Since my own personal “great recession” began in early 2006, following my departure from my jet-setting life with songwriter Denise Rich and its attendant perks, I have struggled to get a professional foothold in a post—record business world. Foolish of me to believe that after 20-plus years paying my dues, clawing my way up from unpaid intern at Arista Records, so low on the totem pole that my desk was actually the floor, to president of America’s least-respected though best-furnished music publishing company, Denise Rich Songs, that my brilliant career was too big to fail. But I prefer to not linger on the life’s past disappointments when I can talk about life’s present anxiety.
Since Jobageddon, my big obsession is time, or rather, making up for it. Since I’m essentially starting over, I’ve managed my anxiety with humor, most often with my go-to line about “getting my career off the ground before I get that letter from American Association of Retired People!” Ba-dum-bum. This after I found out that AARP begins looking for you when you’re still in your 40s! But even though they wanted to talk to me, I definitely didn’t want to talk to them.
My fear of AARP began as a quippy way of dealing with my issues about starting over, but as the years have gone by, it has become more of an actual thing, for the AARP smokescreen obfuscates an armada of vivid, grandiose fears: “what if I don’t have any money when I’m old and I have to keep working forever and relying on Social Security?” “what if I don’t have any money when I’m old and there is no social security and I have to eat cat food?” “What if I end up one of those homeless people with a cardboard sign that says ‘published writer’?” “What if I actually never get published and I have to emend the cardboard sign to say ‘self-published writer,’ which is really a blog that you bind yourself and call a “book,” or, even worse, “former blogger, lost my computer, will tell you a story for a baked potato.” Or what if I end up like the actress in the cafe in Degas’ heartbreaking Glass of Absinthe, numbly staring off into space, forever regretting the past and fearing the future? As my single big money boom-year gets smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror, the fear of the AARP letter loomed larger and larger, as a harbinger of a life circumscribed by early bird specials and frequent visits to the periodontist.
Seriously folks, though I’ve used the AARP schtick for several years now to get a laugh, it still resonates because career reinvention is something that lots of folks are thinking about these days. No matter how much you believe that “age ain’t nothin’ but a number,” (it isn’t, it’s a death knell—at least in the entertainment business), and “you’re only as old as you feel” (for the record, I feel old), and 50 is the new 30 (lie made up and propagated by AARP), the fact remains that I would like to feel I broke through before I break down, and even a decent travel discount is not worth joining AARP’s merry band of seniors.
Thing is, when I imagined that letter from AARP, I had a specific and very cinematic midcentury fantasy, like in some neo-Douglas Sirk-hyper-saturated-color dreamscape: It’s a bright sunny morning, I walk to the mailbox in a bright blue cardigan with a spring in my step and a smile on my face, say hello to Mrs. Johnson who is pruning her rose bushes while little Bobby plays behind her with his pet Beagle. Birds are chirping and the air is filled with promise. I open the mailbox. Douglas Sirk turns into David Lynch: close up on my face which is suddenly distorted in horror, I am stricken, Bernard Herrmann music cue, I fall to the ground, the camera spins in a violent swish pan and pushes in to a close-up of the letter. As blood from my hand trickles over the envelope we see the dreaded acronym: “AARP”
So guess what? The letter from AARP came last week, but my well-worked fantasy had one major flaw: I always figured— being about old folks and all—the letter would, you know, really be a letter, as in snail mail, as in 20th century, as in “old.” I never even thought to consider that those killers from AARP would trick me with a fucking email! It was innocuous looking as it sat in my inbox because it was from Betty White and the subject line said something like “this is important, folks!” “Oh, that’s so cute,” thought I, “Betty’s shilling for one of her many animal charities, you know how she is about animals and all.” So I did it: I double clicked and all hell rained down on me with the impact of a grand mal seizure. Here’s what I saw:
Don’t the graphics just scream I.C.U.? They look like they were designed by someone whose computer literacy stopped with the Wang word processor. Anyway, the next few moments were a rush of sharp sensations which I cannot recall. I know I felt my blood pressure drop precipitously and when I came to a few minutes later Ritchie said I was drooling and mumbling something like “fuck Betty White, it’s a dirty trick, I just wanted to help the puppies,” or something to that effect. When the shock wore off a bit and I pulled myself together, I was angry. So what if Betty White is the most trusted celebrity in the country, is it even smart business to use a 94 year-old lady to try and get people in their 40s to join a retirement group? “Be like Betty,” says the copy. Are they fucking kidding? I’m supposed to want to be like someone who has a better than 50% chance of being dead by the time my application is processed? Listen, I like Betty White as much as the next person, but c’mon. Oh sure, and the “free insulated travel bag,” —the premium for joining—is really a euphemism for “suburban geriatric fanny pack.” Poor as I am, anyone can pick up an “insulated travel bag” at a stoop sale for 50 cents. Couldn’t a colostomy bag be considered an “insulated travel bag?” How about trying to hook me with someone age appropriate, like Brad Pitt running shirtless in St. Barts, something I can relate to, something aspirational!
Please God, give me a few more years to pull this together and keep that fucking Betty White out of my inbox. And folks, whatever you do, beware of the hearse, even if Betty White is the driver wearing a cute little uniform. That’s how they get ya!