My grandmother, who is ninety-six, lives in a nursing home. One of my grandfathers lived till the age of ninety-four, and my other grandmother lived to ninety-three. I’ve been mulling over the possibility of inheriting that impressive longevity. I don’t smoke, drink, or take drugs and besides “Only the good die young,” so I figure my chances are pretty good. If that happens, I’ll be “old” for one-third of my life! I am of the baby boomer generation—those babies conceived soon after WWII, and this generation stands to be elderly longer than any previous ones.
Given my current rate of regression, I estimate that my clear vision, teeth, and any vestige of skin elasticity will have abandoned me by age sixty-two. My money will likely last until I’m sixty or so, but only if I cut up my adult Toys R Us platinum-level charge card. After that, what will I do? At least my grandmother saved up a big ball of string, enough aluminum foil to cover the corporate headquarters of Reynolds, twenty-six-and-one-half green stamp books (which back then was sufficient to get a toaster, a waffle iron, a coffee pot, and a set of cookware, but would today buy you a plastic, smiley face key ring), forty-eight margarine (a.k.a. Oleo) tubs, 961 assorted buttons, some thirty aprons (of which twenty-seven remained in their gift boxes), twenty colorful kerchiefs, and nine miniature sewing kits apparently given out at the A&P supermarket. All many baby boomers want to save is time.
My friend Joanne and I long ago estimated that we would be senior citizens for approximately 10 to 15 percent of our lives. At age seventy, we would smoke Camels, have unprotected and spontaneous sex with rich, old “hunks,” tell people what we really, really, really think, lease a red Jaguar with custom faux-leopard interior (which we would ultimately use to drive off a fashion runway à la Thelma and Louise), dance around a bra-and-girdle bonfire, and carry on like maniacs at Beatles conventions or concerts of Herman’s Hermits tribute bands. Gone would be the twice-a-day flossing. Fudge and Bailey’s Irish Crème would be elevated to the status of major food groups. No more clipping coupons, no more crossing at corners, no more pap smears, no more slowing to a walk when carrying scissors, no more shaving our legs, and most of all no regrets. We were serious. Hell, we weren’t sure we could be bothered to recycle. Our resolve was to have a last “hurrah,” die while asleep or in coitus, and wait to be reincarnated as rich, white males. Now there’s a fair chance our “do whatever we damn well want” stage may have to be postponed till we’re eighty.
Living longer could also mean going into a nursing home. That is a fate totally unthinkable for my generation. We’ve always thought of ourselves as hip, young, and freethinking. Soon we’ll need hips, and young will only be the actor who played Marcus Welby. We’ll still be freethinkers, but we won’t remember what we were thinking about.
Baby boomers will not be able to adapt to nursing homes. They will feel like prisons. Think about it. Though you’ve committed no crime, you’re held there until you die. And since no one knows when that will be, you don’t even get a final whatever-you-request meal. In most, your room is that of a basic institution—a bed and a toilet. Food is served on trays and people are always watching you. You don’t have sex. And if you were a teacher, coach, or counselor you can figure on some former delinquent pushing your chair and making you do “wheelies” when the supervisor isn’t looking. Worse we’ll have those punks bathing us. Just as in prison, there’ll be a uniform. For the women, it’ll be beige, polyester, elastic-waist pants and a polyester-knit top with one of the following on the front: a kitten, a puppy, the words “Best Grandma,” some birds, a Christmas motif, some hearts, some flowers, a Christmas tree, or patchwork poinsettia and it won’t matter if it’s July or even if you don’t celebrate Christmas—your loved ones will figure you don’t know what month it is and even if you do, you won’t remember which cheap bastard gave it to you. You will receive one of these marked-down, made-in-China (if you look carefully you may see a small tag with Chinese letters which in Mandarin say “Do not attempt to wash, dry or iron this ugly top—you get what you pay for and this rag cost $1.22 including labor and shipping”) outfits on nearly every holiday and birthday. I can hear my younger sisters now: “Well, it is pointless to buy something good—she’s always spilling something—and besides, it may get stolen.”
In fact, I strongly suspect that though names and room numbers are stitched on the outfits, laundry room employees simply send all of them up in a huge bag and someone just puts any five in every person’s room. Speaking of the laundry, the home’s industrial-style cleaning will quickly wear off bits of the design stamped on the top.
In August a woman down the hall from my grandmother wore a new top that read: “This Too Will Pass.” By Labor Day, it read “His Too ILL Ass.” I won’t even reveal what happens when “moral” fades to “oral” on religious-type shirts. And if you don’t get an outfit, you’ll get a tacky, useless knickknack, which will chip if brushed against tissue paper. The giver will put it on your nightstand blocking your vision of the little clock and probably pushing your $800 hearing aid into the wastebasket. Of course, you might be lucky enough to get fresh flowers, but you will only get them once or twice. After that, your kids will get an orange, pink, and yellow artificial bunch of silk or plastic blooms from the dollar store and stick them into one of their chipped glasses—a clear one, so you can see the thick pea-green plastic stem.
Of course, no place of captivity would be complete without secretive insider trading. It might go something like this:
Marge: Louie, hey Lou—I know you’re not sleeping, old man. What’ll you give me for a hearing-aid battery?
Lou: What? I can’t hear you—my battery is low.
Marge: Oh forget it. Grace, what do you have tonight?
Grace: It’s your lucky night. I have two Gold Bond Medicated Powders, seven rain bonnets, and a pop-top lid can of Blue Boy succotash.
Marge: I’ll trade you my battery and three Depends panties for one Gold Bond and the succotash.
Betty: Hey, I heard someone on the third floor has an eight-track tape of Mike Douglas Sings Your Favorite Love Songs. Not only that, Iris on the first floor has a mint condition Perry Mason poster. That Raymond Burr gets me …what do the kids say? Oh yes, “hot.”
Marge: Of course you are hot—you’re wearing four cardigans. Did you dress yourself again?
Betty: Yes, I did. No use catchin’ a chill. Look Chester’s wheeling our way.
Chester: Anyone want to trade my hardly used Citrus Metamucil for a bottle of Wildroot? And close your legs, Agnes—no one wants to see all your business!
Barney: She can’t hear you—she’s been hummin’ Return to Sender all morning. And hell, Chester, no one uses Wildroot anymore—Brylcreem’s the new kid in town!
Well, you get the picture. What will baby boomers be trading? Santana cassette tapes? Maxed-out credit cards? Would a “Legalize Marijuana” T-shirt be a hot item? I predict we will not go gently into that good institution. When we do, we’ll sit around and talk about the war—but it’ll be Vietnam not WWII; we’ll suck our mashed food through collagen lips; we’ll start sentences with “ Hey, do you remember … hula hoops, the Teaberry Shuffle, the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Woodstock, Donna Reed, getting married, getting divorced, consolidating credit cards, going bankrupt, getting married again …”
Most people would agree that living a long life is a blessing. I suppose so, but who thought we’d be babysitting our great, great grandchildren, sucking the life out of the Social Security system and savoring octogenarian orgasms?
For now, I’ll continue to walk around a stack of 160 record albums I’ll never play, but can’t bear to lose. I’ll use my AARP discounts and try not to flinch every time a copy of Modern Maturity arrives. I can be grateful I’m not part of this young generation of twenty-year-olds. Their nursing-home caretakers will have to wash around a pierced belly button!