“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”
*I was on my way out for an afternoon walk, when I found it in my mailbox. Or, I should say, it finally found me.
I admit to occasionally being annoyingly uninformed; I didn’t know what the logo on the envelope meant. But the fact is, I would coddle a box ticking like a clock and postmarked east Hell if it were emblazoned with the magic words CARD ENCLOSED. So I opened it.
However, I was still dumbfounded–nowhere in the form letter could I find anything explaining the logo, or what being the recipient of this card meant. It was as if even THEY didn’t want to get into it. Hmmm…those letters. I’d seen them before.
I took the letter inside and got on the Net. The AARP, the site said, used to openly call itself the American Association of Retired Persons. Now, they just use the letters. I can dig it. Otherwise, few people my age, 54, would open the envelope.
According to its mission statement, AARP is “a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people age 50 and over, dedicated to enhancing quality of life for all as we age.” Even the language reeks of liniment.
I leaned back in my office chair. RETIREMENT. I’d never even considered the concept. Do people still do this? I suppose there are plenty people with jobs–real ones, thank God–who look forward to quitting work by 65, America’s official retirement age. And depending on the gig, I suppose they’re ready to go by then.
But I’ve never had a “real” job. Well, not a job that family, some friends and the parents of certain women I dated when I was younger ever considered legitimate employment. I’ve been a professional writer since I was 21, when Soul Newspaper published the first 800 words I put together on a whim. Somehow, I’ve been doing this ever since.
And while the living, unlike the lyric from the languid George Gershwin classic, “Summertime,” wasn’t always “easy,” being a music journalist in the ’70s amounted to having an all-access pass to the creation of current popular culture. Most of the time, my “job”–keeping extended, humbling company with some of the arbiters of modern music–felt like getting paid to play hooky from real life.
By the way, as someone without a wife, kids or a pet, I’m not mad at anyone whose choices in life unselfishly have less to do with their own professional dreams and more to do with the welfare of others, i.e. putting kids through school, clothing and feeding them and keeping a roof over their heads.
People without children generally have no idea what it costs to feed them. I’ve witnessed firsthand the healthy and infinitely curious offspring of friends take down a double-door refrigerator full of fresh food in a week.
Nothing edible is safe. Philip, a buddy who is the father of three stringbean teens with furnaces for stomachs and who fancies himself a gourmet baker, at the insistence of his wife, recently baked me one of his allegedly “incredible” German chocolate cakes.
Two days later I went by to get it, only to be informed it no longer existed. Marcie, sitting on the lime sectional in their den folding a pile of freshly-Snuggled clothes the size of Mount Everest in front of a rerun of “House,” told me that if I sat still in her kitchen long enough, her kids would season and microwave ME, let alone devour something truly tasty. “Listen,” she tersely advised, “next time Phil tells you he baked you a cake, don’t be cute about picking it up. We got kids.”
But back to retirement. For a great many people, the term defines the end of one life and the beginning of a fabulous new chapter of relaxation and exploration. Sometimes, retirement signifies the opportunity to turn a lifelong passion into a second career.
However, the words “retirement” and “old”–not “oldER” but Old, as in Biblical Old; as in I’m-too-set-in-my-ways-and-too-crotchety-to-change Old, as in I-remember-when-water-was-invented OLD–aren’t by nature mutually exclusive. There are vibrant people of all persuasions and professions who continue working past 65 because they enjoy what they do.
Which leaves me convinced that the almighty Powers That Be have conspired to make people old before our time. It’s possible. Consider: the other day, as I paid for items at the supermarket, the shifty-eyed, spikey-haired kid behind the register asked me if I had a savings club card.
When I told him I didn’t, he reached into his drawer and slyly slid one across the counter to me. I considered this a kind gesture–until I got home and noticed on the card the word, SENIOR. What the @#$%&!
See, that’s how TPTB (The Powers That Be) get you to concede “old”–they offer you stuff: C’mon, say you’re OLD and we’ll give you half off at Denny’s. Be OLD and we’ll let you in Disney World where you can be a KID again–on a SENIOR ticket. They play with your head. Just give me the damn discount.
Why is Casa Del Old the only club beckoning me to join–and why don’t I see a line of folk scratching to get in? Oh, The Association of Old People has millions of members, I’m sure. I’m just not so certain all of them were chomping at the bit to be fifty-something so they could join this cult of people who wear their pants way too high above their waists.
Those people simply did the same thing I’m going to do. They balked, laughed, cried a little, wondered aloud where the time went, then filled out the paperwork and put it in the mail. I’ll play the game. I wouldn’t let anyone actually witness me use it, but maybe I’ll take the AARP up on some of the stuff it says their card entitles me to. I mean, being born in 1955 and making it this far has gotta count for something.
But, I’m telling you: the first time they don’t honor this mutha at a P-Funk concert, I’m chucking it.
Steven Ivory is a journalist/author who has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]