Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Saturday, March 01, 2008

What (Vast Amounts of) Money Can Buy You in Old Age

Last week I started helping an elderly couple in their home, a few hours a day, four days a week. (This is in addition to seeing Mrs. Fossilfuel.) I probably won't be writing about them here, for various reasons. However, I must write about the place where they live.

First, you should know they're in Scottsdale. Those who are familiar with that city know it to be filled to the brim with retirees. Many thousands of Americans, especially those from the East Coast, amass their wealth, then retire to the sunshiney elderland of Scottsdale. Thus, Scottsdale is filled to near-bursting with two things:

1. "Senior" communities
2. Medical facilities

I'm still not used to saying "senior" when I mean "senior citizen" or "retiree" or "old person." I cannot keep up with political correctness, nor do I ever plan to try. (For instance, I will never, ever use the phrase "undocumented residents" to describe illegal immigrants. It's too much like calling a cancerous tumor a "naughty little mass of cells.")

However, "senior" is OK with me. It sounds more dignified and less somber than "senior citizen." Remember in high school how proud you were to be a senior? Seniors rule! Outta the way, juniors! We are bad-ass. We. Have. Arrived. There was a swagger that came along with the status. Hey! Look at me! Watch me be cool before I graduate and walk through the doors to Real Life and get my naive ass handed to me on a flimsy paper plate at least once a week.

"Senior" takes on, of course, a different meaning with the retirees. I've had the habit, until now, of clumping all very old people together into one personality. Because of the way I hurt for them when I see them struggling to get around, I've brainwashed myself into believing they are all nice, kind, mannerly, sweet, forgiving, wise, warm, friendly, even noble human beings. I was doing them a disservice by believing this, since I was methodically removing their individual personalities and replacing each one with a generic model: Kind Old Person.

I knew I had a missing cog in my thinking when I would see an elderly Nazi war criminal on the news, standing in a courtroom facing charges, and I felt sorry for him. If I'd come at the sympathy from another direction, say the "Look at this poor, flawed, misguided, miserable bastard" or "Maybe he was terrified and trying to save his own family" directions, the sympathy would be more reasonable. But it was only because of his age. I was clumping all old people together like ants in an ant farm: a many-bodied machine with one common brain. Damn. Now I'm stereotyping ants.

The couple I work for live in a fancy, ultra-expensive "independent living" condo. These places have a spectrum of choices. In independent living, you can still pretty much take care of yourself, but you have at your disposal a large community of other (wealthy) retired people, an unending list of reindeer games to join in on, and a big chandeliered dining room where dinner is served each night. So, if you have the energy, you can spend the day attending a jigsaw puzzle get-together, a Bible study covering the Psalms, a choir practice, a trip to the mall, and a dance lesson, then join your pals for a fine dinner of veal medallions and baked squash and cherry cobbler.

When you get too frail to be independent, you can move to the "assisted living" section of the building. This includes nurses on call, help getting dressed, showered, meals in your room, etc.

Finally, some places have that third and bottom rung in the stepladder of decline: the nursing home section.

I'm just learning about all this, but I've been in and out of the independent living part enough to realize that it has the social personality of a big high school. From my brief spying on the gathering room at the center of the building, I can see that there are the popular residents, the quiet ones, the loud ones, the (former) jocks, the desperately trying to be pretty ones, the overdressed ones, and a woman I will simply call The One Who Shimmies. She is there, often, and she is off by herself in that "look at me over here" way, shimmying.

Apparently, there is an unpleasant side to some of the elderly rich people. I heard a woman being interviewed for a job at this place. The director asked her "So, how are you with seniors?" and she went on for awhile about the jobs she'd had working with them, how she gets along well with them, etc. The director then said, with a definite sinister tone, "But how are you with Scottsdale seniors?"

Luckily the people I work for are gracious and funny and warm and the kind of people you ache to be able to help more than you possibly can. They met when he was 60 and she was 50, after both had lost their spouses, and have been married 35 years. And they hold hands and blatantly adore one another and I wish they could've been friends with my parents when all four of them were robustly healthy and fully present. I wish they could've played cards.

I think I've been choreographed into a place where I can now indulge this lifelong fascination with the elderly in a more reality-based way. Just what I've learned so far feels more meaningful and multi-layered than my time in the community college classroom. It's a quieter lesson. Like bits of wisdom trickling down to me instead of bile spewing outward from 18-year-olds. (Although the stuff that shot out of Mrs. Fossilfuel was neither quiet nor particularly educational.)

The biggest difference I've seen so far between the elderly and the college crowd? The old people, even with their ailments and their accumulating worries, are trying so hard to live their lives. They seem to see the significance of each day. Many of the college students are sitting in their jaded healthy bodies saying "whatEVER." I know this is generalizing; there are exceptions.

Anyway, here I am in midlife and there are things I need to learn. I'm not going to be 18 again. But if I'm lucky, I'll be old one day, and I want to know how to do it well if I get the chance.


  • At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yowza, I want an "independent living" condo! I'm always overdressed, and I can definitely shimmy. Sign me up!

  • At 12:38 PM, Blogger EB said…

    I was just going to write about how the 315 crew fits pretty nicely into those categories. And Jackie O., you were definitely the One Who Shimmies.

  • At 2:36 PM, Blogger mgm said…

    So, we're "Scottsdale seniors?"

  • At 2:46 PM, Blogger EB said…

    Obviously. I'm one of "the loud ones" and one of the "desperately trying to be pretty ones." Haven't you noticed there's less volume (in voices and in hair) in 315 lately?

  • At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The ants are coming to show you that they have individual personalities. Even though they buy heavily into group think.

  • At 6:41 PM, Blogger Citlali said…

    It's an almost cathartic experience seeing that world through your eyes; between the phenomenally hilarious observations and your intimatelly introspective philosophy on life. For me the outlook would be seriously different and it's great to hear your perspective. Surely someday "seniors" won't freak me out like they do now -- probably when I am one, eh? = ]

  • At 7:08 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Jackie O, you are DEFINITELY that shimmy chick. And I'm starting to see ALL the people from our old group in their rightful categories now. Yeeee-ikes!

    EB, I think I'm in your loud group, but I'm in the "desperately trying to offend everyone" group, while you are being purty.

  • At 11:12 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Ana. The ants have come. They are harsh masters.

  • At 11:14 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Citlali, thanks. Now, how do they freak you out? Because they kind of freak me out too, and I'm curious. Mostly they freak me out because I'm terrified to get there, and terrified not to get there.

  • At 10:27 AM, Blogger prairie biker said…

    I thought your title was a question.

    The answer to which is "Anna Nicole" (or insert name of living bimbo here).

  • At 6:39 PM, Blogger Citlali said…

    lol, I like prairie biker's interpretation! = ]

    Hey, yeah, they really, really, really wig me. Big time. I think that "to be or not to be" old, is a big part of it. Mostly it just feels like some weird reflection of my own past; that past I can't seem to let go. It's kind of like a time warp -- as if my future is reminding me of my past. ok, I'm cracking myself up now. It's hard to describe, but more than likely it's just another symptom of anxiety. Let's face it: I'm just that freaky on so many levels. But hey, I have fun, right? So it's okee dokey. And, yes, I mean that in a Lecter kind of way... oh, is that anything like the answer you were expecting? lol. = ]

  • At 6:43 PM, Blogger Citlali said…

    ok, no -- really. And that SMELL. What's up with the way old people smell??!! ok, it's ugly, but it's the truth... = ]

  • At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dry rot. That's the smell.

  • At 11:15 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    PB, now it would be Lindsay Ho-han.

    Citlali, you and I could sit and talk all night about our collection of anxiety symptoms.

  • At 11:16 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Dry rot and maybe old wool and mints from the bottom of a pocket.

  • At 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My sister Charlene insists that there is a distinct "old people smell"...I worry that that's why she isn't coming over as often as she used too. Love, Anita

  • At 12:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear Candy,

    I wish you were licensed to provide caregiving in Colorado. I would hire you in a heartbeat. And not for some Mrs. Fossifuel, but for a dignified yet lost, frail sweet-natured seasoned citizen who spends her days "house-dusting" and trying to work crossword puzzles between Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown TV since the loss of her dog pal Max last June.

    And she doesn't smell at all.

    You're the best. Love - Jonathan

  • At 12:55 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Jonathan, I would BE there in a heartbeat if I lived near you. It would be an honor.


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