August 31, 2014

4 in a Series: Circle Closings

I know that the subject matter of this series may seem harsh, too realistic and not for the faint of heart. I get that. My intention is to dispel some of the inaccurate assumptions and attitudes about seniors. Real life is messy. In spite of what their children and society in general may think, seniors have multi-dimensional personalities, make good and bad choices and many have a "I'll do (say or think) as I damn well please now--I am old." attitude. A resounding "I just don't care what anyone thinks anymore," said with resolve, may become their go-to comment. I did and do hear that over and over. The good, bad and the ugly will show up here, and sometimes, may be disturbing or unpleasant. Eventually, a more complex view of senior living will emerge. You'd think I'd sold out if I didn't tell the whole truth, wouldn't you, Babies? 
The sky today at FoM brings thick spiraling clouds and oppressive humidity that demands its due. Storms rattled the night but are quiet now. Poplar and sweet gum leaves twitter without real movement and yield no breeze. Young and old line up around the pool deck like herring drying dockside and hope to refresh their fading summer tan with filtered sun. To paraphrase Willie's little phrase: Vanity thy name is a great tan. 

Older people are not immune to this fallacy and many sun worshipers who make it to senior status find out way more than they wish to know about the varied types of skin cancer. A tan should rightly be called A Toast. And how much toast did you get today? Oh, your toast is so becoming; it makes you look younger. Unfortunately, vanity often triumphs. Florida's bright sunlight contributes to an alarming amount of skin cancer. Natives and long time residents do not want a tan -- you know them by their pale apparitions and long sleeves. 

Here at FoM and in the River City by the Sea, 'toasting' in the sun hasn't lost its appeal to women or to men seniors. In February, a neighbor toasted herself everyday as she always had. In April, melanoma appeared in spite of her big floppy hat and by June, she was gone. This phenomenon happens over and over again with seniors. I happened to hear the neighbors talk of this once vibrant and endearing lady while they sunned themselves. Ironic. Sixty-, even ninety-somethings seeking that bronze veneer of their youth: a healthy glow?

When I moved to the retirement community in 2013, an infant chameleon somehow backpacked on my move. I wrote about him in the blog but never found him again. When I moved to FoM, the movers carried out my office bookcases and revealed the little chameleon, a crispy critter. These little creatures often hide and meet their end that way. So many times we think our choices are wise but the laws of the universe win out. Seniors can be like the very young and think their choices don't mean much on any given day. Like with the young, seniors' choices can become patterns and habits that acquire a life of their own. 

I must rely on Willie again to end this post: 

"All the world's a stage, /And all the men and women merely players/  
They have their exits and their entrances...." 

Writers and readers often question whether life imitates art or is it the other way around? Some seniors act out their life like a play while others let life open before them in a free fall of freedom.  

Tomorrow: Don't Mind If I Do.

August 30, 2014

3 in a Series: Celebs demand a cure!!

Aging in itself is not a disease. Many young (and older) professionals and people with high media profiles declare that aging needs "a cure" like Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases. Diabetes, neurological impairments, cancers, viruses and bacterial diseases don't exclude the young. Shouldn't the world's finite research funds and efforts go to real diseases with a definite clinical pathology? Headline: Research closes in on cure for aging. Really? How will that go down, exactly? 

As we get older,  joints are not as nimble, vital organs have wear or trauma and we may not move with as much speed as our younger selves, but these circumstances are not specifically "disease." Many younger researchers insist that a cure for aging can be found with enough public, government, foundation funds (hmm) and public awareness. The newest version of a cure: Botox. Men and women (I could name names) subject themselves to the danger of medical-grade venom in an effort to erase lines temporarily in their faces and other body parts (!?). The injections paralyze nerves and healthy cells which become perfect -- never changing -- before they die off and the process must be repeated. Are we back to the Marketplace again? What's for sale here?

So far this year, friends and their families (my Peeps) have encountered the trauma of losing family members, lymphoma, kidney disease, multiple myeloma, head trauma, viruses, strep, staph, shattered bones, lung infections, melanoma, Legionnaire's Disease, COPD, heart valve concerns, aneurysms, angioplasty, prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and bone cancer. Whoo -- and I'm certain I left some out. When I throw in my knee reconstruction and ongoing battle with Crohn's Disease, this list seems overwhelming -- but not one of these diseases or impairments is a direct result of aging. My friends are people of all ages and illness is not confined to seniors. 

Society has a tendency to replace a senior's identity with whatever illness is active in their body -- so, "Melinda" becomes "that lady with an aneurysm." Seniors often have a harder time than younger people with similar illnesses because their family and medicos may only focus on the disease and the senior has little voice in the matter. When this happens, the real identity, the real person recedes. I have heard many women declare, "I am not my cancer." This response is healthy on so many levels.  

If the upcoming good minds stay obsessed with aging as a disease, how will they understand the value of life experience? 
Some seniors never accept the natural cycle of life and the dynamic duo of dread and denial shields them. Most of us who have survived to senior status have learned to meet life's challenges with a grain of integrity and the faintest suggestion of dignity, while not impossible, not an easy task. 

Although only other seniors seem to understand the dynamics of being older, seniors can mature like fine wine or even a rich vinegar, or not. Collectors invest in wine, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, vintage cars and books, antiques of all types, old paintings, but how much value, how much respect do seniors rate in the community, among their families and society in general? 

Not as much as you think. 

August 29, 2014

2 in a Series: Seniors and the Marketplace

Americans, the media and the world in general worship youth and in the most materialistic way: "Look twenty years younger with this ____. Call or go online now and see how our ________ (cream, gadget, device, oil, injection, procedure, food derivative, plumbing product, supplement, CD, DVD, appliance) revitalizes your ______ (face, lips, neck, rear, golf swing, wardrobe, hair, skin, sex life, kitchen skills, cars.)" Oh, the list is long, insidiously deceptive and a limited time offer. 

Are seniors a viable market for all these "recapture youth" products? They have the funds to be a force in the marketplace and their ranks grow every day when baby boomers retire. Many buy into the notion of fashion as their identity. All ages may have a difficult time accepting that bodies age while our perceptions and awareness may not keep up. This rests at the bottom of many conflicts between generations. Meanwhile, the marketplace continues to market to both. 

There is a certain segment of the senior population who are forever 15 or 20 in their perception and self-awareness. They got stuck at that "certain age." [This notion may explain much behavior as we explore different areas.] They may shop on home shopping channels, estate and garage sales and continuously for "sales." Not all seniors who shop this way are 'stuck' but some are. Many seniors prefer to shop only when necessary for things they need. People can use only so much "stuff." Most seniors are into downsizing and simplifying their lives. However, seniors with few constructive or creative outlets may shop for entertainment as a hedge against boredom. Did that sixty-something man just whiz by in a new Sapphire Blue Lexus sports convertible?

Some who buy into the Marketplace of Forever Young give a different reason than staying young: they are trying to relate to their great-grandchildren by dressing, behaving and following celebrities as though they share the same age and interests. That senior knows the lyrics to the latest pop music, the latest pop culture reality star and takes that smart phone even to the bathroom. In this upside down relationship, both generations lose. 

There is a certain segment of the population whose health issues interfere with their decisions and interactions with the marketplace. They fall victim to the bottom feeders who prey on them at every opportunity. Oh, those people didn't go away but have became more sophisticated with their schemes. Telemarketers, sweepstakes, pigeon drop scams, home improvement scams and Internet "make easy money at home" scams are alive and well. They may contact seniors at any time and neither fear nor respect No Call lists or rules. Sharks swarm when they smell fresh bait. 

Another group of unlikely shoppers are ladies of a certain age (over 50 and up to 94--seriously) who copy trends: miniskirts are unbecoming on these ladies, for example, with deep red lipstick, straw-colored, big-hair and long deep-red, gelled nails and toes. Fishnet tights disappearing into strappy gold sandals neither flatter those ancient legs nor make the miniskirt okay. "The Big Barbie
 Look"may have 'killed' in her youth but now? Not so much. 

Many senior women wear all their jewelry all the time like an older version of "Freeda Got Rocks." They're afraid of losing it, having their children take it or that a thief will steal it. Some wear their jewelry all the time because they decide if not now, when? When they were younger, their jewelry may have reflected their cultural status which was a part of their identity. 

And, identity is at the root of the marketing, shopping and seemingly aberrant behavior seniors may display. To a person, no matter how old one becomes, a tiny part of our personality remains young. It laughs and cries and wants closeness with other humans; it wants to belong. This part of be-ing appeared early as impulse and in most of us, it is the last part to recede. That tiny spark that gives voice to impulse is sometimes the only connection to earlier times that a senior may have left. 

Seniors are complicated beings and their be-ing is complex. There is a tendency to whitewash, to discount, to homogenize senior life and to group them under one umbrella as "the elderly." Whenever society does this to any group of people, the result is demoralizing and pejorative. The marketplace sees "the elderly" as a demographic with triple dollar signs instead of faces. Yes, seniors can make wrong decisions about purchases in an attempt to recapture some vestige of youth. When they look in the mirror at a face that doesn't match the one in their spirit, the seduction of youth is hard to evade. 

Tomorrow: Aging is not a disease.

August 28, 2014

1 in a series: What Grannie/Gramps really think....

This new series about senior living examines some myths and realities of being an older American. Huge assumptions exist about older adults and the marketplace spoon feeds these misconceptions to the general public in a round robin of marketing. The reality of being older is that most seniors aren't "your grandpa/grandma stereotype any more" and if that's your perception, then you need to get out among real people. If areas of senior life are "hot buttons" for you or if you would like certain myths explored, message me via FB, 'comments' below, or email. Join me. 

Today, my house at the FoM smells like blueberry crumb muffins. Tart and sweet and -- is "warm" ever a smell? If you were here, Babies, we would share muffins and peach tea and talk about life and forms of it that we seniors must pass by/through/around until we don't anymore. 

During my year in a senior community, I respected my neighbors' privacy and didn't include daily life there in the blog, but they knew I was a writer. During that year, besides my usual creative writing and poetry classes, I designed and taught a large class in the Ethics of Aging at OLLI. My neighbors, my students and my new community included people from all over the world. Human proclivities being what they are across the age spectrum, I learned volumes about getting/being older in America. The scope of this blog series has been extended to "universal experience." Welcome to 2014 Senior Living. 

Tomorrow, The Marketplace.

August 15, 2014

Fashion Forward at FoM

Another week at the foot of the mountains arrived overcast, muggy yet cool. I have left the River City by the Sea far behind me and my new place at the foot of the mountains (FoM) has a learning curve. 

On one of my trips into the FoM community, an older woman's surprising appearance startled me; of course, "What is that about?" immediately came to mind and I tried not to stare. She obviously was a lady, a lady of means; and she intended that the world see that. In my life here in FoM, jeans, a shirt and athletic shoes are almost a daily uniform for seniors. I know. Who cares? This lady did and does. 

She shopped for groceries like all of us. But, she wasn't really one of us. This woman was tall --- around 5'10' or so and very thin. Her skin had at one time been in the 'porcelain' category and now was eerily pale beneath her tightly teased chin length, not white, not blonde, not platinum, not yellow but almost cream colored hair. It was colored and unnaturally so. She wore big pearls -- three strands of graduated size and length and a diamond pendant too. Her highly polished nails were bright red at the ends of her fragile hands that seemed to float out of her long ivory crepe sleeves. The blouse had heavy ornate lace. This is August and it seemed oppressive. Her large bag was shiny crocodile -- expensive and too large to carry around so it rested in the shopping cart. Her shoes were furry leopard flats and her feet seemed to glide. And she wore gauchos, black mid-calf ones, that draped around her like a fur coat. She was in her early eighties, at least, and still functioning as she always did. Did she seem to re-incarnate Loretta Young?

I knew she would have a big, old and heavy car and she did -- put her groceries right in the trunk and pulled away. I thought that she was living in the past and felt a bit sorry for her. 

Later that day, I turned on the TV and clicked past a shopping channel where the featured item was the latest for fall wear -- gaucho pants with animal print accessories! I had missed the point. This lady wasn't living in the past by clinging to her wardrobe and such from other times. She is on the edge of the curve and fashion forward. Who knew?

August 3, 2014

Slow Roasted Pigs in a Pit

When we last checked in on Three Little Pigs, Inc., the competent case manager had sent me a new printer and finally, I got it up and running. The directions appear in several languages but remain dense and hard to understand in English, plus, the printer is heavy and awkward to handle. For those who think I am damning TLP, Inc. because I am simply a disgruntled customer, please read on. 
  • New printer -- made in Thailand -- arrives, Exhibit C. 
I received one label to return the shattered printer, Ex. B, to TLP, Inc. With great difficulty, [Remember that I am a senior woman who has mobility issues, just moved to a new location and have the patience of a gnat!], I decoded the process of returning the shattered printer, Ex. B, to TLP, Inc., got it boxed up and arranged for FedEx to take said large and heavy box away. 
  • Now I only have two printers: the original printer, Exhibit A still under warranty, and the brand new one, Exhibit C. 
Like a late night TV ad for chef's knives, "But, wait, there's more!" 

Before I can get that second bulky package, Ex A, ready for pickup, FedEx returns the shattered printer, Ex B, to me! Seems the Three Little Pigs, Inc. returned it because the customer had cancelled the order. A big red label stated that and refused the shipment. Say what?
  • Now I have three printers which I offer as exhibits of how TLP, Inc. does business and has fallen further down the slippery slope into the pit of incompetence -- don't confuse that with Hopkins' "sheer cliffs of fall" into the abyss. There's nothing ethereal or poetic about this fall. Greed, poor management, shortcuts and not existential despair pushed the TLPs into the pit of failure.  
I just spent another half hour or more struggling with yet another re-boxing exercise. When the next label arrives, I will have two broken computers ready to go back to the return center. What will happen then? I don't really know or care at this point. I was done back with "Phil, et al."

TLP's case manager assured me that no charges would be made to me for the delayed package returns.  Remember when "Phil" wanted my credit card number way back in the "There-is-one-more-thing" adventure? Does this type of ineptitude happen so frequently that TLPs have to re-cover their shipping bills? Hmm. 

The really sad thing here is that in this take-no-prisoners economy, the marketplace offers many, many printers and other electronics. The TLP, Inc. is not too big to fail and they will. They not only didn't get up early, didn't go to the fair before the Wolf arrived and didn't safeguard their house against the Wolf's arrival. 

On a typical day, several hundred people visit this blog. I have been generous with TLP, Inc. by not disclosing their brand name. That's the thing about the slippery slope, I don't have to name them. Their business practices will reveal who they are and the Wolf never sleeps.  

I still receive almost daily email offers for new TLP products. A fundamental rule of building a successful business, a successful brand is repeat customers. Do you think visitors to this blog, although it is free, will return if I offer them nothing of value? Will I and other disappointed customers vote with our feet and bypass TLP, Inc. the next time we need any electronic item? What do you think? 

August 2, 2014

Mirror, mirror at the mall, what's the fairest life of all ....

The idea of fairness or of "fairest" anything exists in fairy tales and political debates but not in life. Oh, we say we would like life and the world to be fair, don't we? The notion of fairness, of parity, of equality, of consistency is what we humans want, isn't it? Well, not so much on closer inspection. What may make life fair for me may disturb that delicate balance that makes your life fair. I don't want to be exactly like you or her or him. Ralph Waldo Emerson made a wise point when he wrote,"Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." I think we trade "fairness" for the freedom to experience life as we find it. What most humans want is "more," not the same, not "just enough" and seniors are no exception.  

One of the things that money can buy is "more." Recently, I went exploring and discovered a tiny neighborhood with huge trees, a few guest parking places and a cul de sac. I got an unexpected look at "more" -- an older man, perhaps early sixties, sat in his car under secluded, old pin oak trees. The temp was high that day and shade was welcome. He was having a happy, animated conversation on his cell phone via a thin headset, not one of those in your ear arrangements, but a sturdy wire one like pilots use. He came prepared and this call was intentional. He wore one of those floppy rain hats and reminded me of the actor who played "Henry" on the TV series "Mash." His very private conversation engrossed and entertained him. All his attention was miles away in the world of the phone call.  

So, what's the "more"? The man sat in his 1950s MG Midget Convertible Roadster featuring Hunter green paint, the convertible top tucked away in the boot, possibly restored but probably not. The pin oak leaves cast little dancing shadows across the slick exterior, the wooden interior and the butterscotch leather. This man's mannerisms, ease of conversation and faded plaid shirt belied his relationship with "more." He obviously uses this hidden spot frequently for conversations and feels quite comfortable there like this is his satellite office. His demeanor and expensive antique car screamed that this is a man who gets what he wants when he wants it. He has chosen to have "more" but he can't quite afford it all. Oh, the expensive antique car is definitely a manifestation of "more" but the secluded location for a private phone call? Can he not afford that as well? Just what would that cost in the sunlight? 

July 31, 2014

Technology 3. Luddites 0.

The good news? My new printer arrived. The bad news? My Internet service and the printer have issues. Life goes on. I must send kudos to The Three Little Pigs, Inc. who did step up, honored the warranty and offered great tech support. I still can't print but at least, I have a hope of printing. 

Later that same day ... the printer crisis is solved!!

July 24, 2014

Three Little Pigs Revisited

In all fairness to the Three Little Pigs, Inc. : One of their case managers inside the USA called me this a.m. and attempted to resolve the matter of the broken printers. We will see how this all goes. If it is more fodder for the trough, then I will revisit it here. I would like for this US business to offer competent and careful service to its customers but I will wait to decide if that is true in my case. 

But first, there is one thing:  Sean, Bill and Phil are still on the phone. 

July 23, 2014

Outsourcing and the Slippery Slope

Let me tell you a story. 

Once upon a time in 2013, I bought a printer and an extended warranty from a large company. Let's call that company The Three Little Pigs, Inc. because that company believes in a fairy-tale-like cloak of unaccountability. This company, that began at someone's home, became one of the world's largest manufacturers of electronics and made their investors fat profits. They all lived high on the hog, as it were, but the investors said, "We want more, more." 

So the pigs decided to move their business to all points of the globe. "Yes, yes, outsourcing is good," they all grunted. "Production costs are cheaper, we don't have to pay as many high taxes, and we can hire "Sue, Phil, Bill and Sean" to do our customer service for table scraps instead of what we pay in the USA now. Our huge profits will be even larger. What? No matter that the customer service technicians barely speak or understand English. What will customers do? Sue us?"

And all the pigs called out "Sooie" and investors waded in and were happy again. They were all in Hog Heaven. 

Then my printer broke. It just would not turn on. It sits as quiet as a corn crib in the winter. Ah ha! Extended warranty to the rescue and my first call to The Three Little Pigs, Inc. 

After five minutes of automated questions, I explained my problem to "Sean" and in his heavily accented English, he asked that I unplug and replug every combination of wires. While I was doing this, we were disconnected. 

I began again with "Bill" who had me repeat all the info and activity that Sean and I shared. Bill said that I would get a replacement computer and that his supervisor, "Phil" would help me from there on. More waiting for Phil. None of them could deviate from their scripted conversation and Phil was no better. 

Phil was so patronizing that I barely refrained from telling him that. We again reviewed all the info. He told me that I would get a new printer sent out the next day. But first, we needed to do one more thing -- this is Phil's raison d'etre. He guided me through taking out the print head and cartridges and reinstalling them. I was instructed to put them in a plastic bag for safe keeping and not to touch them. 

But, we needed to do one more thing. 

Phil needed a credit card number from me. Of course, I said, "No." I wasn't buying anything, remember? It seems that I only had 7 days to return the damaged computer to the company or they would charge me for the replacement. "No. I have an extended warranty, remember?" Phil had to check with his supervisor. 

"No problem -- not to worry." But, first -- well, you know. This one thing was that none of the equipment that might still work on the old computer would be replaced. No cartridges, no print head, no cords. But the new computer would be here the next day (now) and my warranty (Is that what this was?) would continue on the new computer parts until the term was up. 

At this point, I didn't care anymore. I knew I had been scammed and taken and, as a consumer, had no value to this company. Phil and his crew were the front men for a switch and switch again operation. 

But, there is one more thing....

The computer didn't arrive for several days and when it did? The shell that was to house all those parts I was to reinstall was broken!! Broken. And the next day brought yet another package with a print head and various cartridges with another "send old ones back pouch." Ah, the warnings over my accountability if I didn't return things as I was told were dire. 

I waited until my BP and voice calmed and called TLPigs again. I asked to speak with a supervisor in the US. The technician laughed and said, "Oh, I don't know." I finally hung up after five minutes on hold. I called back and got "Sue." I told her of my circumstance in a very mild manner and that I would return the shell to TLPigs but I am done. 

She said, "Oh, let me see how I can help you?" 

Steely calm, I told her that I didn't want any help -- there is nothing else I want from The Three Little Pigs. I am done. 

But, there is just one more thing: The return shipping is paid for by TLPigs but I have to deliver it to a FedEx store before my three days are up. 

Please keep in mind that my reputation for not suffering fools is well known among friends and acquaintances. Fools go right on being fools but I don't stick around. Sadly, my only recourse for my latest encounter is sarcastic humor so I hope my tirade entertained you a bit and that you laughed with me at the ridiculous world we live in and at the fools who prevail in spite of their obvious stupidity. Yes, I'm aware that I'm a gnat in the world of business ventures and have no pretensions about the importance of my experience. Sometimes things get so complicated, inconvenient and frustrating, I must simply take a step back, huff and puff a little and then write about it here. If I thought it would make any difference, I would copy this post to the WSJ Op-Ed page. It won't and I won't. 

This company has now earned a place on The List. By the time an individual or a company or whatever gets on The List, they are well down the slippery slope to their demise. If The Three Little Pigs are well-scripted for customers like me, then there are many customers like me who are treated just like me. Sad, isn't it? When brand loyalty is the grease that makes the economy run well, why does a major company like this take short cuts? Why does the customer mean so little to them? I still have no computer printer but I do have choices and none of them will ever include Three Little Pigs again. TLP could be many or any American business. How far has America as a world market leader fallen in pursuit of shortcuts? When customers choose other companies and the Wolf comes to TLP's door, what will be their "one more thing" then?