It will probably come as no surprise to anyone if I tell you that when I was a kid I thought my grandparents were old. Of course, when I was seven, I thought anyone in high school seemed like they were old enough to have fought in World War II. Especially my grandfather, who was probably 57 at the time and who had really fought in World War II and Korea.
Age takes on different characteristics as you get older. For example, on the day I started writing this, Mick Jagger turned 71. By all rights, there is no way I should ever consider anyone who is basically my mom’s age to be a rock star. But, I am 46, and for whatever reason, 71, while definitely “old” doesn’t scare me off when it comes to the thought of paying a few hundred bucks to see Jagger and the Stones perform “Start Me Up”, a song that came out back when Mick & Co. were starting to be seen as old coots back when Jagger was all of 38 years old.
But, like I said, when I was a kid and we would visit my grandparents, everything about theme screamed “OLD”. They lived in Buckley, Wash., and whenever we went there, it just seemed like it was old folks everywhere. This caused me to utter a question that remains famous in our family to this day:
“Grandma? How old do you have to be to live in Buckley?”
I also doubt that my grandfather’s near-constant chewing of Freedent gum, which was said to be easy on dentures, along with the occasional glimpse of said dentures sitting in a glass of Polident on the bathroom sink, the regular Sunday viewing of the “Lawrence Welk Show” and riding in my grandparents 1975 Dodge Dart did little to change my views about how ancient they were. And there was a magazine they had that was the cherry on their ice cream sundae of prehistoric living. That was “Modern Maturity”, which came from the American Association of Retired Persons, better known as AARP.
Everything about “Modern Maturity” screamed “Might as well run out the clock in Florida”. If “Modern Maturity” had an official color it was “White Hair”. I don’t remember much about the articles, but I’m pretty sure they were heavy on topics like the best time of day to deposit your Social Security check and advancements in soft foods. There may have been a monthly feature on replacement hips. The target demographic seemed to be anyone born before the Great Depression.
Needless to say, “Modern Maturity” didn’t have anything for a kid who was more interested in reading “Sports Illustrated” and watching “Gilligan’s Island” re-runs. Besides, I was never going to be old like my grandparents.
Thinking like that, that we are never going to be the age of our grandparents, or even just our parents, oozes through every younger generation. And probably not more so than that of the Baby Boomers, who, if you believe any documentary done about them in the last 30 years, were either fighting in Vietnam and smoking a lot of pot, protesting against the Vietnam War and smoking a lot of pot, or working for Richard Nixon.
The unwillingness of the Baby Boomers to admit they, too, were subject to middle age and having to deal with retirement issues caused AARP to reevaluate its marketing strategy. “Modern Maturity” sounded exactly like something grandpa would have read, but…”AARP”? That sounded at least like, well, something not from the days of Prohibition, right?
The name change didn’t matter. AARP, both the organization and the magazine still has a stigma of being something for the old folks. And when, much to my shock and surprise, I went to the mailbox last week and found an unsolicited offer to join AARP, along with a membership card already printed with my name on it.
Needless to say, I was shocked. Almost to the point of a stroke. Again, I am 46 years old. I’m not about to get drafted by the NFL [although, for the 23rd straight year, I did declare for the draft], but I’m not Mick Jagger’s age, either. Is it possible that “the nation’s largest non-profit organization that fights for the rights of all people over 50” could have made a mistake?
Probably not. AARP needs to expand its reach, and like all smart businesses, it’s courting the youth market. It’s just that its version of “youth” tends to be more concerned with paying for its kids college than where it will be able to score some ketamine for a rockin’ Saturday night. In order to do this, AARP wants to get new members to sign up before they turn 50 with a deal of $16 a year…Or you can get bulk-year discount if you go for three years at $43, or lock in five years for 63 bucks.
And for all that you get, among many things:
–A membership for you…and your spouse can get on board for free.
–A subscription to AARP magazine “that will help you feel great, save money and have fun.”
–Access to discounts on hotels, car rentals, cruises, home security, cell phone service, and more.
–And, to top it off, a free, easy-to-read pedometer as a “Thank you” that will, according to AARP, help me reach my activity goals and stay healthy without “working out”.
This, apparently, is the first in what will eventually be a long line of large-print/image electronics and other items that, once you turn 55 and start ordering from the “Honored Guests” section of the Denny’s menu, you are Constitutionally required to use.
Needless to say, my response to getting this invite in the mail was, “What the bloody hell?” It was like when the Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at your door or you get a call from someone trying to sell you solar panels as part of a “government discount program” just as you’re stopping your kids from pouring paint on each other’s heads: Fascinating, confusing and, ultimately, discouraging.
I decided to pass on AARP, and, instead, buried myself in the other piece of mail that came that day, the latest issue of Esquire with Cameron Diaz on the cover. She’s about to turn 42, and in addition to Esquire’s feature on her, it also included an article “In praise of” the 42-year-old woman. Like Cameron, none of the other ladies looked ready for AARP, and while no one is going to write a magazine feature in praise of my 46-year-old body, neither am I.
Still, only nine years to go to get those Denny’s menu discounts…