War Comes To the Retirement Home

Every floor in this building has at least 4 bomb shelters or “safe rooms”. The floors, walls and ceilings are of thick reinforced concrete. The door is a steel blast-proof thing that could never be closed by any man over the age of about 30 and in good shape. Instructions from the management is very clear: on the hearing of the air-raid siren, all residents should immediately stop whatever they are doing – if anything – and walk – not run – to the nearest shelter on your floor. It’s so simple you don’t ever have to think about it, not matter what speed you are still thinking at.

I am the honorary Goldenager in charge of the shelter which adjoins our apartment. So at about 11pm on the first night of the war when my wife, who is my assistant in all matters related to hearing, suddenly yelled “there’s the siren!” I ran next door, disobeying the “never run” rule, and closed the steel window which is left open in peaceful times to allow pigeons and smaller birds access to the shelter. I waited a few minutes in case any of our neighbors needed help making it to the shelter but no one arrived, so I went back home to watch the TV which was featuring the war on all channels.

A few minutes later we heard the most horrendous screeching. I rushed out into the corridor and found 99 year old Yehuda coming along in front of the racket. He was pushing his walker which has lost the left rear tennis ball and was scraping along the ceramic tile floor. Yehuda, of course, couldn’t hear the noise. His ears stopped working when he was in his early 80s. He was closely followed by Shimon, the chap at the end of the corridor who wears huge blackout glasses and uses a white cane which makes irritating noises as he taps his way along. I once asked him if he sees anything at all and he grunted “sometimes”. They both stopped at the entrance to the shelter. The threshold has a small step of 1 or 2 centimeters. Yehuda’s ball-less walker snagged on the step and Yehuda froze. Shimon’s stick, too, caught on the step and I watched as he began a tapping up the walls to check how high the step was.

A few more residents in various stages of night-dress wandered in, looked around, said “no chairs” and wandered off again. War is hell.

It was the new generation of “techies” who decided that the world needed to upgrade its communication systems. These young college drop-outs set up a workshop in a garage in California and went to work. As a result we have WiFi systems so our computers work faster, we have digitized medical test results from the HMO, we can do our banking and traveling online, our children walk about with cell-phones plugged into their ears and our grandchildren are born clutching cell-phones. We, the members of the Golden Age generation are not impressed. We are mostly beyond this new communication stuff and our stiff, thick fingers cannot press the microscopic buttons on these new gadgets, so we launched a counter-offensive to hit back at these new developments.

What better way to retaliate than to use the system we built in our garages, the lowly telephone system? We invented Call Centers followed by Automatic Call Distribution (ADC) systems. The hi-tech youngsters laughed at us: “Who needs it?” they shrieked. We all know our new systems. In the Call Center operation you call up to order a pizza, speak to an old lady in Mumbai and end up trying to help her with her knitting problem.

The ADC is no less frustrating. You lift the receiver to call the local hospital to make an appointment with a doctor. You dial and get through: “Press 1 for Heart Department, 2 for Urology, 3 for Gynecology, 4 for the Skin Department,” and so on. The voice is soothing and you know this call is going to be easy.

You are now in our clutches. This is payback time for all the little gadgets you youngsters invented, for the ease at which you can text, or listen to music or send and receive emails. Pressing a number on our system is never going to get you to your destination! If you get through on the first number you press, you will be in what we call the secondary menu. “Press 1 for heart attacks, press 2 for heart surgery, press 3 for pacemakers,” and so on. If you do get through on that button you will move to the third level menu: “Press 1 for emergency, Press 2 for the transplant department, Press 3 for …” and so on. This call is not going anywhere! It is our infinity program which will keep you busy pressing buttons for days.

We have now added the eternal ring where your call will result in a ringing tone. Our latest tests show that this can go on for weeks before the wires burn out. We are also working on new Apps for our phone systems. You will meet them shortly.

So who exactly was it that upgraded the communications systems?

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To Australia by Wheelchair

The travel agent looked me as I tottered across to her desk. “Wherever you’re going, use a wheel chair at the airports,” she said. “And get one for your wife at the same time!”
I was horrified. Wheelchairs are for the…, you know, ex-walkers, has-beens, washed ups. Not for me. I still walk. It may look funny and it hurts like hell, but I walk. Of course her suggestion became an instant family war cry: “If you insist on travelling to Australia you have to use wheelchairs in the airports!”

And so it was. And it turned out to be the best thing we did on this trip. Some invisible notation on our computerized booking set things in motion. At every airport the counter agent took one look at her computer, sent out a magic signal and in a flash, help was at our side, gripping our elbows as though we were about to fall over.

The system worked like a dream. We sailed along secret passageways, took unknown shortcuts and went through ‘entry-forbidden’ doors. We found ourselves in ‘staff only’ elevators and careened around airports like two oldies on their last legs. People scooted out of the way, glanced at us and whispered “Shame, just look at them,” as we glided past with averted eyes. We hardly slowed down for passport control where the lines looked as though they had been there for years; our pushers hit the brakes at security and gave the armed men a split second to look at us and decide we were long past terrorism; in the departure lounges we were seated in the front row and laughed all the way along the boarding sleeves as our wheelchairs led the other passengers onto the planes. Of course we made sure no one saw us smiling. The wheel chair service was so good that some of our ‘pushers’ actually thanked us for letting them help us!

With all this special treatment my back behaved as though it was born to the noble art of classy air travel. It is hard at work now on a scheme to get us upgraded from cattle-class to first-class. Wheelchairs? It’s the only way to travel!

Arsenic and Very Old Lace

Yesterday evening, after another exhausting day here at the retirement home, I dropped onto the couch for my after-dinner nap. I grabbed the remote and began surfing, looking for entertainment to while away the dark hours. “As usual,” I grumbled, “nothing to watch.” Channel after channel – bad news and worse news or basketball, snooker and soccer. What entertainment there was, is now all shooting mixed with car chases, more shooting and wrecking cars in the most diabolical fashion imaginable. And then, right in the middle of all the violence, a flickering black and white movie introduced by a moth-eaten lion. “Arsenic and Old Lace”. I reached for the chocolate and settled deeper into the couch.

Of course I had seen it before, long, long ago, but there is still magic in its old-fashioned actors, acting and technology. Everything about it is ‘olde worlde’ charming. I wondered if I would have to stand up for God Save the King at the end.

My wife walked in and sat down, watched for a couple of minutes and said, “What on earth are you watching?”
“Arsenic and Old Lace,” I replied.
“Gee! What year was this made?”
“That’s 70 years ago! You’re watching a movie made 70 years ago? What’s the matter with you?”
“How many years?”

I was 11 years old in 1944. I’m pretty sure that my mother never took her 11 year old son to see a movie called Arsenic and Old Lace in the year it was released but I probably saw it a year or two later and I have probably seem it a few times since then. It’s still a great movie.

It just goes to prove: Some things never age – they just get older.

Dinner with a Pen-Pal

I was telling my grandson that I had been to dinner with a pen-pal the previous evening. He looked blank.
“What’s that?” he asked.
I patiently explained, thinking that today’s kids really lack in their general education. He listened to the back and forth letter-writing explanation and said, “Letters? What for? Didn’t you have iPads or iPods or other gadgets where you could communicate?”

“There wasn’t even a fax machine then.”
“But you had phones, right?”
“Yes, but an international phone call from one end of the world to the other was an expensive business back in 1949 and involved calling the exchange, asking for the international operator, giving the details of the call you required and maybe waiting for a day or two until the other party was available.”
“Gee, you lived in primitive times, Pop.”

“Yes, we did. But having a pen-pal was a project of its own. It involved many different activities. I remember riding my bike to the post office. It was a place where one would stand in line to buy postage stamps and send parcels, not a facility for foreign workers to send home their hard-earned wages. In the post office you had to remember to attach an airmail sticker otherwise your letter went by sea and that took weeks to arrive; it meant addressing the envelope clearly because you weren’t sure if the mailmen in far-off countries could read your handwriting. After that you hung around the mail box, waiting for the postman to deliver a reply some weeks after one posted the letter.

“Writing the letter was also different. It meant using the family pen which was usually near the phone. One dipped the pen into the bottle of ink and then looked for blotting paper.”
“Gee, it was primitive then!”
“Yes, those were really primitive days compared to present times. Can’t think how we managed to weave our way through the backwardness. But the truth is, it was fun.”

“How old were you then, Pop?”
“And this pen-pal?”
“She was 16.”
“Wow! And today you are 81, right?”
“And she is… Wow! How was the dinner, Pop?”

And It’s All Thanks To the Gefilte Fish

Passover is on the way and we’re shopping for “different” foods. The supermarket shelves are loaded with goodies and many of the items are hard to ignore. Who would walk past a skyscraper stack of chocolate covered macaroons (ugh) and not buy them? We picked and chose carefully as we cruised down the aisles so as not to put too big a strain on the overdraft but our resolve gave in as we came to the selection of gefilte fish, a long time favorite in this household.

“Hmm, look at those big bottles,” said my wife, the chief shopper.
“12 pieces per bottle,” said I, reading the label. “How’s the price?”
“22 shekels. That’s pretty good.”
“Take two,” I say, and we load the heavy bottles into the trolley.

This is only the third time we have bought the gefilte fish: up to now this traditional Ashkenazi dish has always been home-made, but age combined with the small retirement home kitchen has brought about changes and the truth is that the ready-made is really good. So we ignore the guilty Ashkenazi feelings and buy our gefilte fish. Each ball will still be served with a roundel of carrot perched on the top and we eat the fish with the same red chrain.

At home we unpack our purchases and look for storage space until the big day arrives. It is then that we notice the expiry date on the bottles – 9 October 2017 at 16:07!

Look at it this way: If the gefilte fish maker is confident that his fish will still be edible in October 2017, we will do everything in our power to make sure that we will be here to eat it. Thank you for your optimism, gefilte fish.

Can One Be Over-Retired?

“The thing about being retired is that the days are all the same,” complained my friend as we were driving along to the art supplies shop in search of canvases and brushes. He is 83 and worked in his dental clinic up to a few months ago when he was forced by his professional indemnity insurance company to retire. “A high speed drill with one end in the patient’s mouth and the other end in a pair of shaky 83 year-old hands could be dangerous. They cancelled my insurance cover so I had to quit.” He spends most of his days painting, turning out beautiful canvases of landscapes with a portrait thrown in now and again to change the subject. He is also an avid football fan and never misses an important match on the TV. And he’s bored.

“I enjoyed working,” he says, “even though it was only two days a week. At least it got me out of the retirement home and into the city, allowed me to see and talk to different people and most of all, enabled me to practice dentistry which has been my occupation for over 60 years. I miss it. I need a break from retirement now and again. All this retirement is just too much!”

Next door to the art shop is a supermarket. “Let’s do something different for a change,” he said, pulling me into the store. “Where’s the Men’s Department?” We find a carousel loaded with bowls of olives, pickles, lemons, hot peppers and other delights and we stand and eat a few of the olives stuffed with chili. When we can breathe again we head for the wine counter where there are special displays and stalls selling wines for the coming Passover holidays.

We each drink a couple of glasses of a new Red from Australia before we decide we don’t like it. We’re out of the ‘retirement blues’ by now and we make for the cheese counter. We spend the next hour sampling thin slivers of goats’ and sheep’s milk cheeses and then we each buy a small slab to take home to show that we haven’t wasted the entire afternoon.

“This retirement home is really a great place, isn’t it?” says my friend as we walk into the lobby, “and there’s nothing quite like being retired, is there?”

97 Year Old Leads Dancing At The Retirement Home

The retirement home staged their annual Purim party on Sunday evening. The invitation read 7:00 sharp and by 6:20 the dining room was packed. One or two hopefuls who arrived on time wandered around looking for vacant chairs. The mountain of electronic sound equipment with 2 human operators and a singer provided a variety of music throughout the evening and there was a heavy flow of soft drinks and sugarless cakes to the tables. A few enterprising Goldenagers remembered their good old days and smuggled in bottles of wine under their clothes.

The costumes were dazzling. The dress theme was “The Sixties” and many of us didn’t have to dress up – our everyday clothes are from the Sixties anyway. Violently colored wigs are all the rage this season and many of the women were topped in psychedelic pinks, greens and blues.

The party started off with a selection of dancing. A short, agile and super-energetic woman was in the forefront and for the first half an hour none of us recognized her. She had on a spiky gold wig, a shiny pink mask with narrow eye-slits, a top with flashy gold sequins and a short, um, very short skirt and black tights. She twirled and twisted her way around the dance floor, moving from one partner to another.
“Who is she?” we asked each other as we watched her in action.

We were stunned to see her bouncing. No one in this retirement home bounces. We keep both eyes strictly on our weak points, meaning hips, knees and ankles. Bouncing is out! And then her mask slipped and her face was revealed.
“It’s Gilda, you know, from the corner apartment on the sixth floor!
“C’mon, you know her. She’s usually in a wheel chair. The one with the attractive Nepalese caregiver! She must be about 90!”
“Impossible! Look at her go!”
“Actually, she’s 97,” someone at our table said. “I’m her neighbor and she asked me to help her to fill in some forms for her bank one day. Born in 1917. Saw it with my own eyes!”
We watched in disbelief, our mouths wide open as she whirled, twisted and bounced her way through the exhausted line of partners. It was a stunning exhibition of 60’s dancing. The band took it as a challenge and the faster she danced the faster the beat of the music.

Shortly before 9pm her Nepalese caregiver came into the dining room. She was pushing a wheelchair. She weaved her way through the dancers, gently took Gilda’s arm, led her off the dance-floor, settled her into the seat, snuggled a blanket around her and wheeled her out. The party was over.

The Exclusive Club at the Retirement Home

From our first week here in the retirement home I’ve noticed an exclusive clique that meets regularly and secretly. They gather in the far corner of the coffee lounge, talk a lot but shut their mouths the moment anyone comes close to their circle. Retired members of the secret service, I thought excitedly. I wonder if I could waylay one of them, ply him or her with whisky and get an exciting story for my blog, a plot for a thriller, a script for a movie…

Yesterday I bumped one of them in the elevator and invited him in for a drink. He took 2 sips of whisky and started to talk. I had a tough time getting him to stop. It’s not what I thought, but they are an elite crowd, all right – nonagenarian drivers! These few men and one woman hold regular meetings where they discuss their driving, ask each other for advice on how to renew their mostly un-renewable licenses, make it through the eye test and exchange stories of their conquests on the roads.

When I finally managed to get a word in, I told the guy that I’m interested in becoming a member.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Eighty-one,” I replied.

“Come back in nine years, sonny! I’m not even supposed to talk to you yet! Say, do you want to come with me? I’m just popping down to the mall to pick up shoes I left for repair. And you can help me into my car.”

He needs help getting into his car but then he’s going to drive it?

His car is old, rusty and battered. “There were a lot of concrete columns in the last place I lived. Not worth fixing,” he muttered, pointing his cane at the bodywork.

With much groaning I got him behind the wheel and I went around to the passenger side. He fired up the engine and backed out slowly. He made a complicated 8-point maneuver to get the car out of its parking slot and then zoomed out into the traffic without a glance in the mirror. Cars racing down the street swerved and hooted and a couple sent messages with their fists and fingers.

“Everyone is so impatient these days,” he muttered. “They shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car at all.”

A pizza boy on a motor scooter shot into the road and my driver swerved towards him. “That’s the third time I’ve missed that guy this week,” he said. “I’ll get him one of these days.”

The Oscars Come To the Retirement Home

It’s panic night here at the retirement home. Someone, who has to remain nameless, downloaded copies of a dozen movies and guess what – they all ended up in different categories in the Oscar Awards this week. Downloading movies is a definite no-no so the minute disc-on-key device that is moving at the speed of light from one apartment to another is much sought after. Two days after Oscar night, the entire disc will be out of date, the movies discussed, hacked to pieces by this discerning crowd of Golden Aged movie critics and forgotten.

Meantime, the main objective of every resident is to get one’s hand on the disc for the least possible amount of time and make copies of the movies one wants to see, meaning all of them. There are a few minor problems in this. The average age here is 80, so the computer operators are all between 75 and 90 with quite a few in their mid-nineties. The first problem is finding the switch on the computer. Once that’s been accomplished and the screen is glowing in anticipation, one has to remember exactly where one hid the disc-on-key thingy the last time the great-grandchildren came to visit.

The second obstacle is locating my glasses which are always on my head when I don’t need them. Finally I am confronted by the microscopic disc-on-key and the almost invisible matching slot in the computer. By the time I’ve got everything together the crotchety old guy from the fifth floor who is next on the borrow-list is banging on the door. I hit the ‘enter’ key and start the copying process. “Too bad!” I smile at him, let him in and pour him a whisky to dull the edge of his impatience. “It’s out of my hands. My computer is almost as old as me and steam operated!”

We have 6 great movies to watch, enough to get us through the next couple of weeks. But I‘ll have to buy another bottle of whisky tomorrow.