The Keep

23_the_keep_restaurant_bar_columbus__hotel_le_veque-1500x1001Last night Kish and I and Mr. and Mrs. JV had dinner at The Keep, one of Columbus’ newest restaurant options.  It’s located on the mezzanine level of the Hotel LeVeque, smack dab in the middle of downtown Columbus.

Given the name, I thought The Keep might have a medieval castle theme, with a wait staff carrying crossbows or broadswords.  There was no jousting or armor plating visible during our visit, however.  We first had a drink — well, actually two, since none of us were going to be driving home — at The Keep’s bar, which was packed with people and hosting at least two separate holiday parties.  We knew we were in a cutting-edge spot when we learned that the people next to us were both out-of-towners who had arranged their first meeting via Tinder.  The bar offers lots of different cocktail, wine, and beer options, as well as a limited bar food menu.  We skipped the food, since we were going to be eating at the restaurant next door, and enjoyed our drinks and the lively, bustling urban vibe of the place.

The restaurant is a few steps away from the bar.  It is modeled as a modern French brasserie, and — to this uneducated wine fancier, at least — it has a very solid selection of French wines, as well as domestic labels.  Given the brasserie setting, I felt compelled to start my meal with the French onion soup, which was good and served piping hot, without the overload of bread and cheese that you frequently get with that order.  You could actually eat the soup without having to use your spoon to saw through an inch-thick layer of bread and cheese and having the soup splash out of the bowl as a result.   My entree was the Guajillo pork cheeks, served with black-eyed peas, collard greens, and corn nuts.  It was very tasty, too.  As JV observed, the portions are kept to moderate size, so you can be a member of the Clean Plate Club without having to waddle out of the joint, groaning with a mixture of satiation and discomfort.  The reasonable portion size also left room for Kish and me to split a really good dessert consisting of a kind of miniature spicy Bundt cake with ice cream.

The ambiance of The Keep restaurant is appealing and has definite brasserie elements, with a central dining counter area and tables and booths spread around.  One other thing:  as we looked around, we realized that we were by far the oldest folks in the room.  That was true in the bar area, too.  How often are fun-loving 60-year-olds the senior citizens in a downtown restaurant?  Maybe the younger crowd is attracted by the brasserie setting, or the central downtown location, or the prices, which I thought were very reasonable.  In any event, it was nice to know that we oldsters had stumbled upon a hip place where the cool kiddie set hangs out.  We’d go back, if they let us in.

Meanwhile, Back At The Shuffleboard Court . . . .

You have to wonder whether it ever bothers the people of Florida that everyone else in the country views it as an enclave for octogenarians.  No surprise there — Florida has the largest percentage of senior in the country, with almost one in five residents above the age of 65 and one county where more than half the residents fall into that category.

wvc_seniorgames_0920123Stories like this one, about a “shuffleboard rage” incident in St. Petersburg, aren’t going to help Florida’s retiree rep.  It reports that an 81-year-old guy was charged with battery after getting into a fight with another man during a shuffleboard tournament at a seniors center.  The feisty octogenarian reportedly punched the victim in the face and hit him with his shuffleboard cue, scratching the victim’s face.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t report certain crucially important details, like what provoked the incident, and whether the two men were wearing colorful plaid Bermuda shorts hitched up to nipple height and support hose at the time of the altercation.

What would it be like to live in the Sunshine State, home to millions of slow-walking, bad-driving, loudly attired seniors wearing bulky hearing aids?  I think it would be strange and depressing to live in a place where there are so many older people relative to the rest of the country.  Now we learn that the state might be somewhat dangerous for the many shuffleboard fans among us, too.

The Crossing

Sometime in the very near future, the world will witness something that has never before happened in the history of homo sapiens:  the number of people 65 and older will be larger than the number of children under the age of 5.

Demographic experts call it “the crossing.”  It’s the point at which the upward moving line on the age chart representing people 65 and up crosses the declining line representing children under the age of 5.  The result is like a big X on a graph, because once the crossing occurs, those two trend lines are forecast to continue until, by 2050, the number of senior citizens will be more than double the number of young children.

census_bureau-chart-65_and_older-under_5-1Why is this happening?  The old age part is the easiest to explain:  advances in medicine and treatment of disease are allowing people to live much, much longer than they ever have before.  We’re routinely setting records on life expectancy and the number of people who have lived past 90 and even 100.

The other line on the graph, though, isn’t so readily explained.  In some countries, people are just having fewer children, or no children at all.  This isn’t a worldwide phenomenon, but one that has focused on certain “first-world” countries.  Japan, the European countries, and Canada are all among the oldest countries in the world.  In Japan, 26.6 percent of the population already is over age 65.

It’s not hard to foresee the serious challenges posed by these long-term trends.  Without young people in the demographic pipeline to grow up, get jobs, and contribute their tax dollars, it’s hard to see how the social welfare model can be sustained.  The health care and retirement payment costs of a growing number of elderly ultimately will overwhelm the tax contributions of a shrinking number of workers.  And eventually, old people do die — which means that the “old” countries will soon become much less populated countries.  What will it mean to Japanese culture and the Japanese social model and, for that matter, Japanese influence on the world stage when that country’s population is but a fraction of its current size?

One other thing about demographic trends — they’re not readily reversed.  We’ve been moving toward “the crossing” for decades, and soon it will be here.  Get used to seeing a lot of gray hair in the world, folks.

 

The Matching Teddy Bear Outfits Test

Some years ago, our family was enjoying a trip out west.  We stopped at a diner in Arizona and were sitting at a table chatting when an older couple came through the front door and headed to a table, too.

I glanced at them and then did a double take.  The husband and wife were each wearing matching pink sweat pants and sweat shirt outfits, on which dozens of oh-so-cute teddy bear patches had been sewn.  The wife walked in first with a big smile on her face, with the husband trailing behind.  It looked as if she had created the outfits herself, perhaps in a sewing or crafts class at their nearby retirement community.  I’m sure she thought they were just frigging adorable, but they were so bright and saccharine and embarrassing it was painful to even look at them.  I pointed the couple out to Kish and the boys, and we all got a good chuckle about them as we sat at our table and ate our meal.

91aujzydxql-_sx466_Still, there was a serious aspect to this comical incident.  I felt sorry for this old guy, because I was reasonably confident from his demeanor that wearing matching pink teddy bear outfits with his wife to a local diner wasn’t his idea.  I’m sure he loved his wife, and I’m guessing that she wanted to make the outfits and brought it up until he yielded as the path of least resistance.  But there was an obvious issue of self-respect involved, too.  Once, I thought, this older gentleman had had a successful career as a business executive or banker, a man who was admired by his colleagues and neighbors.  Now he was out in public at an Arizona diner, wearing a garish, overly cute outfit that he wouldn’t have been caught dead in just a few years earlier.  It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Later that night, Kish and I talked about it.  We agreed that she would never suggest that we wear matching teddy bear outfits — or for that matter, any matching outfits — and I agreed that if I ever indicated an interest in doing so, she could put me away for good, because the matching teddy bear outfits test would show I had finally and irretrievably lost it.  It was one of those small but significant agreements and accommodations of which successful marriages are made.

The Ever-Present Direct Government Payment Solution

Yesterday I saw an article that I think capsulizes what has gone wrong with the direction of our country.  The article reported that Senator Elizabeth Warren, that darling of the progressives, wants to send every senior citizen in the country a check for $580.

Why?  These days, I’m not sure that there actually needs to be a reason for a politician to propose a direct government payment to some constituency or another, but the stated reason is that Senator Warren believes the payment is needed because the cost of living for Social Security recipients increased last year.  Social Security benefit payments already are indexed to inflation, of course, but this year the formula that calculates the cost of living indicated there should be no increase.  So why do we need to make a $580 payment?

Well, Senator Warren contends that “Congress’s formula is volatile and does a poor job of reflecting what older Americans actually spend.”  She apparently has more perfect insight into the true spending habits of seniors.  She notes that part of the reason why the index didn’t increase this year is that gas prices fell and argues that seniors don’t drive as much as other Americans.  If there’s an empirical basis for that conclusion, I haven’t seen it, and working stiffs who walk to work, or take public transportation, might properly be skeptical of that claim.  But in any case it makes no sense as a policy matter:  in past years, when gas prices have surged, the existing formula has yielded increases to Social Security payments.  So if seniors, in fact, drive less than other Americans, then in prior years they got a windfall when their benefit payments increased to reflect higher gas costs that they weren’t paying.  In short, even if the cost of living formula is improperly weighted as to gas prices given senior spending habits, the advantages and disadvantages even out.

How did Senator Warren come up with the proposal to send Social Security recipients a check for $580, or about 3.9 percent of their current benefits?  According to the article linked above, it’s not by using the alternative inflation calculation Democrats propose for seniors, which would produce a 0.6 percent increase in benefits.  No, according to Senator Warren 3.9 percent represents the average increase of compensation for CEOs last year.  It’s not clear how that 3.9 percent number was calculated and which CEOs were included in any analysis that was done — was it limited to CEOs of America’s largest public companies, for example, or did it include the CEOs or proprietors of every business in the country? — but in any case there is no correlation between “CEO compensation” and Social Security benefit levels.  You might as well determine Social Security payment increases by looking to changes in the salaries of NBA players, or law school professors, or federal bureaucrats, or the presidents of unions.

So why choose CEOs?  Because people like Senator Warren consider them to be the evil greedheads in our society.  They make lots of money and run impersonal corporations — so they must be evil by definition.  Of course, the CEOs of public companies have enormous management responsibilities, their salaries are set by boards of directors whose members can be removed by shareholder vote and paid by the corporations themselves, and they often get sacked if their company is struggling.  But those realities don’t matter.  Senator Warren’s proposal will allow some people to argue that Congress favors CEOs over senior citizens.  And, of course, there are a lot more senior citizens than CEOs.

This is what we’ve come down to:  politicians like Senator Elizabeth Warren will do just about anything to rationalize the government cutting checks to directly pay off a chunk of the population and build her resume as a populist icon.  She’s not alone, of course, which is why we have a federal government that runs jaw-dropping annual deficits of hundreds of billions of dollars despite taking in record levels of tax revenue.

I’m afraid that the system is broken.

Old Phones For Old Folks

I’ve really come to dislike those T-Mobile commercials.  Filled with quick cuts from one group of happy, dancing twenty-somethings to guitar-playing scruffs to youthful, grinning selfie-snappers, all of whom are precisely dishevelled and wearing kicky scarves and snazzy hats, the T-Mobile commercials are even more specifically focused at an age group than toy commercials on Saturday morning TV.

And it’s an age group that I no longer belong to.

IMG_20150916_060245

I’ve been dimly aware for some time that I’m completely out of it when it comes to phones.  I know this because of the shocked expressions of my younger colleagues when I haul out my cell phone, immediately followed by a bemused expression when I plug it in to charge the battery — again.  It’s the same bemused expression you probably gave your grandparents when you noticed that they spilled food on themselves while eating a recent meal and are walking around with tomato soup on their blouse and breadcrumbs on their cardigan.

I think I’ve got an iPhone 4.  Could a new iPhone do more, if I got one?  Undoubtedly.  But my current phone provides the limited phone/email/internet access/apps I actually use — and, candidly, rather than being moved to ecstatic dancing about getting a new phone, I kind of dread the thought.  I know that when I go to get one the customer service rep will be some precisely dishevelled, phone-arrogant twenty-something who probably plays guitar on breaks who will ask me condescending questions about my phone needs that I don’t fully understand.  It’s nettlesome.  Plus, there’s an obvious risk that, when I get a new phone, the apps I actually use will mysteriously vanish or move or be unworkable.  So I stick to my old, tried-and-true, reliable-if-constantly-leaking-battery-power phone.

When I see those irritating T-Mobile commercials, I feel guilty about my phone backwardness — but then I read a recent survey that shows that a majority of Americans will upgrade their phones only when the phone stops working or becomes obsolete.  That basically means I’m still comfortably in the majority and maybe even a titch ahead of the curve, because my phone still works fine and doesn’t appear to be obsolete — not that I would know.

Ha!  So take that, T-Mobile!  It’s nice to know that there is a Silent Majority of technology-challenged Americans who aren’t data obsessed and sent into paroxyms of dancing joy by the newest cell phone and data service plan.

Now excuse me while I check my shirt for food stains.

Closed Captioning

As we have watched the last few episodes of True Detective — which I think has really picked up lately, incidentally — Kish and I have had the same conversation several times:

“What did he say?”

“I don’t know — I couldn’t hear it.”

“You know, I hear that a lot of people are watching this show with the closed captioning feature on their TVs activated.”

The Vince Vaughn character, in particular, seems to specialize in muttering things under his breath, menacingly but incomprehensibly, but we have have trouble understanding many characters on that show.  Is there something about the sound quality of True Detective that just sucks, or have the producers decided that whispered statements fit better with the dark themes of the show?  Maybe the “never mind” theme music is supposed to suggest to viewers that the dialogue really doesn’t matter much, anyway.

When you can’t hear the dialogue on a TV show, there aren’t any good choices.  If you’re watching a recording, you can try to rewind, but you need the deftness of a surgeon to move back to just the right spot without overshooting, and it really wrecks the flow of the narrative even if you are successful.  Or, you can crank the volume up to senior citizen retirement home levels, give up any pretense of clinging to remaining youth, and start going to restaurants at “Early Bird Special” times and using the word “whippersnapper.”  Or, you can activate the closed captioning option — which will expose your obvious lack of technological know-how in trying to find and turn on the option in the first place.

I have no doubt that my hearing acuity has declined over the years, but I wouldn’t say that I’ve got a hearing problem — at least, I don’t think I do.  Does any young whippersnapper out there have trouble following the dialogue on True Detective, too?  Speak up, will you?

Selling Senior Sextapes

Recently Kish and I have been receiving the AARP Bulletin.  For the most part, it’s the kind of publication you’d expect from an organization that caters to senior citizens.  This particular edition, for example, included an article about new Medicare scams taking advantage of the elderly, a how-to guide on 99 ways to save money and make that nest egg stretch farther, and an encouraging piece with the front-page teaser headline:  “Study Looks At Brain Aging:  Cognitive Decline Is Not Inevitable.”  (Hooray!)

IMG_5685The ads, too, are about what you would expect — with one exception.  In this edition, among the promotions for medical alert devices, walk-in showers, and life insurance, was a full-page ad entitled “Sex.  It’s Never Too Late To Learn Something New.”  Along with a picture of an amorous older couple, the text said “See for Yourself on Discreet Home Video” and “Real people demonstrating real sexual techniques.”  (If so, how discreet can they be?)

Eh?  Boy, that sounds suspiciously like porn, doesn’t it?  In fact, the ad copy seems to make that point so clear that even a senior citizen on the cusp of cognitive decline could grasp it by adding:  “Couples who watch together not only LEARN from what they see, but often report that the videos themselves are an ‘instant aphrodisiac.’  That’s because they show REAL couples (not actors) demonstrating the joys of REAL lovemaking.”  The ad promises that if you order within the next seven days you can get 50 percent off three of the videos, plus another three videos free — so viewers can get really educated!

The world is a fast-changing place, and we just need to accept it.  Even so, it’s weird to see AARP offering ad space to a company peddling senior citizen sextapes to the geriatric generation.  And really, what distinguishes these video volumes from the more sordid efforts that appeal to prurient interests?  The fact that it’s “REAL couples (not actors)” who are getting it on onscreen?  The fact that the videos have clinical titles like “The Art of Sex Positions” rather than bad sex-related puns on Hollywood movie titles?  Or the fact that the ads says the tapes are “recommended by leading doctors and therapists”?  (What would qualify a particular physician as a “leading doctor” for this purpose, do you think?)

Who knows?  Maybe the videos begin with a white coat wearing doctor, with a stethoscope draped around his neck, giving a little primer on anatomical matters that the sexed-up seniors have to endure before they can get to that ‘instant aphrodisiac.”

Fraud From The Boiler Room

This week a police operation in Great Britain and the EU resulted in arrests of more than 100 people who allegedly were involved in “boiler room” operations, where callers solicit investments in fraudulent financial schemes or sell stock that doesn’t exist. The SEC, too, routinely prosecutes people who are determined to be involved in boiler room schemes to swindle investors. Often these schemes bilk hapless seniors of their retirement funds.

I’ve received “boiler room” type calls. Typically the caller talks very fast with a New York accent (I’ve always assumed the accent is part of the job training, just like being an airline pilot requires that you speak with a certain folksiness), explains they are with an investment outfit you’ve never heard of, and then says they’ve got just one opportunity they want you to consider. There’s always some hook that makes the investment sound plausible and can be described in 30 seconds — development of oil sands, a company that’s about to be awarded a development contract in Qatar — and then the ask that you give them this one chance to show that they can make a huge return for you.

I always listen politely, because I watched Glengarry Glen Ross and felt sorry for the Jack Lemmon character, and then decline. If they start to get especially pushy and belligerent — and that’s not unusual — I just hang up. They’re wasting their time with me, because I would never dream of giving any of my hard-earned money to a complete stranger who calls out of the blue. However, some people do invest, to their eventual regret, which is why boiler room operations have been a staple of the fraudster arsenal for decades.

Many of the victims are senior citizens. Why are so many older people easier to scam? Research suggests that the elderly are more likely to open junk mail about get-rich-quick schemes and interact with cold callers, and that the aging brain is less able to appreciate risk. In short, they put themselves in a position to be hoodwinked, react positively to the promises of outlandish returns on their money, and lack the filters that would allow them to recognize the downside risk and danger that they are being defrauded.

If you’ve ever known an anguished and humiliated senior citizen who was taken advantage of by a boiler room operation, you know that there is a special level of hell reserved for crooks who prey on the elderly, rob them of their life savings, and leave them facing an impoverished retirement.

Why Are Gun Sales Surging?

By all accounts, Americans are buying guns in record numbers.  Why?

Bloomberg says that gun sales are increasing by significant amounts.  Gun purchases increased 54 percent from 2008 to 2012, and publicly traded gun manufacturers are reporting more than 40 percent increases in sales in 2013.  Demand is so great that manufacturers are competing for market share in the expanding gun market by introducing new products, which is driving a sharp increase in gun-related patents.  The Washington Post reports that Virginia set a record for Black Friday gun sales.  Isn’t it curious that people would think of buying weapons on the day after Thanksgiving?

Many of the new gun purchasers are women and the elderly; gun ownership in both demographics is rising.  Indeed, one report estimates that 25 percent of all women own a gun.

Why this sudden surge in gun sales?  In recent years, some people have speculated that the increases were due to concerns that governmental entities would restrict gun ownership and a desire to load up before any limitations take effect — but that rationale doesn’t make much sense now, with no meaningful effort underway to regulate gun ownership at the federal level and many states loosening their restrictions on carrying firearms.  The normal reason to buy a gun would be to feel more personally secure, but there hasn’t been any apparent, noticeable increase in criminal activity that would motivate people to buy a gun now, as opposed to last year or five years ago.  So why the sudden burst of gun-buying activity?

It’s a bit unsettling that so many people in this country feel the need to be amply armed, in their homes and in their daily lives.  It’s as if they are expecting a breakdown in law and order and envisioning a dog-eat-dog world.  It’s strange to live in a world where so many people apparently think we are on the brink of apocalypse.

 

Dying With Dementia

Several recent studies about dementia among America’s aged are profoundly disturbing — especially for those of us who aspire to live to a ripe old age.

IMG_1111One study, by the Alzheimer’s Association, concludes that one in three elderly dies with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.  The dementia does not necessarily directly cause death,  but does contribute to an earlier demise because the senior forgets to take her medication, or is unable to recognize symptoms that should lead to prompt treatment.  Another study, led by an economist from the RAND Corporation, concludes that 15 percent of Americans over age 71 — about 3.8 million people — have dementia, and that number will increased to 9.1 million by 2040.  The study also found that the direct health care costs for dementia patients, at nursing homes and other care facilities, is $109 billion, and the costs of care also are expected to increase dramatically.

As a society, we must worry about how we are going to pay for such care, but as individuals we worry about becoming one of those statistics.  If you’ve been around someone with dementia, you realize it is an awful way to go.  So many of the afflicted appear to be perpetually frightened, or angry, or both.  They don’t recognize family members, or understand when people are trying to help them.  The disease works terrible, fundamental changes to their personalities and characters, turning the quick-minded former executive into a simpleton or the happy, encouraging aunt into a bitter font of hateful, deeply wounding comments.

So much of life’s joy and richness comes from our interaction with spouses, children, and loved ones; what must it be like to be stripped of those pleasures, left to cope with strangers with only a dim understanding of who you are and why you are there?  It’s a depressing, terrifying prospect.

How Best To Protect The Elderly?

The percentage of our population that is elderly — and often infirm as well — is growing.  As that percentage of the population grows, the number of elderly who are hoodwinked out of their retirement nest egg, neglected, or emotionally or physically abused, is growing steadily as well.

Senior abuse is a tough problem to quantify.  Statistics, surveys, and expert opinions vary, with estimates of victims numbering in the millions, but the reality is hard to grasp because the problem is largely a hidden one.  Many seniors spend their time indoors — due to health or choice — and aren’t seen in public often.  How are neighbors to know if the apparently devoted son who stops by every second day isn’t abusing his confused mother and looting her bank account?  How many seniors are too embarrassed and ashamed by their treatment to confess that their niece or grandson is threatening and assaulting them?  And there is a definitional problem, too.  How do you treat the fiercely independent older couple where the husband insists he can care for his ailing wife, but family friends notice their hygiene and general health noticeably slipping?  Are they being neglected, or is their fervent wish for independence simply being honored?  How are we to know, too, if the money that is vanishing from the aging parent’s bank account is disappearing due to fraud, or to a legitimate wish to help relatives who are down on their luck, or to pay for an expensive form of treatment or drug therapy?

The elderly are a ripe target for crime and abuse.  They often have life savings to plunder, and they receive a monthly Social Security check.  They may be weak, wheelchair-bound, or suffering through the early stages of debilitating mental or physical illness.  Their social support network of friends, family, and co-workers may have fallen away as a result of retirements, departures to warmer climates, and deaths.  If a relative moves in to help Great Aunt Alice, is it a wonderful act of human kindness or a precursor to abuse and financial exploitation?

There’s always pressure for a federal solution, but it’s hard to see how a national bureaucracy could effectively address this problem.  The best answer seems to be vigilant neighbors, friends, and family members who are alert to signs of abuse and willing to report their suspicions to local authorities.  Financial fraud is a crime, as is physical assault, and they should be treated and prosecuted as such.  We should all be observant and sensitive to seniors who may desperately need our help and who deserve not to be terrorized or defrauded in their twilight years.

Nattering Nabob Of Nubbiness

I love the autumn.  Every year I look forward to taking a sweater out of my closet and wearing it on a cool fall day.  And every year, when I do so, I ask the same question:  What in the heck makes my sweaters get nubby?

You know what I mean, I think.  You have a nice woolen sweater that’s warm and soft and perfect for the autumn weather.  You wear it, and wear it, and then one day you notice these tiny woolen stubs that have sprouted up from the sweater, likes eyes on an aging  potato or zits on a greasy teenager’s face.  They’re unsightly, and they’re irritating, as you try to carefully pick them off, one by one.  But we all know that once a sweater crosses the nubbiness threshold, it’s got one foot in the lamb’s wool grave.  The next time you turn around, there will be a few new ones to give you that unpleasantly knobby, senior citizen look.

Can anyone tell me what causes sweater nubs?  And, equally important, is there anything I can do shield my favorite sweaters from an unwanted, knobbly fate?

Looking For A Quick, Clean Exit, Far Into The Future

How do you want your life to end?  An even more difficult question:  how do you want the lives of your loved ones to end?  An article in New York magazine, about a family’s struggle with their mother’s long, slow decline — and the related emotional and societal costs — raises those stark heartbreaking issues.

I think most people would like to go out like my grandfather did.  He lived to be 99, kept his mental and physical health until the end, then had a stroke while eating breakfast and died later that day.  No institutionalization.  No dementia.  No months or years of a twilight existence, apparently unaware of his surroundings, experiencing bedsores and diaper changes and incomprehension.

Of course, we don’t get to make stark choices between the ideal and the awful.  Instead, families deal with impossible judgment calls.  Should the frail 84-year-old woman with the bad hip endure the pain, or have an implant operation that could give her a pain-free existence — or produce a shock to the system that causes her to slide into an irreversible downward spiral?  If an elderly relative decides not to undertake life-extending treatment, should the grief-stricken children try to argue him out of his decision?  How should a family deal with an institutionalized Alzheimer’s victim in the bewildered, angry, unrecognizing end stages of mental decline and the guilt that comes from not wanting to see their relative in that terrible condition?

The author of the New York article yearns for a “death panel” — he calls it a “deliverance panel” — where family members could appeal for a relative’s death.  There’s a reason why the concept of such panels provoked such opposition during the recent debate on health care reform, however.  What modern Solomons would staff such panels?  The doctors who want to sharpen their skills at an aggressive life-extending procedure and get paid for their efforts?  The bureaucrat who sees his health care budget exploding and wants to rein in costs?  The hospital administrator who thinks the room the patient occupies could be better used by someone receiving more care and treatment?  The children who are heartsick about the potential loss, hoping for a miracle, guilt-ridden, exhausted, overwhelmed, and concerned about their inheritances, all at once?

There are no easy answers to these terrible issues.  I think the appropriate first step is for everyone to make their own decisions about their own care, when they are still healthy and capable of doing so, and memorialize those decisions in some kind of binding way so that their surviving relatives aren’t saddled with impossible choices.  Is the prospect of long-term institutional care and constant pain a source of unimaginable horror, or would you be willing to put up with it in order to meet your great-grandchildren?  Only the individual can know how much of a deviation from the ideal end-of-days scenario they are willing to endure.

The Post-AARP-Card-In-The-Mail Blues

The other day I received another AARP card in the mail.  Immediately my shoulders rounded a bit, I felt an irresistible impulse to hitch my trousers to nipple height, and I developed a keen interest in the weather.

I’ve gotten AARP stuff in the mail before.  On your 50th birthday, you inevitably get an AARP application as a special birthday treat.  At 50, you can laugh it off — but the AARP is persistent.  They keep sending you stuff, and sending you stuff, until they wear you down.  There is a certain grim inevitability to the process.  Once the AARP decides you should be a member, there’s nothing you can do about.  You are caught up, inexorably, in titanic forces beyond your control.

This latest card is heavy cardboard and has the whiff of permanence about it.  Its arrival moved me to verse:

My hair grows grayer

My face is lined

I’m looking older

But I don’t mind.

I ignore the years

Avoid my reflection

As my denial of age

Won’t bear close inspection.

But today my denial

Is impossibly hard

I’ve sadly received

An AARP card.