How to Treat the Elderly, According to the Elderly
Pay attention, because you'll be there soon enough.
Illustrationer: Brandon Celi
Getting old is different than it used to be. Thanks to advances in medicine, plastic surgery, and adequate hair-dye, 50 is the new 30, 70 is the new 50, and 50 isn't really all that old anyways. Still, aging isn't easy. Many hold prejudices about what getting old does to the brain and body, and the world can be unkind. We spoke with some seniors about how they wanted to be treated now that they're in their golden years. One thing they all agree on: Though they may be long in the tooth, none of them thinks of themselves as ancient. Keep that in mind when dealing with them. Because you'll be there soon enough.
Call Me By My Name
A few winters ago, I was trudging through post-blizzard Manhattan and, at a pedestrian crossing, was confronted with one of the city's legendary mile-high snowbanks. I hesitated for a few seconds, mentally mapping out the optimal strategy for surmounting this barrier. Behind me were two teenage boys, one of whom yelled out, "Move, ya old fart!" followed by the falsetto laugh that only teenagers can produce. I had the urge to laugh as well, thinking they couldn't possibly be referring to me. But of course they were.
Something in me changed at that moment—I realized I could be perceived as "old." And not just old, but an "old fart," as if there is no other way to be old. Alas, this is the culture we have created in America. Film and television, with some exceptions, portrays older people as fools; think of the really tired trope of grandma at the computer, unable to send or open an email without her grandchild stopping by to rescue her. I dread the day when people in the "helping professions" start calling me "hon" or "dear," terms that, while well meaning, feel condescending and demeaning. Call me by my name. -Martin, 69
Let me just put this out there: I don't know one senior citizen who identifies as old. Keep that in mind when you deal with them. In my head, I'm probably around 45. I've still got mojo. I'm still tooling around and laughing at life. A guy hit on me at Trader Joe's today, for God's sake. In reality, I got the shock of my life when on a recent trip to see Broadway plays in New York. The weather was blustery and just plain nasty. When I boarded the crosstown bus, I was soaking wet and maybe a little out of breath. I was huffing and puffing. Suddenly, a young, good-looking guy jumped out of his seat and offered it to me. At first, I was sure he was being chivalrous because I appeared to be a damsel in distress. But once I parked myself into the plastic seat, it occurred to me that he gave up his seat to an old lady! And that old lady was me! Eventually I did catch my breath and reorganize my sorry wet self and gave the nice guy a big thanks with a genuine toothy smile. I felt respected! May more young healthy men and women, continue to be kind to us seniors! I'm thanking you in advance. -Rose, 67
Old but Not Weary
Don't judge a book by its cover. Most of the guys that do the kind of TV production work I used to do before I retired are really young. One time, my wife dropped me off at the airport going to a shoot in Mexico. I was with my sound man, we went to high school together, but he looks older than me. The producer was waiting for us, and I had never met her before. So we get out of the car, and she looked at us, and her mouth dropped open, like, "Who are these geezers?" She was in shock. I got the feeling right away that she wasn't expecting someone as old as us to be working with her. I guess in her mind, she had reservations about working with us. We were shooting for this popular show, working 14 hour days, and you're running and gunning all the time, always in a time crunch. But we're used to it, and it's nothing to us. After she got to know us, her mind was changed
There are many of us who have been in different businesses a long time. We're not like baseball players who can only go till he's 35 years old. Athletes have to retire early, but everyone else is fine into their 60s. -Charles, 69
Watch Your Words
When my mother was 50, I thought, Holy shit, she's damn near got one leg in the grave! It ain't that way anymore. I don't feel old. As you grow and you see your little ones graduate from high school, you only think, Oh, I'm just in a different phase of my life, and then they get married. It's a whole new adventure. You don't think, I'm old.
But there are these little things that make you feel old, little verbal triggers that you hope others will avoid. You feel it when somebody says "ma'am." The minute they say ma'am, you're screwed. It's like, who the fuck is ma'am?! It deflates you. These little nuanced things like being called "ma'am," you go, "Oh my God, I'm friggin' old!" It happens slowly but surely. -Cynthia, 72
Short and Sweet
Help us up when we fall! I was grocery shopping, and I had to get a turkey. You know, they have these freezers in the aisles. I looked in, and there was a turkey down the bottom. Because I still think I'm young, I said, "I can get it," and I kept trying to scoop it out. I was bent over, waving my hand in there to get it and next thing you know, I'm in the freaking freezer. So I wondered, How do I gracefully get out of this? How do I poke my head up and hope nobody saw me? And there was a guy sitting on the floor, hysterically laughing. He was pissing his pants. I went, "Can you give me a hand, because I can't get out of the thing." My legs were too short. He came right over, still laughing, and helped me out. -Evelyn, 73
Give Us the Discount, but Don't Assume We Need It
We appreciate it when you don't assume we're seniors. Still, I love getting discounts, like at hotels or admission to museums. Many years ago, when I was 50, I started going to a local thrift store, and the discount was for people 55 and older on Wednesdays. I couldn't wait to get that discount! Finally, the day came when I was eligible for the "senior" discount. I went to the register, gave the lady my stuff, and I didn't get the discount! I said, "Isn't this senior day?" The lady said, "You're not 55!" I was thrilled. The sad thing is, less than a year later, they made the age 50 or older, so no one ever made that mistake again! -Mimi, 66
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