By Lynn Ashby 11 Oct. 2010
THE PARTY – “I’m OK because I’ve switched to the generic Lipitor, but I’m still wearing designer Depends ever since the leaches treatment.”
“Medicare doesn’t cover hypnosis, so I’ve gone straight to weed.”
“The hip replacement became infected. Do you know a good malpractice lawyer?”
My mother, in her later years, said that she stopped going to parties because the only thing her friends talked about was their health. I have been noticing this situation among my aging friends. Not that I’m elderly myself, you understand. I still get carded at the bar. Got zits. Can do100 yards in under10 seconds – if my XC-JetWalker is working. But it is true that older people talk a lot about their heath.
This is due to several reasons. One, there’s not much left for them to discuss. Work? They retired, were laid off or put on an ice floe and pushed out to sea long ago. So there’s no jobs to discuss. Sex? Get serious. Politics? They all watch the Fox talking heads, thus there’s nothing to debate. While on the subject of TV, note the ads on the 5:30 national news — every commercial is for medicine, erectile dysfunction and bladder control. The networks and advertisers know the only people who have time to sit on the sofa and watch TV at 5:30 in the afternoon are the geezer gangsters. Same goes for the “Lawrence Welk Show.”
This doesn’t mean they have no opinions about Washington. They are against big government and high taxes. They are also absolutely in favor of Medicare and Social Security, and any move to reduce these costs “violates a contract” with them. They see no conflict in these positions, much less rampant hypocrisy. Retired military are really jazzed up about this subject. They’ve been getting a government check in one form or another since they joined the NROTC at age 19, so the defense budget, which includes their pension, and VA funding are sacrosanct.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is trying mightily (without success) to prune our gigantic military budget, and one cut he would like to make is in health care. He points out military health care costs rose from $19 billion to $50 billion in a decade. Active-duty military and their families do not pay for health care. But what retired military pay — $460 annually per family — has not risen in 15 years.
Don’t mention the federal budget, either, around these seasoned citizens. The budget is bloated, they say, needs trimming and we should pay as we go. But don’t note that the silver-haired posse will saddle an estimated $200,000 debt on every single grandchild because, uh, the geriatric generation doesn’t pay as they go, or pay as they went. Also, if anyone says, “We need to privatize Social Security. I know how to handle my own money,” don’t reply with, “And how did your life savings fair with Enron, A.I.G. and Lehman Brothers?” (A recent poll by the Rasmussen Reports shows that 71 percent of Americans support requiring a national vote to approve any changes in Social Security passed by Congress.) Finally, when it comes to the federal government, remember that death panels are not fatally flawed wall siding.
Another point: Be careful what you say about AARP. Some old folks love it; some hate it. Former Sen. Alan Simpson once described AARP as “33 million Americans bound together by a common love of airline discounts.” Don’t refer to senior centers as “God’s waiting room.” But it is safe to mention the Luby’s specials at dinner time – which is usually about 4:30 in the afternoon. Senior discounts are popular subjects, especially during a bar’s Happy Hour, but most of those who qualify for the discounts don’t like the noise levels. And the music is not only loud but unintelligible. What’s more, most bars don’t serve Metamucil. Often quote Maurice Chevalier’s observation: “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” Just don’t mention the alternative.
You can see what a quicksand these conversations can be. However, one safe category for discussion is grandchildren. Not children, but grandchildren. You see, by the time the senior citizens get together for a party, they’ve known one another’s children since Indian Guides and Brownies, so there’s not much new to say. The conversations go like this: “Your remember Nimrod. He’s the slow one.” “Ellen June may finally get married.” “No, we still haven’t declared T.J. legally dead.”
In conversations about this subject, older folks have one thing in common. They will tell you all about their grandkids, but the minute you start to tell them about yours, they aren’t interested. You start in and they say suddenly, “Oh, there’s Jimmy Earl. Haven’t seen him since the Tea Party rally. Good talking with you.” It is OK to dig out pictures of grandchildren to show, unless you got them from a post office wall, but don’t expect your listener to be interested.
That leads us back to health as a safe topic. If you are going to be around octogenarians, learn to use a few words and terms. “Doughnut hole” is a must. You know what a doughnut hole is in Medicare terms. It’s when you’ve spent all your savings on medicine and have to live off day-old doughnuts at the Salvation Army mission. They go great with Alpo. It is also safe to mention your luck at last week’s bingo tournament, and the cheapest package tour to Branson, Mo.
If you’re pushing 80, it’s OK to discuss some medications or to compare prices (Canadian vs. Pharma). Incidentally, you know you’ve reached a certain age when your pharmacist not only knows you by your first name, but your number of refills. Make sure you can tell the difference in prostate and prostrate.
Uh-oh. Here comes Pops O’Malley. “Hi, Pops. Want to see pictures of my grandchildren?”
“No. But did I tell you about Maurice Chevalier’s hip replacement?”
Ashby is aging at firstname.lastname@example.org