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Crabby Old Lady's Customer Service Success

Last week, Crabby Old Lady's internet and television provider, Comcast, sent a letter with a big bold telephone number and headline asking, Are You Getting the Best Value?

In November, when the company raised her monthly fee again (as they do every year without providing increased service), Crabby had made a mental note to arrange to drop some of her TV services to save a few bucks. The new letter was a good reminder to do so.

PLEASE STAND BY: Any of you pious folks who don't watch television, please keep it to yourself. Crabby does watch television and finds it crucial to understanding the cultural and political zeitgeist of the country just as regularly following internet trends is too.

Moreover, she likes various news and opinion programs that help keep her informed and she relishes the renaissance in original drama series that has taken place over the past few years. The writing and production values are, overall, much better these days than in the majority of feature films.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post:

Before Crabby could explain why she was calling, the Comcast customer service representative launched into a sales pitch for a higher priced service that included a bunch of premium channels like HBO, Showtime, etc.

Crabby explained that she had no interest in those channels and her point with the call was to lower the price, not raise it. She suggested how that might be done.

The woman said (Crabby paraphrases, but it's close): “The only package Comcast is prepared to offer you at this time is the more expensive one I described.”

CRABBY: Do you mean there is no lower-priced package available and the only way I can change my account is to pay more or cancel altogether?

CSR: Yes, this package is all I can offer you.

Crabby found this to be not believable and phoned back to get a different representative who spent 10 minutes trying to pull up Crabby's account on her computer without success.

Because both representatives Crabby spoke with were located somewhere other than Oregon (she could tell because they mispronounced the state's name), Crabby next tracked down a local customer service number for Comcast and tried that.

What a difference. John (not his real name) was smart, well-informed, personable, eager to help and funny too. Crabby had a fine, ol' time laughing and talking with John about television, the internet, old people, high prices for everything, her specific Comcast services and how she might reduce her monthly bill.

In the end, the services Crabby was willing to cancel would not affect the price and she was unwilling to reduce the speed of her internet connection. So John knocked $20 off the bill for the next six months.

Not a whole lot less than the full price, but just enough (they probably do surveys to pinpoint the exact discount that works) to let Crabby feel a little better. She and John were having such a good time that Crabby felt free to tease him a bit. “Oh fine,' she said. “That's nice now but it jumps again come summer.”

John gave Crabby his direct telephone number and told her to call him back then, implying that another adjustment could be made. Because she's an old cynic, Crabby tried the number and behold, it is John's direct line – at least for one day.

So Crabby is guessing that it sometimes helps (a little) with service providers to be persistent and not accept the first answer.

Actually, Crabby had intended to take today off from blogging but it's not often that customer service news is good (sort of) and this didn't take but 10 minutes to write.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, June Calendar: Mistaken Identity

Elder Credit

Did you know that renting a car with a debit card will hurt your credit rating? I didn't. So will closing a credit card that has a zero balance.

At least that's what AARP tells me and for now, I'm taking their word for it. But let me back up for a moment.

As a lot of people reading this blog know from personal experience, barring the unlikely event of winning the lottery or receiving some other kind of unexpected windfall, what money you've got right now in retirement, is pretty much what you're always going to have.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median annual income for people 65 and older in 2010 was $31,408, down 1.5 percent from the previous year. So the average elder is losing ground financially – a slow bleed - and a reason to be careful with one's credit score.

[Tangential relevance to this post but definitely worth knowing: “For more than half (55 percent) of elder beneficiaries, Social Security provides the majority of their cash income. For one-quarter (26 percent) it provides nearly all (more than 90 percent) of their income. For 15 percent of elderly beneficiaries, Social Security is the sole source of retirement income.”]

My income is about 20 percent of what I was earning when I retired. I do fine, I'm not deprived but there isn't a whole lot of wiggle room. So without being fanatical or obsessive I keep watch on my income and outgo.

First, I don't own a debit card because, old fashioned or not, it's too easy to lose track of the checking account balance when there are many small deductions. By using cash for all but a few conveniences such as gassing up the car and online purchases, and budgeting only a certain amount of cash per week, I always have a sense of how much money is available by glancing in my wallet.

I also have a personal limit on how much I can charge on my credit card each month. There are some automatically charged subscriptions that don't amount to much and well, you know how it goes - there's always something that brings that balance up to the limit I set and, sometimes, goes over but not dramatically.

A long time ago, when I was very young – under 20 – and on my own for the first time, I let myself get so deeply in debt that it took two years to pay off.

Two years in my upper teens (I'm sure you recall how that amount of time feels like a century to an 18-year-old) when there was hardly a dime for myself above rent, transportation to and from work and food. I swore I'd never let that happen again.

And I did not - except for an emergency hospital stay of 10 days when I was between jobs and between health coverage.

I will leave what that 10-day stretch in the hospital cost to your imagination. It took three years to pay, but unlike my youthful credit transgression, at least I had high-limit credit cards to cover the mid-five-figure bill and could juggle the balance depending on rate changes to keep the interest costs to a minimum.

Having that solution had been intentional. Since I was never going to have a ton of money and had been so stupid as not to choose rich parents, I needed a financial backstop to cover big-money emergencies.

So, back in the days when the big bank credit companies sent out half a dozen invitations a week for new cards, I accepted many of them. Then, on the assumption that once I retired they wouldn't be eager to give more credit to a non-working old woman, I added two or three more cards during the last few years I was employed.

I rotate using them and sometimes charge more than my self-imposed limit to pay off over three or four months to keep up my sterling payment record. It only costs a few dollars in interest and it has saved my ass on several occasions. To wit:

When I was buying my home in Portland, Maine, in 2006, it looked for awhile that the date of the sale of my New York home would not happen soon enough to meet the closing date of the Maine purchase. I might need a large bridge loan. The lender put me on hold on the telephone while he checked my credit rating.

When he returned to our call, he was almost breathless, “My god," he said, "you have an awesome FICO score.”

Yup. And I keep it that way because I live alone and I don't have much family – certainly none with emergency funds they can part with - so without decimating my small savings, I have nowhere to go except credit cards if fate suddenly deals me a hand in which I need a large chunk of money quickly.

Which brings me back to those two facts from AARP about credit ratings. The organization's website has posted a little quiz called "Will It Hurt My Credit? with ten questions. I correctly answered ONLY FIVE of them.

Go try it yourself. It doesn't matter how many you get right or wrong. It's the learning experience that matters.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Dorothy Called

Contest Winner, Jobs and Social Security

category_bug_politics.gif Now don't go thinking those three topics in the headline have anything to do with each other. They're just what's on my mind right now so I am including them all today.

From the number of entrants in Friday's contest, it was a resounding success. That was terrific but for me, an even greater success was the conversation and observations so many readers posted on the topic and I'll be using some of them in coming weeks as a basis for further discussions about death.

Meanwhile, however, we have a winner. selected Pam of Dumfries, Virginia, and she will be receiving two copies of the book, Enjoy Every Sandwich, along with a $25 Visa card. Here is part of what she said in her comment:

”I work at three senior centers and every day talk about material presented in Time Goes By with my mental health education groups. You are all the experts, after all...If I win two copies, I will donate them to the senior center libraries and use the gift certificate to buy a third copy for the third senior center that I visit.”

If I had my way, everyone who wants one would get a copy of the book. But contests don't work that way so congratulations to Pam.

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate for December dropped by .3 percent to 8.5 percent, the lowest in nearly three years. Predictably the president and virtually all the mainstream media hailed the report as “better than expected” and we should all rejoice that the economy is improving.

I differ as does Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research who explained the real meaning of the numbers:

”The survey reported 200,000 jobs in December; however, this figure is skewed by the 42,200 job gain reported for couriers. There was a similar gain in this category reported for last December, which was completely reversed the next month.”

In other words, 20 percent of these new jobs were a one-time, seasonal jump for Christmas deliveries and most will disappear this month leaving job gain at only about 140,000 for December. Dismal.

Equally dismal is mainstream media reporting on this (and so much other news) which is why I mention it. Without history, perspective and context, people who do not read news as widely and deeply as I (and many of you) do, don't know what's real and that affects how they vote.

All the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have abysmal positions on Social Security but the latest flavor of the week, Rick Santorum is just plain evil. On Friday, he called for immediate cuts to Social Security benefits:

”'We can't wait 10 years,' even though everybody wants to,' Santorum told a crowd while campaigning in New Hampshire...”

According to the Associated Press story, Santorum made a similar statement a week earlier in Fort Dodge Iowa:

”'At that event, Santorum said: 'The Democratic National Committee is going to say, “Ah...he's for changing benefits now.” Yes, I am. Yes, I am.'

"'We need to change benefits for everybody now,' Santorum said at the time. 'Is everybody going to take a little bit of a hit? No, but a lot of people will.'"

That's right, the people who paid into Social Security all their lives and have, in retirement, no way to increase their income must do with less because, apparently, Santorum has no idea that Social Security is self-funded, contributes not a penny to the deficit and, I suspect, he likes sounding tough.

That this ignorant, arrogant, uninformed, religious freak who would have everyone in the U.S. live by Roman Catholic rules is currently in second place for the Republican nomination is terrifying.

If the Republican campaign continues as it is moving forward now, former Governor Mitt Romney will be the nominee, but I'm aghast that serious people are suggesting Santorum should or will be Romney's vice presidential choice.

Every time someone in the right wing freak show calls for draconian cuts to social programs, those changes become a little more acceptable just from repetition and familiarity. This is the reason every sane person in the U.S. must object - out loud and in public - every time they try to move us another step backwards toward 16th century.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Alan Ginocchio: Bill Clinton and My Yellow Bird

ELDER MUSIC: Class of 55

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.

I was reading a novel recently about a class reunion. It had nothing to do with music but because of its subject matter, it did remind me of an album that came out in 1986 that featured four of the most important musicians who began their career at Sun records around about 1955.

Class Of 55

Unfortunately by the mid-eighties, it was already too late to include the most important one of all but I’m going to rectify that today. I’ll feature those four plus the missing one with a couple of songs each, one from back then and another from now.

When I say “now,” I mean late in their career as only one of them is still alive and looking at them all from the vantage point of 1955, it’s not the one you’d have picked to outlast the others.

Four of them jammed together when they all happened to be in the studio and Sam Phillips started the tape rolling. The result was an album called “The Million Dollar Quartet.” I won’t include anything from that record but those who know it will know who’s going to be in the column today.


I’ll start with the one who conceived the record I mentioned at the beginning and sang the title tune, CARL PERKINS.

Carl Perkins

Carl could have been a real contender back in the day. He was good looking, played guitar brilliantly, wrote great songs – think Blue Suede Shoes.

However, just about the time his career was taking off, he was involved in a car accident that laid him up for quite some time so his potential moment was lost. We’ll never know.

He did have a good career as a second string rocker and he was greatly admired by The Beatles who covered some of his songs early on. I’ll ignore his big hit from then as I’ve played it before and go with Boppin’ the Blues, a song with which Ricky Nelson also had a hit.

♫ Carl Perkins - Boppin' The Blues

Carl’s influence grew over the years and he recorded with just about everyone who mattered, too many to mention here. Now the song from the album of the same name that inspired this column, Class of ’55.

♫ Carl Perkins - Class of '55

I wonder how many pianos JERRY LEE LEWIS has gone through in his lifetime.

Jerry Lee Lewis

I also feel sorry for the piano tuners at Sun studios when Jerry Lee was due to record. Or maybe not, it would mean steady employment for them.

There’s the story of the early days when a bunch of early rock & roll musicians were out on a package tour and Jerry Lee would set fire to his piano whenever Chuck Berry played after him just to upstage Chuck as he felt he deserved to close the show.

Anyway, to get a small glimpse of his early recordings, here’s Milkshake Mademoiselle.

♫ Jerry Lee Lewis - Milkshake Mademoiselle

Jerry Lee is the one muso today where we really can play the “now” recording or, recent at least. Here he sings Twilight with the help of Robbie Robertson from The Band, who wrote the song. It was taken from an aptly named album called “Last Man Standing.”

♫ Jerry Lee Lewis - Twilight

Now to the one who isn’t in the photo above. Apparently he was in the room initially, but left after a short time. ROY ORBISON didn’t stay long at Sun. He tried rockabilly but it really didn’t suit him and he moved on to record the fine music we usually associate with him.

Roy Orbison

However, Roy did record a couple of songs in that style. This is one of them, Ooby Dooby.

♫ Roy Orbison - Ooby Dooby

Roy’s songs from the early sixties are better than anyone else’s at the time. Between Buddy Holly and The Beatles, he was a beacon of musical light among the rather mediocre output then. More of a supernova really.

Sorry about those appalling metaphors, but is impossible to overestimate the quality of his songs from that time.

With this song from the last album he recorded, “Mystery Girl,” it seems to me Roy is channeling his huge hit Running Scared. Well, if you’re going to appropriate an earlier song there’s none better than that one.

This is The Comedians, written by Elvis Costello, who certainly knows his Roy Orbison.

♫ Roy Orbison - The Comedians

What is there I can say about ELVIS PRESLEY in a few lines that you haven’t heard before? Nothing really, so I’ll leave it at that.

Elvis Presley

I’ll just let the songs do the talking. The first is the young Elvis, pretty much inventing a new genre of music, mixing country and rhythm and blues. What a great track this is, Baby, Let's Play House.

♫ Elvis Presley - Baby, Let's Play House

The “now” for Elvis is, of course, the nineteen-seventies. Here he sings a terrific song by Tom Jans that’s been covered by many people; the versions by Millie Jackson and Dobie Gray are especially good.

It would have been a nice little earner for Tom if he’d lived long enough to take advantage. I have three of Tom’s albums he made in the seventies – he didn’t record many – on vinyl.I haven’t seen them on CD so I’m hanging on to them.

He was a really fine songwriter and a pretty good performer. Tom had a serious motor cycle accident and died as a result of his injuries a little time later, in 1984.

The song is Loving Arms.

♫ Elvis Presley - Loving Arms

JOHNNY CASH's head really should be carved on that mountain in South Dakota except that he wasn’t a president so I guess that rules him out.

Johnny Cash

The word that I would use to describe Johnny is integrity. He played the music he wanted to play. He stood by his friends when others dismissed them. He was his own man; there have been few others like him in the music biz.

I’ve decided not to go with one of his big early hits, but instead, one of the lesser ones, The Way of a Woman in Love.

♫ Johnny Cash - The Way of a Woman in Love

For the last few years of his life, Johnny recorded a series of albums, six in all, called generically “American Recordings” where he mixed traditional songs with those of current rock, punk and other contemporary musicians.

This was at the instigation of producer Rick Rubin who was mostly known for producing hard rock and rap records. Those interested in music owe Rick a debt for suggesting that these should be recorded.

You can hear how Johnny’s health is fading towards the end of these, but his integrity and dignity remain intact. He can even make a Neil Diamond song sound dignified. This is Solitary Man.

♫ Johnny Cash - Solitary Man


Remember the elder couple on YouTube last year who had unknowingly recorded themselves trying to figure out how to make their new webcam work? The video went viral. You can see it here as have 9.5 million other people.

Their names are Bruce and Esther Huffman and as it turns out, they live almost right down the street from me in McMinnville, Oregon. About ten days ago, they expanded their 15 minutes of fame by appearing with Matt Lauer on the Today Show. Bruce even played ping pong with Matt. Let's go to the video tape:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tamar Orvell of Only Connect reminded me of Isa Leshko who has made it a project to photograph elder animals. Here is a short film about Ms. Leshko and her work.

Elderly Animals: Photographs by Isa Leshko from Mark & Angela Walley on Vimeo.

The film was produced by Walley Films. It was shot in San Antonio, Texas and in Kendalia, Texas in May 2011. You can see some of the still photographs of elder animals at Ms. Leshko's website.

James Ridgeway is, undoubtedly, the pre-eminent of elders who are blogging about old age. He is a long-time political reporter, card-carrying leftie of the Village Voice, old Ramparts magazine variety and he currently contributes to Mother Jones magazine.

Last week he posted an extraordinary overview and distillation of what it is like these days to be old in America. An excerpt:

”In one exhibit on The Economics of Aging, researchers from Wayne State University presented a study published earlier this year called Invisible Poverty, which found that one in three elders – including many living in middle-class suburbs – cannot fully cover their basic living expenses, including food, housing, transportation and medical care.

“It also found that certain shortcomings in the way federal poverty statistics are compiled meant that poverty among older people was more likely to be underestimated. 'This widespread economic struggle faced by Michigan seniors is fairly hidden from public sight, making it an invisible poverty that takes its toll on older individuals, their families and caregivers and the community at large,' says the study.”

Go read the whole thing at Ridgeway's Unsilent Generation blog. It is the foundational statement for everything that comes next and for what we will be talking about here from now on.

Who knew? Who would have guessed? I wouldn't – that cows apparently like jazz. (Hat tip to Darlene Costner)

Downton Abbey is a British historical drama set in a fictional Yorkshire country estate beginning in the late Edwardian era. I discovered it last year by accident and was hooked for all four episodes.

Season two begins tomorrow, Sunday evening, on PBS (check your local listings). It has expanded to seven episodes this year covering the period from 1916 through World War I. It's certainly on my short, must-watch list. (I so appreciate the DVR so I'm not tied to TV at specific time.)

If you are interested and missed season one, you can catch up. PBS is making those initial four episodes available online here for a short period of time.

I haven't read P.D. James in a long while and I don't remember if it's because she hasn't published in awhile or I haven't kept up. But it gives me hope to know she continues writing at age 91.

If you are guessing from the title, Death Comes to Pemberley, that her newest novel is less Adam Dalgliesh and more Jane Austen, you would be correct.

The time is six years after the close of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are happily married and living at Pemberley. Here is an interview with Ms. James conducted at her home last October.

I could bore you or anyone else for hours about the reasons I love New York City and miss it all the time. One thing is how much high - and low - culture is there that is available nowhere else in the U.S.

This one happens to be high culture – the new Islamic wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that opened last October. One of the treasures is this 14th century mihrab or prayer niche:


It pains me that I can't visit the exhibit itself, but The New York Times has published a remarkably good interactive section showing some of the rooms and artifacts in the new wing. You can play around with it here.

A lot of cat videos are posted here and Tarzana emailed recently to request equal time for dogs. This is the video she included with her note. I've seen it several times before but it always amazes me that the dogs can learn to surf and skateboard and, apparently love doing it.

Here's what I don't understand: why are all surfing/skateboarding dogs this one breed? Has anyone ever seen a lab or a standard poodle or a golden retriever doing this stuff? How about a dachsund? Oh, I suppose their legs are too short.

This video was shot at Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in early November. I just love it when different animal species seem to show a friendly curiosity about one another. It's particularly fun to watch when they are of such disparate sizes.

Next week, cat videos will return to this Saturday posting.

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.

Making Peace with Death - A Contest For You

Yeah, I know. "Death" and "contest" in the same breath sounds just a little creepy. Maybe that's what I like about it.

Earlier this week, we talked about one of the social taboos of getting old – women's hair loss. It is rarely spoken of or admitted to which means there is little good information and many women suffer through it in silence with no one to talk with.

But if you think hair loss is out of bounds, try bringing up a discussion of death at your next lunch or a dinner party. You won't get far. Hardly anyone talks about it.

Throughout the early and middle parts of our lives, the eventuality of our demise seems far enough away that we can pretend it's not there, but that becomes pretty much impossible after age 60 or 65.

Although it has been awhile, here at TGB we have discussed death and we will again – particularly in regard to Carl Jung's seven tasks of aging one of which is “facing the reality of dying.”

Enjoy Every Sandwich_cover So, I want to pass on a important and useful book that could help navigate these fraught waters. It is not that Enjoy Every Sandwich by Lee Lipsenthal, MD has such a new message - Tuesdays with Morrie covered similar ground: to live and love fully, to embrace every moment. But it is remarkable how frequently we humans need a fresh perspective on this ancient lesson which Dr. Lipsenthal eloquently gives us:

Dr. Lipsenthal died in September 2011, a few weeks before Enjoy Every Sandwich: Living Each Day as If It Were Your Last was published.

Here is what we're going to do today. To promote the book, Random House/Crown has set up a giveaway especially for TimeGoesBy. One (1) winner will receive a $25 Visa Cash Card and two copies of Enjoy Every Sandwich - one to keep and one to pass on to someone else.

To enter the contest, leave a message in the comments section below (no emails). That's it. If you have something to say on the topic of living with the inevitability of death, that's good. Or not. The only requirement is that you state your interest in winning the books and Visa card. Typing "Me, me, me" would do it, too. I'm not fussy.

The contest will close tonight, 6 January 2012, at midnight Pacific Coast time.

It is open only to people with U.S. and Canadian mailing addresses. The winner will be chosen in a random, electronic drawing and announced on this blog Monday 9 January 2012.

You can find out more about Enjoy Every Sandwich here and read an excerpt here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Stroppy: Eccentricities of Being Eccentric No 1

Are You More Conservative or More Liberal Than When You Were Younger?

category_bug_politics.gif The results at the Republican Iowa caucuses on Tuesday were striking for the age breakdown of the vote.

In the 40-49 age group, the largest bloc – 25 percent – voted for Rick Santorum. So did the largest bloc of the 50-64 age group – 27 percent of them. Of those 65 and older, 33 percent voted for Mitt Romney followed by 20 percent for Rick Santorum.

In contrast, the largest blocs of the three youngest age groups, 17-39, voted for Ron Paul in percentages of 50 (youngest), 45 and 34 percent. The graph of these votes, from CNN, is too large for this blog space, but you can see it here for a clearer picture of what I'm saying.

It's not like there were any liberals or progressives on the Republic Iowa menu, but young voters chose the candidate with at least a few leftish positions while the old people went for the the most extreme right winger – Rick Santorum wants government to control women's vaginas, for god's sake. You don't get much more conservative than that.

Although President Barack Obama won the electoral votes in the 2008 election (365 to John McCain's 173), there was still a lot of red on the map:


Now take a look at a screengrab of another 2008 electoral college map. This shows what it would have looked like if only voters age 18 to 29 are counted:


As it turns out, what David Pakman, a young radio/tv/internet show host, was discussing on that show is whether or not people become more conservative as they get older. Here is the pertinent passage from the show:

Of course, Pakman is correct. If gay marriage, Social Security, Medicare, etc. are the norm when you are first becoming aware of the world around you, they are less likely be seen as extreme later in your life. The researchers Mr. Pakman references in that clip

”...analyzed data from the U.S. General Social Surveys of 46,510 Americans between 1972 and 2004...[and] assessed attitudes on politics, economics, race, gender, religion and sexuality issues.”

Their work indicates the reverse of the elder, conservative stereotype:

"'It's just not true," says Nicholas Danigelis. 'More people are changing in a liberal direction than in a conservative direction.'”

Danigelis believes that some of the explanation for the belief that elders grow more conservative over time is the ageist misperception that old people are rigid, ornery and set in their ways. Further,

”People might find an average 60-year-old to be more conservative than an average 30-year-old, Danigelis said, but beware of extrapolating a trend. The older person, for example, might have started off even more conservative than he or she is now.”

You can read more about this study here.

Sixty percent of the voters in the Iowa caucuses were, according to CNN, age 60 and older and it is significant that those for whom abortion was the most important issue, 58 percent voted for Rick Santorum.

Of those self-identified as “very conservative,” 35 percent voted for Santorum. Of the 17 percent who self-identified as “moderate or liberal,” only 8 percent voted for Santorum; 40 percent voted for Ron Paul.

In the 2008 presidential election, elders 65 and older were the only age group to support John McCain (53 percent) over Barack Obama (45 percent) and they (we) often turn up in large numbers on the conservative side of political polls.

So what I'd like to discuss today is the question in the headline: Are you more conservative or more liberal, do you think, that when you were younger?

And why, do you think, polls and vote counts almost always show elders to be more conservative than younger people?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marilyn Hartzell: My Story

Toad Spots: A Minor Affliction of Old Age

category_bug_journal2.gif As long as we are already talking about non-life threatening medical conditions of old age this week (see Hair Thinning story), why not follow up today with another which Darlene Costner identified in yesterday's comments:

”Now write about those ugly brown mole-like spots that start cropping up all over the body. I am getting so many I think I am turning into a toad.”

No kidding, Darlene, and the toad comparison is exactly right. I've had more than a dozen removed over the years and I currently have a new crop – one on my back, three on my left torso, a small one on my upper chest – waiting to be attended to. But there is no hurry.

SeborrheicKeratosis150 They are called seborrheic keratoses (singular: keratosis), they have no known cause and are never malignant. This example is dark brown but color can range from white to light tan through black. They grow slowly sometimes in groups, tend to look like they are pasted onto the skin and cannot be prevented.

Although they are known to show up starting in teen years and throughout life, they are most often seen on elders and generally increase in number with age. The Mayo Clinic website, which has an informative section on these toad spots, notes:

”Seborrheic keratoses are normally painless and require no treatment. You may decide, however, to have them removed if they become irritated by clothing or for cosmetic reasons.”

Yes – like the one many years ago that grew on my forehead near the hairline along with another on the top center of my head. Although seborrheic keratoses are not contagious, those two prevented me from seeing the hair cutter/stylist until I had them removed.

The several methods of removal are simple; it takes only a few moments in a physician's office.

Because they are removed primarily for cosmetic reasons, private insurance and Medicare usually do not pay for the procedures although they may if your seborrheic keratoses are removed for such medical reasons as intense itching, pain, inflammation, bleeding and infection. These symptoms are rare.

Recurring basal cell carcinomas (carcinomae?) and a whole lot of seborrheic keratoses have left me well versed in which are the harmless toad spots and those that should be seen quickly by a medical professional. Unless you are equally experienced, any new skin growth should be checked by your physician as soon as possible.

Overall, this is hardly a serious health issue – just an unsightly annoyance. Still, it doesn't seem quite fair, does it, to turn so many of us into toads in our old age.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Terry Hamburg: Tails in Black and White

What to Do About Thinning Hair

category_bug_journal2.gif Last week, I made a small complaint about my thinning hair. Since that was not the topic of the post, I was surprised at the number of people – in comments and email – who asked for more information.

It's not so surprising, however, when you remember that an estimated 60 percent of women older than 70 have the problem which usually begins in one's 50s or 60s. It occurs, too, at much younger ages; five percent of those under 30 are afflicted.

Even with such high numbers, female baldness is almost never discussed in public.

The silence, the secretiveness is particularly strong in relation to old women. Now and then, magazines for younger women publish upbeat stories about thinning hair that are barely (pun intended) disguised sales pitches for expensive shampoos, conditions, scalp tonics and dietary supplements that promise to regrow hair.

STOP RIGHT HERE: Before we go any further, know this: there is no product, drug, medicine, treatment, cure of any kind known to medicine that thickens or regrows hair in women. Period. Full stop. End of story.

The only medication approved by the Federal Drug Administration for women's hair loss is minoxidil 2% which is mildly helpful in about 20 to 25 percent of women, is expensive and must be applied to the scalp twice every day for the rest of one's life to maintain any regrowth.

Additionally, although hair transplants can be successful in up to 90 percent of men, for a variety of reasons only two to five percent of women benefit from transplants. Read more about that here.

So basically, women are stuck with their thinning hair. We have our parents to blame for this – mother and father. Assuming no chemotherapy drugs, no thyroid problem, autoimmune disease or any of a few other medical causes - in 90 percent of women, hair loss is genetic.

Female-pattern baldness, unlike the receding front hairline that commonly afflicts men, occurs all over a woman's head but is especially visible in the front and at the crown. According to a well-reported story at WebMD, this is how it progresses:

”Typically, each time a normal hair follicle is shed, it is replaced by hair that is equal in size. But in women with female-pattern hair loss, the new hair is finer and thinner - a more miniaturized version of itself, Rogers says. The hair follicles are shrinking and eventually they quit growing altogether.”

Which is precisely what has happened to me beginning about eight or ten years ago. Here is a photo of the crown of my head (you have no idea how hard it is to photograph this stuff on one's own head):

Bald Crown

The amount of shedding since that tenth photo in the blog banner at the top of the page was taken about a year ago has increased. The empty spots on my head are widening and it takes a good deal of effort each morning, several tries, to arrange my hair so that the top and crown of my head are not nakedly, pinkishly exposed.

Usually, I make a sort of bun at the crown of my head and secure it with a hair clip or stick. I don't much like my overall appearance with this “style” but it's better than a bald spot at my crown.

Also, it is no longer possible to disguise the front, above my forehead. My scalp peeks through the strands looking increasingly like a man's bad comb over, as you can see.

Bald Top of Head1jpg

Another irritating part of all this shedding is cleanup. Every day, many long strands of gray hair stick to my clothes, clog the shower drain, fall out onto furniture. I find hairs everywhere – on the desk, keyboard, tables, counters, in the sink and basins. They get twisted onto my hands when I'm washing my hair and it's a bitch to get them off. They're all over my bed pillows too.

With all that, mostly, they are on the carpeting which has its own special problem: the vacuum cleaner does not suck them up; they get wound around the brush roller and must be cut with scissors and pulled off so not to ruin the machine. It takes 15 or 20 minutes to do that after each vacuuming.

I am thoroughly fed up with all this, fed up with all the work in hair arrangement and in house cleaning and fed up with people (including the guy who used to cut my hair) who tell me it doesn't look that bad.

I'm old, not blind. Of course it looks that bad.

An simple solution could be to shave my head, but that's extreme. Aside from the occasional actress, model and rock star, women generally don't walk around in public with a bald head and those few who do are invariably young and eager for attention.

On an old woman, baldness would undoubtedly be seen as a disfigurement, perhaps a cause for pity from people would would guess she is undergoing chemotherapy.

The culture just does not allow for old women with shaved heads and I'm certainly not going to lead a movement for bald old ladies (although now that I've written the sentence, it sounds like it could be fun to do if we lived in less perilous times with real problems that need solving.)

What I'm doing now is researching wigs. It is simplicity I'm seeking, less work in caring for my hair and in cleaning up every day behind its loss. A nice, gray wig appears to be my best solution. I'll update you when the time comes.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, me – Ronni Bennett: Storytelling in the New Year

It's All Iowa's Fault

The Iowa Republican Caucuses, being held tomorrow, are giving Crabby Old Lady heartburn. What a rotten, miserable event for the first big thing of a brand new year.

Crabby can no longer recall a time when, natural disasters aside, Iowa has not led the news – all day, every day. Okay, she exaggerates but it sure feels like the Republican nominating campaign is been going on for a decade.

And it's not as though there is anyone – even if you're a Republican – to root for. What a field of freaks these candidates are – not one deserves admiration or respect. Not one has a cogent, thoughtful or reasonable plan for a country deeply mired in all kinds of trouble.

That's what Crabby most resents about them: not one has a speck of honest, intellectual curiosity and it's downhill from there: they are actually proud of their ignorance except, of course, for the insufferable Mr. Newt Gingrich who, in misplaced self-admiration, is surpassed only by Donald Trump.

This is the leader of our nation we are choosing, someone who should at least aspire to become a Lincoln or a Roosevelt or a Jefferson. Can we really do no better than this sorry bunch?

The only upside is that a couple of them likely will drop out after tomorrow and we'll never hear from them again. Bah. What a terrible way to begin a shiny new year.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: It's Going to be a Great Year

ELDER MUSIC: Toes Up in 2011 - Part 2

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.

This is the second part of Toes Up for this year. Part One was yesterday in case you missed it.

Dutch Tilders

DUTCH TILDERS was Australia’s foremost blues performer. Born Mattheus Tilders in The Netherlands, his family moved to Australia when he was 14. He started performing soon after that “as it was better than working,” he said.

He was always dismissive of his talents saying that his deep, gravely voice was ordinary and claimed he only played guitar so he’d have something to do with his hands. He was wrong on both counts.

This film clip was done not long before he died and is an appropriate send off for Dutch. He is Going on a Journey. (Age 69)

FERLIN HUSKY was a country singer who had cross-over hits in the fifties. He was born in Missouri and served in the marines during WWII, occasionally entertaining the crew on his ship.

Ferlin Husky

He hit it big with a duet with Jean Shepard called A Dear John Letter. They recorded a follow up called, Forgive Me John.

He had a couple of big hits later in the decade with Gone and especially Wings of a Dove. He had a long and successful career in country music and was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry. I’ve decided against his big hit or that dreadful first song and gone with Gone. (85)

♫ Ferlin Husky - Gone

Cornell Dupree

CORNELL DUPREE was a fine jazz and R&B guitarist. He was also an in-demand session musician who has played on the albums of pretty much everyone of note.

He was a founder member of the band Stuff who were about the best jazz/funk group around in the seventies and eighties. Here Cornell plays Foots with Stuff from their first album, also called “Stuff.” (69)

♫ Stuff - Foots

Andrew Gold

Music was ANDREW GOLD’s family business. His father won an Oscar for film music and his mother was Marni Nixon who was the real singer for Natalie Wood, Audrey Hepburn and Deborah Kerr amongst others.

Andrew was a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who had some hits in the seventies. He also played on several of Linda Ronstadt’s albums as well as some of the solo works of three quarters of The Beatles. He also worked with Jackson Browne and The Eagles.

The details in the song Lonely Boy seem to suggest that it’s autobiographical but Andrew has claimed that it isn’t; he had a very happy childhood. (59)

♫ Andrew Gold - Lonely Boy

Gil Scott-Heron

It has been claimed that GIL SCOTT-HERON was the man whose works were the main influence on the development of rap and hip hop. Gil disputed that premise, saying he was a poet who performed to music, usually jazz, but other musical styles as well.

Gil started out writing detective fiction and that gained him a scholarship to a prestigious school. He later turned to music and poetry. His poetry was a critical analysis of politics, racism and mass media, especially in his best known piece, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. (62)

♫ Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Johnny Preston

JOHNNY PRESTON, or John Preston Courville, was from Port Arthur, Texas. He sang in a choir and a local DJ and sometime songwriter named J.P. Richardson heard him sing and thought he was a natural.

J.P., or The Big Bopper to his listeners, had a song for him. Johnny didn’t want to record it as he thought it far too sombre and depressing. J.P. told him it’d be a big hit and he was right.

Johnny had some other reasonable selling records but it was Running Bear that made number one everywhere. (71)

♫ Johnny Preston - Running Bear

John Walker

JOHN WALKER was one of the Walker Brothers who were a successful pop group in the sixties, mainly in England even though they were American. He was born John Haus and neither of the other two were named Walker either but I guess it was easy to remember.

Their biggest hit, and a fine song it is too, was The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More. (67)

♫ The Walker Bros - The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore

Dobie Gray

DOBIE GRAY was a soul/pop singer who had a number of big hits in the sixties and seventies. He was born Lawrence Brown, or maybe Leonard Ainsworth in Texas. I’m surprised no one asked him which it was. Maybe they did.

He moved to Los Angeles in the early sixties to become an actor but he encountered Sonny Bono who encouraged him to sing instead. Sonny got him a record deal and he recorded the first version of The In Crowd, later covered so well by Ramsey Lewis.

He had a few more songs that didn’t do anything until he released Drift Away which was a great success. He followed that with an excellent cover of the Tom Jans song Loving Arms. In the seventies, he moved to Nashville where he recorded southern soul, rock & roll and even country influenced songs. This is Dobie with his biggest hit, Drift Away.

♫ Dobie Gray - Drift Away


PHOEBE SNOW was born Phoebe Laub into a musical household in New York. While still in school, she’d perform in folk clubs in Greenwich Village. It was at this time she gained her stage name. Phoebe had voice lessons and studied opera but decided to stick with folk music.

In the seventies, she recorded several fine albums and had a big hit with the song Poetry Man. She was later an in-demand backing singer both on records and in live performances. She died after suffering a stroke at age 60. This is Phoebe with Poetry Man.

♫ Phoebe Snow - Poetry Man

Jet Harris

JET HARRIS or Terrance to his mum and dad, played bass in the hugely influential English group the Shadows. He gained his nickname at school as he was a pretty useful runner.

His musical life began with him playing double bass in a jazz group and later he joined a group called the Drifters who had to change their name as there was already a famous one with that name. He took up the Fender bass for the Shadows as they became known.

Many bands, particularly in the surf guitar style have paid tribute to the Shadows as well as groups like The Beatles and Dire Straits (and many others). They were largely an instrumental band but they also backed pretty much all of Cliff Richard’s early hits. This is The Shadows with Apache. (71)

♫ The Shadows - Apache

HUBERT SUMLIN was one of the great Chicago blues guitarists. He’s not as well known as some others as he spent much of his career as the guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf. Indeed, he first met Wolf when he was a kid when he sneaked into one of his performances.

Hubert was born in Mississippi and raised in Arkansas and moved to Chicago when Wolf offered the position in his band. After Wolf died, Hubert kept most of the band together performing as the Wolf Pack. He kept performing right up until he died at age 80.

RALPH MOONEY was a steel guitar player who bolstered the sound of many country hits, particularly those of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Wanda Jackson. For 20 years he was in Waylon Jennings’ band and was also a songwriter of considerable facility. (82)

GIL ROBBINS was a bass player and singer who was a member of such groups as The Cumberland Three (along with the great singer/songwriter John Stewart) and The Highwaymen.

He was also a member of Harry Belafonte’s backing band and played with Tom Paxton for a while. Later, The Highwaymen had a revival and opened for another group with the same name who had hit it big. They were Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Gil was the father of actor and musician Tim Robbins. (80)

JIMMY NORMAN was a soul singer and lyricist. He wrote the lyrics for Time is on My Side that Etta James and later the Rolling Stones took to the top of the charts. In the way of things back then, he received not a cent.

Jimmy spent time in Jamaica and wrote and recorded with Johnny Nash and Bob Marley. He was also a member of The Coasters and several of his solo recordings featured Jimi Hendrix before he was well known.

Late in his life, a producer found many of his songs that had never been recorded and had Jimmy record these for an album that’s only just been released. (74)

JERRY RAGOVOY was a record producer and songwriter who got all the money for Time is on My Side. He produced such ground breaking artists as Fabian and Frankie Avalon. Jerry also wrote songs for Janis Joplin, Garnet Mims and others. (81)

Eugene SNOOKY YOUNG was a jazz trumpeter who liked playing with the mute in that instrument. Early on, he played in bands led by Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton. Later he toured with Doc Severinsen and was part of the Tonight Show group.

He also backed such artists as B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland and The Band. (92)

KATHY KIRBY or Kathleen O’Rourke to her folks, was an English singer who had hits in that country with covers of Doris Day songs. She also represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest (she came second) and later appeared extensively on TV. It seems she had a “tumultuous” personal life but we won’t go there. (72)

CLARENCE CLEMONS was the big man, the saxophonist and boon companion for Bruce Springsteen in the E Street band.

Clarence was born in Virginia and grew up surrounded by gospel music. He moved to New Jersey where was a counsellor for disturbed children for many years although still playing music in his spare time.

Legend has it that he went to a Bruce Springsteen concert and told Bruce that he wanted to play with the band. Clarence was big man and Bruce acceded to his wishes.

They gelled immediately and became close friends for the rest of his life. He also occasionally performed with such diverse folks as Jackson Browne, Aretha Franklin, the Grateful Dead and Twisted Sister. (69)

FRED STEINER was a composer from New York who created the themes for many TV programs we know and (some of which we) love – Perry Mason, Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Hawaii Five-O, Gunsmoke, Hogan’s Heroes among others.

He also won an Oscar for co-writing the music for the film The Color Purple. (88)

AMY WINEHOUSE led a lurid public and private life fuelled by the alcohol and drugs that led to her death. Rather surprisingly, when she was sober, she was a pretty decent singer. (27)

DAN PEEK was a founder member of the rock group America, all of whose members were born outside that country to members of the military. The group had several big hits, Horse With No Name that I first thought at the time was actually Neil Young. Ventura Highway and Sister Golden Hair are the other ones that spring to mind.

Dan left the group after these hits as he thought that his indulgence in drugs and alcohol would kill him. They probably did in the long run. (60)

MARSHALL GRANT was the bass player for the Tennessee Two who gave the early Johnny Cash recordings and performances their distinctive sound.

That’s Marshall on the right with Luther Perkins, the guitarist for the T.T.

He started out working in an automobile sales company where he met Luther and also Roy Cash, Johnny’s brother. When Johnny returned from serving in the air force, Roy mentioned these two to him and one of the most important groups from the fifties was born. (83)

BOBBY ROBINSON was a record producer and songwriter. He was from South Carolina and after serving in the war, opened a record shop in New York that became a focus for independent record promoters.

This got Bobby into producing and he did that, initially with blues records but later DooWop and R&B, and still later rap and hip hop. He produced records or wrote songs for Wilbert Harrison, the Shirelles, Lee Dorsey, Gladys Knight, King Curtis and many more. (93)

NICK ASHFORD was a songwriter at Motown who, along with his wife Valerie Simpson, wrote songs for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and many others.

Later, they performed themselves as Ashford and Simpson and were quite successful at that as well. They continued performing until quite recently when Nick developed throat cancer. (69)

JOHNNIE WRIGHT began his musical career with Jack Anglin as the country duo Johnnie and Jack in 1936. They performed together until Jack’s death in 1963. Johnnie continued as a solo artist and encouraged his wife, Kitty Wells, to perform.
She became a star of country music. Johnnie and Kitty had been married for 74 years when Johnnie died, aged 97.

Although she had a bit of a solo career early on, SYLVIA ROBINSON really hit it big when she teamed up with Mickey Baker achieving several hits as Mickey and Sylvia. They bought their own night club, established a publishing company and record label.
Later, Sylvia started a record company to showcase unknown rappers and hip hop artists. (75)

LEE POCKRISS was probably the biggest selling “unknown” songwriter of the last half century. After serving as a cryptographer in the Air Force, he won a contest to become a songwriter. Eventually he wrote such songs as Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini, Catch A Falling Star, In My Little Corner Of The World, Calcutta, Leader Of The Laundromat and others of that ilk. (87)

DAVID “HONEYBOY” EDWARDS was a blues musician from Mississippi. He was almost certainly the last remaining link to the pre-war blues players who were so influential – Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Charley Patton, Big Joe Williams and many more.

David was actually present when Robert Johnson died; that alone would have ensured he was remembered. He was another of the musicians recorded by Alan Lomax and brought to a far wider audience. He won a Grammy at age 93. (96)

The KEEF HARTLEY Band was at Woodstock but few remember this as he didn’t appear in the film or on the record of the event. This was because he didn’t give permission as there was no money up front for the band.

Keith, as he was born, was a drummer. He said he chose the instrument as he had short arms and couldn’t manage the guitar neck. He started his career in Rory Storm’s group taking over when the previous drummer, Ringo Starr, got a better offer. He later played with John Mayall and still later started his own group. (67)

HOWARD TATE was a soul singer who started his musical life in a gospel group that also included Garnet Mimms. Garnet, through contacts he already had, got them a recording contract that Howard used to record some fine soul songs as a single artist. These brought him considerable critical acclaim, but not huge sales.

He later recorded with Lloyd Price and Johnny Nash and even covered some of The Band’s songs and those of Bob Dylan as well. His lack of success with the public led him to retire in the late seventies and he descended into a serious drug habit. Early this century, his career was revived and he recorded several well received albums. He died of complications from leukemia. (72)

BILLIE JO SPEARS was a country singer who had a huge, career defining hit with the song, Blanket on the Ground. She started in show biz when her elder sister got a contract. Big sis went off and got married and had kids so they substituted Billie Jo for her.
Her big hit ensured she had a lifelong career in country music and she already had gigs set up for 2012. (74)