Please understand, I am not putting myself in the same ballpark as beloved San Francisco columnist, Herb Caen. But there has been so much wackadoodle folderol this past week that I find myself unable to focus on just one topic. So, I am shamelessly dropping into this journalistic genre that Caen was master of for over 50 years at the San Francisco Chronicle that became known as the “three-dot lounge”. If you want to read some of what he wrote, click here! . . .
What Am I Gonna Wear? Back in 1967 when I was a freshman in high school, I was wearing panty hose and skirts/dresses to school. We had a dress code back then and girls were required to dress thusly. If we didn’t, we would be sent to the Dean or, worse, suspended! Standards of the day required that gender be strictly defined and visually segregated. Boys wore pants. Girls wore dresses.
In an act of utter defiance at the time, knowing we were subject to suspension from school, a group of girlfriends and I wore culottes. The times were changing and this was considered an act of incredible rebellion, but, because there were sufficient numbers of us, we got away with it.
Power to the people! Women’s Lib! May I note again, 1967! Ancient history!
Fast forward to 2023 and, at the meeting of the duly elected representatives of the Great State of Missouri, one of the first legislative acts voted on was a bill introduced by Rep. Ann Kelley, (R-Lamar), that explicitly requires women legislators to wear jackets on the House floor, saying “it is essential to always maintain a formal and professional atmosphere.”
Ironically (something possibly wasted on Rep. Kelley), the statue of Ceres that adorns the top of the state capitol bears not only her shoulders, but other female parts that are known to cause titillation in some people. It was first hoisted to its position in 1923, and having stood there for 100 years without comment, it does suggest that there might be a double standard beneath the dome.
By my calculation, 56 years have passed since there was a need for girls to be given a dress code. Over half a century! All I hope for is that some brave soul in that august body decides to stand up to this absurd waste of time and effort and get on with the people’s business, which isn’t about what to wear. . .
Rising Waters. I live in a state that is no stranger to drought. To manage this uncomfortable lack of water which is occurring more frequently, inhabitants have learned to adapt either by attending to nature’s rhythms and learning to live in harmony, or by re-engineering the landscape to increase storage by building dams, re-route rivers and streams, and trying to control Mother Nature.
In my small corner of the state, we found ourselves smack in the middle of an atmospheric river that has dumped gallons of rain on us. At first, we rejoiced. Then we panicked as the flooding interrupted power and traffic. Now we are in the holding-on-for-dear-life stage as soggy hillsides slide and trees lose their root-holds from soaked substrate.
The upside is that creeks that haven’t seen water flow in years are now pushing the deadwood downstream as dried vegetation crowds the sluice ways. The engineering marvels of Shasta Dam and other reservoirs that are water storage for when we aren’t in rainy season are filling back up.
Still, the damage is vast, costly, and mind-boggling. Which perhaps is a learning opportunity, given we need to be put in our places by Mother Nature every once in a while, and be reminded that we are not all powerful. If we are to survive, we must learn to take care of each other and be patient. Click here if you want to help victims of this current disaster. . . .
Ageism Just Might Be a Problem. I have noticed that the Talking Heads are being a bit more conscious of how they talk about the current ages of our political leaders. There is no ignoring the chronologic accuracy of the number of elected (and appointed) officials over 65. The average age of Senators is 64 (who knew?). The oldest Senator is Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who is 89. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is 82. President Biden is 80 and Trump is 76.
Personally, I believe age alone is insufficient to qualify or disqualify a person for office. The elected officials noted above each have purpose and meaning in their lives, great health care, and sufficient funds to keep them protected from economic worry and fear. It matters little that they are 64 or 89. What does matter is that they have the capacity and commitment to continue leading our Nation.
I would pay to watch a debate between Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and George Santos (R-NY) to see just how much age plays a role in understanding how government works. Now that would be great TV!. . .
Words Matter: How to Talk About Aging. I did a podcast this past week where the host asked me why I don’t like to use the word “Senior”. It’s because it doesn’t describe me!
The Proto-Indo-European root of the word is “sen” according to etymologists. In the 13th century, when first used, it denoted the difference between father and son. Seems first names and last names were in short supply, so the powers that be doubled the male side by adding “Sr.” and “Jr”. (That is my theory, at any rate). Two hundred years later, it had taken on additional meaning of “higher in rank and longer in service.”
The word “senior” has always implied comparison. What is different today is that the gap between “old” and “young” is very much wider. Mind you, lifespan in the 13th and 15th centuries wasn’t much beyond 35 for most people. It isn’t until the Great Depression that the term begins to take on the notion of someone who is both old and needs help.
When these two concepts of age equaling helplessness were connected, the notion of aging adults becoming a burden to society began to take hold. Since that time, our culture has systematically ascribed characteristics of physical and mental decline, resistance to change, and being technologically challenged, befuddled or otherwise confused and branded them “Senior”. (Think “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”)
Better Words Challenge Misleading Stereotypes. What do I prefer to be called? I find myself using the phrase “aging adult” a lot more these days. Even “older adult” works for me. In formal settings I use the term “elder”, which has multiple meanings that may not be appropriate for all situations. Sometimes I just suggest that people use my name. What about you? Do find being called “senior” brings up an accurate image of who you are? . . .
Head’s Up for the Coming Week (and Weeks to Come). Those of you with original Medicare, especially if you are still working and have insurance through your employer, check to make sure you haven’t been switched over to a Medicare Advantage Plan without your knowing. This is an effort by Congress to lower costs of care for Medicare-eligible beneficiaries by limiting services and make money for the insurance companies. You can read more about this here. . . .
Final Notes. I went for a walk during a short intermission between downpours and found myself pulled to a small creek that winds its way down from the hills surrounding where I live. When my husband and I first moved here, this creek flowed year-round and was home to different sizes of fish, all matter of interesting bugs, and throaty frogs. It also had an enchanting sweet song as it traveled over rocks and around ancient tree roots on its way to San Pablo Bay.
Over the years, the flow has diminished. With vineyard plantings and the drought, it has been completely silent for the past four or five years. For a variety of reasons, I haven’t been visiting the creek, mostly because the music was missing. Yesterday, I heard its song once again! It was running at full force, voicing freedom and exuberance I hadn’t heard in years. It brought tears to my eyes and joy to my soul. . . .
6 responses to “Revisiting the Three-Dot Lounge: An Homage to Herb Caen”
Thank you! Such a great read for this wet Sunday morning! Very much appreciated. 🥰
Thanks for reminding me about thee writings of Herb Caen. I liked his short comments on different aspects of life with such insight. In terms of Medicare Advantage, try finding a PCP at the local Sutter if you are a Medicare Patient and the answer will be no, since they’re so short of PCPs, However, this doesn’t stop them from heavily advertising to the Medicare population the advantages of joining their Medicare Advantage Plan. I guess their thinking that “Less is More”. Dr. Gieseke
Ben Franklin supposedly once said (and I paraphrase): “Many people die at age 25 but just don’t get buried until they’re 75.”
Whereas, my 82 year old hubby and 75-year old me . . . both are eternal Spirits, scarily-brilliant / creative / analytical Minds – and slowly aging Bodies. Long ago we each faced and unraveled our respective particularly insane childhoods — “bootstrapping” ourselves (with considerable kind help) into becoming actual adults (i.e. creative, calm, loving, productive and often hilarious).
Such a journey of Choosing represents the exact opposite of that vile “help help I’ve fallen” commercial which, in order to make money, caters to and further reinforces “elder” fear (which is ALWAYS the end-trajectory of uncorrected childhood damage).
Thus I’ve always particularly despised that “Helpless Fallen Elder Woman” commercial and its blatant, stereotyped fear-mongering. For accuracy’s sake, the woman’s lines in that spot SHOULD be: “Help, help, I’ve been a helpless, fear-based, damaged child wearing a fake grownup suit all my life – and now I’m old and terrified because of THAT, too.” (Duh).
“So, in conclusion (harumph!)” . . . the grimly hilarious thing about ageism is that — ALL those perpetrating it will themselves grow older.
Karma rocks! Happy Sunday!
I recently turned 70, and find myself almost giddy at a new decade ahead. I am a senior, consider myself a wise elder, and my spirit is younger than my years in how I approach life. I like the concept of elderhood, feel my age more in my bones than in my heart, and welcome (almost) all that life has to offer. I have benefitted from your No Time Like the Present series, your writings, and the monthly conversations at Vintage House. Keep up the good work! I find it surprising how many of my acquaintances are actively ageist, in thought and deed.
As my age “number” rises yet thankfully still feel healthy, agile, and curious I notice and dislike immensely the ageism in this country. I do not say my age because then I get all these ‘concepts, beliefs’ put on me which do not fit. It is a way of putting people in the coffin before they actually are in need of a coffin. People will reassess you knowing your age and then treat you according to their personal beliefs which is usually to make you less of an active citizen. It really annoys me when the liberal nighttime hosts on TV continually make jokes about Biden, Pelosi, Trump, and Feinstein over age. I think we all need to write these hosts and tell them they are perpetuating ageism. Will stop here but have much more to say!!
I love this piece, as I love being pried loose from my own rampant ageism, great thanks to you! I aspire to being worthy of the title of elder, which implies wisdom and community recognition of it–to me anyway. There are days when it fits, other days not. But walking that path in the company of the likes of this sub-community growing here makes so much sense. (more than the syntax of that last non-sentence).