Over Easy: Embracing the gray

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

Published: 12-09-2023 12:21 AM


It hasn’t escaped my attention that I am growing older. So are you, daily, despite those gym memberships and fancy moisturizing creams.

As for us oldsters, there seems to be a surplus. We are plentiful while the supply of young workers — the ones who could be making sandwiches, checking out groceries, stocking shelves with fiber supplements — runs short.

Where are the young electricians who would come to our homes to fix something sooner than four months from now? We need plumbers, carpenters, receptionists, tire changers, bus drivers, police officers, school teachers.

Don’t take it from me. Take it from The New York Times, which reported recently that Vermont is on its way to becoming an over-55 community. In its words, “More than a fifth of Vermonters are 65 or older, and more than 35% are over 54, the age at which Americans typically begin to exit the workforce. No state has a smaller share of its residents in their prime working years.”

I live just a short walk from Vermont, and it is the same over here in this corner of New Hampshire. The other day I was in Walmart and a good portion of the customers were walking slowly, looking indecisive, blocking the aisles as they labored to read the small print on vitamin labels. So many old people, I thought to myself, and then a rare young shopper politely made way for me and said, “You go ahead, sir.”

I am 70, and there is no escaping that this is my demographic, my tribe, my peeps.

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What can we do about the shuffling march of time? It seems to me that Vermont (and nearby New Hampshire) can push back against the trend. We could, for example, do something to make housing and child care more affordable for young families, but that would require will and vision. Big will. Big vision.

Or … we could embrace the gray.

We can create a senior paradise. As long as help is scarce, close stores at sundown — best to be home before dark in case the cataract fairy has visited. The interstates could shut down a little later, say, 7 p.m., so everyone could be home in time for Wheel of Fortune.

Of course, bring back early bird specials. America was a kinder, gentler, simpler place when people went to dinner at 4 in search of discounts. Let seniors, those aging rebels, sneak out with packets of sugar and salt to help make ends meet. Declare Vermont the “I’m Living on a Fixed Income” state, since that can be a satisfying state of mind. It gives you an excuse to skip things you can’t afford/don’t want to do.

Ban those streaming channels that vex us with their confounding complexity and go back to three or four choices, including Channel 9 in New Hampshire and Channel 3 in Vermont. News from elsewhere is nothing but trouble. Throw in PBS so we can hear British people who sound smart.

As for radio, let all stations be oldies stations, plus NPR. We want to hear Car Talk reruns, even if the boys are chuckling about the rear brakes on a 1972 Datsun.

Citizens should be advised to go to bed no later than 9, since they are going to wake up at 3 anyway. Shut off the street lights then. Let night owls read by the light of the dimmest LED bulbs. That will help them nod off.

In senior land everyone would drive 5 miles below the speed limit, which would mightily annoy the remaining youngsters among us. But who cares? They can honk their horns, but we’ll have the radio cranked loud so we can hear whatever they are going on about on All Things Considered, so it won’t bother us at all.

We need incentives to encourage the aging population to work, at least part time. Tax breaks, maple syrup allotments (from the state’s Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve) and free, simplified cell phones would all help. The phones should have big numbers and a special memory button to reach counselors standing by to help you remember things like Dan Quayle or the lyrics to the Gilligan’s Island theme. And they need to SPEAK UP!

Double or triple funding for senior centers, so they can put on more ambitious programs. The Rolling Stones are still touring, aren’t they? We would be thrilled to see them at the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction — as long as we can get a good parking spot and the show is over no later than 3.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.