Imagine what an unusual day it is when you file for Medicare AND apply to be a superhero all in the same 24-hour period. I am nearing my 65th birthday but for several months I have been thinking that I want to a hatch a plan for a spectacular retirement. Those ambitions could be the legacy of my overactive imagination, a charge my teachers leveled against me when I suggested we take up juggling as a class to learn physics or when I alerted my classmates every Friday afternoon that that I thought I heard the tornado siren go off just before our weekly math tests.
There are many claims already in place for the retired or pre-retired. We have to be as calm and happy as all those beautiful people in the investment commercials, as deliriously joyful as the energetic seniors having water fights with the grandchildren in the Depends ads and as sure-footed and culturally accepting as those elders walking the Great Wall of China in the Viking Cruises commercials. And, of course, we are pressured to be inspired by big pharma ads, dancing the tango without stiffness, having inspired sex, and being cuter than we should be at our age. Besides all that, there is also trying to work through the maze of insurance options, end-of-life policies, estate and trust planning. Like all the life events that have faced the baby boomer generation, this one seems more overwrought and over-exposed than at earlier times.
The fact that “seniors” can account for anyone between 50 and 105 makes talking about the elderly an exercise in stereotype mongering. A person in this age group can find herself on a Road Scholar trip, enroll in a class designed for the retired or go to the doctors and see the impact of this careless demographic dumping. Road Scholar used to be called Elderhostel but that sounded too “old” and “hostel” inferred sharing a bathroom and maybe a bed with a under-resourced stranger, so they changed the name. If you are one of the younger people on these adventures, the people who are eighty or ninety years old will eventually consider you a “kid.” You will find yourself getting them coffee and helping them to cross the street in cities where the drivers can’t distinguish between a downtown neighborhood and the Grand Prix. If we are over 65 and go to the Minute Clinic or some other walk-in, you will confront this one-label-fits-all mentality. I visited the clinic for a sinus problem—a non-age related disability, it seems to me—and was questioned about my medicines—what did I take every day? What sorts of chronic conditions did I have? Was I under a doctor’s care? When I answered in turn “none,” “none,” “no,” the nice medical professional asked me if I was certain. I said I was. She said maybe I forgot. I said, “No, I am not taking any medication.” She offered to check my record just in case. I felt like an ex-convict hiding a shaky past. I countered that I wasn’t on my meds and had no plans to add some just because it would help a big company turn a profit. (This is exactly the sort of provoking behavior that makes the elderly peevish) In fact, I told her I would like to add just one drug—an antibiotic to help me with a chronic sinus infection that has plagued me since breaking nose in an encounter with a glass door (entirely my fault; the door had been in position; I was the moving party.) That accident happened in mid-morning as I was on my way to take a long bike ride after leaving my Aquatic Aerobics for the Elderly, Infirm and Arthritic class. See what I mean? You cannot disconnect that coupling of beliefs: “if it is old, it must be broken.”
We are being besieged to do something creative with our retirement. TV pundits keep repeating the same note—the baby boomer generation has changed everything as they have moved through the lifecycle. The generation that has made marijuana a legitimate drug, kept Mick Jagger cavorting on the stage after his seventieth birthday, and provided rebel icon Bob Dylan a nice spot on the cover of AARP magazine will recast retirement for its members. So, here is my plan.
Given my public-spirited nature, I want to give back to those who came before, as well as those who will follow. And I want to give back as well to those who got here when I did. I have decided to create a league of superheroes called Geez Squad Girls. Like the Geek Squad, we are there to address problems with technology. We can fix things that are not obviously fixable with your phone, computer, tablets, TVs, remotes, alarms, refrigerators, monitors, and so on. We can tweak anything that beeps. But unlike Geek Squad which is overwhelmingly male, under twelve, white and snippy, the Geez Squad Girls will be made of up women fifty years of age or older, who are racially, ethnically, and dietarily diverse, and who are most importantly, kind and lovely.
The premise is simple. Whenever someone my age complains, “Damn this phone. Why does it ring when I want it to buzz?” or “What the hell is an app?” or “For God’s sake, why would I want to be on Facepage?,” we would swoop in with our capes on, take off our flying shoes on the porch, stroll into their houses and say, “On my gosh. We are so sorry you are frustrated. It is not your fault. But don’t worry.” We’d do take some quick measurements and make a big showy sweep with our special wands. We may separate the overly confused from their technology and replace it with something simpler, like paper and pen. Then we would do some magic that looks like magic to the naïve, smile widely, flex our muscles, tie an attractive cape knot and yell, “Geez Squad Girls to the rescue” and fly off to our next call for help.
I am totally excited about this idea for two reasons. The first is that it will provide a lot of help to millions of perplexed users; second, it will re-establish the position of the baby boom generation as a bunch of cool people who are really with it, man. We must not cede that ground.
In some instances, the Squad may use its superpowers to knock the teeth out of the mouths of patronizing salesmen when they try to pull the wool over our eyes. We may mount a campaign against those clerks who offer us senior citizen discounts when we would rather have to ask for them, praying that the clerk dismisses our request, saying, “Oh, you can’t possibly be 65.” We can do battle with the rows of age defying ointments at the drug store with some guerrilla labeling to expose them for the false promises they advance. There are lots of possibilities here for correcting the injustices in the world, just like all the superheroes are called upon to do.
I am also thinking of taking on a sidekick, a taller person, probably a young woman who actually knows something about all of this technology mumbo-jumbo. I would exploit her in that gentle way that Batman did Robin, but nothing devious here. I am looking for cleverness without a hint of snarkiness in my assistant. I can take sidekick applications, like they do on American Idol, make a big event, do a crowdsourcing kind of thing, and send out some letters. Well, maybe not. That is sort of old school.
But just imagine, a smart and attractive mature woman arriving at your house, just moments before your adult son is about to say, “Motherearly cell phone, how many times do I have to tell that you that telling your phone to go to hell doesn’t actually execute that command?” or “If you call me one more time to ask what the difference is between apps and appetizers, I swear that…” In fly the Geez Squad Girls to your immense relief and satisfaction. “Never mind, honey,” you say, “I got it figured out.”