The blonde is determined to keep me alive.
She's always doing heart-healthy things like pouring me glasses of red wine, handing me bowls of cottage cheese, chasing me out the door to get fresh air and exercise, and snatching that fifth cup of coffee from my hand.
I ask her not to bother. Frankly, I think the best thing I can do for humanity is peg out as soon as convenient, which I figure is somewhere around the time we send the boys off to college.
She disagrees, claiming that she wants me to stick around until I'm a hundred and ten or so.
I'm not all that keen on the idea. Despite the blonde's best efforts, I'm a physical wreck. Yeah, yeah, she tells me how strong, tall, and handsome I am, how youthful I look, how other women she knows can't believe I'm the old geezer my driver's license says I am. She's lying. It's a ploy. She's trying to trick me into thinking there's an upside to sticking around.
I'm telling you, I'm a mess and getting worse by the minute. There's an old Dick Van Dyke episode in which Rob sprains his entire body skiing, and that's how I feel every morning when I crawl out of bed.
That's after a good night's sleep. I feel worse at night.
Remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark after Indy rescues the ark from the speeding truck and he and Marian are on the boat on their way, they think, back home? Marian tries to kiss Indy and he yelps and tells her not to touch him there, it hurts. She tries to kiss him somewhere else and he yelps again. In exasperation she demands to know, "Goddamn it, Indy! Where doesn't it hurt?"
"Here," he says, pointing to his elbow.
That's me, on a good day.
If that's how I feel at a still vital mumble mumble, then what am I going to be like when I hit 65, or 85, nevermind 110?
I'll tell you. According to John Tierney I'm going to feel great!
I'll be fit as a fiddle and rarin' to play. I'll be racing my bike in 40k races and throwing discuses and hurling javelins and probably, although Tierney neglects to mention it, sprinting down the field to catch them myself.
Old age is going to be one long Iron Man competition that I'll finish barely winded and ready and eager to start all over again.
How I'm supposed to fit all this track and field gold-medal winning in while still putting in forty and fifty hours a week at the office, as Tierney says all the old folks should be doing, he forgets to explain.
The point is I'm going to be the picture of health and so I'd better be planning to chain myself to a desk until I finally just wither there, turn to dust, and blow away so that my job can be taken over by some punk kid of 75.
To plan to do something like retire and start collecting Social Security is in Tierney's mind a combination of welfare fraud and theft, taking candy from the hands of my baby grandchildren.
Americans now feel entitled to spend nearly a third of their adult lives in retirement. Their jobs are less physically demanding than their parents' were, but they're retiring younger and typically start collecting Social Security by age 62. Most could keep working - fewer than 10 percent of people 65 to 75 are in poor health - but, like Bartleby the Scrivener, they prefer not to.
The problem isn't that Americans have gotten intrinsically lazier. They're just responding to a wonderfully intentioned system that in practice promotes greed and sloth. Social Security is widely thought of as a kumbaya program that unites Americans in caring for the elderly, but it actually creates ugly political battles among generations.
With the help of groups like AARP, the elderly have learned to fight for the right to retire earlier and get bigger benefits than the previous generation - all financed by making succeeding generations pay higher taxes than they ever did themselves.
The result is a system that burdens the young and creates perverse incentives for people to retire when they're still middle-aged.
Sixty-two is middle-aged, according to Tierney. People routinely live to be 124 now, you know. Which is why we should all put off retiring until we're at least 95, I guess.
Tierney of course has a sinecure job and reasonably expects to be doddering into the Times' offices when he's 92 to type out a few hundred words on whatever liberal outrage has outraged him that day, which, I hope, is that he had to wait for 20 minutes at the eye doctor's because the place was full of poor people getting their children glasses paid for by universal health insurance. "Don't these over-indulgent parents know it's good for kids to squint? Builds character and keeps them from looking at video games!"
He's safe because he's a conservative. If he was a liberal and wrote as badly and as stupidly as he does he'd have already cleared out his desk at the Times, and then because he is no spring chicken he'd be having his resume torn up by head hunters all across the land because no employers want to take a flyer on a gray-haired old poop like him when they can hire a twenty-two year old for a third of the salary.
Tierney apparently can't be bothered to find out why people have been retiring earlier. So it seems he's never heard of age-ism. He's never heard about downsizing and workers in their 50s who've had their jobs eliminated trying desperately to find new ones and being told, sorry, you're too old enough times that they finally just decide, the heck with it, we're accepting we're unemployed but we're calling it early retirement to save our pride.
He's never heard of contract buy outs that have encouraged older workers to take early retirement, something they are willing to do because of something else Tierney's never heard about, good pension plans that include health care benefits. By the time he does hear about this phenomenon it'll be like hearing about the days when working class wives didn't have to work because their husbands made enough money that they could support the family on a single salary.
I suspect that very few people at United Airlines outside of the executive suite will be taking the second kind of early retirement, while a whole lot will be settling for the first.
He knows that some people retire early to start second careers, the only situation where he doesn't completely begrudge an older worker his or her retirement. But it doesn't look as though he's factored them into his argument. And he doesn't mention the fact that one of the ways the country entices workers to take stressful, dangerous, and otherwise unappealing jobs that do not pay what they're worth is by offering the possibility of a secure early retirement. A lot of people become cops, teachers, nurses, and firefighters and join the military because they know they can do 20 and out.
Most of them take on second careers, often at higher salaries, increasing their contributions to Social Security, but they still show up in any count of early retirements and in Tierney's opinionizing as goldbricks and spongers.
But Tierney doesn't mention them because of something else he hasn't heard about, that most people in the United States do not work in offices and that many of those who do aren't over-paid columnists for over-rated newspapers. They don't sell stock, settle lawsuits, or make multi-million dollar deals before lunch either.
They push brooms and fetch coffee and fix boilers and wash windows.
In Tierney's America of Golden and Healthy old ages, nobody's spent their working lives digging coal, unloading cargo ships, driving trucks across country and going three days without sleep, or stood behind cash registers for eight hours a day or plowed fields or picked grapes or dug ditches or sat out on a bare girder three hundred feet above the ground to drive rivets.
He hasn't heard that people who do these jobs for 20, 30, and 40 years eventually just wear out.
Of course I'm not surprised that Tierney hasn't heard of these people. Sometimes it doesn't seem that Democrats have heard of them.
But mainly and most amazingly what Tierney hasn't ever encountered is normal old age.
His septugenarian Olympians aren't regular folks, as Jesse Taylor explains.
Tierney marvels at:
Men in their 70's raced on bikes for 40 kilometers in this month's National Senior Games in Pittsburgh. A 68-year-old woman threw the discus 85 feet, and a 69-year-old man hurled the javelin nearly half the length of a football field.
And Jesse, who is a very long way from 70 yet, says:
Yeah, and a 22-year-old can run a 4.3 40, a 20-year-old can jump high enough to hit his crotch on the rim, and a 21-year-old can hurl a softball fast enough to break bones. You know what relevance any of this has to your average early 20-something?
Jesse takes Tierney's whole column apart like a whitefish, dealing with another underlying assumption, which is that Social Security is and ought to be just a form of welfare, there so that the unluckiest old people don't starve to death on the streets.
What fascinates me is the growing consensus among compassionate conservatives that illness and old age can be willed away through gumption. Pull away the years, and the tumors, by your very bootstraps, slaves!
Roy takes on Tierney in passing. What's really boiling his brisket is how more and more of the cost of health care is being borne by working people and that as that happens the best and most affordable health care plan anyone will have is the simplest one: Don't get sick.
Roy sighs resignedly, if a resigned sigh can be sarcasitc:
I suppose it's a bit much at this late date to hope for a revival of those Cadillac healthcare plans of my youth, where you showed a card and the doctors took care of you for practically nothing -- just as it's a little late to dream of job security, an ever-increasing standard of living, etc. What was the name of that country where we had all that, anyone remember?
None of this enters Tierney's thinking. Old age is an out of date concept, as far as he's concerned. Lost jobs, a declining economy, disappearing pensions and miserly health care benefits? Don't bother him with details. If we all just got over the idea that we have some right to retire and live out our old age in relative security and comfort, why then there'd be no Social Security crisis at all. As long as nobody ever needs it, the funds will last forever. Meanwhile, who wants to run some laps?
(Update: Maha has an excellent post on the topic, making the case that conservatives pushing for raising the retirement age are really trying to protect employers from having to pay their workers more. Thanks to Greg for the tip.
It used to be that one of the most insufferable qualities of conservatives was their smug certainty that life had ordered itself in exactly the way it should have, which only incidentally meant that they had all the money, power, and security.
"Whatever is, is right," they would say, waving away all complaints that life was unfair. Unfairness was, so unfairness was right.
But these days conservatives like Tierney have a variation on the theme. It's not whatever is, is right.
It's "Whatever we think ought to be is, and whatever that is is, is right."