Thursday, February 24, 2000

A mature plan to save us from modern hazard

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When I turned 50, in addition to those “it's all in fun but you're officially over the hill” cards from friends and family, I got a loathsome letter from a stranger. Which made it truly official.

        I was eligible for membership in AARP — the American Association of Retired Persons.

        I was so horrified that I threw the letter in the trash, then piled coffee grounds on top. If we'd had a shredder, I'd have made AARP confetti. I didn't want anybody, including the garbage persons, to see it.

A freebie
        My husband got the same letter. He joined, and the AARP magazine, Modern Maturity, started coming to the house almost immediately.

        “What will the mailman think?” I whined.

        “Oh, he'll probably break into the house if the mail piles up,” he answered, “to see if you've broken a hip.”

        “I'm not kidding. This is embarrassing. Now everybody will know somebody in this house belongs to the American Association of Retired Persons. And they won't think it's you.” (He still looks the way he did in our wedding pictures. I look the way my mother did in our wedding pictures, only not half as good.)

        “We don't like to be called by our full name,” my husband said, ignoring the main issue as usual. “Just AARP. You don't have to be retired to join, you know.”

        “Yeah, I know. Just old. Dave Barry says the full name is American Association of Retired Persons Who are Always Ahead of You in Line Asking if They Can Get a Discount.”

        “Why do you think I joined? Besides, 50 is not old. Michael Douglas is 55.”

        “Right,” I said. “His fiance is 30.”

        “She is probably after his AARP discount coupons,” he said.

        I tried to be a good sport, stopped whining and read the magazine. I learned that Sophia Loren, who even at 65 is nobody's idea of a senior citizen, tries to get plenty of selenium — whatever that is — in her diet. I found tips on how to save money on funerals: “Don't buy the urn.”

        Modern Maturity is not full of ads for mountain bikes and Pepsi. It features ads for remote-control mattresses and cranberry juice, which “helps maintain urinary-tract health” and is “good for your bones.” The final page, called “The Big Five-OH,” rats out famous people.

        Jay Leno, William Hurt, David Cassidy, Martin Short and Christine Lahti will be receiving their AARP letters during March and April.

Geezer power
        But the biggest shock of all is the current issue. Paul McCartney is on the cover. Paul McCartney. Age 57. Suddenly, this maturity thing is looking kind of hip. When you think about it, Elvis would have celebrated his 65th birthday in January. Clint Eastwood will soon be 70.

        By 2020, the number of Americans over 65 will account for 16 percent of the U.S. population — about 53.2 million of 322.7 million projected total Americans — compared to today's 12.5 percent, or 24.9 million of the 265 million people in the United States.

        And, when you think about it, this is a pretty good group. You hardly ever see anybody 50 or older on the most wanted list. AARP-sters are powerful, too. Fortune Magazine called AARP the most powerful lobbying group in America. The National Rifle Association was only No. 2. This gave me an idea for the solution to gun control.

        A mature compromise, you might say.

        Let's concede every American's constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms, even though we know Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin did not have assault rifles in mind. Just to sweeten the pot, we could even concede that guns don't kill people — people kill people. Even though we know that people with guns kill more people than any other kind of people.

        That said, I'll bet most of us can agree that guns should not be in the hands of those who are not mature. We have attached arbitrary age limits on driving, smoking, drinking and voting. So let's allow people to own a gun just as soon as they get their letter from AARP.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call (513) 768-8393. Her column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.