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Prime Time | Art Lee: Is it ever OK to tell stories about ... anybody?

By Art Lee

“I’m retired. I was tired yesterday. I’m tired again today. My get-up-and-go has got-up-and-went. Must be the water. Can’t be our age.”

When is telling jokes about a person, a group, a place, et al., acceptable? And if not always admissible, at least less offensive? Answer: It’s apparently OK when the joke is said among your own kind. So it seems to be all right when/if done among the members themselves — or when the members pretty much agree as to who should be the butt of any intended humor. Certainly among American-Norwegians and Swedes, there’s little problem as to who gets named in any put-down. So it’s easy for them to fill in the blank to the question: How can you tell if a ____________ has been using your computer? Answer: The screen is covered with white-out.

Seniors certainly fit into this formula as they seem forever to be telling jokes among themselves and about themselves; that is when they’re together, self-deprecatory jokes are just fine (but less so when uttered by “young outside whippersnappers”). Samples: “At my age, Happy Hour is a nap.”  Or “I don’t exercise. It makes my coffee spill.” Or “I’ve been diagnosed with C.R.D. ‘Can’t Remember Doodley.’” And of course: “I remember the words of every song from World War, but forget why I walked into a room.”

It should be added that it is both fun and therapeutic to be able to laugh at one’s own foibles.

So with tongue in cheek, here’s a “proper” excuse that seniors can use, as illustrated by the lady telling the Highway Patrol officer who stopped her for speeding: “I’m speeding, officer, because I have to get there before I forget where I’m going.”

Forgetfulness and seniors seem to go together, with a raft of stories told, often expressed in some form of tale about forgetting, often forgetting names of familiar people — who suddenly become forgotten. The story gets worse and rather embarrassing because you’ve known that same person for 40 years but suddenly draw a blank.  Here’s an extreme version of this:

Two seniors had had coffee together each morning for 50 years. That went well until one morning when one of them, with a perplexed look on his face, turned to the other and asked, “What was your name again?”. The other man, now equally perplexed, responded: “How soon do you need an answer?”

The times they are always changing, so now throw in the changes in cooking, or as the woman explained in self-deprecatory fun: “I cook using the four food groups: canned, boxed, bagged and frozen.” Also more fun includes the ongoing gender dispute: “A wise man finally said, ‘I don’t know. Ask a woman.’”

Mortality is a common topic among seniors and handled in various ways, often with levity: “I don’t think about dying. It’s the last thing I want to do.”  Or “The doc says to eat right and exercise. Piffle. Doesn’t make no sense; you die anyway.” Or “Live each day like it’s your last, and one day you’ll get it right.” Or even more cynical: “Life’s a bitch. And then you die.” And at times Woody Allen gets quoted: “I’m not worried about dying. I just don’t want to be around when it happens.”

And of course there’s the topic of hearing, notably the lack thereof. A whole subject can get screwed up simply because one word in a sentence gets misunderstood. The results of these word screw-ups are often amusing for bystanders, but hardly so for the embarrassed listener. With hearing loss, there’s a lot of pretending and plenty of head-nodding and “yes” replies to statements not heard clearly and not understood at all. It’s worth pretending, because with it is the need not to have to say yet another big “Huh?” “What?” “Whajasay?” or “Would you please repeat that?”

Illustrations are legion to these vocal misunderstandings. Back in high school there was a favorite example we smart-alecky kids used, namely the tale relating the hearing problem of three English gentlemen riding the train together, the train about to arrive at a station. At this point the first man asks: “Is this Wembley?” The second man replies, “No, this is Thursday,” to which the third man interjects: “Thirsty? So am I. Let’s have a drink.”

“Hmmmm, these days, even listening to that goofy old story yet again — this time with my hearing-aid on— the story has now become less amusing.

And so life goes on; we just can’t remember why.