Thursday, April 14, 2005

tallahassee democrat newspaper

Thu, Apr. 14, 2005

Fellow boomers, the future isn't pretty

By Maureen Dowd


Baby boomers' almost comic fear of aging reminds me of that silent-movie scene in which Harold Lloyd hangs precariously from the hand of a giant clock, literally pulling time from its moorings.

Despite the boomers' zealous attempts to stop time, with fitness and anti-aging products, with cosmetic enhancements by needle, laser and knife, time has caught up.

The deaths of iconic figures and the noisy debate over assisted suicide have brought boomers face to face with their nemesis. "Suddenly," The New Republic observed, "we are all speculating about the feeding tubes in our future." Boomers want to control mortality, so they're looking at living wills and legal and medical options.

I've visited the future, and it isn't pretty.

My mom fell and fractured her neck one night a couple of winters ago. She was sent to a nursing home to recuperate. It was the third circle of gloom. Residents sat around, zombie-like, or slowly maneuvered in wheelchairs or with walkers.

I suddenly understood why all of my mom's friends who had gone into nursing homes had become listless and died soon after. The facility was depressing, with bad food and impersonal attendants who seemed inured to their surroundings.

It seemed like the sort of place people checked into but not out of. My mom's hazel eyes were filled with dread, so I bought a sleeping bag at the nearest REI and slept on the floor beside her bed for four weeks.

There were blizzards outside and lethargy inside. All through the night, Alzheimer's patients would moan: "Help me! Why doesn't anyone come to help me?" They were unable to remember the last time an attendant stopped by.

After a while, there didn't seem much point in getting dressed. I put on one of my mom's extra-large flannel robes and some slippers and started shuffling around the nursing home. I felt like one of those cursed women in Grimm's fairy tales who turns into a crone in a blink. Soon the residents began acting as if I were one of them, just one with better mobility. They would call out for me to fix them tea in the microwave - "Just Sweet 'N Low," one woman ordered briskly.

One night an elderly woman asked if I would come into her room and dial her daughter's number for her. "I haven't heard from her in so long," she fretted. I called the number and left a message on the answering machine: "Your mother misses you."

As I hung up, the old woman looked up at me with big suspicious eyes. "What are you doing in my room?" she demanded in a hostile voice. She had forgotten me already.

Most nights, I watched two sweet-looking old ladies sneak down the hall to purloin supplies at the nurses' station - cat burglars heisting Depends.

In my old life, I read glossy catalogs from Bliss Spa and Bergdorf's. Now I sat in the drab community room reading Dr. Leonard's "America's Leading Discount Healthcare Catalogue," which promotes the notion of senior superheroes with vision-enhancing Eagle Eyes sunglasses; Sonic Earz, to amplify sounds up to 60 feet away; and Frankie Avalon's Zero Pain roll-on pain reliever.

It was upsetting to see how many body parts could go wrong. For $12.99, you could get "heel wraps," little slings to keep the cream on your heel cracks; for $4.99, a straightener for overlapping toes; for $12.99, a "control panty" to banish unflattering tummy bulge.

I told my mom about the control panty. She looked intrigued. "Who does it control?" she wanted to know.

Why was I fighting aging so hard? It would be so easy to succumb. I could stock up on everything I'd eventually need: extra-long easy-grip scissors to clip toenails; the "button helper," a wire loop to help reach buttons; Toppik, the "amazing 30-second hair transplant," which sprays the scalp with color-matched hair fibers; a "Remember Me" poem and photo mat to commemorate departed relatives, friends and pets; and the best seller "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About."

Dr. Leonard's assumes seniors have a healthy interest in sex. It offers a device called an Eroscillator for women, with a guide from Dr. Ruth. And for men, there's an aerobics video featuring "totally nude" young women: "Because you can see the naked, well-toned bodies of the female instructors, you can follow each exercise and see exactly how to achieve the precise muscle extension and position." Right.

Once Mom was sprung, I quickly went back to fending off mortality, ordering the latest age-delaying moisture complexes from the Bliss catalog.

But I know Dr. Leonard's is out there, waiting patiently for me. Not an Appointment in Samarra, but an Appointment with the Eroscillator.


I, myself, live in a senior residence, a nice one. there are many many men, especially, who "are" their careers, they were more or less a "one trick horse"! that is....they worked all of their lives and did little else, and never developed anything else for a hobby. Nor did they excercise their imagination.
Now, they more or less sit around bored and wait to die! there is little interest in the internet, or of much of the "modern age". many look at the modern age as "sinful living
just awaiting for the new great depression to take all of it away, serves them right", as these old men grew up in the 1929 Depression and then WW II!
the ladies seem to have it better, as they have families and relatives. the men often had no feeling life, no social bonding skills.

recently, a man moved in, he stayed in his room for three days, then he died of a heart attack! probably the stress of the new envirnment did him in!
[I knew of a 40 year in the Air force sargent who was told to retire after his maximum time in the service. he was found dead a week later of a heart attack, in his tent that he pitched in the woods just across the road from the air base!
I ponder this even yet, as i was stationed on this air base, in Myrtle beach South carolina, in the 1960s, here was Mrytle beach city only a few miles away, full of apartments. he would still even have base privilages, for the bx and the medical care! and the Club to see all of his buddies. but no....
No, he did not, his life was over, even at that high retirment pay, there was nothing that interested him anymore....]

*this* is your future, baby boomers, face to face with that Tombstone, and the only *REAL* question that will remain, is....Is that tombstone a dead end or a door?!
Counts for all, this Exam Question! Counts for all, actually, for all of your life NOW, years before you die! If the Heat Death of the universe will turn every sun and planet into a clinker of a dead rock, then anything that you do, now, really is just of an inchworm that is climbing up the wall of a descending elevator, why plant
your garden tomatoes just a couple of weeks before the first frost of winter?!
[this is probably why many college intellectual professors are so so cynical!]

if the tombstone is a door, then anything that you do, think, or feel, even right up to the very end moments, will prepare you for heaven's eternal life of the soul!
As...Rudolf Steiner wrote, "for every window that you open, to life, here on earth, in your life, there is a corresponding window that opens in your heavenly mansion, onto a different vista of heaven"!