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September 21, 2014

Uncharted: Myths and Realities of Being Older--Welcome to Senior Life, 2014


This 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 public in a round robin of marketing. Many don't want to be identified as grandparents and prefer a more hip and catchy title.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. 

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 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 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. 

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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 limited time offers. 

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 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 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 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. This phenomenon occurs in both older men and women. In this upside down relationship, both generations lose. 

A certain segment of the population have health issues that 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 became more sophisticated with their schemes. Telemarketers, sweepstakes, pigeon drop, home improvement 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 "Freda 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 that was part of their identity. 

And, identity is at the root of the marketing, shopping and seemingly aberrant behaviors seniors may display. To a person, no matter how old one becomes, a tiny part of our personality remains young. It laughs, 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. 

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Celebs Demand a Cure for Aging!

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 funded grants (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 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, cataract surgery, 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. Whew -- 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" or "George is that man with prostate cancer" (and we certainly can't talk about that!).  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. A ninety-year old with a broken bone who refuses pain medication because she must be tough hugely reduces her chance of recovery when she can't get out of bed for physical therapy -- Denial at its most damaging. 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 this is not impossible, it's 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. 

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Wobbling Gyroscopes

Years ago, Flip Wilson, gifted, hilarious and ahead of his time, portrayed an irreverent reverend who said, (I'm paraphrasing here) that Change in the service makes him nervous. Change comes in many forms: monetary, location, family status, personal status, health status--just to name a few. Change can be planned or not; it unsettles everything either way. Across the board, change makes seniors nervous. Change wobbles our internal gyroscopes and most of us work at keeping our lives balanced. Some do this more constructively than others do. 

Here at FoM, my 23rd residence as an adult, month two sneaked in. A manuscript, a basket for its edited/printed pages, large appointment and address books, computer, printer with required wiring and maps -- lots of maps -- cover my desk. I still don't have my internal map in place. One-way streets, unanticipated street-name changes at angular intersections, road construction, and winding roads that suddenly open onto a broad valley community or quickly wind through deep woods all challenge my navigation skills. I've been lost and frustrated but haven't quit yet. I always have plan or two. I finally got a county map -- not as easy as you might think -- from a vendor in another state and a GPS that doesn't acknowledge road construction. I am now armed with the county map, a metro map, the GPS, Google Earth photos, Google directions and maps. Babies, I'm only lacking one of those pith helmets, khaki tropical gear and binoculars around my neck to be a total cliché. Hilarious in any location. 

It’s never funny when we hear of a senior who has fallen. "Emma" fell and broke her hip but the truth may be that Emma's hip broke and she fell. Falls are difficult for older people to endure and recovery may be slow. Seniors are not always mindful or careful with their physical movements. Some climb ladders, up on chairs and stubbornly refuse to admit any vulnerability. 

"I am fine and I'm not too old to do_____. Get out of my way." 

Some seniors move too quickly, get up from a chair or out of bed with undue haste or insist that they "will take a bath when I please." Many times Rescue must get them out of the tub, transport them when they've slipped in the tub, fallen off the ladder or simply stepped off the curb and fallen face-first. Mindfulness is not a natural factor in seniors; it must be learned and integrated into all that we do. Many older people think on some level that pride is their last refuge and refuse to slow down or to accept any change in their habits. The frequency of senior distress has become a joke: "I've fallen and I can't get up." and an industry has popped up to offer communication monitoring for emergencies. Another change for older people to overcome is being alone and immobile. 

A less well-known way seniors cope with change is with immoderate drinking. Life brings surprises and disappointments and hey, a little wine before dinner, with dinner, after dinner, or any time sounds like a good idea to many. How about a hard lemonade with lunch, too? This may sound far-fetched to many of you who have different visions of Gramps or Gran. For those of us immersed in that population group, it's common. Many restaurants in an area with a large population of retirees begin Happy Hour at 11 a.m. Mix in a few prescriptions and voila, a retiree with intensified vulnerability to falls and to poor judgment. When people drink excessively, different behaviors emerge and it's not always pretty. Bones, friendships and decorum may be damaged. 

When I started this series, I cautioned that we would get into some sensitive areas and dealing with change is one of those. The day to day life of seniors is not always rosy and pink. The myth is that older folks are wise, without a care in the world and happy to be out of the rat race or whatever occupied their lives over time. Nothing could be farther from reality in many instances. Life for seniors in 2014 is not the 1950s. 

Mostly, seniors find little hilarity in their struggles with change. A real danger with change is being unbalanced -- physically or psychologically. Many seniors respond to change with depression, anger or big personality swings. Being hospitalized for depression is increasingly common among older people. Isolation, illness and loss are common changes seniors may face. The emotional world of seniors is a different post, and if you are a senior with a wonderful life, enjoy! Many seniors have lives with joy and meaning and your section in this series will come later. 

I hear the 10:40 train whistle and the Fed Ex cargo plane climbs into the night sky right on schedule. Life around the Mountain never sleeps. 

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Here’s to all the Mean Girls

Newcomers who move into a population of seniors or become involved in organized senior activities may be surprised by who else shows up. I was. Oh, I'm not an innocent: I've worked in, volunteered in, lived in, served in and left behind many settings where politics flourished, thrived and ran wild. Few men I've met over my lifetime, although a few bullies come close, approach the petty behavior of Mean Girls. Rewind to cliques and Mean Girls who grew taller, better dressed and older, but Babies, they didn't grow up. And, they take us seniors back to the seventh grade. I wasn't a casualty but always a camera-like observer: click, click. 

A few weeks ago, I read a forty-something's account of seventh-grade terrors with real anguish, still. Twenty years after my own gauntlet-run through junior high, my seventh grade students modeled the same vicious, hormone-driven, girl-zilla behaviors. Cliques ruled and for an insecure girl to be "included" into that exclusivity: "We're cool, we're in and you're not," becoming a Mean Girl was a small price to pay. The taunts, insults and exclusion they served up made the seventh grade more traumatic than any school-related changes. 

As we grew older, most of us forgot the small and spiteful behaviors that tarnished seventh grade. But for people who find themselves in a population of older folks, seventh grade may quickly return where and when we least expect it. Perhaps, "Mindy" or "Angela" may be pleasant and friendly at first meeting. She's full of compliments, shares details of her life and exhibits impeccable manners. However, the next time your path crosses Mindy or Angela's, her clique of women who insulate each other from you, the world and reality may materialize. The outsider has hit the impenetrable wall of the Mean Girls. 

Mean Girls appraise other women's attire, jewelry, appearance, marital status, behavior, attitudes, food choices, hair color -- everything and anything they see -- and make no pretense that their assessment is binding. They close ranks, protect each other and make it plain that they rule the turf, the meeting, the protocol, the event, the organization, the house, the room, the roof and every one's opinion. Men are exempt from their pettiness. Other women who may be useful to the Mean Girls are also tolerated in the short run.

One of the most difficult parts of getting older is the many losses seniors rack up as facets of our lives change; we must reboot, regroup and rebuild. We may be adrift or storm-tossed and just when we see friendly faces and hope for a life preserver? One may come our way but it's not attached to anything. 

Mean Girls will:
  • Occupy a table or a row in a crowded area with empty seats and turn others away without hesitation.  
  • Run her electric wheelchair into anyone without regard.  
  • Back her scooter over nearby feet while she juggles a cigarette in one hand and her oxygen cord entangles the other one. 
  • Sneer and laugh when anyone else is having a bad day. 
  • Will take the last of anything with no hesitation or apology. 
  • Gossip, snicker and point at anyone they choose.
  • Will insult anyone to their face without compunction. 
  • Will tell anyone that they don't belong around them.
  • Will treat anyone whose job brings any level of comfort to the Mean Girls -- drivers, wait staff, hair stylists, managers, social workers, receptionists, any medical personnel, caregivers, organizational employees of any rank, et al -- as menial sub humans if they don't provide Mean Girls preferential treatment. 
  • Will never miss an opportunity to perceive a slight or to register the smallest grievance.  
  • Must be the center of attention. 
  • And, one of my favorites: Are masterful at the art of freezing out anyone they may dislike for any reason. See slights above. 
When I began this series, I intended to tell the little known side of senior life. Those who still have a spouse or reside with other relatives may only encounter this type of behavior in the community, if at all. But when seniors live in close proximity, family connections aren't there to buffer personalities and differences. This installment in particular has given me pause and I thought long and hard about not posting it. Many seniors may find that senior communities, senior activities and senior organizations are not warm and fuzzy places. 

So here I am in another new area, with another new beginning and with another new life to build. Volunteering waits on my horizon, organizations I may join remain undiscovered and new ventures I may create will pop up. 

Will I encounter Mean Girls again? Of course. The antidote for Mean Girls hasn't changed since the seventh grade: Keep be-ing, keep a healthy distance, keep smiling, keep moving into the sunlight and most importantly, let your life speak for you. 

Click, click. 
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Sex and the Senior

Once upon a time in the seventh grade (yes, we're back there), boys and girls were curious about each other and raging hormones were in play. Fast forward through marriages, children, careers, divorces, illnesses, losses and aging, et al. The hormones no longer rage, but some women and many more men entertain illusions, harbor delusions and jump to conclusions in the area of interpersonal relations just like junior high kids. Pharmacology has stepped up to replace those adolescent hormones and seniors are the main target market. When all those elements meld, Babies, it's not a pretty thing. The toxic mix becomes about the senior holding on to delusions of youth and/or promoting a personal agenda. The cliché of being neither a nurse nor a purse has validity and older folks of either gender can be targeted. Life as a senior in 2014 isn't the one Boomers' grandparents lived. 

Younger people like to believe that folks over sixty, or horrors! seventy and older, are beyond sex and its complexities. They operate on the myth of re-virgin-ing: their older relatives just couldn't be sexual beings -- and oh, good grief, not now! It's the Goldilocks phenomenon: sexuality is limited to people their own age, whatever that may be, and that's "not too young, not too old, but just right." People under fifty have this view of relatives and older people in general: Gram has returned to maidenhood and Gramps sits in contented contemplation of the good life he enjoyed. Really? Well, not so much. 

Truth be told about seniors and sex? If a couple has enjoyed a long or a short marriage, they retain or entertain an intimacy, a closeness that holds precise meaning for their generation. One spouse may be clingy and dependent on the other in later life. Illness and the realization of time's fleet feet may contribute to that duo. When a spouse is not emotionally mature, jealousy may lurk in the corner and flare up like those seventh grade insecurities, again. Domestic violence is uncommon but not an uncharted course. Declining cognitive abilities and jealousy make poor companions. 

New friendships between a couple and a single are strictly off limits. The clear message here? If you're an older single man or woman, stick to your own kind. Ridicule, harassment and blatant dismissal may be in store for singles who try to break this taboo. An insecure eighty-five-year-old woman jealously defending territory that isn't in jeopardy suffers despair that cannot be quelled. Occasionally, couples dress in matching clothes just like junior high "going-steadys." Because the ratio of women to men is high, segregation by marital status is the norm. "The widow's table" is common at senior gatherings. Single men are more welcome around couples than single women. New widows often turn to those single men for comfort and attention and because some women like to take care of a man. They make no apologies for it.

Haven't seen an older lifelong-womanizer in action? They're obnoxious (like seventh graders) and deluded. This is The Alpha Honey Bee who wishes to pollinate as many flowers as he can. In general, these men maintain that women yearn for their attention and welcome it. The AHB has been a cheater all his life and why stop now? The AHB flies into the middle of wherever seniors gather, doesn't take no for an answer without vehement rejection and hovers as long as he has an audience. The AHB often mistakes a friendly hello and a pleasant smile for an invitation. Online dating sites for seniors are numerous and popular, especially with married men! Is it a coincidence that the highest rate of divorce by age group is now among people over sixty?  

On the other side, older women who stalk men (like seventh grade girls with a cell phone) are not rare anymore. Women are comfortable initiating assignations and men are receptive. These women channel Mae West and have no issues with inviting a man to their place, taking him home for the evening and breakfast. Everyone knows the score up front. Senior women often present themselves as the age they can re-create and aim to date younger men. Many women can't keep their hands off a man -- they fix his collar, stroke his face, touch his arm and compliment him incessantly. Other women aren't so subtle. The resistant male recipient of those attentions can only seek refuge within a group where he feels safe. 

Many senior women enjoy inveterate flirting whether they're married or single. Some men like that too and as long as everyone understands the playbill, no one gets hurt. 
Like their junior high school counterparts, seniors can participate in public displays of affection and embarrass themselves. Seriously. Add a bit of vino and kapow! Love, or something that passes for it, is in the air. Their children protest and usually prevail but not always. Sometimes it really is love.  

Besides the myth that older people are asexual, too many older folks think that he/she is the only exception to the myth. This is not a myth but a sobering and dangerous fact of life: STDs are prevalent among seniors, especially men. CDC statistics for 2012 show that almost 700 per 100,000 people over 65 were infected with STDs. Those don't proliferate through the Internet. 

I think that the hardest part of aging for seniors is knowing which behavioral bridges to burn and which ones to keep. Those who haven't made peace with their mortality no longer build new bridges but seem stuck in a behavioral cloverleaf pattern. They struggle with declining health while their inner person still feels young. They become willing to risk ridicule to have someone to love and to love them, just like seventh graders. What can be more human than that?

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Circle Closings

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.  


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Uptown Seniors

Sunday at FoM began cloudy, turned tropical with hard, blowing rain from the NE then the SW and now, clear sunny skies. As I write this, thunder curls around the mountain. 

Today, I'll examine a more common myth about seniors -- that we are finished, boring, washed up, old, decrepit, kaput, ridiculous, have nothing left, and expect younger generations to care for us in our dotage. Many even see us a drain on resources of all kinds. I don't know about you Babies, but I don't count myself in that group and neither do older people who are special to  me.   


Exceptions among my senior friends on any given day include:
  • Writing students aged sixty through early nineties whose projects include literary fiction, nonfiction, self-help books, poetry, historical fiction, children's books, short stories, general fiction and humor. Many have published since we worked together in late 2013. Others have expanded into blogging. 
  • Volunteers at local hospitals or international programs who do that quietly after a long career in medicine or accounting or teaching and may serve well into their eighties at their own expense. 
  • Guardian ad litems who volunteer tirelessly in thankless and difficult circumstances without any assured success.
  • Speakers who are successful and active Toastmasters. 
  • One special volunteer uses Toastmaster skills to speak about Hospice to organizations and groups.
  • Volunteers who teach English as a Second Language. 
  • Volunteers who teach other seniors yoga, or Tai Chi, or a hundred other classes.
  • Stephen Ministers who walk with others in spiritual crisis.
  • Several who remain employed as counselors. 
  • Volunteers in Senior Centers or at OLLIs around the country. 
  • Volunteers in Scouting as administrators or with their grandchildren.
  • Volunteers in animal shelters or animal rescue programs.
  • Volunteers on crisis management teams.
  • Volunteers with Meals on Wheels.
  • Volunteers in the arts as performers or administrative support.
  • Grandparents who strive to give structure, time and caring to grandchildren and other relatives. 
  • Neighbors who help other neighbors and friends with transportation, fresh garden veggies, homemade meals, emotional support and serve others in so many quiet ways. 
  • A talented lady who discovered that she can paint and one of her paintings hangs over my desk. She called it "Being." 
  • Many who take classes at OLLIs around the country year round. 
  • Teaching scuba diving.
  • Leading special interest groups for other seniors.         
  • Volunteers who do the thousand little jobs that must be done to make bigger projects work. 
  • Mentoring new high school sports referees.
  • Hiking the Appalachians and the Colorado Rockies. 
These remarkable people aren't out of a book or a movie or fabricated. I don't name them to protect their privacy but they are irreplaceable people in my life. Given this broad spectrum of interests and activities (I'm sure I've forgotten some), what could they have in common? 

Each one of them has integrity, purpose, curiosity and serious intention to make their little corner of the world better in quiet, unique ways. None of them think the world is about them but I do. I think the people I've written about here leave their footprints everywhere they go. 

When we were little kids, didn't we all want to grow up and be someone special? When people buy into the myths about being older, they don't know of people like these who are rare and not likely to be equaled by the next generation.  
~~~~

For the past five years, instead of college students of all ages, seniors of all descriptions surrounded me in different settings and situations and I learned and learned. In my own life, married and single people of both genders are long time friends, my "Peeps." Most seniors function as complicated, private be-ings who integrate mature life adjustments and that's not a myth. 

Seniors are just like any other ages -- they like to laugh, to dance, to celebrate and to be valued. If they become stereotypes, they don't know it. I haven't given away any secrets that were shared with me although there were many. My immersion in senior life was educational and poignant and I came away with a new perspective. 

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 don't have to be nice now," said with resolve, may become their go-to comment. I did and do hear that over and over. The good, bad and the ugly showed up here, and sometimes, was disturbing or unpleasant. Eventually, I hope a more complex view of senior living emerged. You'd think I'd sold out if I didn't tell the whole truth, wouldn't you, Babies? 



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?  


July 19, 2014

Saturday Serenity

This blog site has been silent for many weeks -- and the time to bring you up to date begins now. 

Inside, the dryer in the laundry room spins and buttons clank against the drum. Outside, interwoven Longleaf pines, yellow poplars, maples and sweet gum trees gently sway the humid July air near the lake. My center office window frames a young Bradford pear tree that sways in the breeze too. The other two office windows hold stained-glass suncatchers: a Tufted Titmouse and a montage of butterflies and tulips glisten at the end of sage grosgrain ribbons. I am completely unpacked. Ahhh. 

Finally, I admit I keep too many books. I move them from place to place like a security blanket for my what? My memory? My connectedness to the written word? Reference? At least a dozen outdated and unwanted ones landed in the recycling bin this week. I donated two shelves of fiction before I moved. Ha! Like that makes a difference. 

Casualties of this move to a small town near the big city? My printer remains unbootable, a hardwood deacon's bench from 1963 has a broken arm and one phone just flat out disappeared. A few large pictures and a mirror lean against a wall waiting for the maintenance crew's attention. Cable reliability is a concern of course; curtain rods await installation; and I never want to move again. But, I do love my view of the woods and my apartment is shaping up to be an uptown-type of place. 

Too personal, but hey.... Tonight I ate a hot meal on real dishes with flatware -- paper plates and plastic utensils are fine but they lose their charm after a bit. All the lifting and shoving injured my eye and now I have a red Grendel-eye which will heal in time. I have met two of my doctors and one neighbor. 

The month of July brought many insights and some of them are sharable in future blog posts. For now, I am content to listen to soft jazz on a Saturday evening and to feel the serenity that comes when most of the universe's gears clink into place. 

June 22, 2014

Pioneers Ho

Skies were clear and Wedgewood blue here in the River City by the Sea this morning. A tropical disturbance wiggles and swirls seventy miles south and offshore; it's trying to get organized but so far, it's unsuccessful like most. As I have written before, when a tropical system grows, the atmospheric energy around it rushes in to feed development. Voila, clear tropical blue skies remain behind until the heat and humidity of the day bloom into big heavy clouds and storms. Summer heat and lines of thunderstorms visit my new location, too, but don't linger. 

Moving chores continue. I spent more than an hour changing my address for medical insurance in the new location. In the middle of all that, the building maintenance people tested the fire alarm system, in every room, every apartment, every floor. Ringing ears are a special treat. Hints: Just grit your teeth, don't fight the system and tell them what they want to know. Double check everything, assume nothing, take copious notes and hope you don't need them; check details where you are going because people sometimes write things down wrong if at all. Messages can go awry, not get conveyed or become lost. Yes, paperwork is all fine now. 

Packers will arrive in a two days and I will be offline until I'm at the new location. Note to those who are making a move like this: allow at least one extra day for packing materials you must handle. Planning is great but this job is always bigger and takes more time and materials than you thought it would. Have plans B, C and D in place. 

I visited the orthopedist and received a great report -- x rays are fine and so is my gait. A return trip to RC will not be needed for my knee. Yea. I have an appointment with the new internist in the new city and need to arrange one more advance medical cog to make the wheels there turn smoothly. I read an article in a glossy magazine about RCBS that highlighted the city's best doctors -- I was delighted to find my allergist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist listed there. The orthopaedic practice is also stellar. I will miss their good care and hope the care in the new city will be reasonable. 

This is my twenty-third move as an adult and I'm happy to be able to do this -- still. Friends from across my life remain friends and their uniqueness enriches my life -- I already wrote of them in the "Never Can Say Goodbye" post. If the roots of friendship are strong enough, our shared time will endure and grow. Location is not a determining factor between friends. When we find someone who shares our sense of humor, our sense of the world and whose uniqueness delights us? Life is short and friends need to make the rest of the journey with us.  

Over the years, I've joked about being a pioneer woman -- ha - I would have been left behind at the first river fording. In some ways, that pioneer spirit still lives in me. New city, new state, new experiences, new people, new life all wait to be discovered and explored. Let's load the wagons! Perhaps our trails will cross yet again. 

June 14, 2014

The Road to Costco

One of the cool things in my future is a discounted Costco membership – the new apartment complex made a great deal with them and I’m looking forward to this perk of my new location. But today, I turned on my TV to check the weather only to find Hillary Clinton at Costco in Arlington, Virginia holding a book signing for her new book, Hard Choices. One thousand stacked copies formed a little room while a huge queue of folks waited behind ropes for their fat, signed hardback copies. Security was so tight that while she waited backstage, “someone” who appeared very official carried the designated “author-chair” (a great looking Costco mesh office chair like I need) off the set, scanned under the table and then returned the chair. Do I think she’s running for president? No one cares what I think about anything political and this isn’t about that. Just wanted to check if you were paying attention.

Meanwhile, back to Costco. Yesterday, I said goodbye to a unique friend who really gets me – warts, hard choices and all. And it’s still okay. We have a mutual “warts and all” friendship. We could talk forever without being bored and we understand all the nuances. My friend believes that I will someday have a book signing of my own and he’ll be there to tell everyone, “Hey, that’s my friend over there signing books.” But today, only Hillary was at Costco signing books on TV and I am sad, so damn sad, to leave this dear friend who so believes in me. Like me, he’s a student of the human condition, very aware of the imperfections of humans be-ing but hopes the better angels of our spirit will guide our journeys. If only.


Like the traveler in Frost’s The Road Not Taken, I’m looking ahead at an unknown path, trying to see as far ahead as I can and hoping that all I value goes with me. Frost’s wayfarer laments, “knowing how way leads on to way/I doubt I’ll ever come back.” I sincerely doubt my future holds any Costco book signings but it makes my journey sweeter to know that someone I admire and respect thinks that’s possible. Just in case a book signing at Costco waits ahead, you’re all invited.