I recently had dinner with family and friends. Sometime during the
conversation, I was referred to as a “whippersnapper.” I’m constantly
reminded of this fact. I still get carded when buying a bottle of
Chianti. Even after I produce my ID, I’m eyed by the clerk with doubtful
suspicion. It’s a fact: I look, feel and possibly even smell like a
younker. But while I can’t say I’m proud of being young, it is equally
true that I’m not excited about the proposition of getting old.
Face it: Getting old is not the good deal it used to be.
You’ve got to ask just to get a senior discount at a restaurant these
days, and even if you get it, it’s probably not more than enough to
afford an extra toothpick — and since you’ve got dentures, who needs
Sure you’re “wiser,” but no one listens to you anymore. What’s the
point of being wise if you can’t share a little bit of it? Solomon
didn’t just sit around being wise; he wrote the Hebrew books of Proverbs
and Ecclesiastes — shared by both the Jewish and Christian Bibles, read
and respected by hundreds of millions people every day. Of course,
Solomon wrote a few millennia ago. Nowadays, if you tried to write a
book of proverbs, folks would say you were trying to tell them how to
live, denounce you as a narrow-minded bigot, and probably pop you the
But beyond the simple problem of getting zero respect for your
age-informed opinions and sage advice, bigger troubles are afoot. For
instance, your retirement — the money on which you planned to live, buy
lottery tickets and place under-table bingo bets — is in jeopardy.
Republicans want to destroy your Social Security. And you can’t trust
the Democrats either because they’re bending over backward trying to
save it. Half a dozen think tanks want to privatize it; another handful
want to partially privatize it; while a passel of public policy
organizations want to use spare change found in the government’s
budgeting sofa to “shore up” the program. So, in all the confusion, you
do the only sensible thing and have a heart attack.
And it doesn’t get any better from there, because, as you’re sitting
in the hospital fretfully wondering if your Medicare will cover your
hospitalization expenses — considering all the extra nursing needed at
home, the cost of bedpans and all those little single-serving packages
of Saltines you ate — you do the next most sensible thing and have a
And then there are your kids and grandkids. Gotta love ’em.
Or hate ’em.
First, the grandkids are always cracking jokes about your dentures
making funny sounds when you eat your tapioca. And they’re never happy
with the Christmas gifts you give them. It’s just like in the movie,
“Babe,” when the grandfather with patience and painstaking care builds
an intricate and beautiful dollhouse for his granddaughter — who
proceeds to bawl her eyes out in frustration because it’s not the
same dollhouse she wanted.
But the kids aren’t much better. You raised them from infancy;
suffered them to pee all over your clothes and blow snot on your
shoulder when they sobbed; comforted them when they whined and cried in
their crib all night; taught them how to ride a two-wheeler; kissed and
bandaged their wounds when they fell on their keisters; hustled them at
risk of $800 speeding tickets to the emergency room when they somehow
got a 2×4 knocked into their noggins playing at someplace you told them
not to; paid old man Rolly when they broke 16 windows in his greenhouse;
let them go ahead and dye their hair green because it was really cool
(and “Come on dad, you’re just like so out of it”); convinced your
friend Larry to give them jobs at the grocery on weekends even though
their hair looked like an over-fertilized, badly mowed lawn; what’s
more, you helped pay for their college, gave them advice when they asked
for it and were gracious about their choices in a spouse.
You did all that for them, but when your health degenerates to the
point you need the occasional diaper changed (just as you did time and
time again when they were younger), do they bother to help?
How many ways are there to spell the word no?
They offer to shut you up in an old-folks home, because, after all,
“You’ll be happier there.” Never mind the fact that, since grandma died
two years ago, you’re lonely and really only want familial love and
personal care. “They’ve got full-time nursing staff that can take real
good care of you, and Bonnie and I will see about visiting you every
other week or so. The kids will love to see you. Oh, yeah, let’s not
worry too much about Christmas this year, what with your heart attack
and stroke and all. We’ll have a tree and stuff, maybe get you a box of
Turkish Delight and a few pairs of those wool socks you like so much,
but let’s not have you fretting about getting anything for the kids this
year. Too much trouble and stress, probably. Besides, you know how
little Annie reacted to that dollhouse last year. Bonnie and I will take
care to get her what she really wants. …”
And the rotten thing is, they’ll think they’re doing you a favor and
get angry if you mutter something about Annie being a spoiled brat.
Getting old ain’t what it used to be.
And — despite the wonders of modern medicine and all the whiz-bang
technological advances — since getting young still isn’t much of an
option, the only redeeming fact about getting old is that it beats the