Mr. Chatterbox

By staff February 1, 2004

Those of us with elderly parents in tow are certainly learning one of life's hard lessons-if you live long enough, sooner or later, you need someone to take care of you. Until a generation or so ago, it was the children. In fact, in places like Ireland and China, couples always had an extra daughter specifically for this purpose. She'd see both parents through their final illnesses, what with the bedpans and medicines and never being able to take a minute off, not even for a movie. Of course, her life was ruined and she became a bitter old maid. Still, you have to admit-it was a great system.

But what do people do nowadays? Families just don't have extra sisters. I've been talking to various Sarasotans about this problem, and I've amazed at the unanimity of their response. These people are mostly Baby Boomers, and to a Boomer they all said some version of the following: "My parents are adamant-they don't want to be a burden to me. They say it over and over: 'Put me in a home. A cheap one. Use the money for yourself. Buy a second home. Travel. Get that Mercedes. Oh-and don't feel guilty about not visiting. Call on Christmas. That's plenty. And if I ever get sick, even just a little, pull the plug. I don't want to suffer, and most of all I don't want you to suffer.'"

I hear all this and I just laugh and laugh. Wait. What you think is going to happen is never the thing that really happens. Other factors intervene. The most common is the sort of memory loss that old people get, where they can't remember what they promised years ago and certainly are in no condition to be held to it today. So you're in charge whether you like it or not.

But what about those of us without children? I am suddenly beginning to see childlessness's biggest drawback. With a kid at least there is someone to check for bedsores. Without a kid, God knows what would happen. You'd probably end up living in a wheelchair in the nursing home hallway. As one childless Boomer put it, "Just take me out back and shoot me."

Getting a child if you're not married is a little more difficult than you might think. For a while I considered adopting an orphan from a poor country and having him or her live out in the garage and do chores all day long. Yes, I agree it's not an ideal situation but it's better than abject Third-World poverty. Unfortunately the adoption agency didn't see it this way and pointed out that such an arrangement is prohibited by the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta, and the Longboat Key Housing Code.

So I guess I really don't have a choice. It's a nursing home for sure. And it may be sooner than I think. My faculties are flying out the window. To help my readers judge their own Degree of Aging, I've put together a special Sarasota Aging Test which you might want to take. It's very simple. All you do is drive to Saks and buy something, while a team of psychologists and gerontologists follow you in a van, and then, clipboards in hand, rate you on how well you perform certain tasks.

Task No. 1 is grace in exiting the car. I've noticed lately that I've started to have a hard time getting out of the damn car. I have to twist around a certain way, then I have to grab on to doors and such and oh-so-slowly pull myself up and out and then catch my breath and stand up straight from this bent-over little-old-man posture that I somehow get into. Then one day I looked up and there was Sally Schule laughing hysterically.

I've finally learned that the trick to getting out of the car is all mental. From the moment that door swings open, you are on stage. You don't know who is watching so you summon up superhuman energy for your entrance. Then, try not to trip on the curb.

Once inside you attempt Task No. 2, which is to find a price tag and read it. (You know how in the jewelry department they always hide the price tags but sometimes you can kneel down on the floor, pretending to look at something on the bottom row but actually look up and see the price tags through the glass shelf? Well, those days are over-both the kneeling and the seeing.) Our medical team will then evaluate how far you have to hold the price tag back to read it. The record so far is Restoration Hardware.

And finally, the most difficult task of all: remembering where you parked the car. Many of us can remember where we parked the car and walk right to it. Then we realize that's where we parked the car two years ago. Where we parked it today is a complete mystery. I have learned to always park in the same place at the various malls and supermarkets and cocktail lounges I frequent.

I think I'm going to need a lot of "hand holding" as I age, so I'm certainly glad I live in Sarasota, where we understand aging in our own unique way. Just look at the Senior Friendship Center. Boy, are we lucky to have a place like that. They actually have dances every weekday, with a live band, and they offer all sorts of services and classes. The most popular class is computers, apparently so that the grandmas can communicate with their grandchildren and the grandpas can order Viagra on line. Second comes Watercolors, which puzzled me a little until director Vickie Recio said that many people as they age develop a deep need for a creative outlet. "Plus, it's real easy."

For the second year in a row I'm privileged to be working with the Senior Friendship Center on its big annual fund-raising benefit. It's the brainchild of Kathy Schersten and Annette Scherman, and you've got to see it to believe it. It's just like The Newlywed Game, with five Sarasota couples of note having to answer embarrassing questions, often about their wedding night. The victims this year are Sylvia and Harold Briscoe (he's the anchor at SNN); the Asolo's own Howard Millman and Carolyn Michel (that should be rich); Paige and Jimmy Dean (he's my boss so expect a certain amount of sucking up); Debra Jacobs and Bill Buttaggi (don't worry, they're really married-I checked); and finally Tana and John Sandefur, whose long and happy marriage will hopefully steer the other couples in a more positive direction.

It's called "He Sez, She Sez" and it's at Michael's on-oh, dear, what was the date? February something. Or March. No, that was last year. It must be February. . . or March.

Editor's note: "He Sez, She Sez" is scheduled for Feb. 9 at Michael's On East. For more information, call 556-3213.

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