[I think I wrote this upon turning 60. Now, I look back on that time as the “good ol’ days, SB SM]
by Stephen Morris
Q: “What’s fifty feet long, shuffles, and smells of urine?”
A: “Line dancing at the old age home.”
I stole the joke from Prairie Home Companion. Garrison Keillor should know better. He’s no spring chicken himself. He’ll be shuffling along in the line dance soon enough. So will I.
There is nothing funny about getting old, especially when it’s happening to you.
“The big five-oh” is testament to how unfunny aging is. The rituals are always the same–a bouquet of black balloons, gifts of PoliGrip and Preparation-H, jokes about Viagra, and the ceremonial AARP membership card. These occasions are laugh riots when you are in your 30s and 40s. Someone tells the joke about the guy who mixed up his Preparation-H with his toothpaste … cracks you up.
Then comes your turn. My office mates brought in the bouquet of black balloons, gifts of PoliGrip and Preparation-H, jokes about Viagra, and the ceremonial AARP membership card. NOT FUNNY. Really… mixing up toothpaste and hemorrhoid cream. Not funny. Quips about erections? Not funny. And how the hell does the AARP know to send a membership card on the day you turn 50? If we could turn military intelligence over to the AARP, we might find Osama bin Laden.
And it’s a statewide problem. The Green Mountains are turning gray at warp shuffle. In a culture that worships youth, Vermont now has the oldest average age in the nation. Older than Florida!
To research the situation I went to an AARP Convention. Let me be crystal clear about this. I was not “attending” the conference, but “covering” the conference in my capacity as a professional journalist. Big-g-g difference.
AARP is a large, powerful organization, with 37 million members. How large is that? Think of sixty one Vermonts. When one registers for the convention (something even working journalists are required to do) you are given a tote bag.
One takes one’s tote bag to the Exhibit Hall (which should be called the Exhibit Haul) where one races around like a kid on Halloween. One holds open the bag, and whoever is working the display fills it with free samples, brochures, and plastic gewgaws. I’m talking genuine plastic key chains inscribed with “AARP Financial Services” and refrigerator magnets with the Depends logo. Free samples? Trust me. You don’t want to know free samples of what.
When your bag is full, you drag it to your nearby luxury hotel. (The people with those little electric carts have a big advantage here.) Once in your room, you go through your bag of goodies, and say repeatedly “what was I thinking?” and throw it all away. You and your bag are now ready for day two.
In addition to gewgaws and free samples, the AARP is big on celebrities. I went to a session billed as an “informal chat” with ex-news anchor Dan Rather. I looked forward to this, as Dan and I are both members of what we working journalists refer to as the “Fourth Estate.” I just hoped that Dan did not ask me what this meant, or where the other three are located.
Inside the room were me, Dan, a moderator, and 12, 497 other people with gray hair. Dan was approximately a half-mile distant and was less than an inch tall. Fortunately, the show promoters anticipated this and installed twenty foot tall video screens featuring immense close-ups of Dan.
Dan, at one inch high, looks pretty good for a guy in his seventies. Dan, close up and twenty feet tall, looks like a Stephen King movie. And someone has got to tell him to trim his nose hair! Amplified to the big screen, it looked like he had the redwood forest in his nostrils!
Next came a health and fitness seminar with Raquel Welch, object of universal lust. The podium was adorned with the famous shot of the statuesque Raquel on the beach in her fur bikini. A pleasant-looking older woman came out on stage and pointed her rear end at the audience. “I’m Raquel Welch,” she said, “and this is what you’re really interested in.”
She explained that as one ages, one must make a choice between maintaining one’s ass or one’s face. My opinion is that she made the wrong choice. Then she said what every other speaker at the convention said, that aging is a state of mind.
I returned to Vermont, inspired by this message. I convinced my partner to buy a pair of low-slung hip-huggers and to get a tattoo of Camel’s Hump right above her butt crack. Sure, she looks ridiculous, but so do most of the girls on Church Street.
I, meanwhile, put my baseball cap on sideways and adopted a gangsta’ persona, changing my name to Li’l Stevie Mo’, a name that rhymes with “yo,” “ho,” “no,” “whoa,” “dough,” and “mo-fo.”
It also rhymes with the big six-oh.