[Paleopsych] Dowd: Recline Yourself, Resign Yourself, You're Through

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Recline Yourself, Resign Yourself, You're Through
Liberties column by Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 5.4.13

    Baby boomers' almost comic fear of aging reminds me of that silent
    movie scene in which Harold Lloyd hangs precariously from the hand of
    a giant clock, literally pulling time from its moorings.

    Despite the boomers' zealous attempts to stop time - with fitness and
    anti-aging products, with cosmetic enhancements by needle, laser and
    knife - time has caught up.

    The deaths of iconic figures and the noisy debate over assisted
    suicide have brought boomers face to face with their nemesis.
    "Suddenly," The New Republic observed, "we are all speculating about
    the feeding tubes in our future." Boomers want to control mortality so
    they're looking at living wills, and legal and medical options.

    I've visited the future, and it isn't pretty.

    My mom fell and fractured her neck one night a couple of winters ago.
    She was sent to a nursing home to recuperate. It was the third circle
    of gloom. Residents sat around, zombie-like, or slowly maneuvered in
    wheelchairs or with walkers. I suddenly understood why all of my mom's
    friends who had gone into nursing homes had become listless and died
    soon after. The facility was depressing, with bad food and impersonal
    attendants who seemed inured to their surroundings.

    It seemed like the sort of place people checked into but not out of.
    My mom's hazel eyes were filled with dread, so I bought a sleeping bag
    at the nearest R.E.I. and slept on the floor beside her bed for four

    There were blizzards outside and lethargy inside. All through the
    night, Alzheimer's patients would moan: "Help me! Why doesn't anyone
    come to help me?" They were unable to remember the last time an
    attendant stopped by. After a while, there didn't seem much point in
    getting dressed. I put on one of my mom's extra-large flannel robes
    and some slippers and started shuffling around the nursing home. I
    felt like one of those cursed women in Grimm's fairy tales who turn
    into crones in a blink. Soon the residents began acting as if I were
    one of them, just one with better mobility. They would call out for me
    to fix them tea in the microwave - "Just Sweet 'N Low," one woman
    ordered briskly.

    One night an elderly woman asked if I would come into her room and
    dial her daughter's number for her. "I haven't heard from her in so
    long," she fretted. I called the number and left a message on the
    answering machine: "Your mother misses you."

    As I hung up, the old woman looked up at me with big suspicious eyes.
    "What are you doing in my room?" she demanded in a hostile voice. She
    had forgotten me already.

    Most nights, I watched two sweet-looking old ladies sneak down the
    hall to purloin supplies at the nurses' station - cat burglars
    heisting Depends.

    In my old life, I read glossy catalogs from Bliss Spa and Bergdorf's.
    Now I sat in the drab community room reading Dr. Leonard's "America's
    Leading Discount Healthcare Catalogue," which promotes the notion of
    senior superheroes with vision-enhancing Eagle Eyes sunglasses; Sonic
    Earz, to amplify sounds up to 60 feet away; and Frankie Avalon's Zero
    Pain roll-on pain reliever.

    It was upsetting to see how many body parts could go wrong. For
    $12.99, you could get "heel wraps," little slings to keep the cream on
    your heel cracks; for $4.99, a straightener for overlapping toes; for
    $12.99, a "control panty" to banish unflattering tummy bulge.

    I told my mom about the control panty. She looked intrigued. "Who does
    it control?" she wanted to know.

    Why was I fighting aging so hard? It would be so easy to succumb. I
    could stock up on everything I'd eventually need: extra-long easy-grip
    scissors to clip toenails; the "button helper," a wire loop to help
    reach buttons; Toppik, the "amazing 30-second hair transplant," which
    sprays the scalp with color-matched hair fibers; a "Remember Me" poem
    and photo mat for departed relatives, friends and pets; and the best
    seller "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About."

    Dr. Leonard's assumes seniors have a healthy interest in sex. It
    offers a device called an Eroscillator for women, with a guide from
    Dr. Ruth. And for men, there's an aerobics video featuring "totally
    nude" young women: "Because you can see the naked, well-toned bodies
    of the female instructors, you can follow each exercise and see
    exactly how to achieve the precise muscle extension and position."

    Once Mom was sprung, I quickly went back to fending off mortality,
    ordering the latest age-delaying moisture complexes from the Bliss

    But I know Dr. Leonard's is out there, waiting patiently for me. Not
    an Appointment in Samarra, but an Appointment with the Eroscillator.

    E-mail: liberties at nytimes.com


    1. http://www.nytimes.com/top/opinion/editorialsandoped/oped/columnists/maureendowd/index.html?inline=nyt-per

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