I Hate Growing Old


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i hate growing old 1

There are some days, not all days, but some of them where the revelation that I am growing old, bit by bit and inch by inch hits like a ton of bricks. It may be because despite how perfectly I have applied my mascara, my eyes still look withered or no matter how much time I spend grooming my hair its 58-year old texture just refuses to behave and looks ghastly or it might be because I had a mighty fine work-out only to discover when I get in the shower there is a dull ache in my arm. Instead of knowing it will go away, the thought creeps in, “Is this the start of something big? Is my cartillage leaking out?”

Nothing is the way it used to be and the idea that this spiral of slow decline is the new norm is just one big icky thing that does not make me happy. That’s when I call Lois, the eternal optimist whose favorite slogan is “It’s going to get better!”, but she is a peer and she too is in the process of figuring out this new story line. So we commiserate and crack up at the absurdity of how the body betrays its host and figure this means its time to plan a dance party.

My Kind of Jeopardy: Geriatric


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Trebek Bob


Lately, we’ve been watching Jeopardy almost every night. It’s broadcast every weekday at 7 p.m., but we program the DVR to record it so we don’t have to watch any commercials. This has the added benefit of skipping a couple of days and then go on a mini Jeopardy binge – watching two or three shows in one evening. Modern technology can be a great thing.

I can’t recall having watched the show regularly when I was younger, so I’m not sure if I could ever have gotten all, or even most of the answers correct. But it’s clear there would be one of two results if I were to get on the show today:
a) I’d end up with zero dollars because I’d never figure out exactly how and when to push the button on the “signaling device.”
b) I’d somehow master the signaling device, but I’d answer so many questions wrong I’d end the show in negative numbers.

The last episode we watched was part of the Teen Tournament, in which the three contestants were in 7th, 9th, and 11th grades, which makes me at least 10 years older than their combined ages. The winner was the 7th grader, a bespectacled boy wearing his Dad’s best tie bunched up in a lumpy knot. The kid had barely begun puberty, but when “HE WAS PRESIDENT DURING THE WAR OF 1812,” flashed up on the screen, he promptly buzzed in and correctly replied “Who is James Madison?”

Alex Trebek always talks briefly with the contestants about an interesting fact from their lives. This 7th grader told the story of how, during his first confession (what – four years ago?), the priest had addressed the assembled prospective penitents before taking them aside individually to hear their sins. Once the priest’s speech was done, this lad was first in the confessional booth.
However, the priest forgot to disengage his lapel microphone before settling down in the confessional, so this kid’s entire first confession was broadcast to his, no doubt, delighted classmates waiting in the pews outside.

Which normally would be a pretty embarrassing event, but as Alex Trebek observed:
“And they heard everything? But this was your first confession, right? So how bad could it be?”

I suspect he was confessing to having a secret system for cheating at Jeopardy. How else would he know about things like “MOZART’S LAST AND PERHAPS MOST POWERFUL SYMPHONY SHARES ITS NAME WITH THIS PLANET.”

My answer (a wild guess, just for laughs): “What is Uranus, Alex?”

But the correct response, from the mouths of babes: “What is Jupiter?”

I certainly didn’t know that in 7th grade. In fact, I wasn’t aware of it until yesterday. And there’s a pretty good chance, given the way my memory is drying up, that I won’t know it next year either. Or even tomorrow.

The kid won more than $19,000, and qualified to compete in the quarterfinals of the tournament against other freakishly knowledgeable teenagers. I’ll watch, and try to keep up with them, but I don’t have much hope with categories like “NEW TESTAMENT GEOGRAPHY;” “PHYSICS;” and “KATY PERRY VIDEOS” on the board.

I might fare better if they had Geriatric Jeopardy with categories like “PAIN RELIEVERS;” “FLORIDA GOLF;” “SINATRA SONGS;” “NEW HIPS;” “OLD HIPPIES.” There’d be a pee break before Final Jeopardy, and if you’re lucky, you’d get to say “Make it a true Daily Double Knee Replacement, Alex.”

Oh yeah, that’s my kind of game.


Ellis Island: A Lens to Immigration History


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Like many New York-area residents, I have never been to many of the tourist meccas like Ellis Island. And since three of my four grandparents were immigrants, I decided on a beautiful Sunday morning recently to see the ground zero of 20th century immigration for myself.

The great thing about a visit to Ellis Island is that the only way to get there is by boat. Of course, that’s the way it’s always been. Between 1892 and 1954 immigrants arrived at Ellis in boats from all over the world. The boats today run a route that includes Liberty Island along with Ellis Island on every trip. So even if you just want to see Ellis Island, you get a free trip to Liberty Island thrown in.

Ellis Island was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and some exhibits are still not back. But what’s there is gold.ellis2 There are artifacts galore and you can tour the great hall where immigrants waited to be called up to be interviewed. You can see where they ate and where they slept. You can see an above-average orientation film that tells the full story of American immigration. And they don’t try to cover up America’s checkered acceptance of immigration. There are whole exhibits to “nativist” hostilities to every immigration group. For some, like the Asians, the dislike was codified into laws that forbade immigration altogether for decades.
But what surprised me most about visiting Ellis Island was the people who accompanied me on the boat. It seemed to me that the vast majority of my fellow visitors were immigrants themselves, or perhaps simply tourists from foreign countries. English speakers were definitely in the minority. And this dismayed me. It seems to me that it would do many native-born Americans good to see the lengths our ancestors went to to try to deal fairly and humanely with immigrants.

From my reading of history, and from the exhibits at Ellis Island, I know that the people who created and worked at the facility were not all big fans of immigration. Yet they followed the law, and I suspect they even bent the law sometimes, to give many needy people a shot at the American dream. The key, of course, was that the laws during the time Ellis Island was operating either allowed unrestricted numbers of immigrants (as long as they were healthy and could prove they had a way to support themselves) or set the ceiling on the number of immigrants high enough that people did not have to wait years or even decades to come into the country legally.

The tour guides at Ellis Island go to great pains to explain that not everyone who came to Ellis Island got to stay in the country. If you were found to have any disease or were otherwise “unqualified,” you would be sent back to your home country. In fact, a member of my family who was found to have tuberculosis was sent back home. He would return to the United States years later after being cured of the disease.

I think that anyone who visits Ellis Island comes away with two thoughts: (1) it was a tough, nerve-wracking way to come into the country but, (2) the process was designed to be fair and efficient and it was that most of the time. One of the rooms you can visit is the make-shift courtroom where immigrants who were being denied admission could have their cases reviewed by administrative judges. The hearings went on all day, every day. Many were able to convince hearing examiners that they were being denied entry unjustly. Contrast this to the detention facilities we have today for unqualified immigrants that provide no right of appeal.

Clearly the immigration situation today is much different than it was 100 years ago. But when you visit Ellis Island, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, you can’t help but be thankful that Americans then, while not being crazy about the hordes of immigrants filling up New York City, were compassionate enough and intelligent enough to let them in, in the hope they would contribute to the country.

Essentially, in those days, America made a bargain with the world. You can come here if you promise to work hard and help make America a better place. Even the most ardent immigration opponent would have to agree that the immigrants who came through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954 kept their side of the bargain. Are we sure that the thousands of people we turn away today because of ridiculously low limits on the number of immigrants cannot similarly contribute?

Before Birds Flew, There Was Changyuraptor


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changy 3Now for something really far beyond the right side of 50 – specifically to the right side of 125 million. Yes, we are talking about an extinct species – the Changyuraptor. It puts getting old into perspective.

About 125 million years ago, before birds were birds, there existed dinosaurs with aerodynamic capacity. They are called microraptors, and in northeast China, dinosaur hunters have discovered the remains of a four-foot, nine-pound microraptor. The new species has been baptized Changyuraptor.

Unlike scaly dinosaurs, like Tyrannosaurus rex, “Changy” was covered in feathers from head to hind legs. But who knows if they were soft and downy; drab or colorful. The thing that makes “Changy” special, besides its wings and grand size, given that most microraptors weigh in at two pounds, was its tail. The paleo pundits calculate that the 30cm tail, (roughly 11 inches) was the control panel. It drove the up-and-down pitch of the animal, and made it possible for this pre-bird of prey to swoop down on its victims without crash landing.

So now we have a little more info about early avian flight, which means a little more understanding about how birds came to be, which ultimately led to Leonardo Da Vinci’s vision of a flying machine, and then Wilbur and Orville Wright’s powered airplane, up to today’s annoying experiences of flying commercial flights.

Anyway you look at it, flying is connected by six degrees of separation.

The Laundry Room Lending Library

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In my apartment building I take the elevator to the basement to wash my clothes, key card in hand to pay for the machines that scrub out the dirt and dry my clothes. A standard ritual for urban dwellers. To make the experience more pleasant, the Co-op Board installed a book exchange. People can drop off books they have read and others can pick up them up to read.

I have both contributed and retrieved, but what intrigues me is who discarded the books and why. It’s fairly logical why a 1982 edition of Let’s Go Greece shows up, but what about a 1946 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook. This is a gem. It has weight, not just because it’s a heavy hard cover, but because it reflects a piece of social history from 68 years ago.

Why has it been cast to the laundry room bookshelf? Is it a routine cull or has the inhabitant of the apartment passed away? It provokes a string of queries. How old was he or she when they purchased this book? Was it given to a young bride or did the daughter of the once young bride inherit it? It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma and if I was a screenwriter I could concoct a tale from a cookbook.

My story begins:

It is a rainy afternoon, the heroine decides she is going to make brownies for her children. She opens the cookbook and a photo leaps out of a couple, each wearing a suit and hat. On the back of the photograph there is written: “August 15, 1940. The day we met”.

A yellowed newspaper article flutters to the floor. It is dated August 16, 1951 and the headline blares “Leonine Dafjater Dies. Daughter Inherits Millions”.

The heroine goes back to the brownie recipe. In the margin, barely legible, is the word cyanide.
brownies 1I’ll have to find another old book so I can write the next scene.

In the meantime I have discovered that there is a bookstore in Manhattan that is devoted solely to vintage cookbooks, but I am going to keep my Good Housekeeping Cookbook and try making those brownies one rainy day.

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).


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