Monthly Archives: July 2012

Is It All Downhill From Here?

My car, which has served me so well for all these years, has celebrated its 15th birthday and is showing signs of its age. We’re about the same age, me and my car, both showing areas of deterioration.

The car is basically 3 systems put together in a fancy looking body. There is a mechanical system, meaning gears and drive shaft and brakes and other metal thingies that make the car go and stop; there is a fuel system consisting of a gas tank, fuel lines and pumps and a carburetor and then there is an electrical system which besides operating the lights and radio, supplies power to a gadget called a distributor which provides sparks that ignite the fumes from the gas, causing little explosions that push pistons up and down and make the car go. It’s pretty simple – ask any motor mechanic.

As the car ages, all these systems and parts start to wear, some faster than others, and need replacing. Any part in the car can be replaced…

The human body too consists of a few different systems, such as the fuel system meaning smoked salmon, steaks and other food with beer and whiskey. There is the muscle system which puts the body into motion, a blood system with a pump, a nervous system, an intelligence gadget and so on. It’s also pretty simple – ask any doctor. And like the car the body wears as we age. So we replace parts; knees, hips and sometimes major parts such as kidneys and even hearts. Unlike the car not all parts can be replaced. If the thinking mechanism goes, that’s it. You get to live with a substitute thinker, called a spouse or a caregiver. That’s one of the parts that cannot be replaced. There is a limit.

When the car has had all its parts replaced, it simply smiles and says, “I guess it’ll be all downhill from here.”

But when the body has had the maximum number of parts replaced…



In Praise of Idleness

It was the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell that wrote the above title for an essay of his. He was pushing a theory that everyone should work less. I am using it to illustrate one of the dangers of living in a retirement home – and enjoying it.

After a lifetime of working, running around to get things done, worrying about minutiae and generally being part of the system, I am finding an alternative. Life in the retirement home is different. I have heard this many times from friends who moved to the new lifestyle and I used to wonder how different life can be. Now I’m finding out and starting to worry that I am treading a dangerous path.

I never have to leave here, in fact if it wasn’t for odd forays to the supermarket or to the bank… and even those can be avoided. There is a mini-market here in the building. This involves an elevator trip of 3 floors and maybe pushing a small trolley back to the apartment. The bank comes here once a week, enough for my needs (again the elevator), and I can do my business on the spot. The gym is here, complete with instructor and muscle-making machines, the art group is here. The pool is under my balcony and there’s the library next door. I am force-fed culture at the 6:30 lecture every evening and I don’t have to go outside to find a synagogue. There’s even a movie once a week.

As far as food is concerned, there is a dining room which I can choose to visit or not and which even allows me to take food up to the apartment. For company there is a coffee shop and lounge and to cap it all there is a hairdresser through that door in the corner. The nurse and doctor are in the clinic and a dentist comes around.

I can’t think of anything that’s missing but I keep wondering about the difference in lifestyles between then and now. This one is dangerous – it consists of doing almost nothing!

Free Coffee for Experienced Coffee Drinkers Only

Here at the retirement home we’re all experienced coffee drinkers. We’ve been drinking coffee since World War II when you couldn’t get coffee at all. Some of us were drinking coffee before the war. We know every coffee story that’s gone around in the past 50 years and we’ve tasted every coffee blend that’s been around for the same time.

Friday is a day of relaxed coffee drinking before the coming hectic weekend which will be probably be spent with children, grandchildren and maybe even great-grandchildren and which will drain all a retiree’s energy reserves.

The pre-weekend ‘do’ takes place in the entrance lobby cum coffee shop of the retirement home amid noise, hustle and bustle. All you have to do is show yourself to Etty the coffee-bar tender and a cappuccino and slice of cake appears in front of you. You can then choose whether to talk to your spouse, a friend or go solo and make a start with the weekend papers. Some folks even jump the gun and get going with the crossword. The coffee is nothing special, but that’s of no consequence, it’s not the coffee that counts.

This crowd, experienced in every subject under the sun, can talk on any topic for hour after hour and once they get going it’s not easy to stop them.  Some of the little circles of coffee drinkers turn into noisy argument centers and some into silent, deep-thinking crossword corners. And because this is a retirement home, there’s strange stuff going on as well. Like the attractive woman who wandered around in and out of the crowd, who suddenly drops into an armchair opposite me and starts talking – to herself. Her eyes are completely blank, but she smiles now and again during her soliloquy and is clearly enjoying her company.

And the not-so-old man who is propped up by his male caregiver, finds a seat, sits down, stays put for ten seconds, jumps up, finds another seat, sits, jumps up and spends the entire morning like this. He looks fit and well, but by lunch time his caregiver is a total wreck.

Come and have coffee with us any Friday morning. Never a dull moment.

Is The Pain In My Little Finger From Too Much Exercise?

There are many different Keep-fit programs here in the retirement home. When we first moved in, I read the list of exercising opportunities that ranges from chair exercises to water aerobics to a fully fitted gymnasium, and pondered over what was best for me. I immediately went into exercise denial and did nothing for the first couple of months. Then guilt reared its head and I tentatively went to something called “chair exercises”, thinking this would suit my level of inactivity and still allow me to maintain my status as a fully fledged member of the couch potato club.


The super-fit instructor has built a routine of exercises that are all done while sitting in a chair. She begins with arm exercises. From there she moves up to the head and neck and then all the way down to the toes, leaving no muscle untouched.  The session lasts for 45 minutes and each set of exercises lasts for about 15 seconds with a break of about 5 seconds between the sets, meaning that there are over 100 different exercises in the session.

When I first started this innocent activity I sneered at the thought of exercising while sitting. I soon discovered over 100 aching muscles in my body. Today after about 3 months of attending this group twice a week I am fitter and able to do all the exercises reasonably well.

But this morning while she was exercising our finger muscles – yes, you read that correctly – finger muscle exercises – I felt a sharp pain in the top joint of my right pinkie.

Can you tell me, instructor, am I getting stronger or weaker?

Could I Catch a Dose of Old Age in the Retirement Home?

Sitting here in the lobby of the retirement home doing battle with the New York Times crossword, I am so deeply engrossed in the impossible clues that I forget where I am. I look up to find myself surrounded by old people. The cool coffee shop cum entrance lounge was empty when I sat down an hour ago and I missed the slow migration of residents seeking air-conditioning, coffee and company.

Everyone, of course, is old in a retirement home. Why would a young person come here? I understand the average age is 80 and at the rate medicine and medical technology is developing it will keep moving up, changing all perceptions of age and longevity. As it is, I am continually surprised by the youth of the old people.

There is the little old lady in the painting group that meets on Tuesdays. She sits slightly in front of me and for the past few months I have watched her copying a photograph in a magazine into a beautiful painting of a Dutch windmill. We met in the elevator the other day and I asked her how long she has been painting. “Only since I moved in here 7 seven years ago. I was 83 years old then,” she said wistfully. I had put her in her late seventies. The painting holds place of honor in her apartment among many other paintings she has completed. I also see her in the exercise classes. She doesn’t miss a beat.

The other big surprise today came from another member of the exercise class. He’s getting on, I can tell by his manner. We bumped at a lecture this morning. “I’m 93,” he said with a smile. “The cartilages in my knees are shot so I use this stick to keep me steady.”  By the way he waved the stick around he would have made the Olympic fencing team.

Get Away From Me, Alzheimer! Don’t You Come Any Closer!

It’s enough that you have taken some of my friends from me and are casting your eyes on others; don’t you even think about laying your spiny fingers on me! I’d rather have the Grim Reaper touch me, scythe and all, instead of you!

This has to be the fervent thought of many older folks as they watch friend or neighbor slowly disappearing into a fog, asking the same questions over and over again, in the grip of the slow insidious disease that enters your brain unseen and spreads its suffocating cobwebs over everything.

Alzheimer has no rules and has no favorites. Anyone from the mightiest to the lowliest on the social scale is a potential victim. I listened to Ronald Reagan’s last public speech a few weeks ago on a TV program and it sent shivers down my spine. “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life.”

For the victim, the life that continues after the disease has settled in is quite meaningless. He or she is in a nothingness, a world devoid of all meaning, emotion and understanding. For those around the victim, the disease will turn their lives into an ongoing nightmare of living and caring for an empty body, a loved one who is there beside one but not there at all.

What’s The Big Deal? So I’m Old! So What?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being old, I assure you

Twice in 2 days someone else decided that I was old. What a nerve! Surely I’m the one to decide whether I’m old or not? I went across to the gym yesterday after deciding that I really should get back to exercising. That’s a sign of youth, right? They were pleased to see me. “We’ll just fill in this form and get you back into shape in no time.” Mr. Muscle-man starts filling out the form copying information from the computer screen. They haven’t erased me even though I stopped going at the end of last year for economic and not health or age reasons.  All of a sudden he puts down his pen and starts laughing, I mean really laughing. “Look at this mistake with your date of birth! 1933!” He thought it was a great joke. I told him to stop laughing and that it had been a great year.

Then a doctor of all people

This morning was my regular check-up at the urologist. “Everything seems fine. No more PSA tests for you.” Why not, I ask. “At your age it’s a waste of time.” I sat, stunned into shock. Six months ago I wasn’t too old, but today I am too old? In all fairness he was probably quoting the instructions of the health fund. Well, whatever it was, I was furious. Not because they won’t do the tests any more, but because they have taken the responsibility of determining my arrival at old age. I actually don’t care what they think. I’m the one who makes the decisions about my age. Or am I being ridiculous?

A bad story

I recently heard a bad story about this kind of thing. An ‘older’ man, which I take to mean that he was over, say 65, had been having dialysis at the hospital for some years. One day he arrived for his session and was told that there was no place for him because the unit was full of younger men and they had preference. He said to the clerk, “are you telling me to go home and die?” The clerk wept, the old man was in shock; all in all a bad story about growing old.

It’s unfair

In many ways old age is unfair. If one is healthy and all systems are operating in accordance with the user manual, the senior person is just like anyone else. He may move a little slower and probably does react more slowly, but he or she is right up there with you when it comes to thinking.

It’s what you make it

Like many things in life, old age will be how you make it. Expect the worst and you will probably get it. Ignore it and hope it will go away – I’m not sure this will work, especially the ‘go away’ part, but ignoring it will certainly reduce its impact on your life.

How Old Is Old?

I’m 79 but I’m not old. Okay, my back is shot and I walk all bent, but my head is still straight and working just fine. I know just about all the time where I left my keys and my appetite is great! Yes, I get a touch of indigestion now and again, especially after a steak, but doesn’t everyone?

So am I old? How old do I feel? Somewhere in the upper 60’s as far as I can remember what those years felt like. And how old will I be when I reach old age? I have no idea! Will I know it when I am old?

A couple of years ago age and aging were the subject of a survey carried out by the Pew Research Center; The survey found that most adults over age 50 feel at least 10 years younger than their actual age. One-third of those between 65 and 74 said they felt 10 to 19 years younger, and one-sixth of people 75 and older said they felt 20 years younger.

And when does old age begin? Most people in the survey said old age starts at age 68. Are they kidding? That seems way too young to me. Not surprisingly, most people over 65 have a different idea about old age. Now consider the answer given by people under 30. Most of them think you’re old by the time you hit 60.

Your Retirement Fund Has Gone Up In Smoke

You slave away all your life and then war breaks out

Some years ago I worked in the construction management team at a large manufacturing plant and I came into close and daily contact with the manager of the electrical department. Over coffee one day he told me that he was new to the job, having come out of retirement in sheer necessity. I asked what he has done previously. “I never had to work. I am the son of a very wealthy family who are large property owners and there was no need for me to earn money. We owned all four sides of Independence Square downtown and the rents from the shops lining the square poured in every month.”

The soldiers arrived

“One day armored jeeps and tanks rolled into town and 2 hours later everything was upside down. I was lucky to get away with a shirt on my back and my life in my hands. I had to start working and I was lucky to find this job.”

Present day

Day after day I watch the news on the television and see what’s going on in neighboring Syria. I sometimes imagine myself in such a situation. You have worked hard all your life and built something, whether it is a property portfolio, a stock portfolio, money in the bank. You are 75 years old and thinking about moving into a retirement home. One day a revolution comes to your country or city. It was an innocent looking demonstration at first, perhaps social activists or students demanding something or other. It spread slowly, all the time gaining more and more strength and members. One day you awoke to the fact that it was now a full-scale revolution. It’s time to take action to save yourself and your family.


You look around you and see signs that your once normal world is developing cracks and maybe about to burst or collapse. You head to the bank to draw out your life savings but the bank has run out of money or is scared to open its doors. You want to leave your stricken country but not without your nest-egg. You wait another day or a week and then they close the port, train station and airport and you are now truly stuck.


All services, including the utility companies and your HMO have come to an end, shells are raining down and you are in a blind panic. Soon you are out on the street, together with thousands of others like you. No money, little food, no job and no prospects of an income. You were not an activist on one side or the other, never a politician, never in the military. Your only claim to fame was that the store you owned had a good name for honest trading and good quality goods.

Now what?     

It Started at the 60th High School Reunion

He was a widower and she a widow…..
They had known each other for a number of years being high school classmates and having attended class reunions in the past without fail.
This 60th anniversary of their class, the widower and the widow made a foursome with two other singles.
They had a wonderful evening, their spirits high– the widower throwing admiring glances across the table, the widow smiling coyly back at him.
Finally, he picked up courage to ask her, “Will you marry me?”
After about six seconds of careful consideration, she answered,
“Yes. Yes, I will!”
The evening ended on a happy note for the widower.
But the next morning he was troubled.
Did she say “Yes” or did she say “No?”
He couldn’t remember. Try as he would, he just could not recall.
He went over the conversation of the previous evening, but his mind was blank.
He remembered asking the question, but for the life of him could not recall her response.
With fear and trepidation he picked up the phone and called her.
First, he explained that he couldn’t remember as well as he used to.
Then he reviewed the past evening.
As he gained a little more courage he then inquired of her:
“When I asked if you would marry me, did you say “Yes” or did you say “No?”
“Why you silly man, I said ‘Yes. Yes I will.’ And I meant it with all my heart.”
The widower was delighted.
He felt his heart skip a beat.
Then she continued.
“And I am so glad you called because I couldn’t remember who asked me!”