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.

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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.

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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?