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This Boomer's No Geezer -- She's a Classic

August 03, 2004|Jennifer Fisher | Jennifer Fisher, a professor at UC Irvine, is the author of "Nutcracker Nation" (Yale University Press, 2003).

The shift toward old age from middle age, that cosmic progression that baby boomers like me pretend is an eon away, hit like a landslide this summer. A friend I formerly would have described as "my age" moved to Sun City. That's the original Sun City, the planned community for grandparents, the place where a 55-and-older rule keeps out the cries of children, teenagers' loud music, people who drive over 10 mph and other pesky signs of life. Where geezers listen to, well, I have no idea what old people listen to, because I am not old.

Without warning, my friend Madge -- that's not her name but it might as well be -- has stepped over the line from aging-baby-boomer-in-denial to senior citizen, and she's trying to drag me with her. I'd like to say that I cut her off, that she and I have nothing in common anymore. Instead, I find that we're both pretty much the same -- saying the word "retirement" with quotes and agreeing that being younger than Cher matters.

But I'm not going to start calling myself a "senior" any time soon, even if it gets me a few bucks off at the movies. I'm calling instead for radical measures: The baby boomers have to rename everything to do with age; we should throw our demographic weight behind denial, or at least an ironic obfuscation of the facts.

Let's start with the ersatz honorific "senior citizen." Sure, it was once a nod in the direction of respecting our elders, very back-to-the-garden and groovy, but that was when we weren't the elders. Boomers deserve a term that really signals respect. Henceforth, we will not get old; we'll become "classic." No more "senior moments" -- forgetting a word or a court date. We'll have "classic moments," as if we're so lost in philosophic inquiry we can't be bothered with details.

And for those of us who are unable to utter the word "menopause," why not call the whole mess "shifting gears"? That suggests you're still going somewhere, just at a different speed. It's not as though the renaming strategy hasn't already been discovered by marketing types, the ones who put cake into the shape of muffins and called it "health food." When it comes to selling aging, Madison Avenue mavens have been quick off the mark. Take bifocals, those old-fogy split-lens glasses. Turns out that anyone who hits 40, no matter how hip they feel, can't read without them. So someone made bifocal prescriptions invisible and called them "progressives." We're not old, satisfied customers now think, we're progressive -- and we'll pay anything to keep feeling that way.

Evidently, the AARP also tried the renaming game a few years ago, after realizing that self-respecting baby boomers wouldn't join a club their parents belonged to. It not only started using initials (hoping no one would remember that the R stands for retired), it also designed a new magazine to replace Modern Maturity for the boomer demographic. I recall hearing that the first issue of My Generation would feature Mick Jagger, poster boy for old-coot charisma. Alas, even I would read about arthritis and 401Ks if Mick were talking about them. But the magazine didn't fly; maybe someone at AARP finally listened to "My Generation" and decided that "I hope I die before I get old" wasn't the best slogan for recruiting new members.

It's going to be hard to make old age cool, but baby boomers will give it the old college try. It's true we've attempted to ignore the aging process ever since we left our old colleges -- wearing baseball caps and sneakers, having multiple careers and relationships and insisting that no rock music ever got better than the stuff we first made out to. But the fact is, old is coming. Or, as I like to say, we're all going to become classic one day.

Meanwhile, I've agreed to keep in touch with Madge, but only if I can write to her in Cite du Soleil instead of Sun City, in case someone sees the letter. She assures me that the lawn gnomes and petunias on her block are fast being replaced with Tuscan gardens that have good feng shui. But it's not enough, I tell her -- the name has to change to something that doesn't point the way to dusty death.

"Dusty death"? Yikes. How about "the last log-off"? I'll keep working on it.

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