The Trouble with Old People

Trouble with Old People: Let’s Get Normal

By Steve Van Auken for TDS

While most of us were in pandemic isolation this past year, America’s state legislators, fearless for their personal safety, were hard at work.

Florida’s legislature passed a law to protect its citizens from the scourge of “vaccine passports.” Now, no community can set up a system for people to show they have been vaccinated. Because that would be a bad thing, you see.

Ohio’s lawmakers also had to step into the breach. They saw a clear and present danger that, in the next election, there might be more than one vote drop-off box per county. The Founding Fathers neglected to protect us from this. Alert legislators acted promptly to nullify the threat.

Read more Trouble with Old People.

So far, so good, they may feel. But their work is not done. During the pandemic, some toxic social trends have been allowed to fester. It is time for our lawmakers to correct these if we ever hope to put COVID-19 behind us.

Our most desperate need is to legally restrict FaceTime. Many people worry about addiction to video gaming, a problem primarily of young people. Abuse of FaceTime is a huge problem among seniors. So far, we have avoided accountability for the harm we do. This social injustice must end.

I don’t know if you have ever been in the room with a FaceTiming grandparent. Actually, it is not always necessary to be in the room. Sometimes it is enough to be in the same ZIP code. We grew up in a time when placing a long distance call was a very big deal. It meant talking loudly enough to be heard over miles of phone wires. Add this early training to our hearing losses and you get the present crisis. Many of us speak to the loved ones on our screens at decibel levels known to peel paint from walls.

But the real problem with FaceTiming seniors isn’t how we talk.  It’s what we say. At the first sound of that ringtone, we set aside our conversational filters.

“Oh, honey, that’s such a nice poop in the potty! Is that really yours? Thank you for sharing with Grandpa. I’m so proud. Have you shown your mom? Oh? Well, she’s probably just having a bad day. You know, she’s stuck in the house all the time. I’m sure she didn’t mean it. Try showing your dad!”

A toxic trend that has exploded in the shadow of the pandemic is “Following Your Passion.” Television is full of earnest people claiming you can be anything you want if only you FYP. And who would want to argue? Most seniors hope everyone they meet will someday fulfill all their dreams and passions.

In the meantime, we would settle for some competence in their pre-passion job.

“Welcome to Main Street Garage, the garage that cares. My name is Brandon. I’ll be your mechanic today. How may I maximize your customer experience?”

“Uh, hi, Brandon. My car is making a funny screeching noise. It’s not there all the time. Mostly I notice it on right turns. It seems to come from the passenger side.”

“We have a sale on seat covers right now. Are you a member of our Frequent Customer Club?”

“I don’t think so. About the noise. A brake problem, do you think? Or something else?”

“Could be, I guess. Have you tried turning slower?”

“Brandon, if you don’t mind my asking, how long have you worked here?”

“All week. Before that, I was at the Gap. But they wanted me to work evenings. I can’t do that. My passion is performance art. All our shows are in the evening. The person you want to talk to is Sonya. Her passion is fixing cars.”

“Great. Let me talk to Sonya.”

“She’s at lunch. I can set you up with a Frequent Customer account while you wait. It will just take a few minutes.”

“No thanks, Brandon. I’m not planning on being a frequent customer.”

“OK. But I’d definitely wait for her if I were you. I heard you when you drove in. There’s something wrong with your car.”

It’s not clear what the legislature can do to fix our passion-following problem. It will be tough. Tougher than managing face masks in a crowded kindergarten at chocolate-milk time. But any help would be welcome.

Unless you’ve been living in a cabin above the Arctic Circle, you’ve noticed that conspiracy theories are turning up everywhere. These thought distortions threaten to close off our shared paths to understanding reality.

Conspiracy theories are tenacious. They can’t be outlawed. But they could be taxed.

How would this work? It’s important to be proportional. Some conspiracy theories pour more poison into the wells of common sense than others. Good tax policy would reflect this.

Let’s say you like to send all your Facebook friends daily updates on your evil neighbors, who are conspiring with the CIA to make you mow your lawn. No problem. The state will simply add $100 to your tax bill to cover the extra wear and tear on the public’s patience.

Or maybe you want to go big. You want to share with a naïve public the great truth that Neil Armstrong’s so-called moon walk was a total sham. You and some other deep thinkers have figured out that the whole thing was staged in a warehouse in Fort Worth. In the 50 years since, every single one of the tens of thousands of people involved has kept this completely under wraps. You believe this in spite of the fact that you yourself couldn’t keep a muffin recipe secret if your life depended on it.

Go right ahead and share your insights. Your fellow Americans will still love you. Sort of. But your state tax bill just went up a thousand bucks.

No doubt there are a few details to be worked out. As a senior, I will exercise my right just to be the big-picture guy. If you are a legislator, feel free to take this plan and make it work so we can all get back to normal.

You’re welcome.