Friday, October 19, 2012

Retirement Peeves — Elder Creep

Some items in the media this week gob-smacked me with the possibility that I’m getting old. True, my body feels a lot older. And if I let my roots grow in gray for too many weeks, I look sort of old. But I still don’t think of myself as old.

I don’t shuffle along. I still walk briskly, especially vs. typical Rhode Islanders. (I have that NYC pace, the one that keeps you from getting mugged.) I’m pretty savvy on pop culture, especially for someone who never had any children. I even use the word “gob-smack.” So when did “elderly” sneak up on me?

Since I’m short and had a youthful face for most of my life, I looked forward to the time when my age would earn me some respect, or at least deference. But pity? Not an emotion on my bucket list for societal interaction. Yet pity seems to be where my chronological age has brought me. It pains me to report this, but people seem to feel sorry for “the elderly.”

The local news item that put this on my radar had this lead: “An elderly woman with two cats has died in a house fire.” This immediately grabbed my attention. Most of you are thinking: Of course. It mentioned cats. But the truth is, what caught my ear was the word “elderly.” I don’t know why or how, but I knew I needed to stay attentive to find out how old this “elderly” woman actually was. She was 66. “OMG!” thought I. “Sixty-six is now considered ELDERLY?”

The news piece ended: “Unfortunately, one of the cats died.” You’re probably thinking I responded to that because of a cat having perished. Not so, though of course that made me sad. What I responded to was that the copy was NOT: “Unfortunately, one of the cats ALSO died.” My take away was this: The elderly lady was old; she’d lived her life and probably would have died soon anyway. Sure, it was a pity that she died. But the tragedy was that the poor cat had its life snuffed out prematurely. Gob-smacked by local TV.

Imagine my surprise when just one day later, while watching one of my guilty pleasures, The View, I got smacked again. The guest was actor Chris O’Donnell (NCIS Los Angeles) and the discussion was about flu shots. O’Donnell hates needles and was touting the new shot that goes just under the skin and not into the muscle. TMI, perhaps, but I’m providing backstory here.

He encouraged parents of young kids to get their own flu shots because they’re not just for “little kids and the elderly.” He elaborated. “Eighteen to sixty-four year olds think they’re indestructible.” Hold on. Using my deductive reasoning (which still functions), I figured out that he was defining “kids” as anyone under eighteen and “elderly” as folks sixty-five and older. Be still my heart. Gob-smacked again.

If that exchange wasn’t enough to make me aware of my creaky bones, a segment later in The View heaped it on. The hosts showed a YouTube clip of Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz mocking Chelsea Handler in rap style—not what you’d expect from two blonde actresses about yet another blonde. Someone joked that Joy Behar and Barbara Walters should also do a rap video. To this, Whoopi Goldberg told them: “You need to stay in your lane!”

This expression is new to me. I love it and plan to use it on occasion. But what resonated was the point Whoopi was making. Gwyneth and Cameron are young enough to pull off a rap video that’s out of their wheelhouse. But Joy and Barbara shouldn’t try things people aren’t expecting from women their age, even if they’re willing to risk it. Double gob-smack.

For those of you still trying to figure out what “gob-smacked” means, from the Oxford English Dictionary: utterly astonished; astounded.” (“Gob” is British slang for mouth.) Southerners have a similar expression: “Well, shut my mouth!” I prefer: “Shut your mouth!” It more accurately expresses what I’d like to say to those who use the word “elderly” to describe people my age. And what I’d like to do to them is smack them in their gob.

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