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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

VIEW FROM AMERICA: Mock Elderly While You're Still Allowed




If you want to know why John Glenn's boring trip into orbit was such a riveting national event, it's because hurling one of them into space is just what many of us have wanted to do with a beloved elder who drives too slow or demands to be instantly transported to have his or her dentures fixed.


It's the same instinct that, when former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger waddles onto the television screen, makes it so satisfying to see him come across as a silly old man who doesn't realize he no longer runs the world, and never did.


For some reason I've been getting a lot of letters recently from readers accusing me of being a raving ageist. I don't know why, but they usually come after I've written a column making reference to foolish old crones, drooling duffers, staggering geezers who whine about their lumbago and forget their laxatives. I can't imagine what is making these readers so livid. Isn't reaching the decrepit age of 59 reason enough for me to start laughing at myself?


We must never lose our capacity for making fun of people's ages. For one thing, no age is a permanent condition. And, after all, one of the reasons so many people don't see any point in making President Clinton into the middle-aged anti-Christ of the millennium is those adolescent qualities that columnist Mary McGrory, a splendid old biddy, says make us think of him as a bright teenager who vexes us with never knowing whether he's going to win a National Merit Scholarship or total the family car.


We must cherish our aged population because there are so few groups we're allowed to make fun of anymore. We have correctly driven from accepted usage the stereotypes about people of color, Asians, Arabs, the Mediterranean groups. It is no longer allowed, never should have been permitted, to portray the splendid Irish people as drunks and washerwomen. So we must cling to what we have left: geezers, upper-class Anglo-Saxons, the British in general, royalty, Canadians, the Swiss, raving right-wing extremists, self-important TV pundits and insufferable people like Bill Gates and Donald Trump, especially when they step on a banana peel. And what a more egalitarian world we are.


Call me a doddering old fool. Just don't patronize me with that repulsive euphemism, senior citizen. According to demographic trends in Japan, North America and Europe, we're going to take over this Earth in the next century and we're going to make life miserable for its Monica Lewinskys.


Even if Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a geezer who's already locked in to his lifetime benefit, puts over his scheme to privatize Social Security and put our old age at risk in the stock market, we're going to make Congress bail us out if the market crashes in 2005 and wipes out our nest eggs. We've got the numbers, and everybody knows old timers vote in higher percentages than the vapid young.


Talk about saving Social Security. We're going to increase it. Free chauffeurs for trips to bingo nights. Discount drinks at gin mills. Full Medicare reimbursement for customized chrome walkers with jeweled mud flaps, raccoon tails, cow bells, racing stripes, loud mufflers, glow-in-the-dark St. Christopher medals, Styrofoam dice and imitation leopard steering wheel covers for all who demand them. This is the agenda the American Association of Retired Persons will be pushing in the next century.


Robert Reno is a columnist for Newsday.