, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy - And The Big Fool Says Push on, is still relevant.

I have not sung with him since those early days, but I've sung with him at peace and civil rights events even while carrying my reporter's notebook. And when I was able to play a guitar, before my stroke, I gave folk songs to my kids. But remembering those early days and Seeger's and my politics then, it came to me how we've all grown up, he and I and this country. Maybe we are no longer afraid of radical thought.

Guthrie's anthem was sung at Barack Obama's inauguration by Seeger, who was honored on his 90th birthday by the president he had hoped for. Seeger has never lost his radicalism, and Bruce Springsteen said at the inauguration, "Pete, you outlasted the bastards."

After an interruption of eight years of narrow fear-mongering and the worship of war and power, I remember and take pride in my radical past and join in honoring Pete Seeger, the man with the bobbing Adam's apple who I met more than 60 years ago.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson has a wry tale of modern-day, personal politics in Working Class.

An Honor and an Elderblogger Invitation

One of the best and most important elder research, policy and advocate organizations in the world is the International Longevity Center (ILC) in New York City. It was founded by renowned gerontologist, Robert N. Butler, the man who coined the term “ageism” in the 1960s and who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his 1975 book, Why Survive? Being Old in America.

I was pleased last year, on publication of his latest book, The Longevity Revolution, when Dr. Butler agreed to an interview for Time Goes By which you can read here.

For the past decade, the ILC has held an annual event called the Age Boom Academy,

“ intensive week-long seminar designed to deepen journalists' understanding of how the aging of the world's population is affecting politics, the economy, and just about every other aspect of their beats.”

The ILC is producing the 2009 seminar with support from The New York Times Company Foundation and in cooperation with the American Federation for Aging Research with additional support from The Glenn Foundation for Medical Research and MetLife Foundation.

It is an invitation-only event for about a dozen journalists and I am honored to tell you that I have been accepted to attend this year – the first-ever blogger. I am eager for the seminar and I know what I learn during that week will deepen my understanding of aging and enrich this blog for months and years to come – so we will all benefit. You can find out more about the agenda here.

The Academy begins on 31 May in New York and I am extending my stay a few days to visit with old friends and soak up the city I miss so much. During my absence, some excellent elders will fill in for me with guest blogs so there will be new posts on Time Goes By every day. And, I had another thought...

How about a New York City elderbloggers get-together. I know of a few of you who live in New York, and undoubtedly there are others who read Time Goes By. We can choose a restaurant and spend an evening over good food and conversation.

The dates I can be available are Sunday 7 June or Monday 8 June. So if you live in New York or its vicinity and are interested in an elderblogger meetup, email me (use the Contact link in the upper left corner of this page), let me know which date is best for you and we'll arrange it. This would be an excellent way to cap a trip I am so looking forward to.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine has a few poetic words to say about getting old in The Turnstile.

A Shocking Crime

category_bug_journal2.gif It is Sunday as I sit at my computer ready to work on Monday's post. There was a different idea rolling around in my head, but my mind won't leave another matter alone. It darkens my thoughts and leaves my body feeling leaden - even four days after the event.

I am no naif. I know bad things happen. During my years living in New York City, my apartments were robbed five times. You feel punched in gut, invaded, assaulted - even raped, if only virtually – arriving home to find doors or windows broken, possessions tossed in disarray, items stolen. Bile rises as you work your way through police reports, mountains of paper for the insurance company and the tedious work of putting your home in good order again.

You want to lash out - how dare anyone trash your private sanctuary. Even as you remind yourself that at least you were not home to be attacked and injured, you want vengeance, but you are impotent. There is no one to blame. In New York, no robber is ever caught. In time, however, you forget.

Now I have learned there is a worse kind of invasion: when the person who has perpetrated it is known to you - a neighbor, if not a friend.

I live in a tiny condominium. Three apartments, three owners. There is no management company. We three are the management. We three are the board of directors. We three divide the work of upkeep, repairs and other responsibilities of cooperative home ownership.

Among my contributions is banking which is minimal. There is one deposit a month of our three maintenance payments and no more than three or four checks to be written each month. So I was shocked last week to open a bank statement with ten pages containing hundreds of withdrawals, decimating the account.

Assuming there had been a computer glitch, perhaps mixing up the condominium account with someone's personal account, I stopped by the bank the following morning to sort out the problem. After a couple of hours of computation and investigation with a bank official, I was shocked to find that every debit was legitimate, having been taken by my downstairs neighbor (co-owner) who is, as all three of us are, a signatory on the account. As such, he had deliberately obtained a debit card and embezzled nearly $5500, nearly all of the balance in the account.

Crabby Old Lady has told you about this young man before. In my three years in this apartment, he has thought up more abuses than I could ever imagine one person could invent:

  • Dozens of loud, all-night parties so that I have never gone to bed knowing I can sleep uninterrupted until morning

  • Liquor bottles and cigarette butts from party guests left on the porch and sidewalk, never cleaned up without coercion

  • Allowing his dog to crap and pee in the basement and leaving the excrement there for months

  • Ditto the backyard

  • Leaving the dog to bark for four, five, six and more hours without let up

  • Open garbage bags left to rot in the driveway for weeks

  • Parking behind my car in the driveway dozens of times and refusing to answer his phone or door

  • Advertising his apartment for overnight rental on Craigslist resulting in sketchy characters with keys to the apartment house and their own all-night parties

Little did I know that these abuses and irresponsibility would become minor events – in comparison to embezzlement.

After I informed the third owner of the downstairs neighbor's theft, we consulted with an attorney and the police, and decided on a plan of action to recover the condominium's money. The neighbor and his father, who is a co-owner of the apartment, have been given a deadline to deliver a certified check this week. Should it not be delivered or if it is even five minutes late, I will already be on my way to the district attorney to request an investigation of the embezzlement. The bank has assured their cooperation in any legal proceeding.

Personally, I want the kid prosecuted with or without restitution, but the other co-owner thinks recovering the money is enough and he is undoubtedly correct. I am meaner than many people about those who violate the trust necessary for a civilized society to exist; I support life in prison without possibility of parole instead of the death penalty not on moral grounds, but because I believe people who do unforgivable things to others should suffer for as long as possible.

And thus, I do not think restitution is enough punishment for the co-owner who was entrusted with access to the condominium account. That is only money and I would prefer to have a felony on his record that will haunt the rest of his life. But unless the check is not delivered, I will go along with recovery of the funds as enough.

Our plan is a good one and I'm pretty sure the money will be delivered on time since the father, who says he did not know of the embezzlement, seems worried about the possibility of legal action.

Nevertheless, this dark, deadening dullness has pervaded my waking hours since the actuality of what happened hit me last Wednesday at the bank. It is almost like having a loved one die; I awaken cheerfully each morning, eager for the day – then I remember. And underneath that dullness is seething anger that will not lift.

You would think I'm old enough at 68 to handle this better.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, the story of another, understandable thievery from Friko titled, Stealing Coal.


category_bug_eldermusic According to YouTube, Fran and Marlo Cowan had been married 62 years when this video was posted and Fran's 90th birthday was approaching in September 2008. It's obvious they have been doing this together for many years. Enjoy. (Hat tip to kenju of Imagine)

Thanks to Saul Friedman, who writes The TGB Reflections column, we now know about a terrific music website with the unfortunate name of which streams hit songs from individual years beginning with the 1940s. The site is a bit hard to navigate, but if you start here, scroll almost all the way down, the list of years is on the right under the heading, The Music Room.

Peter Tibbles of Melbourne reminded me that today is folk legend Pete Seeger's 90th birthday, and there is an extensive review of his long life at Wikipedia.

Let's celebrate with his performance at the Lincoln Memorial during President Obama's inauguration in January. Pete with Bruce Springsteen, the president and about a half million other people too – Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land. [5:19 minutes]

I have never been a fan of musician, singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, etc., Leonard Cohen. I don't dislike his work but for whatever reason, it doesn't speak to me much. But plenty of people think otherwise. The 74-year-old has been on a world tour – his first in 15 years - for the past year and it continues through the end of 2009. We'll start with a song from his first album, in 1967, that just about everyone is familiar with, Suzanne, this performance recorded during the current tour.

The real reason Leonard Cohen is included today is that my young friend, Stan James, of wanderingstan alerted me to a CBC interview recorded in Cohen's Montreal home in April. It is a leisurely, thoughtful conversation with an excellent interviewer which is long – 42:03 minutes – but worth getting a cup of tea or coffee and enjoying.

If, however, you are rushed for time, this link will take you to a four-minute segment where Cohen speaks quite eloquently about mortality and death. Here below is the full interview.

Old Dogs and...

EDITORIAL NOTE: It has been a long, hard week - a real-life tale of unexpected white-collar crime and treachery, the denouement of which has not been reached. The particulars have devoured most of my time and in the remainder, left me to ponder the dark, cold workings of some men's minds. When appropriate, the story will be related here.

Meantime, much unanswered email has accumulated (please bear with me; I'll get to it) and no Elder News has been written. As a substitute, here is a story sent by my friend, John Brandt, which is (or, rather, will be in time) appropriate to the current predicament of which I speak. The punchline is familiar and well-worn, but no less a good laugh for its age.

One day, the old German Shepherd starts chasing rabbits and before long, discovers that he's lost. Wandering about, he notices a leopard heading rapidly in his direction with the intention of having lunch.

The old German Shepherd thinks, “Uh, oh! I'm in deep trouble now!” Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the leopard is about to leap, the old German Shepherd exclaims loudly, “Boy, that was one delicious leopard! I wonder if there are any more around here?”

Hearing this, the young leopard halts his attack in mid-strike, a look of terror comes over his face and he slinks away into the trees. “Whew!” says the leopard, “That was close! That old German Shepherd nearly had me!”

Meanwhile, a monkey who had been watching the scene from a nearby tree, figures he can put this knowledge to good use by trading it for protection from the leopard. So off he goes, but the old German Shepherd sees him heading after the leopard with great speed and figures that something must be up.

The monkey soon catches up with the leopard, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the leopard.

The young leopard is furious at being made a fool and says, “Here, monkey, hop on my back and see what's going to happen to that conniving canine!”

Now, the old German Shepherd sees the leopard coming with the monkey on his back and thinks, “What am I going to do now?” But instead of running, the dog sits down with his back to his attackers pretending he hasn't seen them yet. Just when they get close enough to hear, the old German Shepherd says:

"Where's that monkey? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another leopard!"

The moral of this story:

Don't mess with old dogs. Age and skill will always overcome youth and treachery. Brilliance only comes with age and experience.

For the Last Time Again

category_bug_journal2.gif Yesterday on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, Roger Cohen, while discussing something else, mentioned in passing,

“Aging is like that. The memories pile up. More things are done for the last time than the first.”

I was reminded of a post I published here more than four years ago headlined, For the Last Time that seems worthy of resurrection. Here is part of what I wrote in February 2005:

Usually we don’t know, on the day it happens, that we have done a certain thing for the last time. Later, we remember how much we once liked – oh, water skiing, for example, and wonder why we stopped.

Although I don’t dwell on this, it interests me to think there are things I may already have done for the last time and, since I appear to still be alive, I don’t even know it.

At first, the idea pierces my heart reeking, as it does, of the end being nigh. On further thought, however, I find that it would be good, if I could know I would never do that thing again, to mourn it a bit, to light a candle for its passing out of my life or, in some circumstances, to send it on its way with a hug and kiss and perhaps a little party.

I would certainly throw a bash for having my teeth drilled if I could be certain it will never happen again.

I am impressed that the list of things I wondered, in 2005, if I had done for the last time are still important to me – and I have not done most of them in the intervening years:

  • Swim naked in a secret stream on a hot summer day

  • Dance the tango (if I still know how)

  • Drive down the highway in a convertible at 100 miles an hour with Joe Cocker’s Cry Me a River blasting at full volume the CD player

  • Walk the beach alone in northern Oregon at 6AM

  • Walk Greenwich Village streets in a blizzard

  • Read all of Shakespeare’s plays

  • Visit London, Paris and the towns in the hills above the southern coast of Spain

Just a year after I made this list, New York City experienced the biggest snowfall in its history and I walked in it a lot. You can see photos here. So I may not have done the others for the last time either.

A corollary to this question is, what have you discovered only recently that you wish you had known all your life?

When I was caring for my mother during her final months, she remarked one day how good the cheese was that I'd served. She said that she knew a friend bought the same cheeses she did, but that her friend's always tasted better. Our ensuing discussion revealed that mom served cheese directly from the refrigerator and did not bring it up to room temperature.

In the remaining month of her life, she mentioned two or three times how pissed off she was that she'd learned a better way to serve cheese when she had no time left in life to enjoy it. (I'm exaggerating; she probably said "sorry", not pissed off.)

What about you? What do you think you've done for the last time, or what new discoveries have you made late in life?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton “Sandy” Dickson ponders what changes over the years – and what doesn't in Aging.