I’m going to tell you something because research has shown that people who read what I write are of a certain age, so I feel as if we are going to speak the same language. Not the language they speak on hip, amazeballs TV networks such as the WB, but on stodgy old CBS. We’re more David Letterman than James Corden, but not quite Joey Bishop. We’re the new AARP generation, which is fundamentally the same as the old AARP generation except we wear jeans and listen to cool music, although it was cool fifty years ago but hey—edgy is edgy.
A year or so ago, my wife and I and two of our friends went to an AARP seminar. On the drive there, I kept hearing voices in my head, voices from the past that reminded me that I used to drive to fun places where the nearest AARP member was the guy we passed who was selling tomatoes in front of his house. Now, as fate and good fortune have allowed, I was old enough to drive to a meeting hall that would be filled with two distinct types of AARPY old people:
A: People who were confused about the myriad of details related to retiring, how to be able to afford to retire, or how to compel their husband to work until he is seventy whereby the wife can draw off his social security at sixty-two, thus maximizing the amount of money they would get so that they could afford those fancy cruises, rudimentary cell phones with gigantic numbers, and high-end hearing aids that are advertised in AARP magazine.
B: People who were there solely for the free cookies and coffee because if they didn’t get free cookies and coffee once in a while, they won’t have enough money to send their grandkids five bucks on their birthdays. These were the same people who gladly pay fifty-five dollars per year for a Costco membership because they can easily consume that amount in free food samples in a month.
As a subset of A, at least half of the women who were there wanted very specific details on how they could cash in on their ex-husband’s social security, which is a very real thing that met with actual applause and women holding BIC lighters in the air.
It was depressing and informative and highly confusing all in one short hour. We left feeling old and a little sad that it’s come to this. It was similar to a bag of potato chips. When one first opens the bag, the chips are big and fresh and actually look as if they were sliced off of potatoes, but eventually, all that’s left are the broken down crumbs that are simply shards of what they used to be. At the bottom of the bag, some of those crumbs are asking how they can cash in on the social security of their ex-husband, while a few crumbs are telling stories about how they used to play football in high school.
On that cheery note and speaking as someone who hasn’t set an alarm for work in several years, I can tell you that in spite of whatever is socked away, it will never feel as if it’s enough. What this means is that a retiree, any retiree, will irrationally start to watch for ways to plug the holes in the financial ship.
Thankfully, retirement age comes at a time when we really don’t need any more stuff, which is why the only TV commercials that are aimed at people over sixty are trying to sell bathtubs with doors, staircase elevators, something called Salonpas and reverse mortgage loans. Being over sixty is the invisible age to marketers. Even Buick has given up on old people.
So with far-reaching consumerism off the table, all that’s left are the basics, and nothing is more basic than food. Food is easy because as old people, we don’t eat as much as we once did. I have no idea why that is. I used to be able to eat an entire large pizza, and I poured my cereal into a mixing bowl. I’m not quite at the point where every restaurant meal includes a doggie bag afterward, but I can see that on the horizon. The biggest complaint of old people in restaurants after the lighting being too low and the noise levels being too high are that the portions are too big. It’s not at all uncommon to see old people with flashlights trying to read a menu, and then pantomiming the specials to their companions who can’t find their glasses or their own flashlights. At the end of the meal, they walk out leaving their doggie bags on the table because they forgot all about them.
When it comes to food shopping, my wife buys wholesome, nutritious food because she is only shopping for two people so we can afford it. People with kids at home can’t afford to buy healthful food, which is why children today resemble a chicken nugget. Still, she keeps an eye out for bargains, and our favorite bargain is sale meat.
Sale meat is any sort of meat that is a day or two away from the stamped expiration date. It’s the same meat, only older, so there is a simpatico relationship going on here. Our dinner is often dictated by the expiration date of the sale meat we have in the refrigerator. I grilled marinated store-made beef kabobs the other night, which were absolutely delicious, plus we saved three bucks on them, and as any AARPer will gladly tell you with their last breath, a penny saved is a penny earned. Generation Z has no idea what a penny is, so asking them to save one is the same as telling them to fill up the ice cube trays. My generation had parents who grew up during the Great Depression, so while our childhood was easier than theirs, we never heard the end of how they ate cabbage soup for dinner and had to put cardboard in their shoes.
Anyway, I was thinking about this on a Sunday morning and getting slightly analogous about the changing of the seasons. I have always looked forward to the next season, and while I miss the one that is left behind, time doesn’t move backward. I keep looking ahead with a dopey optimism that things will always be better and if not better, at least tolerably different than they were, and you know what? They usually are.
It’s OK to get wistfully nostalgic, but I try not to let that get in the way of the future because if there’s one thing I learned at that AARP meeting, it’s that the future may not have flying cars and robot butlers, but it’s coming whether we like it or not, so why not greet whatever happens with a dimwitted smile? This way, the young people will think we’re up to something, and it’s always good to keep them guessing.