The Awful Truth about Ageing

They never give us the real low-down,  those advertisers, authors and authorities who make a living catering to any adults who have passed the ripe old age of fifty.  FIFTY!  I ask you!   Fifty is barely the prime of life! Most of us are just beginning to think we should get serious about our futures.  Our kids are on their way to finding their own lives and mortgages are being paid off as we catch that first glimpse of old age off in the distant future.

Gently gilded ladies in heels, and lightly silvered gentlemen with maybe a wrinkle or two here or there, start pitching financial planning, retirement communities, medications and other lucrative angles to ageing. They’re invariably engaged in dancing, tennis, golf, horseback riding, hiking, biking, swimming or sailing, They happily smile out at us with perfect teeth and they never wear glasses or holler  “HUH?” as they hold a hand up to their ear.

And we think to ourselves, “That doesn’t look so bad.  I can handle this old age stuff.”  Even the actors portraying the unfortunate souls who show up on television stretched out on the floor calling for help don’t look a day over sixty. Their attire is always fresh and neat, hairdos in place.

What about us, the real age afflicted, who’ve begun to suspect that The Golden Years are badly tarnished? Why don’t the illustrations show us as we really are? We’re out here in our faded sweats with the baggy knees, creaking and groaning as we work our way out of our recliners, wrinkled, bent over and anxiety-ridden.

We eagerly scan the magazine articles, watch the TV ads and listen to the spiels for medications for every ailment known to humankind, wanting to believe the hype. We can watch with relief as our money grows; all we need to do is invest with such and such a company, investment banker or credit union. We can revisit our younger years in carefree comfort just as soon as we get settled into  “Heavenly Haven, Home To Active Adults”  or  “Eden For The Elderly.”  We might even enjoy perfect health once again, just by using their advertised product.

Who would have dreamed the human body could suffer so many varied afflictions? We used to get the rheumatiz, the grippe, the gripes, or possibly a skin problem, quickly eased by a liberal rub down with Raleigh’s Salve. Hot packs, mustard plasters or Carter’s Little Liver Pills were other treatments of choice.

Nowadays we’re offered a miraculous panacea for every  possible joint, organ and bone we have. Our medicine cabinets overflow with tiny containers we can’t get open without a hammer and pliers, and slippery bottles of vile colored liquids concocted to cause, not cure, stomach aches. Still, hope springs eternal, as the old saying goes, and we use them all.

So do we end up looking like the vigorous, youthful models who supposedly represent us?  Well, let’s put it this way, if the shower has steamed up the bathroom mirrors enough, and we’ve misplaced our trifocals, there’s a slight possibility of recognizing our younger selves.

Just don’t count on it.

On the other hand, could a balding codger with a shaky voice inspire enough confidence to peddle tooth whitener by removing his full set of dentures and dropping them in a glass full of the product being pitched?

Would you be interested in moving into a senior residence where everyone sat around dozing in a wheelchair or staring at a wall? How  about negotiating at a Savings and Loan with a blue haired old dear who admitted she’d flunked math every year since the fifth grade?

Maybe the ad-men know what they’re doing with the younger, more glamorous representatives, and we can believe what we want to.

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THE SEVEN AGES OF WOMAN: In Collaboration with Will Shakespeare, Feminist

(The Seven Ages Of Man, from Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT, was read recently at a reading group I belong to.  Someone suggested I rewrite it for women. Never one to resist a challenge, this is my effort.)

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players.

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one woman in her time plays many parts,

Her act being seven ages.

At first the infant, mewling and puking on her father’s chest.

And then the texting schoolgirl with her Smartphone and eager Facebook face,  gnawing on blue nail,  fearful of the maths.

And then the maiden,  blushing as a setting sun,  a-quiver as an arrow to the heart, streaming ballads moaned by lusty, yearning swains.

Then a soldier, proud of loyal oath,  clad in boot and camo,  medaled in valor – sudden and quick with lipstick and scent,  seeking the foul foe  even as her chopper tangles blonded tress.

And then the matron with fair girdled hip,  with rich cocoa bean padded,  with eyes mascaraed  and stilettos of risky cut,  full of self and full of worthy deeds, and modern in her romance.  And so she plays her part.

The sixth age shifts into the plump and slippered pantsuit,  with spectacles on nose and cane at hand.  Her youthful jeans poorly saved,  a world too tight for her rounded shank;  and her high, squeaky voice turning again toward childish lisp, pipes and whistles in her sound.

Last scene of all, that ends this strange, eventful history is second childishness and mere oblivion, mewling and puking on her caregiver’s shoes,

sans teeth,

sans eyes and ears,

sans most of her hair,

sans balance and muscle tone,

sans wit and common sense,

sans sandals and shift,

sans credit card and savings account,

sans love life,

sans dreams,

sans everything worth a darn.

Dining at The Oaks

Conversation over dinner at Willamette Oaks, my senior residence, can be predictable. We don’t always sit with the same people every evening but our discussions tend to follow a pattern.  After effusive greetings we get down to business, leading off with an organ recital, the heart and bladder being of primary interest.

Next we have a joint discussion, with the back and the knees of first importance, followed by hip replacements. At the mention of a new or recurrent symptom or complication, our ears prick up and we interrupt one another with detailed accounts of our own experiences with the exact same thing,  each of us privately certain that no one else has suffered as much as we have.

These comments segue nicely into details about meds, shots and other related subjects. From this the conversation turns to who the E.M.T.s picked up on their last visit, whether they were admitted to the hospital, and a complete update on everyone’s well-being.

It’s not that we’re being ghoulish, not us, we’re really very nice people, just  caring.  In our age group,  everyone’s health is important to us.

When we find ourselves seated with newcomers,  we never intend to  get  nosy,  we  just want to be friendly. We might  subject them to a barrage of questions, all meant to welcome them and put them at ease. However,  by the time we’re satisfied, they’re wondering if they’ve had to pass a test  to  be allowed to stay here, while all we want is to be able to remember their names and faces, at least for a day or two. There again, not nosy at all, just caring. We’d hate to be thought of as shallow.

We’re also never catty about one another. Oh, there may be a stray comment now and then, “Where on earth does that man buy his shirts?” or “Hasn’t she worn that blouse every day this week?”  Someone did remark once,  “Tights! With those hips? I don’t think so!”  but such remarks aren’t really catty. Or are they?  Maybe a tiny bit but we mean well.

One subject everyone agrees on is our young, energetic servers, We adore them, maybe there’s more than a touch of envy there, but they’re all neat kids.

There will probably be a brief discussion on current events, No one reaches our age without being a bit firm minded on most subjects, not opinionated, not us, just a bit firm.  As this part of our conversation continues, there may be a lone dissenter or two. We assure them that we love them anyway. These are usually the same people who wonder why we can’t have stewed prunes on the dessert menu every evening.

The idea of stewed prunes brings us to our ongoing discourse on the food, invariably our main topic. Was it hot food on cold plates or cold food on hot plates tonight?  Were the veggies over or undercooked.? Opinions are always evenly divided here. How about seasonings? Here again half of us want garlic in everything and the other half swear they were up all night popping Rolaids after finding a shred of onion in the stew.  We all agree that if the green bean crop in the Willamette Valley ever failed, we’d probably starve to death, but we usually have a nice variety.

It follows that every dish is compared to the way we used to prepare it, the way our mothers made it, and  the fact that they and our grandmothers were the best cooks ever. Never mind that those old dears used pure lard with abandon,  real butter, whole cream and lots and lots of eggs. Nutrition was unheard of and nobody cared,

And so we wind up our dinner conversations with  our favorite subject of all,  the wonderful way things were “back then.”   Wallowing in nostalgia, goodnights are warm. We’re all agreed that we aren’t really ghoulish, opinionated,  nosy or catty,  well,  maybe a tad catty once in a great while, but overall we’re pretty darn nice. And definitely envious when it comes to our young servers.

It may seem as if we waste a lot of time on chatter. Well, yes and no. Taking into account all the time spent trying to recall a word, a name,  or an entire train of thought, or the need to repeat ourselves, the evening passes  quickly.

Before we know it, another night and another dinner will roll around and we’ll be right back at it. And who knows , we may end up repeating the exact same discussion we’ve had the past few nights and have already forgotten.  To those of us with faulty memories, life is always fresh and interesting and dinner is the time for new memories.

How Old Is Too Old?

When do people stop making bucket lists? When are we too old to do any more long term planning? When do we stop telling ourselves  “Someday … ? and start saying  “I should have …”  or “Why didn’t I? …”   When do we officially get over the hill?

By the way, where did the term “bucket list” come from anyway? You know, that wish list you dream up referring to all the things you still hope to accomplish in life. It obviously has something to do with the old expression “kick the bucket,” a term that has always confused me. And just where did THAT expression come from?

When I think of kicking the bucket, being the klutz that I am, I wonder what would happen if I tried for a good hard kick and missed. I’d lose my balance, fall flat on my face, and then what? Does the bucket ricochet back, catching me on the swing or do I get a second chance? I’m all for second chances.

Anyway, I can only speak for myself about aging, of course. We all age at a different pace. All I know is, “TOO OLD” is getting closer all the time. I still have a bucket list, only now there are no more dreams of trips to exotic locales. I’ve traded plans for Bora Bora and Kathmandu for outings to the grocery store, the big boxes and keeping up with those everlasting appointments.

My revised bucket list now includes the names and emergency contacts for at least a dozen medical specialists, not to mention dates for back massages and toenail trims.  I’m looking at appointments stacked up for the next six months to come.

My new bucket list also contains the names, addresses and full info on all the relatives who’ve been written out of my will.  They would persist in making me mad; now I’ll persist in getting even.

A bucket list for those of us who are really elderly might include plans for a pre-paid funeral service. Some people go so far as to write their own obituaries. That way they can be sure their marvelous physical attributes, amazing mental agility and astounding array of accomplishments will not be overlooked.  Too many heirs get in too much of a hurry to head for the bank and we don’t always receive the attention we so richly deserve.

Other bucket lists reveal detailed plans for disposing of one’s worldly goods, taking no chances on our treasured valuables being left behind to fall into the clutches of a significant other or a dear friend waiting in the wings.

As for myself, most of my belongings will be donated  back to Goodwill and The Salvation Army where I got them, if they’re still usable.

Gone are the days of extravagant arrangements for an African safari or golf at St. Andrews.  Even a second honeymoon to Niagara Falls is scrapped in the face of reality. If you haven’t done it by now it probably won’t get done.

What’s on your Bucket List?

I’m Beside Myself

   That expression has always bugged me.  Just tell me how that can be possible.  Of all the ridiculous expressions we use  in casual conversation, that has to be the most meaningless.  We can be beside, below, before, behind,  ahead of, above, after or under almost any object or person we might mention, but beside ourselves?  Impossible!  Anatomically, acrobatically impossible!   Where do these goofy expressions originate?  How do they start?

   Think about some of the terms we  hear and use every day.  How about  For Goodness Sakes,  For Gracious Sakes or For Pete’s Sake?  Goodness and Gracious might be understandable if you stretch a point, but who the heck is Pete and how does he get in there?  Meaningless!

   And how about  Good Grief!  Another impossibility.   Grief is not good.  It can be heartbreaking, shattering, cathartic or any of a number of terms bt it is not good.  Here’s another one,   Keeping  Your Ears Peeled !  HUH?  I might understand Eyes Peeled, it  could be remotely plausible if not possible, but ears, never.   Also meaningless.

   Now here’s an old timer  I don’t hear much anymore;  my grandmother’s expression when she needed to relieve her feelings,  Land Sakes Alive!  What on earth does that mean?  In my opinion nothing.  Once again meaningless.  Sometimes under stress she’d shorten it to  Land Sakes, or, if deeply moved ,  just  Land or the most emotional,  just Sakes. Obviously she got some sort of satisfaction out of using it.

    Lately I’ve been hearing an oldie that seems to be making a comeback,  That’s The Bee’s Knees .  Again meaningless but kind of cute,  if you like silly.  And some new slang that does mean something if you give it a little thought, although once again, silly.  That Harshes My Mellow!  Or if you want the reverse,  That Mellows My Harsh.  So are our new expressions  an improvement or not?  

   Where do they come from? And why do I care?  The whole thing leaves me beside myself.

. . . IF IT WEREN’T FOR BAD LUCK . . .

. . . I’d have no luck at all, as the old song goes. There I was, barely into the new year, having just posted a blog about the January Blahs and the boredom that sets in after the holidays.  So what happened?  Well, for starters, my credit card was hacked. Then one of my teeth fell out, And just to add a bit more drama, I sat on my glasses again. I didn’t even need to leave home to get into trouble.

For a person who hasn’t traveled farther than the Oregon coast for at least four years,  I was shocked to discover I’d just paid $347 for a one way ticket from London. England to Amman, Jordan. The charge seemed quite reasonable – if I had been in London and wanted to go to Jordan. However, I hadn’t been to any London, whether Ontario, Connecticut,  Oregon or England for some time and had never had a desire to go to Jordan, even back when Jordan was still Jordan and not another bullet-riddled pawn to rabid rebels.

Fearing I might be mistaken for a middle-eastern Mata Hari masterminding a cell of suicide bombers headed for Buckingham Palace or 10 Downing Street,  I was sure Interpol and the C.I.A. already had me in their sights.

I couldn’t call Visa fast enough.  Apparently hacking has become so commonplace they immediately canceled my number and assured me that it was highly unlikely that either Interpol or the C.I.A. was after me .  And NO, I did not have to pay the $347.  My fears set to rest, all I had to do was make a myriad  phone calls and spend hours canceling all my online deposits and payments.

After a few sleepless nights  I began to relax, thinking to myself, “Well, I managed to dodge that bullet, what’s next?” I was vigorously brushing my teeth the next  morning when I heard a distinct PLINK in the sink and looked down, horrified to see one of my molars rolling around. Talk about biting a bullet, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Cautiously exploring the gap it left, and assessing the situation, I realised there was no pain, I could still chew, and I didn’t resemble Alfred E. Neumann’s great-grandmother from the old MAD Magazine days. So I put the entire situation on hold. I can see the dentist after I’m certain my new Visa is secure. After all, if the C.I.A. nabs me, they’ll be responsible for my health and welfare anyway, they can spring for one tooth.

And then I sat on my glasses again. I have no excuse, no explanation. It just happens every now and then. The young woman smiles graciously as she straightens them, but her eyes are saying  “Have you ever considered safety goggles?”  I’m just happy lenses are plastic nowadays. Sitting on a Band-Aided bottom for a week or so can’t be much fun. Might make for some interesting scars, though.

So much for a boring January.  What will February bring? Will I be languishing in a Federal pen breaking my new tooth and wearing safety goggles? I can hardly wait to find out..

The January Blahs

(another re-run, Januaries don’t change much year to year)

Dismal, dreary, depressing and a real downer.  I think that just about covers the month of January.  What a letdown after the previous two months!  November kicks off the holiday season early every year, starting with the long Thanksgiving weekend –  family oriented and peaceful. Even so, the quiet Thursday holiday we used to enjoy so much just isn’t the same these days with the prospect of Black Friday and big time shopping right around the corner.

Nowadays Black Friday, that 18 to 24 hour gift shopping blowout, abruptly ushers in what used to be a pleasant runup to our most loved holiday, Christmas. Whether we celebrate Christmas as a religious or a social occasion, we find ourselves in a mad whirl of activity throughout December that doesn’t ease up until January 1st.

We shop, we clean, we shop, we decorate, we shop, we send out greetings, shop, bake and wrap.  Somehow we fit school programs, benefits, concerts and parties into our busy schedules, then shop some more.  Refrains from favorite carols fill the air and everyone smiles.  The days rush by.  Santa Claus comes, he goes,  and we have a brief opportunity to catch our breath and prepare for the last big party of the year.

New Year’s Eve means more merriment, music, noisemakers, champagne and promises to ourselves that we know we’ll never keep.

Then suddenly it’s all over.  Everything stops.  We pause for a day or so, remember how to relax, and look forward to some peace and quiet.  Surprise!  The minute we let our guard down that January feeling sets in.  How can things change so quickly?  We spent weeks rushing around, longing for a little relaxation; now in no time at all we’re bored.  The bright shopping ads that were so enticing a month ago are now begging us to buy healthy foods, vitamins, exercise equipment and all sorts of sensible, ordinary things. There is no end to the shopping but now the fun is gone.

The weather that was invigorating and exciting in December is now drab and grey. The days are short and dark, the sun seems to have gone permanently south, and the only beings who enjoy these gloomy days are skiers, snowboarders and hard core shoppers who can ignore the weather while on the hunt for next year’s Christmas decorations at 70% off.

We feel like overblown balloons just pierced by a pin. We’ve kicked the bathroom scales under the bed.   Last month’s roast meats and gravies are only a fond memory.  The Christmas cookies are down to the last few crumbs and there’s nothing left in the candy dish but a couple of striped canes, both broken.

Worse yet, we find ourselves turning down the few dinner invitations that come our way in January.  Where is the fun in a glass of sparkling water served with a bowl of greens and some poached tofu?

What to do?  Well, there are several choices, depending on who we are.  Some of us might call our favorite travel agent and book a flight to Papeete, Rio or The Bay of Islands.  As far as I’m concerned, a quick peek in my checkbook cancels that plan.  Even a jaunt south to Medford would be a strain on my bank balance at the present time and it wouldn’t be a bit warmer.

Some of us could  opt for the  “If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em” strategy.  That lets me out, too.  How many snow angels can one person make and still think they’re having fun?  And I hate soggy, half frozen mittens.

I suppose I could go shopping (there’s that word again). My pantry is bare and my list is long, filled with all sorts of boring stuff.

Instead, I opt for turning up the heat, donning those fleecy new jammies I found under my Christmas tree, sipping a steaming cup of hot chocolate and diving into the stack of books I’ve been wanting to get at.

With enough books, it’ll be February before we know it, the days will be getting longer and the sun will be back.  January will be a bad memory, best forgotten.  I can always grocery shop next  month.