Guide to AgingWhat Everyone
Needs to Know
Christine K. Cassel, Editor
(New York University)My dear old Mother, recently laid in the grave at 96, wouldn't be caught dead reading The Practical Guide to Aging. She didn't like reading about, thinking about, the problems that were going to come on her down the line. She once told me that she was "tired of hearing about things that are bad for me," and I am beginning to know exactly what she meant. (Age must be the ultimate Bad For One, no?)
Fact-filled works like this are the absolute despoliation of romanticism, if you ask me. It's like ecological disasters. (Are our bodies an ecological disaster waiting to happen?) We can't see a cow in the bucolic fields without thinking about the damage they are doing to our eco-system. We can't see a gorgeous red-brown sunset without thinking, "smog."We can't ride on a freeway without wondering, "How many orchards of orange trees and nesting places were bulldozed to build this turkey?" We can't see a field filled with corn tassels waving in the wind without puzzling over how many tons of chemicals they sprayed to get row upon row of gorgeous, unblighted plants.We can't go swimming in the ocean without fretting about the bacteria count, and we can't go zipping around in the sand-dunes in our buggies without stewing about the goddamn gophers or gnat-catchers. We now live in a world of professional spoilers --- and they won't shut up.
Ms. Cassel's book is that kind of downer. It's handily printed in large type for those of us who regularly buy our glasses at the check-out counter of Rexall, Walgreen's, or Sav-On after we misplace (or step on, or inadvertently flush down the toilet) our last pair.
Now, I don't doubt for a moment that all us old haybags need to know what's in The Practical Guide --- but it's a depressing mix, nonetheless. Anxiety, Memory Loss, "Behavioral Problems," High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, Chest Pains, Sleeplessness, Constipation --- you name it, we've either got it or it's waiting just around the corner to run out and bite us on the ass.
We can easily get depressed reading about "Major Depressive Disorders" and "Assisted Suicide." I read that by age 65 (that's me) the life-expectancy charts give me only 15 more years to screw around, and, when I reach 85 --- I'll be clocked in at 6 more years of doddering, max. Do I really need to know this?
I was feeling pretty good when I picked up The Practical Guide to Aging, but felt like an old balloon by the time I started skipping over the last pages with chapter headings like "ECHO or Elderly Cottage Housing Opportunities," "Easing the Pain of Dying," and "Illness and Alienation." Why don't one of these fancy-dan ageologists (or whatever the hell they call them) do a study on the depression that comes from knowing too much about what's waiting for us down the last turnpike. I would be happy to testify. I would also suggest that we do a bit of book-burning --- starting with this creepy tome.
--- Leslie J. Freedman