Senior Citizen or Almost a Senior Citizen?


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senior citizenBy FRANK TERRANELLA

Last year I visited the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Vermont. They have a nice tour there that ends with ice cream, and so I went with my son and his father-in-law. I only bring this up because they had a senior citizen discount that kicked in at age 60. I thought that was an odd age to pick, but some restaurants like Denny’s and IHOP give senior status to anyone over the age of 55.

Last weekend I visited the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey with my wife, my grandson and his parents. There was a $3 a ticket discount for seniors, but they defined senior as age 62 and over. I have also come across movie theaters where the senior discount doesn’t kick in until 65.

All this led me to think, why can’t everyone agree on the age at which one becomes a senior citizen?

I think this should start with the AARP. The RP of AARP stands for Retired Persons. As anyone over 50 knows, the AARP is second to none in finding people around their 50th birthday and asking them to sign up. I don’t think the NSA could find those of us on the right side of 50 as fast as the AARP does. But how many people are actually retired at age 50? I don’t know anyone. Perhaps in 1958 when the AARP was founded there may have been a sizable minority, but today the number must be a single digit percentage.

A few months ago, Gallup released the results of a poll that indicated that retirement age has been increasing over the last decade. The average retirement age is now 62 and the poll showed that those of us who are not retired do not expect to do so before age 66. Surprisingly, 11% of 18-to-29-year olds said that they expected to retire before they hit 55. The poll showed that this percentage dropped to 3% when they asked 30-to-49-year olds, and 1% when they asked people over 50.

So if we are not going to retire until somewhere between 62 and 66, why does the AARP open its membership at 50? Well I think that has more to do with the power that comes with larger numbers. If the AARP restricted its membership to “retired persons,” it would be a much, much smaller organization. And in fact, you will have to search very hard to find the words “retired persons” on the AARP website. They are just AARP now. They have pretty much disavowed any meaning in the letters.

Social Security allows people to retire at age 62, but Medicare does not kick in until age 65. So even the government can’t make up its mind when one becomes a senior citizen.

If the reason for senior citizen discounts is that seniors are living on fixed incomes, then perhaps we should set the senior age at the average retirement age of 62. That way, most of the people getting the discount will be retired.

But maybe the reason for senior discounts is not tied to income. After all, many seniors, particularly of the “Greatest Generation,” are quite well off in retirement. Maybe the reason for senior discounts is simply to court the business of this rapidly-growing demographic who have time and ability to spend.

Whatever the motivation, those of us in the 55-65 limbo area would certainly appreciate it if there was some consistency about the senior discount age.

Up With Summer Toes


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One of my favorite harbingers of summertime is the summer toe. Freed from their winter corsets, toes begin peeping out towards the end of spring. In Southern California, where I live, this usually happens in late February or March, while the unfortunate digits in northern climes remain captive for several more weeks.

This is the time of year when I most indulge in that girly ritual called the pedicure. (PC aside: presently enjoyed by both sexes.)  Now, a pedicure can make me feel noire like Hedy Lamarr, or sexy like Josephine Baker (dark red). Or maybe I’m sweet and innocent (pink). As a fashionista, I may choose among gray, navy, and taupe. But the summertime pedicure is simply fun and happy. It’s Caribbean Blue, Caipirinha Green, or Jacaranda Lilac. It’s matte white, highlighting dark skin, or jet-set coral, boarding a yacht.

I take my summer-toe attitude with me wherever I go at this time of year. It’s equally at home in the Apple store as at the beach. It goes perfectly with poolside pina coladas and sandy margaritas. I may not wear a bikini, but my summer toes still look spicy with thongs (sandals).

Small Plane Travel a Throwback to Civil Aviation

Cockpit Frank

Up front and personal.


Unlike our children, who take air travel for granted, most of us over-50s remember a time when air travel was not the norm. When I was a child, many of my friends still took trains to travel to Florida. Many people still took ships to Europe.

I attended many a bon voyage party my grandparents threw on ships docked on the piers of Manhattan, bound for Italy. It was a great occasion for us kids. We got to go aboard a giant steamliner like the Leonardo DaVinci, and explore the ship from stem to stern while our parents sat around tables in the restaurant enjoying pastries and coffee. In the security-obsessed world of today, no one would dream of allowing non-passengers to roam aboard (or letting their children wander a ship alone, for that matter). And that’s a shame.

It’s also a shame that family and friends cannot go to the gate to see us off at airports anymore. When I took my first flight nearly 50 years ago, we just walked onto the plane with no security of any kind. When we walked aboard, we were greeted warmly by stewardesses who treated us as if air travel was something special (as it was for middle class folks). There were even commemorative pins for kids enjoying their first flight. Stewardesses brought all the food and drink you could want. And there was room to stretch, because the flights were rarely full. In fact, when flights filled up, they often rolled out another plane. No one ever got “bumped.” Flights were canceled only due to mechanical or weather issues.

Contrast that with air travel in 2014. This year I have taken eight flights in six months and have had one flight canceled, and another delayed seven hours.

United Airlines was the culprit last month when my flight from St. Louis to Newark was canceled on a clear, sunny day without any reason ever given. And then to add insult to injury, they rebooked me to fly from St. Louis to Chicago, and then Chicago to Boston (and then Boston to Newark), and acted as if I should be thankful they had provided a plan for getting me home. They wanted to turn a three-hour flight into 13 hours, and have me be happy about it.

My point is that air travel just isn’t what it used to be. Now I know that makes me sound like an old curmudgeon. I remember laughing when Burt Lancaster’s character in the film “Atlantic City,” says to a young friend, “Look at the ocean. The Atlantic isn’t what it used to be. You should have seen the ocean years ago.”

But I don’t think even air travel executives would deny that the experience today is not what it used to be. They would probably blame economic factors like fuel prices and security factors like TSA regulations for the difference. But the truth is that air travel today is about as enjoyable as riding a bus. And far more expensive.

That is why when our pilot friend Brian offered to take us for a ride in his four-seater plane recently, my wife and I accepted immediately. The plane was at the Provincetown, Massachusetts airport where Brian had flown it from his upstate New York home. Pat and I arrived with Brian at the airport, and you could see immediately a return to the early days of commercial aviation. The airport personnel treated everyone as special. There was no TSA security. Brian keyed in a code to open the gate and we walked to where his plane was tied up. Brian opened the door, and we got in.He meticulously checked the plane out, and gave us safety instructions, and then we were off. As we cruised over Cape Cod, I thought that this is the way travel should be. No lines at the airport, no taking off your shoes, no being patted down. We could just enjoy the ride as human beings, not just butts in seats.

More than a half-century of commercial aviation has taken all of the charm, and most of the civility out of air travel. When only rich people traveled regularly by commercial airlines, everyone who traveled received top-notch treatment. Today, when everyone travels by air, it’s just transportation. The airline slogans bear this out. In the 1930s, Delta Airlines’ slogan was “Speed, Comfort and Convenience.” By 1984, the slogan was “Delta Gets You There.” I rest my case.

Sleeping and Profiting


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There is weirdness in the world today. I have a list of things I have seen, heard, read or experienced that makes me wonder has the civilized universe always been this silly or is it more silly because of the Internet, You Tube, the absence of boundaries, a hankering for 15 minutes of fame, and a belief that any infraction to personal space means a million dollar reward.

It seems a devoted New York Yankees fan fell asleep while the Yankees were playing the Boston Red Sox.

ESPN picked up on the fan’s snooze.
ESPN filmed his nap and commented on the propriety of sleeping through a baseball game.
The video was uploaded to You Tube and a Major League Baseball website.
The sleeping fan was made fun of.
The sleeping fan was not happy about the publicity.
The sleeping fan has demanded 10 million dollars, yes 10 million, to be compensated for this public defamation and the mental anguish he suffered.

It’s difficult for me to understand why ESPN and its mass following gained so much pleasure of posting images of someone sleeping at a sports event. Maybe the guy was tired, but it is incomprehensible how this guy believes that he deserves money for sleeping. Perhaps the attorney representing him is the one that deserves some Internet generated attention.

Anyway, for the moment this is old news as George Clooney and the Daily Mail fiasco become the trending topic.

To Flu Shot or Not?


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Do I really want to bypass my annual flu shot?

Do I really want to bypass my annual flu shot?


Having recently moved to Monmouth County, I’ve switched my regular doctor to a local guy recommended by a neighbor. Now that I’m almost 60, he wants to see me every six months, specifically to monitor the effectiveness of my cholesterol medication, and generally to be sure I haven’t started on a catastrophic decline that, in retrospect, could have been prevented if only he’d seen me sooner.

Sounds like a revenue-generating plan to me. But what the hell – I figure it can’t hurt, and each visit only costs me a $25 copay.

As I sat on the examining table the other day getting palpated and peppered with probing questions about my sleep, eating and bowel habits, I noticed a sign taped to the wall reminding patients about getting flu shots. The last time I had the flu I was laid up for five days feeling weak and sore from head to toe, as if someone had beaten me with a sock full of lead marbles. I sipped warm ginger ale to try to replace the fluids lost in my periodic trips to the bathroom, and whenever I wasn’t moaning or babbling through a fevered fog, I fervently prayed for death.

Then, about 10 years ago, I started getting an annual flu shot. That was when Maria’s grandmother lived with us, and we thought it was better if everyone in the house got vaccinated. I haven’t had a touch of flu since then, so although Grandma moved on years ago, I’ve continued to get the shot each year.

“I need that, right?” I suggested, nodding at the sign, expecting an enthusiastic, “Yes.”

“Why?” he smiled, peering at me over his reading glasses. “You’re not elderly, your immune system isn’t compromised, and you don’t have any chronic respiratory problems. You don’t need it.”

His explained his rationale that the flu vaccine gives you six months of immunity from getting the three most popular strains of flu that experts believe are likely to circle the globe this season. If you come across a different strain (there are thousands of them), or if you encounter one of this season’s three popular strains outside that short window of protection, you get the flu anyway.

But his most persuasive argument was for building your own lifetime immunity:

If an otherwise healthy adult gets the flu, it’s unlikely to be deadly. Granted, you’re miserable for a few days, but you’ll never get that flu again because your body generates lifetime immunity to that strain and its close cousins. Fast forward to when you’re 82 or whatever – you’re elderly so now you should be getting an annual flu vaccine, but what if you come across a strain from years ago that’s now fallen out of the top three? Maybe it’s number 6 or 7 on the flu hit parade, so the current vaccine doesn’t cover it. If you’ve already had that flu, or a similar flu, you’ve still got natural immunity and you won’t get sick. But if not, you’re in trouble because now you’re gonna get it when you’re too old to handle it.

In his view, it’s better to get sick now, maybe even every year, to build up that immunity. But what about all the hype around flu shots, and this notion that everyone should get them? According to my doc, one or more influential people at the CDC conveniently used to work for companies that are heavily invested in making those vaccines:

By the way, only about 30% of the population gets vaccinated – if the flu is such a scourge, why aren’t the other 70% dying in droves from it every year? They’re not because it isn’t. About the same number of people die every year from the flu, and it’s the same people from the known risk groups, regardless of the vaccination levels in the population.

“Your choice,” he smiled. “Come back in November and I’ll give it to you if you want it.”

So now I’m undecided – do I get the flu shot, and cruise through another winter, reasonably confident that my life won’t be interrupted by a week or more of miserable symptoms? Or do I take my new doctor’s advice and leave open the chance of getting sick so I can build up an inventory of immunities that will serve me in the old age I hope to enjoy someday?

I’m leaning toward taking my doctor’s advice, which is to “Let your body do what it was designed to do,” and go without the vaccine this flu season. It may result in some short term discomfort (a gross understatement given how nasty the flu can be), but I’m betting on the long game.

Stabbed in the Back. Am I Thrust to the Sidelines?


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Mud Jump

Am I too old to jump with reckless disregard?


And then there were two.

On the same day I posted about MuckfestMS 2014 and The Three Mudketeers, I was humbled; stabbed in the back by my 59-year-old spinal cord that pretends to be half its age.

Something had seized it that Saturday, and by Monday, it, and my left leg were pierced with pain that brought me to my knees for twelve days.

Twelve days. Twelve days of crippling pain. I couldn’t sit, stand, or lie down. Twelve days of crawling, rolling, crying, and begging for mercy.

It was on Tuesday, day two, that I called 911 at 4 p.m. to take me to the hospital. I hadn’t slept in two days, and wouldn’t have been able to move from the floor without a gurney.

After an emergency room diagnoses of severe sciatica as a result of trauma, that would probably linger for another four to six weeks, and a shot of Dilaudid (apparently one step below morphine), and ten painkiller pills that were gone in two days, I was still debilitated and miserable for another week and a half. No more 5K obstacle-course runs in the mud for me. I’m too old to be a Mudketeer.

And that revelation carried its own pain, once I was upright and working my way back slowly. I was plagued by the possibility that this may be a defining moment for me. A “grow-up-Lois-you-are-not-invincible” wake-up call. Take to the sidelines, already!

I’m pretty much parked in adolescence – at least in attitude. And I have been successful at warding off the aches and pains and injuries and ailments that plague middle-agers. I’ve been really fortunate when it comes to health – and downright cavalier about how any recovery from injury or illness will always be swift and complete.

I have a strong mind-body connection that has always served me well. I’m never sick or injured to the point of defeat. I can talk myself through pain. (I gave birth without drugs – twice.)

But this bout is different. I’m afraid. Afraid that this pain that was so potent, and so prolonged, might come back if I make a wrong move. I continue to be guarded. Am I on the precipice of fatalism; resigned to a smaller world? Weakened? Old?

Will I have to give up the big waves in the ocean? The pounding core cardio workout? Twisting, jumping, dancing in the dark, trampolines, water parks, sliding down things, running up the stairs, rolling on the floor? Heels? Can I remain carefree? Can Pollyanna live with Prudence?

Perhaps I’ve confused fear with levelheadedness. The gift of aging. Because us 50-plussers have numbered days, fear can serve to gather perspective – quickly. And from physical pain can spring intellectual renewal. A re-routing. A savvier path. It feels so good to be back on my feet again – I’m almost grateful for the experience.

So I’ve reminded myself of, and will tuck away, what I used to say to my kids when they were young and fearless, growing into adolescence, and were wont to listen to the wisdom of the older:

“Live in the moment.”
“Have fun.”
“Be wise.”
“Be happy.”
“Protect yourself.”
“Be kind.”
“Take chances.”
“Stay out of the mud!”


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