Throw Mama (or Dad) from the train

October 19, 1995|By Robert Scheer

THE TROUBLE with old people these days is that they are not willing to die when it's most convenient for the rest of us. There was a time when seniors were lucky to hit 65, but now those old codgers are like the Energizer Bunny, they just keep going and going.

Seniors annoy the younger taxpayers by doing everything to survive, including exercising, dieting and even drinking red wine. Worse yet, they remain politically active and vote in larger numbers. And using that political clout, these ingrates expect to collect on the medical care that they were promised and have paid for. But, as the Republican congressional leadership points out, the seniors broke their end of the deal by living too long.

Whose fault is that? The Democrats, of course. Newt Gingrich is right: The seniors' conspiracy to stick around was abetted by a whole range of knee-jerk liberal programs that made their golden years worth living. Without Medicare, Medicaid, senior housing and social centers where they do those stretching exercises, a lot more seniors would have expired years earlier.

I recall the case of my own mother, who had the nerve to outlive two doctors who warned her that her Parkinson's disease was terminal. It was, eventually, but she cheated for almost 20 years by staggering through challenging walks to various lectures, the library and plays, keeping both body and mind alert.

Why didn't her son just take care of her, my Libertarian readers at this very moment are asking? Well, I did. At first she resisted, much preferring her independence and friends in the city to our suburban life in Orange County, Calif., which she termed ''boring.'' But after her second mugging, once the new plastic hips were in place, we kidnapped her, and suddenly there I was, for seven years, the only townhouse dweller in our gated community with a mother in residence.

Mostly, our living arrangement -- Mom, me, my wife, two kids and a large Akita dog -- was viewed by the neighbors as weird. At worst, a grown man living with his mother could be seen as kinky and at best, our extended family suggested a possible violation of the condo association's rules. We only had three bedrooms, after all. The architects of yuppie housing do not expect sickly old people to spend the night.

My wife and I actually liked Mom: She read more books than we did and kept us intellectually on our toes. Our little kids loved her stories, her endless jokes, even though she would come to forget the punch lines, and found it liberating that there was an adult in the house who sided with them.

Go for broke

Oh, I almost forgot, unless you're seriously wealthy, if the Republican cuts go through, you'd better also be prepared to go broke. Medicare kicked in in 1965 when my mother retired. At that time, if it hadn't been for the Medicare supplement to my mother's meager union health plan, I would have had trouble supporting her. Even when I was more prosperous, the costs of a growing family were spiraling and without Medicare, my mother's medical bills would have wiped out the kids' college funds and more.

Anybody who tells you Medicare is a program that only benefits seniors has never had to care for a parent who is old. Take the word of this rapidly aging yuppie: Wire your congresspersons to keep their mitts off the programs that help seniors, or be prepared to turn your snappy condo into an under-funded nursing home.

Robert Scheer is a Los Angeles Times contributing editor.

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