The Spry Fossil and the Grandmotherly Vegetable

February 11, 2009 § 4 Comments

'Celle qui fut la belle heaulmière', Rodin

'Celle qui fut la belle heaulmière', Rodin

Today in a New York Times blog called The New Old Age, Jane Gross reviewed current guidelines for how to refer to those formerly known as elderly.

‘Old’ is bad, as are a lot of other words, such as, ‘feisty,’ ‘spry’, ‘eccentric,’ ‘grandmotherly’ ‘biddy,’ ‘codger,’ ‘coot,’ ‘crone,’ ‘fogy,’ ‘fossil,’ ‘geezer,’ ‘hag’ ‘old goat,’ ‘old fart,’ ‘senile old fool,’ ‘prune’ and ‘vegetable.’

The appropriate term is ‘older adult.’

I’ve written a little play to illustrate the perils of these recommendations. The characters are a young man who’s just started at the New York Times, and his grandmother; it takes place in the skilled nursing facility where she balefully resides. It’s an eccentrically warm February evening and the young man, feeling charitable toward the world as a result of his much-coveted position, attained even as others are losing their jobs by the millions, comes to visit.

“Grandma, we’ve received new style rules at the paper, and I want to apologize. I used to call you old. That was wrong. You’re older.”
“Of course I’m older. I haven’t seen you in a year.”
“I’ve been busy…you like it here, don’t you?”
“Too many old farts.”
“I thought women liked older men.”
“You’re so wet behind the ears, you’re still dripping.”
“I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds disgusting.”
“Come back when you know something, schoolboy.”
“That hurt my feelings. Ageism goes both ways, you know.”
“I’ll take the other way.”
“I’m 32 but Maureen Dowd says I look 12. Do you have any idea what that does to my advancement prospects?”
“Well, don’t try it with that feisty Mo Dowd, but why don’t you find a woman her age in a sensitive professional position, have sex with her a few times, then tell her you’re really 12 and you want $100,000?”
“I hate that cackle of yours.”
“Chickens cackle. Ladies titter.”
“I don’t know… ‘titter’ sounds kind of dangerous, too.’
“Your grandfather wasn’t afraid of tits, nor of anything else about a woman. There was a man for you. He used to bend me over the kitchen table every night after work.”
“I really don’t want to hear this.”
“He’d throw my panties up into the air—they sometimes landed in the mixed vegetables, not that he minded—and have at me. A right randy old goat, he was.”
“You’re not supposed to say ‘old goat.’”
“I’m sparing your sensibilities. You should hear the things he used to make me call him. I’ll whisper them if you come closer.”
“Oh, god. I knew it was a mistake to visit. Mom was right! You’re a hag!”
“That dried-up prune? Sometimes I think she just pretended to be pregnant, stuck a pillow under her shirt, and then stole you from some dumb biddy babysitting the grandkid, too busy flapping her gums to notice. In the 1970’s, you know, girls like your mother thought sex and babies were a patriarchal plot to enslave women. She used to read this book called The Three Faces of Woman: Virgin, Mother, Crone. Excuse me, what happened to The Long Honeymoon: Too Fucking Sore to Walk? That’s the book I learned from. My son’s not even 60, and he’s a senile old fool because he never gets laid.”
“I’m leaving! I’m never coming back!”
“Fine with me, Junior. But tell your friends at the New York Times that the proper term is ‘death-challenged.’ As in, we’re not yet. Get it?”

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