Life Here: Membership has its privileges, and its punishments

  • Paul Keane. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 6/7/2019 10:00:39 PM
Modified: 6/7/2019 10:00:27 PM

The saying in our modern age of medical advancements goes this way: “Seventy is the new 50.”

But I think exactly the opposite is true. When I turned 50, I was shamed by society and lured by my own greed, into joining AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, even though I wouldn’t retire for another 17 years. Maybe I could get discounts on things.

Once I made the mistake of sending them my $5 membership fee (it’s now about $25 for two years) I was hooked. Or rather, a giant tick attached itself to my streetside mailbox and started sucking the space out of it, for the next 23 years.

I began to receive unwanted monthly magazines, advertising unwanted travel opportunities, walk-in bath tubs, back braces, dental implants, retirement communities in several states, yoga classes, you name it. It was a magazine menu of American retired persons’ consumer “opportunities,” much like the “naming opportunities” that universities offer to alumni who want their names on buildings — for a price.

As if AARP thought their advertising could keep you from facing the fact that your body was slowly sinking into the ground in a heap of wrinkles and gray hair, these mailings emanated electronically from an Emerald City retirement lobby with its Wizard of Oz hiding behind a “digital command center” curtain, a curtain even Toto couldn’t pull aside.

This “retirement” junkmail began to tarnish my mailbox.

At first the advertisements would harass you only on a monthly basis, which was endurable. That was 20 years ago, before AARP began bragging that it was one of the biggest lobbies in the country and started flexing its muscles with Congress.

Then they made their greedy move. They graduated to weekly mailbox annoyances. Everything from AARP auto insurance to the AARP Foundation, AARP Magazine, AARP newsletters AARP envelopes — different colors for different urgencies — with mysterious contents.

I threw them all away, but I kept renewing my membership, thinking it would help old people lobby Congress, not realizing I was getting to be one of those old people myself.

But after 23 years of exasperation at having my mailbox clogged with this trash, I decided to hold my breath and take the plunge.

I would end my life on their digital command center mailing list, by refusing to renew my AARP membership, not because it was too expensive, but because it was simply irrelevant and annoying, like Facebook notifying me every day that someone had “liked” my comment about “liking” their comment.

The ironies of using a digital portal to stem the tide of physical mail, and of quitting the AARP now that I’m long since retired after having joined long before my retirement, are not lost on me. I just couldn’t take it any more.

Even AARP’s magazine covers were depressing with their photos of celebrities I used to enjoy, suddenly grown old and smiling at me with gleaming dentures, dyed hair and Botox stretched faces.

Those magazine covers were a nightmare of consumer lures to the baby boom culture, now terrified of growing old.

Smiling like contestants in phony manic glee on some game show, trying to prove with desperate happiness, that growing old is a joy-inducing process similar to the first downhill on a rollercoaster — just a thrillingly exciting “rush” — the faces on these AARP covers did the opposite of what they intended.

Instead of reassuring me that growing old was a graceful and natural process , it terrified me that I needed to keep up with the latest innovations in turning my face into a billboard of youthfulness.

Good grief.

What a con job. Life is a lot less exciting than those gleeful faces on AARP magazine covers, and that’s what makes excitement so valuable. It comes so seldom.

Anyway, I took the plunge. I refused to send in my AARP membership renewal. It’s been 8 months since I let my membership lapse and I have now turned 74.

During those 8 months AARP’s digital command center has ordered that 7 mailings bloat my roadside mailbox: A copy of the magazine with its obligatory gleeful phony senior citizen dancing on the cover, and seven mailings, all of which unsuccessfully tried to get me to open them: a “non transferable card enclosed”; a “renewal reminder enclosed”; a “membership expiration notice”; an “auto insurance exclusively for AARP members”; a “please read the enclosed notification about your AARP membership and member benefits” in a bright yellow envelope; and an “immediate reply requested,” also in a bright yellow envelope.

I am hoping the AARP digital command center will finally decide that I am dead.

Do you think it will send my survivors a “sincere sympathy” card, “Immediate reply requested”?

In a bright yellow envelope?

Paul Keane lives in Hartford.

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