Getting Old Stinks,
and Other Good News from AARP

by Frank Kaiser

My wife and I just got back from AARP's annual convention in Orlando. We spent an entire week taking notes at seminars on aging, stretching and puffing at "fitness festivals," and listening to celebrities like Harry Belafonte, Maya Angelou, Heloise, and Dr. Ruth.

Even Al Gore got his two cents in.

All in all, news on the senior front was pretty good.

We're living longer and enjoying it more.

We're not satisfied with merely being comfortable in our old age. We want to be engaged. Useful. Interesting. As Gail Sheehy, author of "Passages," told us, "I submit that the word retirement be retired from our vocabulary."

And, the best news, I'm not as bald as I thought. The high point of my entire AARP week was when my wife leaned over and whispered, "Honey, look at that sea of gray and balding men in front of us. Makes you look darn good."

Well, what could I say but "Really?"

Everyone who spoke to the 10.000 or so convention attendees (I never could get an estimate from AARP's press people, leaving me to assume they were disappointed in the actual numbers) gave advice. Like so many great uncles, grandfathers and bosses, they felt compelled to tell us how to make our lives better.

From Dr. Ruth to the women in the audience: "Buy a good vibrator. And do Kagel exercises as you drive. Then, when you're stopped at a light, wink at any good-looking guy."

From Al Gore: "Don't let George W. Bush near your Social Security."

From Shirley Chisholm, the first black women elected to Congress and in-your-face candidate for President in 1972, "We need each other." Speaking passionately about volunteering as a fundamental asset of American life, Chisholm said, "Don't be a couch potato. Each one of us can make a difference, changing our own lives as well as those served."

Suddenly Trivia:: What does AARP stand for? a) nothing, b) American's Attitude Regarding Parcheesi, c) American Association of Retired People

From Arthur Frommer, noted "Travel on $5-a-Day" (now $50) travel writer: "You [seniors] are very different from those who reached your age before. You're more involved. You want to expand your horizons and meet interesting people." He suggested Elderhostel (877.426.8056 or http://www.elderhostel.org) as the best way to do this.

From Robert Reich, the diminutive Secretary of Labor during Clinton's first administration: "[Federal Reserve Board Chairman] Greenspan doesn't understand today's global economy. If he continues to raise interest rates, the market will have a b-i-g 'correction.'"

From 68-year-old Rita Moreno, vivacious actress, now appearing in HBO's Oz: "This should be the best third of our lives. We should be akin to fine wine." But you've got to exercise, take responsibility for your health, and treat stress with humor.

And, finally, more about stress — America's Number One complaint — from Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Dean of Harvard's Medical School: "The key to stress management is to learn what especially is stressful to you. We're all different. The most important treatment is to talk it out. If you keep it inside, you're always in the "fight or flight" syndrome. Keep it long enough and your body fails."

With all that in mind, you don't have to feel bad about missing the thing. Except to mention the exhibits. We seniors have in excess of $9 trillion in assets. Scores of exhibitors were there to entice us to part with some of it. Lines circled like ants at a picnic wherever something was being given away. Oldsters are like reporters. Give us something free and we'll wait all day for it. Folks would like up by the dozens just for the chance to fill out a coupon to win a nine iron or bass pole or genealogy software.

On the last evening, when Ben and Jerry of ice-cream fame spoke, everyone came out for the free Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia.
Getting old may stink. But free ice cream certainly mitigates. I personally ate enough to cover my entire convention registration fee of seven bucks.

© 2000—Frank Kaiser

Suddenly Trivia Answer: a) nothing. Two years ago this 34 million-strong not-for-profit organization became plain old AARP, standing for nothing but perhaps clearing your throat. This is not your father's AARP anymore!

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