Guide to
What 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, worrying 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, very old age culminating in the Ultimate Head-Churning Heart-Popping Moment-of-Truth.

Careful, fact-filled works like this are the despoliation of romanticism, if you ask me. It's that awful echo of what they laughingly call "the Greens." We can't see a cow in the bucolic fields without thinking about the damage they're doing to the Great Plains or the aquifers. We can't see a red-brown sunset without saying "smog." We can't ride on a freeway without wondering "How many pleasant valleys and streams were bulldozed to build this turkey?"

We can't see a field filled with corn tassels waving in the wind without trying to count up 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 stewing about the bacteria count, and we can't go zipping around in the sand-dunes in our buggies without fretting about the goddamn gophers or gnat-catchers or whatever it is we are supposed to fret about. We're living in a world of spoilers --- and they won't hush their nattering.

Ms. Cassel's book is just this sort of downer. It's handily printed in large type for those of us who regularly buy our spectacles at the check-out counter at Rexall, Walgreens, or Sav-On after we misplace (or step on, or inadvertently flush down the toilet) our last pair --- and I don't doubt for a moment that all us geezers need to know what's in The Practical Guide, but it sure is a bummer.

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." Worse, 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 allowed another 6 years above the sod, max.

Do I really need this? I was feeling pretty good when I picked it up Aging, but felt like an old helium balloon by the time I had to start 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 about when we simply know too much about the near future. 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

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