One of the tough things about grandchildren is that you are stuck with them. This little guy has not only reminded me every time we met for the past year that my 81st birthday is on the tracks and drawing closer every day – as if I need reminding – he is now branching out into other questions as the full implication of the numbers sinks in. Like if this is going to be the 81st, Pop, there must have been others, right?
“Gee, Pop, you have had 80 other birthdays! Can you remember them all?”
Should I tell him that sometimes I have a problem remembering his name?
“I can remember a few but not the ones when I was very young, like you.”
“Tell me about one of them, Pop.”
“We went on a cruise on a big ship out to sea. That was a great birthday.”
“And another one?”
Is he going to say that 79 more times? “The whole family went out to dinner to a nice restaurant. We ate and drank and there was a big cake at the end. We had a great time.”
“What are you going to do this time, Pop?”
“We are all going out to dinner together. You are coming too, right?”
“Are you going to have more birthdays, Pop?”
“I hope so!” He’s going to ask how many more, I bet you.
“I hope so too, Pop!”
“How many have you had?” I pull the old switcheroo on him.
“Um, I’ll be 12 in 3 years time, Pop.”
“So how many birthdays have you had so far?”
“Good boy. Wanna go over to the ice- cream shop?”
“You know I do, Pop! Can I ask you a question?”
“Um, okay,” I say without enthusiasm.
“How come you’ve got creases in your ears?”
I cheated yesterday. It was in the interests of checking this old digestive system I use so perhaps it won’t count as a black mark against me. We were in the mini supermarket downstairs in the retirement home buying necessities such as chocolate, ice-cream, cheese and eggs when I spotted a tray of sufganiyot, those round Hanukkah doughnuts that are deep-fried in oil, filled with jelly or custard, and then sprinkled with icing sugar.
Hanukkah is only a week ahead and this staple delicacy is present wherever food is sold. Will the doughnuts still give me indigestion, or have I finally grown out of it, I wondered, remembering the pain of previous years. I bought a couple and upstairs in our apartment I made coffee for the crucial test. “Delicious,” I exclaimed as I bit into the pastry. An hour later I was in the bathroom scrabbling frantically through the medicine drawer in search of indigestion pills. The pain was worse than last year’s.
So next week when we are celebrating the festival of lights, I will attend the candle lighting, I will listen to the story of the Maccabees for the 75th time and ponder on the miracle of the oil that burned for 8 days; I will sing the songs and lip-sync those whose words I don’t know. But I will NOT eat the doughnuts, no matter how inviting and how mouth-watering they are. I will stand at the back and keep out of the way of small children who are rushing to the table to grab their favorite sufganiyah.
I will confine my intake of oil on this special occasion to eating the olive at the bottom of the martini glass. One per day for the full 8 days.
For seniors, sleep is a whole discussion on its own. It is a love and hate subject and we can talk about it for hours. Here is a short analysis: Sleep is divided into 2 main categories:
Daytime sleep is further sub-divided into 2 main categories:
Nighttime sleep is also subdivided into 3 sections:
All seniors will agree that the best of all sleeps is the Unplanned Daytime Sleep, the one that gets you in the coffee lounge, in the armchair at the club, on the couch straight after breakfast, in front of the television set (highly recommended and most popular of all sleeps), in fact anywhere unexpected and at any old time, when you are least expecting it. It comes sneaking around the corner, invisible and silent and carries you off in its soft, gentle arms. It is known by many other names: nap, snooze, doze, siesta and forty-winks.
Nighttime sleep is a different story altogether. It involves other matters such as falling asleep. One gets into bed after a long day, looking forward to a good night’s sleep – and nothing happens. 2 hours later you pad into the den, switch on the TV and that’s goodbye to any kind of sleep. If you do manage to fall asleep there are elements inside your body waiting to sabotage you and issue wake-up calls to get you to the bathroom. When wake up time arrives do you spring out of bed feeling great and refreshed or do you stagger into the kitchen, groping for a cup of coffee to get your blood corpuscles back onto their feet?
And then there is the last resort – pills to help you sleep. Tried them, loved the sleep, hated them, stopped them and went back to no-sleep mode. Much better.
The older I get, the less I understand. Most of problems come from grandchildren and their electronic toys and gadgets. Communications passed me some years ago when I lost the technology race to things like iPods, iPads and iPhones. No need to worry, I thought, I still know a lot more than the kids. But now I find that there are other things I don’t understand.
One of them is called “virtual money”, some sort of new-fangled thing that I cannot get my head around. I spend a fair amount of time surfing on the Internet. I read newspapers and magazines from around the world; I look for articles that interest me, watch a bit of sport and so on. Lately I have become aware of an ad that keeps popping up on different websites promoting something called ‘Bitcoin’. “Click here to get full information” it says. So, after a couple of weeks of resisting, I finally clicked.
Bitcoin turns out to be a virtual coin that you keep in a virtual wallet. You cannot hold it or bite it. It costs real money and one can supposedly cash it in for real money. The first time I clicked, it cost about 1,000 shekels. Then I noticed that the price increased every few hours. I started noting down the prices and to my amazement the price doubled in 5 days. To my further shock on the fifth day, Bitcoin featured in the headlines of a CNN newscast that I happened to be watching, meaning that the thing is actually out there somewhere.
Yesterday the price dropped dramatically but as I write this it is on the way up again. Can someone please explain what’s going on? Should I have bought when I first saw it? Should I buy it now or have I missed the bus? Will it keep going up? Is all a huge cyber-scam? Who is making the money?
I don’t think of myself as old and I’m sure that no matter what your age, you never consider yourself old. But now and then one gets a real lesson in “number of years” and one’s theories about age slide straight down the tubes.
I was out for a walk with my young grandson the other day. He is nearly six years old and knows a lot. We ambled along, holding hands and discussing important stuff like the oranges on the trees at the side of the road, the heat of the sun, a slow-moving beetle and suchlike. I hoped he was enjoying the outing as much as I was. We came to a section where new houses are under construction and grandson immediately passed me his most precious possession. “Hold my cell-phone, Pop, it mustn’t get dirty.” He then tested the stability of the earth the contractors had piled up from excavations by climbing up the mounds of sand and sliding down. I was more interested in the houses and stood trying to determine which way the windows were facing.
“I wonder which way is west,” I mumbled aloud to myself. “Those windows are pretty big and the sun is fierce in summer…”
Grandson had overheard. “I’ll tell you, Pop. Pass me my phone.”
What’s the connection, I wondered, as I handed it over?
Sure enough, this little guy, who can barely write his name, clicked a few buttons, turned his body this way and that and pointed, “West is there, Pop.”
“You can tell that from the phone?” I choked.
“Sure! Look here. I’ll show you.”
“All phones can do that?”
“No,” he laughed, “I got an App so I can tell where I am, don’t you see?”
All I can see is that I have to have one of those phones…
Operating a blog is no easy task. First you have to have a good topic to write about. It has to make sense; it has to be topical and be about something that people want to read. Then you have to write it so that it makes sense and reads smoothly. It should be slightly controversial and upset less than half the readers otherwise you will be left with too many comments to deal with.
I choose to write about a difficult subject – old age. No one likes the subject, even those in the middle of it. So I try to be a middle-of-the-road blogger, doing my best not to upset the older residents and not be too kind to the younger. I write between the lines, so to speak, a nerve wracking business. I also have to be versed in many subjects so that I can hold up my end of a conversation in my research interviews with anyone ranging in age from about 75 to 100. Take this afternoon; I drifted down to the lounge at about 5 and bumped into a fellow artist. He is about 89 and knows a lot about painting. He gave me some unwanted advice on how I can improve my work while I ducked and weaved and let the stuff fly past me without him noticing.
I moved seats and this old guy, he must be pushing 93, grabbed me and I received his lecture no. 23, meaning I have heard it 22 times already, on the dangers of investing in the stock exchange. I smiled, nodded and parried very one of his thrusts.
All this was pretty exhausting until last Friday when a young blogger named Jason, challenged me to a beer-drinking session. I think I did okay mainly because I talked a lot and hardly allowed him to get a word in. In the end I decided to give him the full treatment and invited him back to our apartment in the retirement home. A tour of this place could give anyone under the age of 67 the heebies for years, but he looked straight ahead and avoided eye contact with the local denizens. In the end he came right back and introduced me to a new writing aid and blog system.
I offered him a coffee he clapped his hands and yelled “as long as it’s Turkish!” He clearly hasn’t heard about political incorrectness yet. “You mean a straight black?” I asked.
“That’s it and can we pour a little whisky into it?” he asked nervously, glancing at my dwindling supply of the lubricant.
Your recipe works just fine, young feller. I had three of those yesterday evening, was up all night and two days later I cannot contain the words pouring from my pen. Thank you.
Sitting here in the lobby of the retirement home doing battle with the diabolical crossword in the morning paper, 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, some striding along, others tottery and some unmoving. The coffee 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. 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 in the studio. She sits slightly in front of me and for the past few months I have watched her copying a photograph in a magazine and turning it 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 cartilage in my left knee is 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.
It was the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell who wrote the above title for one of his essays. 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 rat race, 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 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 studio 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 in the auditorium and I don’t have to go outside to find a synagogue. There’s even a movie once a week. Of course huge globs of time are spent in the elevator.
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. Everything requires the elevator.
All that’s missing is a “Lubrication Point”, a watering hole where one can get a little something to oil the creaky joints and ward off pesky neighbors. I can’t think of anything else that’s missing. This lifestyle could be dangerous. If that elevator stops working…
The major change that took place in my off-blog period was that I got fired. The boss probably got a list of employees for bonus purposes around Rosh Hashanah time, saw my name with ‘80’ next to it and called the manager.
“We have someone working here who is 80 years old?”
“Get rid of him. Today!”
“You heard me! Today.”
About 20 seconds later a pink email arrived. I moped around for a couple of days, checked the ‘Wanted’ ads and then hobbled over to my bank to see the manager.
“You know that nest-egg I’ve been building for the past 60 years?”
“What about it?”
“I’ll be making regular calls on it from next month. I was fired last week.”
“Forget it. You’re not touching those savings. Get out there and find another job!”
I have news for you, Mr. Bank Manager. The 50 year olds are having a hard time finding jobs.
I took the line of least resistance, retirement. It is respectable and non-invasive, even though it hurts a little. People are much more considerate. On the bus I heard a mother telling her 8 year old to “offer that retired old gentleman your seat, Johnny”. Had I been wearing my work clothes, the dark suit, blue shirt and striped tie I would have had to throw him out of the seat myself.
So, in order to justify my existence, I paint, do the crossword, scan the papers in search of good news and read books. I also nap from time to time during the day. Napping is not to be confused with sleeping which is a nighttime activity and not in the same class as napping.
I have also discovered a new state-of-the-art time-waster for retirees – surfing the TV channels in search of something to watch; and then there is the internet, top of the league in time-wasting activities…