"People who see themselves primarily as victims are doomed." -- Louise Erdrich, "The Sentence"

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Last Lines

     We've all read about the last words of some famous people. For example, drummer Buddy Rich died after surgery in 1987.  As he was being prepped for the operation a nurse asked him, "Is there anything you can't take?" And he responded, "Yeah, country music."

     Or the composer Gustav Mahler who died in bed. He reportedly was conducting an imaginary orchestra. His last word was: "Mozart!"

     Basketball great "Pistol" Pete Maravich collapsed during a pickup basketball game. His last words were: "I feel fine."

     John Wayne who died in L.A. at age 72 turned to his wife and said, "Of course I know who you are. You're my girl. I love you."

     Joe DiMaggio reportedly said, "I finally get to see Marilyn."

     Then there's my favorite, from Steve Jobs. According to his sister Mona, the Apple founder's last words were, "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow!"

     But famous endings go beyond last words. My favorite ending to a TV show is from The Sopranos, when the screen just goes black.

     You probably remember Mary Tyler Moore who was laid off along with her TV family, saying goodbye, then turning out the lights in the studio and walking away.

     Or Ted Danson, aka Sam Malone, turning away a customer at Cheers and saying, "Sorry, we're closed."

     My favorite last line from the movies is from the coming-of-age drama Stand By Me. The story is told as a flashback, and at the end Richard Dreyfuss, now an adult, sits at his desk and slowly types: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?"

     There are a lot of other famous last lines, like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, at the airport telling Louis, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

     Or the classics. Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz says, "There's no place like home."

     From King Kong: "Oh no. It wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast."

     Scarlett O'Hara in both the movie and the book Gone with the Wind says, "After all, tomorrow is another day."

     Another famous last line of a novel comes from the unforgettable Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caulfield says, "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

     Or how about this one from The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen: "She was seventy five and she was going to make some changes in her life."

     But my favorite last line in a novel is from The Great Gatsby, which I read again last winter. F. Scott Fitzgerald concludes: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Sunday, May 7, 2023

What I'm Learning These Days

     They say that we older people need to keep our minds active, keep learning things. We're supposed to learn a foreign language, or do crossword puzzles, or practice the piano.

     I've always resisted learning things just because I'm "supposed" to; hence, my less-than-stellar career in algebra and my brief fling with calculus. (I learned enough to pass the final; then immediately forgot it all.)

     Something has to interest me. Otherwise I lose motivation, and my attention drifts off. I admit, this happened to me with photography. I got a camera, purchased photoshop, attended a class. But it seemed that everyone had already taken so many photos, why would the world need any more from me? Besides, I couldn't appreciate the difference between a really special photo and one that was ho-hum. So now I just take pictures of my family.

     One thing I have learned recently is how to play pickleball. Honestly, it's a pretty easy game to pick up. It might be hard to get really good. But I don't aspire to that. I just want to have fun with a group of people at my local pickleball club.

     The same could be said of my golf game . . . except I'm not learning anything new. I've played golf, off and on, for many years, and my ambition now is simply to have fun and not get any worse.


     I've also learned about foreign policy in the past few years, because my wife and I have been doing a program called "Great Decisions in Foreign Policy" from the Foreign Policy Association. We just finished this year's eight-week program that covered China, Latin America, Iran, Global Famine and other topics.

     Sometimes I think I'm learning enough medical information to become a doctor. Ten years ago I knew nothing about medicine. Now I've been to the heart doctor and have been schooled about drugs like Metoprolol. I've spent hours discussing Cortisone, Prednisone, knee surgery, hip surgery and other orthopedic issues with doctors, nurses, physician assistants, friends and family.

     My guess is, by now you know a thing or two about medicine as well. Or are you learning something entirely different?

     I'm now learning about the history of the 1960s. I've agreed to do a program for our senior learning center on the subject. It's interesting to me because I lived through the era, but I was in junior high and high school and going into college at the time, and I was only interested in my own little world, not the wider world.

     I had no interest then in what was going on in Selma, Alabama, or Jackson, Mississippi. Of course I'd heard of Cuba. And I read about Watts. And the specter of Vietnam hung over all of us. But my mind was focused on whether Kathy liked Bobby better than she liked me (it turned out, she did), and whether I'd make the baseball team (I did, but mostly as a benchwarmer), and how I'd do on my SATs (good enough to get into my second-choice college, but not my first).

     But now I find the world we grew up in holds a lot of interest to me. What was going on behind the scenes in the Kennedy White House? What was going on in Lyndon Johnson's mind as he wrestled with the problem of Vietnam? How did the Civil Rights movement achieve so much, only to self-destruct in hate and violence?

     Besides all that, some of my friends are trying to get me interested in ChatGPT. I'm resisting, however, since I like my relationships to be human, and I already have a love/hate relationship with our google assistant.

     Finally, I know I still have a few things to learn about marriage, and children. But those are topics for another post. Right now I've got enough to keep my mind awake and alert. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

The Art of Washing Dishes

      There's the James Beard Award for chefs. Celebrity chefs like Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri show off their talents on TV. Famous cooking competitions are refereed by Gordon Ramsey and other culinary stars. But as far as I know, there are no celebrity dishwashers, no dishwashing TV shows, no dishwashing competitions that bring fame and fortune to the winners.

     But there should be. There should be an award.

     Cooking is considered a highly skilled occupation, a calling, an art. But dishwashers are taken for granted, if they're lucky, otherwise they're abused and forgotten.

     But how would you like to go to a restaurant, and find old cheese hardened onto the side of your plate? Or bits of broccoli stuck to the tines of a fork, or some unidentifiable brownish stain on the bottom of your glass?

     No. Dishwashers do not get the credit they deserve.

     I know, because I'm the dishwasher in the family. And let me tell you, it is an underrated job that requires a lot more skill than people realize. 

     "Oh, what are you talking about?" people say to me. "You just stick the dishes in the dishwasher. They get clean!"

     Well, I don't know how to answer these people, except to say that they are no-talent dishwashing hacks!

     First of all, not everyone has an automatic dishwasher. So you have issues involving brushes and sponges, water temperature, dish sequencing, length and strength of scrubbing . . . and more.

     But most of us do have a dishwasher. And like most modern conveniences, that only makes things more complicated.

     First, there's the sorting process. You have to decide what can go in the dishwasher. Some pots and pans are too big. Special serving platters and cut-glass bowls are forbidden by the lady of the house to undergo the trials and tribulations visited upon dishes by the electric dishwasher. 

     Then, where do the larger glasses go, where can you fit the smaller ones? Which knives and forks go straight up, which go pointy end down? (A sharp knife must go point down, unless you want to stab your finger and make a trip to the ER.) That is, unless you have a top rack, in which case sharp instruments go up there.

     You see? It's more complicate than you think. I know, because I learned my dishwashing skills at the foot of my father. When I was a little boy, my older sister had the job of doing the dishes . . . my job was clearing the table. After my sister went to college, my dad took over . . . until my mother retired my father and promoted me to chief bottle washer.

     Later, I honed my skills in college. I lived off campus in a rowhouse with five other guys. Two of them cooked. Three of us took turns doing cleanup.

     You'd think a bunch of college guys would have low standards in the cleanliness department. But we didn't have an electric dishwasher. A missed glob of mashed potatoes or a greasy plate brought on a major investigation -- and the sloppy offender could and would be subjected to snide cutting comments and even physical harassment. One guy (seriously) was kicked out of the house for his lax -- and somewhat disgusting -- cleaning standards. 

     After college, and a couple of difficult years with a proudly messy roommate, I moved into my girlfriend's apartment. She was a cook. So my dishwashing skills came in handy . . . and were much appreciated. So much so that we got married!

     Anyway, enough of my personal history. The bottom line is that I am somewhat of an expert at washing dishes -- how to sort, when to rinse and when you don't have to rinse, how to rinse efficiently, how to position the dishes in and around the racks, how to deal with specialty items. And finally, the best way to unload the dishwasher.

     And if you think it doesn't matter how you empty the dishwasher . . . well, clearly you have a few things to learn. Which brings me to my point about getting dishwashers the credit they deserve.

     I'm proposing an award for dishwasher of the year. The Soapy Award and the Sudsy Award have both already been claimed by soap operas. So our award could be . . . The Squeaky.

     Unless you have a better idea for a name. And meanwhile, don't be shy about nominating a candidate for the award from your own life. We dishwashers need some recognition.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

How Old Do You Feel?

      Research has shown that subjective age -- how old we feel -- and not our actual age is a better predictor of our overall health, memory, physical strength and longevity. So instead of asking someone how old they are, you should ask: How old do you feel?

     Cues about age can influence how old we feel. So one way to feel younger is to socialize with people who are younger. An older person married to a younger person may have a younger subjective age -- they feel younger, act younger. Spouses who are significantly younger actually tend to live shorter lives, older spouses live longer lives.

     Women who have children later in life are often surrounded by younger age-related cues in the form of younger mothers. The relatively older mothers have a longer life expectancy than women who bear children earlier in life.

     Women feel younger after having their hair colored and show a healthy decrease in blood pressure. Bald men see an older self in the mirror which may speed up the aging process. There is some evidence that bald men have higher risk of prostate cancer and coronary heart disease. So cosmetic changes -- coloring our hair, wearing a toupee -- could actually have some health-related benefits.

     As a corollary, when asked what age they would like to be, most people say 10 years younger than they actually are, according to a study from the Stanford Center on Longevity. So 70-year-olds say they want to be 60, and 60-year-olds say they'd like to be 50. Nobody says they want to be 20 again -- maybe because they remember they had a lot of uncertainty about their lives at age 20, and they don't want to relive all that anxiety again.

     What age would you like to be . . . you know, if you had a magic genie to grant you a wish? Me? I'd want to be 50 again. Which is 20 years younger than my actual age . . . but 10 years younger than how I feel.

     How do I know all this? I picked up a book called Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging by Alan Castel. He offers plenty of good advice and interesting insights, some familiar, some new, at least to me.

     Castel refers to an old study from the 1980s that concluded there are three main factors to successful aging. 1) Being free of disability or disease; 2) having high cognitive and physical abilities; and 3) interacting with others in meaningful ways.

     He doesn't argue with this definition. But another definition of successful aging may involve the simple fact of reaching old age . . . because a lot of people, sometimes very successful people, don't get there, due to bad habits, bad luck, bad genes. So I guess those of us who have made it to 70 can congratulate ourselves. By one measure anyway, we are successful agers!

     Research has found that older adults do lose their ability to remember things. We cannot remember random numbers as easily as younger people. However, older adults are better at focusing on crucial information, and we do better remembering the important things. He quotes Cicero who said, "I've never heard of an old man who forgot where he buried his treasure."

     Castel does not believe in eating any specific foods to improve our health. Chocolate, blueberries, red wine, have all been promoted as miracle foods. The problem is, in order to gain any benefits, you'd have to eat or drink so much that the negative effects would far outweigh any benefits. He just recommends a standard healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, not too much fat or sugar or salt.

     Physical exercise is also an important factor in staying healthy and living a long life . . . and to ward off dementia. But you don't have to do anything extraordinary. Castel says walking is the perfect exercise for older people. 

     In terms of keeping our minds sharp, it's not so much what we do as learning something new. If you've been doing crossword puzzles all your life, doing more crossword puzzles will not improve your mental facility. The secret is to learn something new -- how to paint, how to play the piano, how to speak a foreign language. On the other hand, if you already play the piano, but don't do crossword puzzles, then starting to do crossword puzzles could be helpful.

     The exception is reading. Reading keeps our minds sharp, regardless of how much we've been reading before. And curiously, even though reading is a solitary activity, somehow it also improves our social skills. And we all know that having an active social life helps us stay healthy and alert. So maybe joining a book club is the answer.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

You Retired . . . Where?

     I recently read a couple of articles about the best places to retire. For example, U. S. News rates the best cities for retirement. (Hint: most of the top ones are in Florida or, believe it or not, Pennsylvania). Wallethub focuses on the best states for retirement. (Virginia is Number 1, Florida 2, Pennsylvania 14.)

     These lists are typically based on statistics about climate, income, life expectancy, access to health care. But all these are theoreticals. I wonder what people really care about when they decide where they're going to live after they retire.

     We had neighbors who didn't know where they wanted to retire. So they sold their house, rented an RV and spent a year traveling around the country, searching for their retirement haven. They ended up in Raleigh, NC. Why? I don't know. But for them it was the place to be.


     We have friends from New York who retired to Charleston, SC. They told us they had always expected to move to Florida, "because that's where New Yorkers go." But they never found a place in Florida where they truly felt comfortable. Then they stopped off to see a friend in Charleston, SC. "We fell in love with the city immediately," they said. Two days later they agreed to buy a townhouse. And now, seven years later, they've built a life there . . . and their daughter has moved to Charleston as well.

     Then there's my sister-in-law who lives in Seattle. She and her husband are retiring later this year, and they're talking about moving to Costa Rica. They took a tour last fall, specifically designed for Americans who are thinking about retiring in Costa Rica. We'll see if they actually go through with it.

     I have two sisters. One moved to Florida in her 30s. And she's still there. The other worked all around the country. Her last job was in Phoenix, and so after she retired that's where she stayed.

     What's your story? Where did you move when you retired? And what led you to go there? Or, if you never moved at all, why not?

     My wife and I moved from New York to Pennsylvania. We were both born and raised in the Northeast and realized we would never be comfortable living anywhere else. Florida? The Carolinas? The West Coast? Great places to visit. But not to live. At least for us.

     We might have moved to be near our children. But we have four children between us, and they are spread out all over the country. So that wasn't in the cards.

     Still, we wanted someplace less expensive than our pricey New York suburb. We considered Cape Cod. Too cold and dreary for nine months of the year. We visited Delaware . . . kind of blah.

     We looked at half a dozen towns in New Jersey, including Cape May. But we found out it would be less expensive if we moved across the state line into Pennsylvania. So that's what we did.

     B does have some family in Pennsylvania and nearby New Jersey. That was a draw. And now, we've made plenty of new friends . . . a few of them fellow retirees from New York and New Jersey.

     That's our real-life retirement story. What's yours?