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Korean Elders v. McDonald's

It is a long-established fact that isolation in old age is deadly. As the late geriatrician Robert N. Butler – who invented the term “ageism” in 1968 – wrote in his final book, The Longevity Prescription,

”Connectivity enhances health...the link between isolation and suicide was firmly established long ago, suggesting that, at the most elemental level, other people give us a reason to live.

“Each year new research appears, some from clinicians and epidemiologists, some from social scientists and psychologists. These researchers have identified ties between strong social networks and lowered risk of alcoholism, depression, and even arthritis.”

For the past five years or so, elders in a Korean community in Flushing, Queens, New York, have been hanging out together daily a local McDonald's. Then last November, the restaurant began calling 911 for the police to evict the old people and signs were posted stating that patrons had only 20 minutes to drink their coffee and leave.

According to a New York Times report in mid-January,

“The restaurant says the people who colonize the seats on a daily basis are quashing business, taking up tables for hours while splitting a small packet of French fries ($1.39); the group say they are customers and entitled to take their time. A lot of time.”

The Koreans, reports The Times,

”...say it is convenience that draws them from the solitude of their nearby homes to spend the day sitting there in the Big Mac-scented air. Many are widowed, or like Jee Woong Lim, 81, who arrived in America two years ago from Seoul, say they are in need of company.

“They are almost without exception nattily dressed, in suits or dress slacks, brightly colored ties or sweaters, fedoras and well-shined shoes.”

The standoff continued over the next couple of weeks with police officers regularly throwing the Koreans out of the restaurant.

There is a senior center a mile and a half from the McDonald's and other fast food restaurants even closer to this McDonald's but the elder Koreans return daily to the same one.

A couple of them tried to explain to the Times reporter why they like this particular place:

”...Sang Yong Park, 76, and his friend, Il Ho Park, 76, [said] they come every single day to gossip, chat about politics back home and in their adopted land, hauling themselves up from the banquettes with their canes to step outside for short cigarillo breaks.

“And they could not say why they keep coming back — after a short walk around the block to blow off steam — every time the officers remove them. They said they had each been ousted three times so far."

Although it is easy to understand McDonald's point of view, I wondered from first reading if there might be some ageism involved in the dispute.

All over the United States, younger adults frequent Starbucks and other coffee establishments that with free Wi-Fi encourage many hours of working at their laptops often on one cup of coffee.

In fact, on a couple of occasions when I was meeting a friend at the local Starbucks, we had to go elsewhere because all the tables were taken up with singles staring intently on their computer screens. Still, none of the reports mentioned the possible age issue.

Back at the Queens McDonald's, a solution was finally found:

”Last week,” reports The Times, “Ron Kim, a New York State assemblyman, brokered a détente: The restaurant promised not to call the police if the Koreans made room during crowded peak hours.”

Before that resolution, the dispute had made headlines as far away at Seoul, Korea, and led to a call for a worldwide boycott of McDonald's.

It caused so much response even outside New York City that Michael Kimmelman, a culture and society reporter at The New York Times looked into why this particular McDonald's means so much this group of elder Koreans.

What he found is not earthshakingly new to anyone who is old or knows anything about old people. But they are important for society in general to understand about how people not only like to live, but how they need to live:

“Older city dwellers on tight budgets who don’t own automobiles or no longer drive want inexpensive meeting places within walking distance of their homes. The elderly Koreans at McDonald’s, with one exception, all told me that they live within two blocks of the restaurant.”
“They don’t use the local senior center, they said, because it’s in a church a mile and a half away...'There’s a van that will take us there,' Kun Pae Yim, 86, one of the McDonald’s regulars, told me. 'We’re grateful for the offer. But we are not schoolchildren or government workers. We want to see our friends when we choose.'

“So independence is a factor. It’s a big part of why anyone lives in the city.”
“...people don’t want to be alone. So they find a sense of belonging in what they think of as their neighborhood, which tends to shrink as they age. The Flushing branch library, free and welcoming, the busiest in New York, is always packed with young and old people, but it’s almost a mile away.”
“Absent a senior center within walking distance, McDonald’s has become, by default, their home away from home...McDonald’s is a ready-made NORC [naturally occurring retirement community].”
“McDonald’s is the NORC that has bound together the elderly Koreans. Most of them didn’t know one another until they visited the restaurant. They were drawn there by proximity and price, and they have stayed for the companionship.

“'It’s how we keep track of each other now,' Mr. Yim told me. 'Everybody checks in at McDonald’s at least once a day, so we know they’re O.K.'”

Crucial, human needs – proximity, affordability, camaraderie - are being met for this community of elders at McDonald's and hurray to management for finding a way to support them.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: Old Man Memories

Growing into Old Age

When I was young, 21 was the official age of adulthood. Yes, you could get married before then and young men could join the military but that 21st birthday was when the world accepted and recognized you as a grownup.

And I desperately wanted to be a grownup. As I've mentioned here in the past, I was deeply disappointed when I woke on my 21st birthday in 1962, and did not suddenly know the answers to all life's existential questions.

Equally discouraging that day was that I felt no more like an adult than I had the day before.

Although I'd had my own checking account for four years by then, I was angry with myself for still being secretly proud that I knew how to write a check and balance the account each month. By then, I thought, I should be so practiced that it would be no more a big deal than – oh, dialing a telephone.

And even though I had been working all those same four years, I was chagrined that I was as afraid of my boss as I had been terrified of my dad all my life. Grownups didn't feel that way, I believed then.

At about that time, when I was buying several cosmetic items one day because makeup was still fun at that age, the cashier held up the eye cream I had selected and said, “Honey, you are way too young for this.”

I could feel myself blush, embarrassed because I so wanted to be a grownup and a real grownup had called me out. I still believed then that grownups were always right and I ached for it to be my turn to be right.

It irritated me that whenever I accomplished something new, something real adults seemed to do as a matter of course, my pride in myself overflowed. Booking an airplane trip the first time. Getting my first credit card (very hard for unmarried “girls” in those days). Registering to vote and then not being turned away on election day.

It shouldn't be that way, I thought. I should be as comfortable with myself now, as an adult, as I was with being a child. I never thought then that I was faking being a kid; I just was.

But even getting married when I was 24 seem too grownup for how I felt yet - that I was still pretending to be grown up. But by the time I left my husband six years later, believe me, I felt plenty grown up.

And that is my point. However much I yearned to be an adult at a certain age, it doesn't happen that way. The transition from teenager to adult takes growing into over a period of time.

And now I'm pretty sure that at the other end of life, time is required again to become comfortable in one's old age.

Even if we accept that we've reached the beginning of old age, by 60 or so, many of us are no more able to yet make the internal transition to it than we felt like grownups at 21.

I was 55 when I first realized I was decades older than everyone I worked with and translated that into knowing that yes, I really will get old, in fact I already am doing so. And I wondered what it would feel like just as 35 or 40 years earlier I had wondered what being a grownup felt like.

It's taken me nearly 20 years to settle into old age and I've done it with as many fits and starts as growing into adulthood took.

What I first noticed, in the youth of my old age, was that people treated me differently. It probably wasn't but it seemed sudden that at work, I was no longer automatically included when groups of colleagues – all younger now – went out for drinks at the end of the day.

I knew something age-related as afoot when at age 57 or 58, I could no longer bear the pain of wearing high-heeled shoes.

At about the same time, a friend arranged for me to meet a certain writer she knew I admired who was also single. I was surprised at dinner by how old he looked; how could she think I would be interested. But he was only three years older than I.

More and more frequently, I was happy to stay home on Friday and Saturday evenings. It hadn't been so long before then that I had thought of myself as a social failure without a date or dinner or a party on a weekend.

And as I was chagrined at age 21 to feel a secret pride in little accomplishments that I believed adults handled with aplomb, now I was annoyed with myself for feeling superior to a couple of old women in my neighborhood who “behaved” much older than I did even though we were born within two or three years of one another.

Curious about what was happening to me and how my life would be different as I got older, I began researching aging. Back then, before the boomers began turning 60, there was almost no popular media about aging that was positive, if not entirely ageist. Mostly they ignored everything about life after 55 or 60.

The amount of information about old age has improved since then (although not necessarily the negative attitudes) and in the past ten years while I've been writing about various aspects of old age, I've settled into being old in a way that is similar to having gradually grown into adulthood so long ago.

It took me a very long time to understand that it's a journey getting to old age just as it was getting from childhood to adulthood.

In her excellent 1987 book, Old Age: Journey Into Simplicity, Helen M. Luke writes that Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, can never be analyzed because

”...for every time it is read it speaks with a different voice to each individual reader. Indeed, on that same reader it's impact changes with each new reading – and particularly at different phases of his growth into maturity and old age.

“This of course is true only for those who continue to grow old and do not merely sink into the aging process or attempt to delay it.”

I'm working on it, Helen. I'm trying.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Rocky Mountain High

Never Again in a Lifetime

Nine years ago (wow – it really has been that long), I posted a story here titled, For the Last Time?

It came about due to TGB reader Clarence who had written about his youthful passion for roller skating. His blog post is gone from the web but I quoted him thusly:

“…something I became proficient at during my twenties and thirties. If only it were possible to go back for just one more evening of dancing on skates with an accomplished partner. Man! That would be something else.”

I had a whole list of my own items that made me sad to know I would probably never do again and thought that if I knew the date of the last occurrence, I could light a candle in memory of it each year.

Recently, however, I have been thinking that the list was only about negative changes – things I felt some regret on leaving behind. But what about a list of things I'm happy - to greater or lesser degrees - to never do again. Such as:

Write a resume

Ask for a raise

Sacrifice comfort for style

Learn how to drive

Lose my virginity

Have an IUD inserted

Feel the need to be best at anything

Keep up with the antics of rock stars, movie stars, etc.

Bother to learn Twitter or Facebook or whatever passing internet trend is next

Be intimidated by jerks who tell me not to wear elastic waists

Give a sit-down dinner party for 12 people

Suffer anyone who annoys me

Finish a book that bores me

Ditto movies and television shows

And so many more

What about you?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: A Parallel Between Life and Yoga

Cataract Surgery – The Details

You probably know this already, but all my fretting and fear about yesterday's cataract surgery were for naught.

Well, I have been known to believe now and then that there is some kinehara involved and if I'm not afraid in certain situations, they will not go well – that the fear is what warns off negative influences.

Yes, yes. I know. That is stupid superstition but there you are. I am not a superstitious person but I am also not always rational. Thank you for all the lovely good wishes and comments yesterday – they surely must have helped too.

For those of you who asked, here is how it went.

I had arranged for a volunteer to drive me to and from the surgery center. This is a free service of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center (ACC) They do not charge for this service and you may not tip the driver.

Mine was on time, thorough, caring and conscientious. She had even done a test run from my home to the surgery center the day before to be sure of turns and timing so I would not be late. You can be certain the ACC will get a good-size donation from me for this.

Like me, you have undoubtedly read now and then about how someone's wrong leg – the good one – was amputated by mistake and I was worried for weeks leading up to this surgery that they would mix up my eyes.

I switched to monovision contact lenses 30 years ago and have worn them ever since – one, the left, for close-up work and reading, the other for distance and that is how I wanted my new lenses to be. From the start, I told everyone at every pre-surgery visit that the left eye must be my closeup; the right for distance.

As it turned out, every person I spoke to for any reason at the surgery center yesterday asked me to tell them my full name, date of birth, which eye was being operated on and whether it was my closeup or distance eye. They did this even after a big, black arrow was drawn on my forehead pointing to my left eye.

Obviously, they know what they are doing.

I was settled into a lounge chair in a pre-op room for nearly an hour covered in a warmed blanket. Nice.

A pleasant and experienced nurse asked for medical information I had previously supplied in some forms as she checked my answers again my records on a computer screen and she specifically asked name, birthdate, which eye was to be operated on and told me to point to it.

She checked blood pressure a couple of times, heart rate and inserted a needle into my arm to be ready for anesthesia during surgery. She had booties and a hair cap for me.

Over that hour, she administered eye drops four or five times for dilation and to numb my eye.

The anesthesiologist stopped by – he had telephoned me over the weekend too – to ask some questions (name, birthdate, which eye is being operated on today? Point to it, please) and to explain in detail what would happen during surgery:

Pillows under my knees for comfort. Oxygen flow. Body draped with warm sheets. Forehead taped down to keep me from moving it. Bright lights shining directly into my eye.

He checked my heart rate and respiration and said he would do the same during the surgery which, he confirmed, would last about ten minutes.

The surgeon briefly stepped into the room, too. He asked some questions (name, birthdate, which eye is being operated on today? Point to it, please) and had some reassuring words. Soon, I walked into the surgery under my own steam.

They set me up on a table with all the monitoring and equipment and when all the personnel – five of them – were ready to begin, the surgeon asked, “Name? Birthdate? Which eye are we operating on today? Please point to it.” (Don't forget that big, black arrow was still on my forehead.)

Okay, okay, okay, enough, I thought. But I was grateful, too, they were being careful.

I felt nothing during the surgery. In the center of the bright light shining in my eye were two or three fuzzy red dots and a couple of blue ones. Surrounding those were what looked like swirling water similar to what you see swimming underwater with your eyes open.

It really was just 10 minutes or so. Two nurses stayed with me to go over a page of post-surgery instructions and to give me a "goodie bag” with a pair of quite nice sunglasses and a roll of tape to hold down the eye shield I must not remove, except for eye drops, until the follow-up exam (today).

Here's what I look like. (UPDATE: As Barbara Rogers points out in the comments, I took this shot in a mirror so that my face is reversed and it looks like the shield covers my right eye instead of the left eye where it really is.)

Ronni with Eye Guard

Although after today I can take off the shield while awake, I must wear it while sleeping for one week.

The goodie bag also contained my three types of eyedrops they had requested I bring with me to the surgery center. I had begun using them four days ago and must continue to use them twice a day until halfway through February. Among the instructions for the coming week are:

Avoid vigorous activity
Don't lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk
Don't allow your head to go below your waist for an extended period of time (tying shoes is okay)
Avoid alcohol for 24 hours
Avoid swimming pools and hot tubs
Do not drive until cleared by my doctor to do so

That last item will probably happen at my follow-up appointment today.

I've given you so much detail because I wish I had known all these little things beforehand. It would have calmed me. However, take all the above as no more than a general idea of what will happen in your case.

Eye drops, their dosage and frequency of use might be different from mine. The pre-operative routine at the physician's office and at the surgery center may be different too. Instructions before and after surgery can vary.

As it turned out, the hardest part for me was having been forbidden coffee or breakfast before the surgery. I can skip breakfast for several hours with no particular effect. But coffee?

Without it, I was lethargic, my brain didn't work well, I felt stupid and slow and the first thing I did on arriving home was brew a pot.

I had a short window of drinking coffee time before noon after which I never allow coffee so that there is time for the caffeine to work its way out of my system before bedtime. I never did reach my usual level of energy yesterday.

But when that is the worst to be said for a surgery, life is good.

Cataract surgery is everything everyone tells you it is: easy, short, painless and only four hours after it was done, even wearing the eye shield, I can already see to read on this screen and on paper with amazing, new clarity.

I am eager now for the second eye to be done - in about a month.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: A Float for the Rose Parade

Elders Re-Enact Famous Movie Scenes

By the time most of you read today's post, I will have undergone cataract surgery on my left eye and be home already. I am scheduled for the procedure at 9AM and told I will be ready to leave by 10AM.

It sounds so simple, doesn't it. Hundreds of people – friends, blog readers, strangers here and there around the web, physicians – have told me for many years how terrific it is. No big deal, they say.

But I'm scared to death, haven't slept all weekend and cannot concentrate on much of anything.

Long before now, I've asked the doctors all the questions, done all the online homework. I know the surgery is easy, fast, painless and there are complications in less that one percent of surgeries.

Doesn't matter. Fear rules – IT'S MY EYE, DAMN IT. I don't claim to rational about this.

So since I'm not in shape to write a coherent blog post, I'll show you something delightful I had been saving for next week's Interesting Stuff but let's use it today instead.

I first saw this when Pamela (Lady Luz) of Costa del la Luz Gardening sent me a link a few days ago.

Then, yesterday, Marian Van Eyk McCain of Elderwomanblog sent the link too. Here's your first taste:


In case you don't recognize it, that's a scene from Saturday Night Live with Irmgard Alt, 79, and Siegfried Gallasch, 87, as Tony Manero and Stephanie Mangano.

Here's what it's about: The residents of the The Contilia Retirement Group in Essen, Germany recreated 12 classic moments from famous movies for a 2014 calendar.

The oldest resident to take party is 98-year-old Walter Loeser on the left in this Easy Rider scene.


And here is 80-year-old Erwin J. von der Heiden as – you don't need to be told - Rocky Balboa.


There are nine more images of elders re-creating scenes in nine more iconic movies. The best photos I found are at Der Spiegel and there is a Google-translated story from German here.

As Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres points out in the comments below, those links to the story and more photos don't work now. Here's a better link to all 12 photos.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Getting Taller, Getting Smaller

ELDER MUSIC: Roger McGough

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

Roger McGough

ROGER MCGOUGH is an English poet who has in the past dabbled in music as well. He's one of those very rare beasts – someone who makes a living from writing and performing poetry.

He is from Liverpool and is a member of a group called The Liverpool Poets who were influenced by both the Beat poets and sixties' rock & roll.

A collection of their poems sold in numbers usually associated only with pop music singles. Indeed, Roger was in a pop group in the sixties that sold a bunch of records.

Besides poetry he also wrote the dialogue for the animated film, Yellow Submarine, for which he was paid but didn't receive screen credit.

Musically, Roger is most famous for being in the band THE SCAFFOLD, a trio whose other members were John Gorman and Mike McGear.


That last name was just a stage name for Michael McCartney who had an older, slightly more famous brother named Paul.

The Scaffold had a million selling record (and others that did pretty well too) in the sixties and played to sold-out audiences all over the place. They released four albums as well. Their biggest song was Lily the Pink.

♫ The Scaffold - Lily The Pink

In 1968, Roger and Mike recorded an album called McGough & McGear where they had the help of a number of musicians who may be familiar to you on that album – Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, John Mayall, Spencer Davis and others.

A song from that album is Yellow Book.

McGough & McGear

♫ McGough & McGear - Yellow Book

Here Roger reads his poem, A Fine Romance, which he wrote for the Alzheimer's Society. It seems to me to fit in well with TimeGoesBy. It explores the theme of dementia and its impact on relationships.

Roger McGough

♫ Roger McGough - A Fine Romance

The Scaffold's other big seller was Thank You Very Much.


The song was written by Mike and has a number of obscure references which he has assiduously refused to explain the meaning.

♫ The Scaffold - Thank You Very Much

The Scaffold weren't just about singing and playing; there was always some poetry, Roger's of course, as well as vaudeville elements.


One track where Roger contributes a little of his works is Buttons of Your Mind.

♫ The Scaffold - Buttons of Your Mind

Those with long musical memories might recall a song from the early fifties called The Deck of Cards. In north western Victoria where I lived as a whippersnapper, the local radio station would play Wink Martindale's version of this song.

Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, lived in south western Victoria and she said her station played Tex Ritter's. We discuss why there was a difference now and then when we'd run out of trivial things to talk about.

Anyway, The Scaffold recorded this song and I imagine that those who remember it are already thinking of skipping it and going on to the next one. I suggest you don't do that as they perform it the way it should have been done in the first place.

They call it The Pack of Cards for reasons that will become obvious.


♫ The Scaffold - Pack of Cards

Almost certainly, Roger's most famous poem is Summer with Monika.


I have that in an actual book and it's a beautiful, wry, poignant work. He has recorded it several times over the years, including a recent one with a symphony orchestra.

With that one, Roger performed the complete poem but at more than 32 minutes it's a bit much for this column. There's a shorter version Roger did back in the sixties on the McGough & McGear album that captures the essence of the poem and I'll share it with you.

Paul McCartney produced the album and you can hear him briefly at the beginning of this track. That's Andy Roberts playing guitar.

♫ McGough & McGear - Summer with Monika

INTERESTING STUFF – 25 January 2014

Of course, there are cats this week. And some important political notes along with, god help me, two items of bathroom humor. I couldn't help myself; they both made me laugh. See what you think.


In Bermuda, 90-year-old Johnny Barnes is known as Mr. Happy Man. For more than a decade, he's been greeting commuters every day with shouts of “How are you?” and “I love you.”

Bermudans love him back so much, they commissioned a statue of Johnny. Here's his story in video:

You can read more about Johnny Barnes here.


You probably know that a study released this week concludes that the 85 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion (yes, BILLION) of the world's population combined. Here's what one rich man says about that:


For as long as I can remember, shuffleboard has been used as a demeaning shorthand to indicate that old people are boring. Apparently, young people now think differently even though reporter, Joshua David Stein, just had to wallow in the ageist cliché:

”Like the lido deck of some deluxe retirement home, 10 bright blue shuffleboard courts were lined up in a neat row, but instead of retirees, they were filled with 20- and 30-something players wielding sticks and pints of beer.

“The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, which opens next week, may be the first shuffleboard club in New York, and it’s trying to turn the pastime favored by septuagenarians into the next Ping-Pong among the borough’s barhopping millennials.”

Photos and more information here.


By now, pretty much everyone has seen the videos of the skateboarding dogs. But a skateboarding cat? Take a look at this. I don't know how the skateboard is powered but let's ignore that. The cat is amazing.


The Supreme Court's Citizen United ruling has decimated electoral politics in the U.S. No longer is there any way that grassroots organizations can compete with the gazilionaires who buy their own government representatives locally and federally.

There are people who are trying to change that and they need every one us. Please take the time to view this:

You'll find more about the work of Free Speech for People here. In addition, just yesterday Gallup published a new survey showing a record low number of voters say their Congressional representative deserves re-election – just 17 percent.

Perhaps that bodes well for the November election. Read more at Gallup.


Steve Rosenberg has been in Russia preparing to cover the Sochi Olympics for BBC News. Eventually, as happens to all of us, nature called:

"The cubicle in question was inside the Laura Cross Country Skiing and Biathlon Centre - brand new, and built, of course, for next month's Sochi winter games. I tracked down the Gents' and went in.

"It was pretty much as you'd expect things to be, really, in a little WC. There was a sink, some paper towels, but oddly enough there were two toilets where you'd expect just one - full sized lavatories, they were, side by side - and no partition down the middle."


Rosenberg continues:

"Equally strange, there was only one toilet paper dispenser - within reach of just one of the toilets. I didn't really know what to do. Which seat should I sit on? Was I allowed to sit on either of them? Or was this strictly a loo for two?"

You can read more of Rosenbergs story at the BBC News website. (Hat tip to Celia of Celia's Blue Cottage)


Posting this makes me feel juvenile, like a nine-year-old boy, but it makes me laugh anyway. As someone noted, however, it's worth posting because “a deer fart is like seeing a unicorn.”


elders for the high cost of Medicare, remind them of this report about Health Management Associates, a for-profit hospital chain based in Naples, Florida:

“Every day the scorecards went up where they could be seen by all of the hospital’s emergency room doctors.

“Physicians hitting the target to admit at least half of the patients over 65 years old who entered the emergency department were color-coded green. The names of doctors who were close were yellow. Failing physicians were red.”

The Justice Department has joined others in a lawsuit challenging these strategies by the company to inflate payments from Medicare and Medicaid.

There is a lot more of this going on and it's worth your while to read the well-reported story at The New York Times.


Short, cute and funny.

Oops. Video has been removed from YouTube. Bummer.

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.

We're Old, We Still Like Sex and Yes, We Know About Condoms

The blaring headline in last Sunday's New York Times was hard for someone like me who writes about aging to ignore: Sex and the Single Senior.

In addition, the Op-ed was written by Ezekiel Emanuel, famous oncologist brother of the current Chicago mayor and former adviser to President Barack Obama.

Although I didn't know on Sunday and still don't know today how expertise in cancer relates to knowledge of STDs in elders, the story's placement in the newspaper of record made it a must read.

It does not start off well. Emanuel's lead sentence is so demeaning to elders that my first thought was (and remains) that I can't trust anything else he says. Here's that first paragraph:

”What is happening in retirement communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes? You might imagine quiet reading, crossword puzzles, bingo, maybe some shuffleboard. Think again. Think about sex — unsafe sex.”

Don't you just want to smack him? Not only does he believe old people are dozing away their dotage, he thinks we're stupid about sex too. It gets worse.

It appears that Emanuel is a prude about old people enjoying any sex at all. A friend, he writes, told him that when her father moved into an assisted living residence,

”...three women came by to introduce themselves within 30 minutes. And it wasn’t to compare Medicare pharmacy plans and premiums.”

Eew! We can't have elders of the opposite sex interested in one another in that way, can we.

Further, he – a physician - seems to believe that sex among elders is a new phenomenon:

”...older people are living longer and are in better health. As a result, they are remaining sexually active much later into life...

“But while they are having a lot of sex, seniors didn’t seem to get the safe sex memo, or when it came through they ignored it because they did not think it applied to them.”

Emanuel's “proof” of this outrageous generalization derives from a misrepresention of statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in this demonstrably false assertion:

”Combine retirement communities, longer life, unfamiliarity with condoms and Viagra — and what do you get? You get an S.T.D. epidemic among the Social Security generation that rivals what we imagine is happening in those Animal House fraternities.”

I'll let that nasty, little condom and Viagra reference slide, but the CDC statistics on STDs among elders bear no resemblance to Emanuel's “epidemic” characterization.

In this chart at the CDC, for example, between 2007 and 2011, the number of cases of chlamydia in men and women age 65 and older increased from 809 (2.1 per 100,000) to 1064 (2.6 per 100,000).

During the same period, the number of chlamydia cases for those age 20-24 increased from 401,173 (1,907.4 per 100,000) to 542,947 (2,515.3 per 100,000).

Come on now. In no way does the first set of numbers “rival” the second.

Emanuel tries to further his contention of STDs run amok among elders with a wildly illogical comparison of the kinds of health tests Medicare beneficiaries undergo.

”Free S.T.D. tests,” he notes, “were as popular as colonoscopies among the 47.6 million eligible Medicare Part B patients.”

And why not? They are both important health conditions and it is a good thing, not evidence of epidemic, that there were 2.2 million STD tests AND 2.2 million colonoscopy screenings.

In conclusion, Ezekial makes his stand: “These S.T.D. numbers,” he says, “demand that seniors take responsibility for their actions.”

Right - as if we're all irresponsible layabouts who don't know anything about sex and its consequences.

Ezekiel calls for an education campaign aimed at old people about safe sex and then shows off even more of his ignorance and ageism with these suggestions:

”Social Security could include some information on S.T.D.’s [sic] and how to use a condom when it sends out checks.

“Come to think of it, these data mean there is an untapped market: over 40 million Americans who are unfamiliar with latex protection. Maybe Durex and Trojan can mail free condoms to every Social Security recipient?”

Dear god. Can it be that he thinks elders have never heard of condoms? Did he really write this article without knowing paper Social Security checks disappeared a year ago in favor of direct deposit and debit cards.

The terrible thing about Dr. Emanuel's Op-ed is that while a campaign to give elders a refresher course in STDs is not an urgent need, it is certainly a good idea.

But it's hard to take seriously even a smart suggestion from a person as uninformed as this man, especially when he also harbors so many ageist stereotypes about elders - unforgivable in someone who is fast approaching age 60 himself.

[UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I discovered this story by Michael Miner at Chicago Reader. He does his own similar and excellent take-down of Dr. Emanuel's misuse of statistics.]

ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with letting myself off the hook for too many responsibilities while sick, I have not prepared stories for The Elder Storytelling Place this week. They will return next Monday 27 January.

The Terrible Hidden Toll of Being Old and Unemployed

Remember when Congress went home for the year-end holidays without extending unemployment benefits to 1.3 million long-term unemployed? Those people and their families are still without benefits.

It gets worse. Did you see the news yesterday?

”...last July, North Carolina sharply cut its unemployment program, reducing the maximum number of weeks of benefits to 20 from 73 and reducing the maximum weekly benefit as well.

“The rest of the country is now following North Carolina’s lead...

“Starting on Jan. 1, the maximum period of unemployment payments dropped to 26 weeks in most states, down from as much as 73 weeks.”

As bad as this is at any age, for older workers, it is disaster; statistics show that it takes 50- and 60-year-olds about twice as long to find work (if they ever do) as people 40 and younger.

Canada's government may not be as cruel as in the U.S., but the difficulty of finding work while old exists there too.

Earlier this week doctafil, who blogs at Jive Chalkin', sent me a link to a painful letter to the editor at the Montreal Gazette from a highly qualified worker who has not been able to find a job in 18 months of looking:

”The problem? I am 62 years old. Despite the fact that I am in the prime of my career and in perfect health, it would appear employers do not wish to consider the many years of experience associated with my age group.

“Retirement is not in my immediate plans and won’t be for many years. I know I am not the only job seeker in this predicament, based on the age demographic I see in waiting rooms.

“Full-time employment is my only option, in order to be in a position to sign a lease. I am currently boarding with a family member, which is not a viable long-term solution.”

What does she do, I wonder, when her welcome runs out.

Hardly anyone uses the phrase anymore but we are talking about age discrimination in the workplace.

Even though there are laws against it, few hiring people pay attention, no one prosecutes and so it is the reason older workers (is 50 all that old?) have such a terrible time trying to find a job.

As horrible as they are, however, hunger and homeless are not the worst things that can happen as a result of unemployment. Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett, writing in The New York Times in 2012, are among the few in the mainstream media to discuss suicide among the unemployed:

”A paper by the economists Daniel Sullivan and Till von Wachter estimates a 50 to 100 percent increase in death rates for older male workers in the years immediately following a job loss, if they previously had been consistently employed.

“There are various reasons for this rise in mortality. One is suicide. A recent study found that a 10 percent increase in the unemployment rate (say from 8 to 8.8 percent) would increase the suicide rate for males by 1.47 percent.

“This is not a small effect. Assuming a link of that scale, the increase in unemployment would lead to an additional 128 suicides per month in the United States.

“The picture for the long-term unemployed is especially disturbing. The duration of unemployment is the dominant force in the relationship between joblessness and the risk of suicide.”

Unemployed older women commit suicide too and earlier this week, the estimable Susie Madrak of Crooks and Liars told the terrible, sad story of one:

”My dear friend killed herself Saturday, an hour or two after she left my house...

“When the unemployment ran out, she was living off her 401K, which depressed her deeply. The job she finally found a year or so later was working for an elected official's local office.

“She answered the phone, she occasionally got to help people. But mostly, she hated it. She didn't feel useful and she spent most of the day on Facebook.

“She was afraid to look for another job. 'I'm 60 years old, I haven't done this work in five years,' she said. 'I don't think I can do it. If I got laid off again, I think it would kill me. At least with this job, I don't have to worry about losing it'"...

“I found out she was dead when I called her cell phone and her sister-in-law answered. She's taken a handful of pills and climbed into the bath.

“I know she had severe problems. I know she was fragile. But when she had a real job, and a real paycheck, she was functional, damn it. And I can't help but see her as yet another victim of this goddamned recession.”

“Another victim of this goddamned recession” and as far as I can tell, no one with the power and authority to take the steps necessary to alleviate so much suffering will do anything.

You know who they are. Everyone does, even if no one will say their names.

ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with letting myself off the hook for too many responsibilities while sick, I have not prepared stories for The Elder Storytelling Place this week. They will return next Monday 27 January.

Senior Moments: A Feature, Not a Bug

It is “common knowledge” that turns up every day in print, online, in movies and TV shows: old people are all incompetent, can't learn anything new, don't care about sex, are depressed and senile.

Of course, none of that is true but the myths stubbornly abide. One that is widely believed and feeds all the rest is that when we reach old age, we are all on a one way trip to dementia. Even a lot of old people believe it:

“When older people can no longer remember names at a cocktail party, they tend to think that their brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this assumption is often wrong.

“Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit.”

That's from an story in The New York Times that I reported on here six years ago.

I'm repeating some of this old blog post because a few days ago, my friend Judy Graham alerted me to a report of a more recent study published in Psychology Today this month upholding this phenomenon:

“Healthy aging, as [researcher Michael] Ramscar explains,” writes Thomas T Hills, PhD., “may be nothing more than gaining more experience and then dealing with the consequences of having learned from that experience...

“Ramscar puts it this way: 'Older adults’ changing performance reflects memory search demands, which escalate as experience grows.' And this makes them slower...

“Youth has the benefit of speed and flexibility, but age has the benefit of wisdom and guile…and slowness.”

Surely like me, you've joked about how long it takes to find the word you're looking for, for just this reason and it becomes more evident with each new research project that we've been correct about it all along.

Just as Hill further explains about Ramscar's work:

“The message is fairly intuitive. Our computers slow down as we store more information on them. Information gets harder to find in libraries for each additional book stored in that library. Libraries are vast and valuable, but they are rarely fast.”

So let's put the brakes on “senior moment” excuses and accept that this is how old brains operate – more slowly sometimes, but usually more accurately.

There is much more detail in Thomas Hill's report of this research study here, and you can read the full study as html or pdf here which is available for free.

ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with letting myself off the hook for too many responsibilities while sick, I have not prepared stories for The Elder Storytelling Place this week. They will return next Monday 27 January.

Elders and National Hugging Day

Today is National Hugging Day. As far as I can tell, there is no organization behind it and the day is nothing more than a listing on Chase's Calendar (and similar calendars) – that compendium of celebrations of silliness or, often, just brand names for marketing purposes.

But for the purposes of this blog, it is an opportunity to talk about the importance of touch to humans and how little of it elders experience.

”...human touch fosters trust and cooperation, even generosity,” writes Karen Brannen at LeadingAge. “It provides a sense of social support and wellbeing both physical and emotional...

“I've seen firsthand how the warmth of simple touching can transcend age and time. No matter how old we get, most of us love to have our hands held, get touched on the shoulder, or just enjoy a genuine, old-fashioned hug.”

I wrote about elders and the need for touch last June when I reported on having a massage. As noted at the ComfortKeepers website,

"The sense of touch is so powerful that some experts recommend elderly clients receive regular, professional massages. Massages in general are not meant to convey affection, but use the power of touch in another way.

"Gentle kneading of muscles helps release tension, can improve blood flow through the body and ease the pain of arthritis. While no affection is involved during a professional massage, oxytocin released in the body during the process produces the same comforting effects.

Writing last year in the Evansville Courier and Press, Professor Emeritus Hanns Pieper of Sociology and Gerontology at the University of Evansville noted:

”While other important senses such as vision and hearing usually decline as a normal part of the aging process, touch remains a viable and important sense. Just as the importance of touch increases, many seniors become more seriously touch deprived. In fact, they experience less touch than any other age group.”

Tara Cortes is the executive director of the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at New York University.

"We do know that just the touching of a person to another person, just the warmness, creates a sense of calmness and security," Cortes said.

“More than just chatting, playing games or even holding hands, giving focused, attentive touch establishes an intimate, nurturing bond that expresses caring, [massage therapist Dawn] Nelson said.

“She has seen it ease the symptoms of touch deprivation, such as grouchiness, irritability, and a lack of interest in life and people.”

Although I am generally happy living alone, I am one of those touch-deprived elders. Our culture does not foster touching and, in fact, seems to actively discourage it so that unless a person is a small child with a parent or two, or half of a married couple, there is little if any touching especially among old people.

With all this in mind, I wouldn't go around hugging people willy-nilly if I were you but it so improves life that it is a good thing to do – for everyone. Ask first and if an opportunity comes up for it, today would be a good day to start.

ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with letting myself off the hook for too many responsibilities while sick, I have not prepared stories for The Elder Storytelling Place this week. They will return next Monday 27 January.

What I Learned This Month About Being Sick While Old

One of the universal effects of getting old is that our bodies and their systems gradually slow down and operate less efficiently so illness hits us harder than when we were younger and lasts longer.

I see now, as I am finally recovering, that my complaints ten days ago about tiredness and ennui were the beginning of worse to come. It's been so long since I had a serious bout of flu, I had forgotten how it feels at first and believed I'd get over such lassitude.

Instead, by last weekend my temperature was up to 101.x where it stayed for a couple of days.

Stupidly, I thought I was well enough on Tuesday to, as I reported, see the eye surgeon and meet friends for dinner that evening too. Dumb.

For the rest of the week, until Saturday, I dozed almost around the clock. When I wasn't sleeping, I experienced mental confusion and a terrible sense of anxiety, EG: there's something I've promised to do but I can't remember what it is).

Sometimes I could not decide if I had done something or only thought about doing it.

In lucid moments, I checked email but realize now that doing so increased feelings of panic. Get-well messages from friends and blog readers made me feel obligated to write back but I was too tired to do it so the anxiety was compounded, and compounded further each time I checked the inbox.

Other emails with questions about plans for an upcoming community meeting I chair required an answer. I could barely make sense of the words I read on the screen and typing a response felt like a Sisyphean effort.

Finally on Saturday morning, for the first time in many days, I woke clear-headed. Clear-headed and chastened. I'm not anywhere near as tough as I think I am and now I've come up with some things I have learned about being sick while old that might make it easier next time.

Never, ever ignore an ailment – cold, flu, etc. when it is first coming on. It will – WILL - hit harder than when you were 20 or 30 or 40.

At the earliest symptoms stock up, if necessary, on the remedies you use – pain killers for achiness, sleep aids, refills for prescription drugs if they are low, beverages, etc.

(I was lucky that I had just frozen a gigantic batch of homemade soup so when I was occasionally hungry, I had only to engage with the microwave.)

While you can still think, cancel upcoming appointments so that you are not plagued with thoughts about something you may be forgetting to do.

Do not read email. Period. You're probably too sick to make sense in response and it will sap your energy to do so.

Don't forget that flu can be deadly to elders more frequently than to younger adults. So as you get ready to go to bed, make sure your phone is at your side and that phone numbers – physician and emergency – are where you can easily find them.

Be prepared for a lingering recovery and don't overextend yourself. Flu and colds last longer in old age and so does the aftermath.

If you have further suggestions, please add them below. This does not include, however, specific remedies, foods, drinks, etc. which will be removed. And thank you all for your well wishes while I was out of commission.

ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with letting myself off the hook for too many responsibilities while sick, I have not prepared stories for The Elder Storytelling Place this week. They will return next Monday 27 January.


Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

What happened in 1943?

  • Jim Morrison was born
  • Things were still grim but slowly improving
  • Italy surrendered, then switched sides
  • Assassination attempt on Hitler failed when the bomb on his plane failed to explode
  • The Ox-Bow Incident was released
  • Richmond were premiers

I can think of no better way to start this year than with NAT KING COLE.

Nat King Cole Trio

This is, of course, The Nat King Cole Trio we're talking about here and the song is All for You. It has the distinction of being the first of theirs to cross over and make the pop charts.

♫ Nat King Cole Trio - All for You

Which brings up to BING CROSBY. This year certainly wasn't the first time he'd made the charts.

Bing Crosby

The song, Moonlight Becomes You, was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke for the film Road to Morocco.

♫ Bing Crosby - Moonlight Becomes You

"You played it for her, you can play it for me. If she can stand it, I can! Play it!"

Okay, you all know what I'm talking about. The film came out the previous year but the song was a hit this year, several versions of it in fact. There's only one I'd consider including though, and that's by DOOLEY WILSON.

Dooley Wilson

Dooley was a singer and a drummer, but not a pianist. He just acted playing the piano in Casablanca because he was an actor as well. Even though he appeared in a couple of dozen films, there's only one we remember him for. But what a film.

Here is As Time Goes By.

♫ Dooley Wilson - As Time Goes By

The song Stormy Weather had been around since 1933. In 1943 they made a film with that as its title. It was a bio-pic based roughly on the life of Bill Robinson (who played himself).

Dooley Wilson was in that film too as Bill's best friend along with Cab Calloway and Fats Waller. It goes without saying than LENA HORNE had a lead role as well and sang the title song.

Lena Horne

♫ Lena Horne - Stormy Weather

Why Don't You Do Right? was written by Kansas Joe McCoy. It was originally called The Weed Smoker's Dream and he recorded that with his band, The Harlem Hamfats.

Joe later wrote new words to the song and changed its name to the one we know. This was recorded by Lil Green with Big Bill Broonzy playing guitar. PEGGY LEE was impressed with Lil's version and she recorded it with Benny Goodman. She said that Lil was a big influence on her music.

Peggy Lee

♫ Benny Goodman & Peggy Lee - Why Don't You Do Right

Mister Five by Five was written by Don Raye and Gene DePaul. The song is all about Jimmy Rushing who was Count Basie's vocalist for many years.

Ella Mae Morse and Freddie Slack had a hit with it but the version we're interested in, also a hit, is by HARRY JAMES with HELEN FORREST singing.

Harry James and Helen Forest

♫ Harry James and Helen Forrest - Mister Five By Five

Here are THE INK SPOTS with I Can't Stand Losing You.

The Ink Spots

Nothing more needs to be said. Just sit back and enjoy it.

♫ The Ink Spots - I Can't Stand Losing You

This year saw early rumblings of the jump blues style of music that took off in the latter part of the decade. One of the first of the musicians who played in the style was LOUIS JORDAN.

Louis Jordan

Five Guys Named Moe started life as a musical short created by Louis. It then became a fully fledged musical, again with the music written by our man. Here he is with the title song.

♫ Louis Jordan - Five Guys Named Moe

Next is CHARLES TRENET with a song he wrote himself called Que reste-t-il de nos amours?

Charles Trenet

That means "what remains of our love?" You might recognise it.

♫ Charles Trenet - Que reste-t-il de nos amours

The musical Oklahoma! opened on Broadway this year with ALFRED DRAKE playing the lead role of Curly.

Alfred Drake

Alfred appeared in many musicals as well as Shakespearean productions. He was an early TV actor as well but only made a few films. Oklahoma! was one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's many such vehicles and Alfred sings the title song.

♫ Alfred Drake - Oklahoma

1944 will appear in two weeks' time.

INTERESTING STUFF – 18 January 2014


Whether Bridgegate will become New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's Watergate is yet to be seen but for all the media overkill about it in the past week, this was the best.

Bruce Spingsteen and Jimmy Fallon did a great job of tweaking Christie in their reworking of Born to Run into a parody of the bridge closing and its effect on Fort Lee.


We have had several good discussions here recently about weight loss and I believe that an advantage old people have in this endeavor is that we have enough experience to understand there are no miracle cures.

With others, however, the weight loss industry still rakes in billions of dollars a year in weight loss aids of which, it is said, 15 percent or so are either useless or questionable. As reported in Marketwatch last week:

“ avoid fraudulent weight-loss products, consumers should be on the lookout for labels that promise quick action (like losing 10 pounds in 10 days), and labels that use words like 'guaranteed' or 'scientific breakthrough.' She also cautions against using creams or patches that promise to help with weight loss.”

Reporter Catey Hill's Marketwatch story, 10 Things the Weight Loss Industry Won't Tell You, is one of the most useful articles on the diet business I've read in a long time. You will find it here.


It's just a promotion for an upcoming movie and it's been all over the internet this week. But until the creepy animatronic devil baby in a remote controlled stroller gained wide exposure, it scared the crap out of whole lot of New Yorkers.


TGB Reader Alan Goldsmith sent this video of 25-year-old Lizzie Velasquez. Due to a disease so rare only two other people are known to have it, she has zero body fat among other serious conditions.

All her life, her appearance has caused stares, fear and on the internet, a hateful label: the world's ugliest woman. But she has a indomitable spirit and her story is inspiring. Take a look.


Maybe this is too New York-centric and maybe the fact that I have less than zero interest in football is affecting my judgment but can it possibly be true that more than half a mile of Broadway in the center of Manhattan will be closed for several DAYS leading up to the Super Bowl game?

”The crown jewel of public Super Bowl events will take up 13 blocks of Broadway and call itself Super Bowl Boulevard,” reports

“From noon to 10 p.m. Jan. 29 through Feb. 1, the NFL will own Broadway between 34th and 47th streets and fans can take to the streets.

Someone with the power to make this happen thinks it's a good idea to screw up the daily lives of millions of people in the busiest traffic city in U.S? For days? For a football game?


If you live in a large urban area, especially in hard times, you are accustomed to passing many homeless people holding up their homemade signs of desperation and need.

Photographer and artist Andres Serrano says he has never seen so many people begging as now and he set out on a project to purchase their signs. He approached more than 200 homeless and in part, this is what he explained about how it worked:

“I’m buying these signs because I see every sign as a story. There are many stories out here that should be heard. Can I offer you $20 for your sign? They would all say yes and it touched me how grateful many people were when I bought their sign.”

The simplicity of the video Serrano created of these signs belies its power. (Hat tip to Jim Stone)

Serrano explains more about the project here and this is his official website.


One of the things I admire about scientists is their tolerance for repetitive minutiae which often is what it takes to achieve the breakthroughs that improve our lives.

One of the scariest natural phenomena in recent years is the massive death of bees worldwide. Without the free pollination service bees provide, food production would be nearly impossible.

In an effort to figure out a fix for the bee problem, scientists at Australia's national science agency, will microchip sensors to thousands of honeybees. They

”...will use tweezers to glue on the sensors, weighing about 5 milligrams and measuring 2.5 millimeters (a little more than 1/16 of an inch) square, after soothing the bees to sleep by refrigeration.

“Some young bees, which tend to be hairier than older bees, need to be shaved before the sensor can be glued on.”

God bless those scientists for their willingness to carry out this incredibly tedious kind of work. You can read more here.


It is a fact of human life that unbreakable friendships can be born of mutual adversity. This time it happened in the animal world.

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.

End-of-Week Musical Interlude

It's been about 15 years since I last had a flu. Even then, in my late fifties, I recall being irritated that I did not bounce back as quickly as even five or ten years earlier. Although I returned to work, it was two or three weeks before I was returned to full energy.

That is as true this time but now I don't feel obligated to pretend to be back at full capacity quickly.

Yesterday, Thursday, I was particularly tired so I took the day off to snooze and nap and rest. That's why you get a musical interlude provided by TGB's resident musicologist, Peter Tibbles, for just such a circumstance as this.

It a lovely, gentle, little tune from Peter, Paul and Mary that I'm sure you are all familiar with:

♫ Peter, Paul and Mary - Don't Think Twice, It's Alright

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sondra Terry: The Perfect Two Dollars

Crabby Old Lady Versus Big Pharma

In a couple of weeks, Crabby Old Lady will undergo her first cataract surgery so on Tuesday she delivered herself to the physician's office for measurement of her eye and to go over admitting procedures.

Among those were an explanation of how to use the prescription eye drops she is required to begin three days before the surgery and continue for several weeks following.

Before continuing, some background is necessary.

Because Crabby does not use any prescription drugs and because there is no way on earth anyone can predict what drugs might become necessary in the future, each year when the enrollment period for Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) rolls around, Crabby buys the least expensive plan.

There is no other sane way to approach the dilemma.

So, in the surgeon's office on Tuesday, the technician asked Crabby what pharmacy she uses so the prescription could be phoned in.

For lack of using drugs, Crabby doesn't have a pharmacy and she told the technician that she wasn't certain but suspected that if she uses a non-network pharmacy, the drops will cost a fortune.

The technician related the horror story of a recent patient who was charged nearly $500 for what others pay less than $100 and she suggested that Crabby check prices at the network pharmacy and elsewhere, then phone her with a selected pharmacy.

Crabby, who wanted nothing more than to go home to bed and continue nursing her flu, drove four or five miles out of her way to the network pharmacy.

The technician had given Crabby a printout of the drugs' names – generic and brand - so Crabby offered this piece of paper to the network pharmacist along with her Part D membership card and asked the price.

“This is not a prescription,” said the pharmacist.

“Yes, I know,” said Crabby. “It is just a listing of the drugs so I can check your price. The physician's office will telephone you with the prescription when I have chosen a pharmacy.”

“I can't tell you the price,” said the pharmacist, “without entering a valid prescription into the system.”


“I can only tell you the price when I get the prescription order for the drugs,” said the pharmacist.

Crabby, who had risen from her sick bed to see the doctor, was tired and very cranky. “You want me to buy something before I know the price?”

She told Crabby to phone the big pharma Part D company for the price but she, the pharmacist, could not tell Crabby the price.

It's like living in Wonderland where everything is upside down. As usual, Crabby had left home without her cell phone so 30 or 40 minutes later back at her desk Crabby worked her way through the big pharma insurance company's menu of choices and finally spoke to a customer service representative.

You already know, of course, this did not end well.

After handing over her membership number and spelling the names of the drugs, Crabby asked, “What is the price of these drugs, the brand name and the generic, in a network pharmacy?”

The woman gave Crabby the two prices – about $144 and $65 - and then said, “But those are only estimates.”


“They are estimates. The prices could be higher or lower.”

“What?” said Crabby. “This is a drug, not a car repair.”


“How much higher or lower?”

“I don't know,” said the woman.

“A lot either way?”

“I don't know,” she said.

“Who would know?”

“I don't know.”

“Are you telling me that I can know only an estimated price before committing to a purchase?”


Crabby was already weary, and now livid as well which was certainly evident in her tone of voice. “Would you buy a gallon of milk if the tag in the grocery refrigerator gave you only an estimated price?”

Long silence.

“Well, would you?” asked Crabby again.

Click. Disconnect.

Crabby checked with the nearby, non-network pharmacy where she purchases her (apparently useless) flu shot each year. She got a slightly more sophisticated runaround than at the big insurance phone service and the network pharmacy.

The pharmacist said he couldn't give her a price without a valid prescription and he would need to know if she had fulfilled her deductible.

Crabby explained that the deductible wasn't an issue, that she is capable of adding and subtracting. She just wants the price of the two versions of the drug.

The pharmacist refused.

A friend with whom Crabby later spoke believes that the big insurance companies, in collusion with big pharma, do this now to prevent comparison shopping.

By refusing to name a price, he continued, it makes it easy for them to increase the price of the drug when – oh, you know, the CEO wants a million-dollar salary rise or a new corporate jet.

Let Crabby put it this way: she does not disbelieve that explanation.

Here is how it ought to work. Pharmacies provide prescriptions to all comers with any kind of health coverage. They are plugged into all the insurance companies' networks for their individual formularies, dosages and prices. So:

Plug in the name of the drug
Plug in the dosage
Plug in the membership number
Voila! See the price

But our corporate masters now have complete control of us and we have no recourse. Crabby thinks this used to be called slavery.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joyce Benedict: Life Without TV: Overcoming an Addiction to Mediocrity

A Website For Elders

Although it doesn't take up a lot of my time, I try to keep an eye on websites that target elders. Certainly they are important when you need the information but I don't mean single-topic sites such as those for Alzheimer's disease, finance, travel, caregiving, elderlaw, advocacy, etc.

Also, I don't go anywhere near sites that use the word “feisty” to describe themselves or their readers and I ignore those that speak only to boomers – what am I, chopped liver?

Although they are useful, usually well produced and I rely on them when I need such information, I'm not talking about medical websites or government sites either. I'm looking for general interest websites, online magazines. Perhaps we can think of them as better-funded equivalents of this blog.

I watch them because they have – or ought to have - greater resources than I do and are therefore capable of more in-depth reporting. At one time, there were many such websites that, unfortunately, came and went in quick succession. But I keep hoping.

What we have now, mainly, are AARP, Next Avenue, Third Age and a section of Huffington Post called Post 50. After my Monday story, I shouldn't even mention Post 50 especially with this newest brain-dead story about elders.

And let's let off the hook. A lot of people don't like the organization and the website is hard to use but even while indulging in way too much numbered-list journalism, they turn out a lot of good research and supply well-done service stories on Social Security, Medicare and other essential issues elders need to know about.

So for genuine general interest online magazines, we're left with mostly Third Age and Next Avenue. Third Age might qualify as a health site except there are so many stories about beauty products, how to look ten years younger and five things not to eat to improve your sex life that it sometimes feels like Cosmopolitan.

And Next Avenue, produced by PBS? I could rant on about it but all you need to know is encapsulated in the fact that they republished the ageist story from Huffington Post that we discussed here on Monday.

There is one bright spot in online publishing for people of our age that I've been following for several months. I linked to it a couple of weeks ago when I quoted some of the site's interview with Advanced Style proprietor Ari Seth Cohen.

Among the things I like about Senior Planet:

Clean, uncluttered home page,
A variety of types of features from service pieces to human interest stories
An always respectful attitude toward elders
Intelligent stories that don't talk down to readers

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak by telephone with Senior Planet's digital director, Barbara Aria.

The website, Barbara explained, is the outgrowth of a physical space in New York City called the The Senior Planet Exploration Center located at 127 West 25th Street which, itself, is a project of the nonprofit OATS – the Older Adult Technology Services. From the website:

”The Senior Planet Exploration Center hosts 5- and 10-week digital technology courses geared to older adults, along with workshops, talks, and social and cultural events.

“Technology is at the heart of the Exploration Center. We help seniors harness its power to enhance health, finances, social connections, civic engagement, creativity and lifelong learning.”

Although there is a calendar of upcoming Center events on the website, for the past 18 months, Barbara has been developing feature stories that are less New York-y although still metropolitan in nature. And she's making me jealous with great finds that haven't shown up on my radar.

There is a fascinating story published this week about architect Matthias Hollwich who has a new vision for elder living that goes beyond retirement communities and even beyond aging in place. The 41-year-old, reports Barbara, declared

”...himself to be ‘old’ because he’s passed the halfway mark of a German man’s average life expectancy...

“Hollwich is fond of saying that there are 17,000 nursing homes, and 17,000 reasons not to live in each one of them. He characterizes them as 'storage facilities.' (The Eden Project, he notes, is a singular exception.)”

(If you happen to be in New York City, Hollwich is giving at talk at The Senior Planet Exploration Center this evening at 5:30PM. It is free but RSVP is required. Check the Senior Planet website.)

In another recent story, Barbara interviewed award-winning, young British artist Aleah Chapin who paints huge, hyper-real nudes of elder women in a project she calls, The Aunties.


In the interview, Ms. Chapin told Barbara Aria:

”I wanted to see something that mirrored the world I saw around me. The Aunties Project is less about age and more about making paintings that fully embrace the real human body, this fascinating vessel that carries us through our experiences.”

Go read the entire interview here with a lot more photos of Ms. Chapin's paintings. It's an extraordinary exhibit.

What else I like about Senior Planet is it doesn't overwhelm me with 25 or 30 or 50 new stories a day. I've got more than enough email newsletters and rss feeds to do that every day. Like TGB, Senior Planet gives me one new story a day and more often than not, I click on it.

Oh, one more thing: if you like Interesting Stuff here on Saturdays, you'll surely like Barbara's weekly Sunday post with her own list of “cool finds for seniors.”

The subtitle of Senior Planet is “Aging with Attitude.” Barbara told me that means different things to different people but among them would be people who are looking forward, resilient, opinionated and engaged in both the world and their own lives.

Just like you and me – heh.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Amazing I Say – Part 2

Weight Loss Follow Up

Several people emailed with questions similar to those in a comment Bia Redko left on last week's story about my weight loss:

I loved your diet and trying to follow it.
You do not have any milk?
And eggs?
And coffee and tea?
And about water?
Thanks for the inspiration.

I didn't intend that post to be a step-by-step diet for anyone else, especially since I believe everyone needs to be guided by their individual strengths and weaknesses, tastes and health issues.

For example, I cannot have ice cream in the house. Period. It sits in the freezer (not for long) and calls my name until I eat it. All of it. When I am substituting ice cream for one of my 21 meals per week, I buy only as much as I am going to eat so none is left over.

Similarly for cheese. I purchase a good-sized portion for that one meal and finish it all in one sitting.

Eggs: Occasionally, I use only the whites of boiled eggs cut up in salads. A boiled egg holds about 80 calories. The white is about 15 or 20 calories. When weight loss depends on shaving only 200-300 calories per day from a maintenance diet, every calorie counts and egg yokes don't give me anything I need that I can't get elsewhere.

Coffee and tea: I drink two to three cups of coffee every morning while I read the news, answer email and make notes for future blog posts. I drink it (and tea) black; I don't need the additional 100-200 calories from sugar and milk nor do I like coffee that tastes like candy.

Particularly when I'm working in the afternoon, I take a green tea break but only decaffeinated. No caffeine after 10-11AM for me. I don't want anything in my body that would contribute to my sleep difficulties.

I hardly ever use milk. When, now and then, I need it for something I'm cooking, I always use no-fat. But if it's calcium anyone's concerned about, it seems that I get plenty from the wide variety of vegetables I eat, from no-fat sour cream and no-fat yogurt and my occasional cheese meal.

My physician is not concerned. But as I've noted, you should not follow my lead on getting enough nutrients. Each of us is different.

There is usually a glass of water on my desk or nearby wherever I am working. Old peple don't always feel thirst when our bodies need hydrating so it's important to drink a glass of water several times a day even if we think we don't need it.

I never drink soda of any kind. That's just a personal quirk that has nothing to do with weight loss – I've never liked the bubbles.

On rare occasions – and I do mean rarely – I eat something with an astronomical calorie count but is yummy. French toast (with whole eggs including the yolks) with sausage and – the point of the meal for me – real maple syrup.

Although in general, I don't eat meat anymore, two or three times a year I cook up a couple of lamb shanks – I really like lamb – and about once per winter, I make a beef stew although recently, I've been experimenting with substituting mushrooms for beef.

A point about occasional pig outs: We often lament, in old age, how fast time seems to speed by but during this weight loss program, I have discovered an upside to the phenomenon.

If I've satisfied my craving for ice cream today and start day-dreaming about, for example, French toast - it will feel like almost no time at all until I can indulge myself a week from today.

All right, that's all the time I can stand to be upright this morning (Monday).

Remember last Thursday when I said I was afflicted with some bodily disturbance and ennui? Apparently, it was only a prelude.

Since Saturday morning I've been in bed with most of the classic flu symptoms and a temperature of 100-plus. I can't see how it's really a flu since I had the shot and it was formulated for the strain of flu that is making the rounds this year.

Oh, well. There are all sorts of unidentified bugs willing to make their homes in our bodies and I'm going back to bed now.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Carl Hansen: Uncle Charlie's Good Deed

Ageist Old People

When I get on a tear about pervasive ageism, even after all these years I am shocked when, inevitably, old people themselves condone it, brush it off as trivial or, worst of all, commit it themselves.

When, last Friday, I ran across this headline - 10 Things You Do That Make You Look 10 Years Older - I assumed the writer to be a 20-something, kid commentator who hasn't yet outgrown the well-known stupid problem everyone suffers in youth.

After all, it's written in the adolescent Buzzfeed style of numbered “journalism” that has reduced vast swaths of the internet to terminal vacuity and the body of the story almost exclusively concerns perceived fashion faux pas that only someone young could get excited enough about to engage in the rank bigotry of this article.

The first item snottily advises against wearing elastic waist pants:

”If you need an elastic waist for comfort, it's probably time to face the music that you likely need to shed a few pounds. Elastic waists are what our grandmas wore. With few exceptions...elastic waist pants are for oldsters.”

Perhaps that's true. And the point is?

Skipping right along, number three sarcastically admonishes against wire-rimmed sunglasses:

”We hate to be the ones to break this news to you, but John Lennon is dead. When it comes to sunglasses, we say 'go big or go home.' Big sunglasses also do a wonderful job of covering any crow's feet.”

I have a lot of good reasons for having worn large sunglasses all my life and not one of them is crow's feet. And anyway, who cares?

At last, I twigged to the fact that the writer thinks all her mockery of old people is what humor is, and doesn't even know it's not funny.

The number four thing old people are advised not to do is wear readers on a rope:

”We may all need to wear reading glasses, but why advertise the fact that you also misplace yours so often that you need to tie them to your body? They are not fashionable. They scream 'old biddy.'"

“Old biddy.” I wish she'd say that to my face instead hiding behind the internet.

In the rest of the list, the stereotypes fly just as thick and heavy without any point I can find beyond ridiculing old people. I wanted to know who this writer is.

A quick consult with Google revealed that she, Ann Brenoff, is a freelancer who, born in 1950, pretty well qualifies as an old person now. Next year she can sign up for Medicare. Dare one ask if the story might be the result of a measure of self-hate broadcast outward? Just speculating.

The large number of negative media stories – and just casual negative language used against old people every day – have real consequences. At the simplest level, such stories as Ms. Brenoff's, in assuming repugnant stereotypes of elders are funny, rob old people of the dignity all people are entitled to.

At its worst, such repeated prejudice throws people out of work before they are ready to retire, leads to discrimination in healthcare and to a host of serious physical and emotional maladies.

It even causes old people themselves to deny not just the existence of ageism and age discrimination but to deny that they themselves are old, sometimes into their eighties and beyond.

Brenoff ends her story with this witticism:

”But nothing makes you appear 'old' the way it does when you say you don't know how to use your smartphone. The TV remote? Now, that's complicated.”

Perhaps that knee slapper is what leads Brenoff to write at the top of her Twitter page that she “should have been a standup comic.”

Fortunately for you and me and all old people, about 95 percent of the several hundred comments to her story at Huffington Post have, as she deserves, smacked her down.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: Divinity in Denim

ELDER MUSIC: The World's Greatest Quartet

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

I present today what was certainly the greatest quartet in musical history. No, I'm not talking about John, Paul, George and Ringo, nor am I thinking of the earlier Million Dollar Quartet.

The ones I have in mind are Jo, Wolfie, Carl and Jan or in other words, Haydn, Mozart, Dittersdorf and Vanhal. These four often jammed together playing string quartets.

I don't know whose quartets they played, probably Haydn's as he was the master of the genre and he wrote so many, but Mozart produced quite a few of them as well, inspired by those of Haydn's. Dittersdorf managed half a dozen and Vanhal didn't write any (although he wrote quartets for other instruments).

Haydn and Dittersdorf played the violins, Mozart, the viola and Vanhal, the cello. Alas, there were no tapes running at the time for us to hear what they sounded like so we'll just have to make do.

Michael Kelly, who was a composer and a tenor, was there and he reported that they played well but the performances were not outstanding. He probably wouldn't have liked the Beatles much either.

This is really just another excuse for me to play some of my favorite composers.


The picture is supposedly Haydn conducting a quartet but probably not the others. I wonder if that's Kelly standing behind them with the sniffy look on his face.

The obvious place to start is with one of HAYDN's string quartets as that was the most likely one for them to have played.

Of course, they may have improvised like jazz musos today as both Haydn and Mozart were masters at doing this, and composers of the day often left spaces in their compositions for performers to do exactly that. That sort of thing is rather frowned upon these days in the classical field.


Here is one they might have played (given the number of them. It's probably statistically unlikely) - the first movement of the String Quartet in D Major, OP 33 No 6.

♫ Haydn - String Quartet in D Major, OP 33 No 6 (1)

DITTERSDORF was born simply August Carl Ditters. Philipp von Schaffgotsch, the Prince-Bishop of Breslau - both a prince and a bishop, how greedy - gave him a title, so he was forever after called Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. That's a bit of a mouthful so I'll do as I always do.


Besides composing and playing the violin, Ditters was also a silvologist. "Well, get away," was my response to that. Then I employed Dr Google and found that was the science of forestry, understanding and studying the ecosystems of forests and woods. It takes in tree autecology as well.

A bit more googling. It seems that that deals with the dynamics of species population. There was more to old Ditters than just the musical strings on his bow.

To continue the string quartet theme, here is part of one from him. It's the third movement of his String Quartet No.1 in D Major.

♫ Dittersdorf - String Quartet No 1 (3)

MOZART needs no introduction from me.


They probably didn't play the string quintet I'm including unless they happened to ask that bloke standing behind them, "Hey, can you play the viola?" Mr Kelly didn't report that so it probably didn't happen.

Anyway, in keeping with the theme of chamber music, here is the third movement of the String Quintet No 1 in B flat major K174.

♫ Mozart - String Quintet No 1 K174 (3)

JOHANN VANHAL preferred Jan Waňhal as the spelling of his name as did at least one of his publishers. However, history has given us the former spelling and that's the way people know him these days.

Jo (or Jan) was born in Bohemia to a poor but honest family and received early training from a local musician. One of the local bigwigs, Countess Schaffgotsch, was impressed with his violin playing and she arranged lessons with Ditters.

Jo became a prolific composer and he turned out more than 100 quartets (but not string quartets.

Well, it would have been a bit difficult following in the footsteps of Haydn and Mozart), 70 or more symphonies, about 100 sacred words and scads of other instrumental and vocal works. He just had the bad luck to have been born at a time when those towering figures of music were around.


The composition I've chosen isn't any part of a string quartet or any chamber music piece. It's the second movement of his Symphony in G minor although to me it sounds more like a violin concerto. It doesn't matter, it sounds good whatever it is.

♫ Vanhal - Symphony in G minor (2)

Okay, let's go through them all again with something different. As before we'll start with Haydn.

This is a concertino for piano, two violins and cello. A concertino is sort of like a concerto (although in this case without the orchestra) and is freer in form. This one is the first movement of the Concertino in C Hob XIV-11.

♫ Haydn - Concertino in C Hob XIV-11 (1)

Dittersdorf is one of the few composers who treated the double bass as a solo instrument and he did it really well in several concertos for the instrument. This one is the second movement of the Concerto for Double Bass in E Major.

♫ Dittersdorf - Double Bass concerto E major (2)

Mozart created quite a few sonatas for violin and piano. The versions I have of these have Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim playing those instruments. You can't get better than that.

Here they are with the second movement of the Sonata for Piano and Violin in G major, K 301.

♫ Mozart - Sonata for Piano and Violin in G major, K 301 (2)

A variation on Mozart's theme is Vanhal's Sonata for Viola and Piano. I prefer the viola to the violin but the instrument doesn't have a good reputation amongst classical players. Many jokes are made about it. Never mind. This is the second movement.

♫ Vanhal - Sonata for Viola and Piano (2)

There's still a little time and space left over, so we'll have a couple more and the two composers I've chosen won't come as a surprise to you.

Haydn first, with the second movement of the Symphony No 38, called the Echo. It's called that because "of the use of mimicry motif in the cadential phrasing of the second movement". Okay.

I got that from Professor Google so don't blame me if you're as much in the dark as I am. Oh, Papa Jo didn't call it the Echo; someone later attached that name to it.

♫ Haydn - Symphony No 38 (2)

I haven't done much in these columns where the bassoon was prominent. So, here's something by Mozart. The second movement of the Bassoon Concerto in B flat major K 191.

♫ Mozart - Bassoon concerto K 191 (2)