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Think a Senior Discount Is the Only Perk Associated With Aging?

Here are the many other benefits to growing older.

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gif of ladies drinking champagne on the train, senior discounts, illustration
Rami Niemi
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We are both buck naked, hair dripping wet. A woman of a certain age—my age—starts chatting with me in the locker room. Face coverings are required, even on the short pool deck walk until swimmers claim their lane.

For one year I was unable to swim the laps I’ve been logging for decades; my pool closed during the pandemic and never reopened. I joined the Y, where I’d attended Mommy and Me groups 25 years ago. In my university pool, I used to change next to women younger than my daughter, self-consciously one of the only ones without tattoos and perky breasts.

But now at the Y, two naked ladies feel no need to cover up with a towel.      

“Are you on Medicare?” one asks.      

A strange question, but yes, I answer.      

“You don’t have to pay for the Y!” she says gleefully.      

Really?” My jaw drops under my mask.      

She explains how to access Medicare benefits for free lifetime swims. I thank her and my late father, a penurious accountant who would have been prouder of my saving money than receiving professional awards. He used to embarrass me by picking up pennies in the street; now I joyfully stoop for coins on the sidewalk.      

Back at the Y, I hear a voice ask, “Did it work?”      

I don’t recognize the woman—until she begins to undress.      

“Yes!” I say.      

“I love to spread the wealth!” she says with a smile.      

We nearly jump up and down like kids on Dairy Queen’s Free Cone Day. I discover there are other discounts and freebies, from airlines to car rentals. AARP has online financial planning and tax preparation; libraries and universities offer free courses. There are even free versions of dating sites Match.com and SilverSingles.com (too bad I’m happily married).      

There are advantages to getting older.      

Yet, friends and I do our share of complaining on the subject. Creaky arthritic joints. Memory lapses (why did I come into the bedroom…how could my brain have blanked in a short walk?). Strange brown spots on skin appear overnight, surely cancer; relief comes only after comparing graphic photos on WebMD.

Whenever my husband and I meet friends for dinner, we detail our aches and ailments—from acid reflux to plantar fasciitis. This has been coined “the organ recital” by Steven Petrow, author of Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old. I warn my husband that he’d better stop talking about his prostate by the time cocktails arrive or I’ll show him what a mammogram really feels like.

One day I run into a friend at our farmers market, and she blurts in an alarmed tone, “I’ve shrunk an inch!”

I was a giant in middle school and would have welcomed shrinking then. “Did you get a bone-density scan?” I ask with the authority of an endocrinologist.      

“First I need cataract surgery.” She squints. “Can you read how much these apples are a pound?”        

“Think of the positive side,” I console her. “Like free Y memberships.”      

She brightens. “I did get a senior discount on the train last weekend!”      

Aging isn’t for sissies, as Bette Davis said, and I’m grateful to be healthy “for my age,” as 15-year-old-looking doctors remind me. No matter how liberated we are about aging, it’s still a challenge to accept our bodies and minds, which were once more agile and robust.

Why didn’t our mothers inform us that hair would fall out in places we used to wax and sprout in unwelcome spots visible to the public? Or that even our fingernails would wrinkle? I doubt I’d have believed her. This is a rite we have to discover on our own.      

When my mother was touring assisted living options in her late 80s, one facility tried to entice her by promising that “the unit comes with a free lifetime parking space.” She’d already been in four accidents, and I was trying to persuade her not to drive anymore. I was too young to understand why hanging on to the steering wheel was more symbolic to her than to a teenager passing a road test. Finally, her license expired, I didn’t remind her to renew it, and that was that.      

I gave up driving a decade ago, preferring to get in 10,000 steps a day. At least my daughter won’t have to feel guilty about ever taking away my car.      

Every day I make an extra effort not to forget things, especially that getting older (and allegedly wiser) is better than it used to be. I’m not shuffling around in a frumpy housedress. My grandmother’s false teeth horrified me when I saw them in a glass on her night table, but I can smile 24/7 with my permanent, pricey implants.

I’m active and fit. I floss. And use the Waterpik less often than I proclaim to my hygienist. I use so many sticky notes for reminders that my desk looks like the yellow brick road. Even though I buy Advil in bulk, I may acquire a new knee when necessary. I laugh at the irony when my 99-year-old mother-in-law, 1,500 miles away, and I both have the wax removed from our ears on the same day.      

At 69, I’m still working as a college professor, past previous generations’ retirement age. My students keep me young with colloquial expressions and woke political ideology. I try to remain nonplussed when I hear their candid discussions of sexuality. I don’t let on when I can’t remember an author’s name I’ve been quoting for decades, surreptitiously Googling it, hoping they don’t notice.

After class, on Tuesdays, I cherish senior discounts at my local pharmacy. I feel pretty spry, noticing that I’m the youngest shopper in the store.      

“Senior discount, ma’am?” the cashier says before I can request it. I don’t need to show proof. With my 20 percent savings, I treat myself to a cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso. My metabolism can always use a bolt of caffeine. At least I don’t take afternoon naps. Not yet.

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