Taunting the Elderly
At first, it was just for laughs. Get old man Saunders to believe the Japanese were invading the Stop'N'Shop, or watch Billy's grandmother break into tears after being informed that Laurence Welk had hired a latino boy to taser his testacles once a week in his waning years. That was before it became my mission, though, before my heart was in it. Things have changed, however, and it is now my life's work to taunt the elderly.
It was "Matlock" that pushed me over the edge, I think. "Matlock," unlike "The Golden Girls" or "Diagnosis: Murder," had a rabid fan base of cocooned senior citizens who set their dialysis schedule to the local CBS affiliate's offerings. They were the vericose veins on the target demographic, and they launched a successful letter-writing campaign that kept "Matlock" from a deserved cancellation three years running. They grew up with Andy Griffith, goddamnit, and they were gonna die with him, too. When the show finally withered on the vine, those who were still ambulatory managed to keep "Touched By An Angel" in the top ten in the Neilsen ratings for four years.
"We have a voice, and we're not afraid to use it!" shouted the withered, distantly feminine Q-Tip at a local reporter from Channel 7 upon hearing the news of their latest victory, a successful campaign to keep "Judging Amy" from the garbage heap. It is widely believed that the attraction for this show among these crusty senior citizens is due to cast member Tyne Daly, a fossil somehow preserved from the "Cagney & Lacy" era of television. "We deserve shows too!"
The reporter was repulsed by the ointment on the fingers of the swarming throng of elderly rioters that surrounded her but tried to hide it on camera. I stared transfixed at my TV screen, wondering how these seemingly benign creatures from the Home had become so incredibly angry. Was my Gammy out there somewhere, too, cock-punching a cop while screaming at TV executives, "We will be heard, you better not be unfairly Judging Amy!" The more I thought of it, the more confused I got; why aren't these folks spending their last days peacefully listening to their Tommy Dorsey Orchestra records and doing the thorazine shuffle?
And that's when it hit me all too clearly! These were not the kindly elder statesmen that filled our hospices and oxygen tents in the 70's or even the 80's. Those emaciated skin puppets had reached puberty in the 20's and 30's, and so their formative years were spent in an age of blissful ignorance wracked by financial catastrophe. Those senior citizens had been fucked over in their prime and so were humbled and dried out, victims of their own history. They'd had their asses handed to them too many times to get sassy. By the time they reached Happy Hills Retirement Home, they were just happy to have the TV in the rec room.
The elderly of today don't feel so grateful, and so we stuff them into crowded hospices like sausage casings so we don't have to hear them bitch about the temperature or what brand of mustard they demand to put on their eggs. Unlike their parents, this generation of shipwrecks grew up in the late 40's and 50's and so they feel entitled. They lived the "Happy Days," the boom years, post World War II, the dawn of Elvis and Rock 'n' Roll. Grampy wasn't "doing the Charelston," he was doing the slow girl in Science class while Chuck Berry was singing "My Ding-A-Ling" on the Chevy speakers. This generation of senior citizens has blood on its hands.
"Don't you tell ME about rock'n'roll" my grandfather would scream whenever my mom made the mistake of mentioning the King. "I know more about rock'n'roll than you'll ever know. I knew Elvis Presley when he was still bonking the Miller girl up there by Thompson's Creek... damn near pounded her into sand by the end of the summer. He ran off and got famous, and she was so bent-up from the bonking that she ended up tying her shoes with her teeth! So don't you try to tell ME about rock'n'roll..."
And that, for those of you hoping to understand why today's codger is such an asshole, is the root of the problem. You see, today's octogenarians now realize that they never experienced the Golden Age of rock in America, that they only saw it in its beginning stages. They never saw what rock would do to society and its views on things like sex and drugs. You are only young once, and they just barely missed the party. The Beatles and the Stones came on the scene when these folks were in their thirties and were supposed to be settling down, so today's silver-haired society has had a bug up its ass ever since. By the time the baby boomers turned on and dropped out in the latter part of the 60's, today's elderly could only sit and bitch on the dock as the party boat sailed on by. Unless Grammy was the town fuck-up, the 60's found her with three or four kids, a mortgage, and a hard-on for Pat Boone. She had missed the orgy at Woodstock, and had to settle for the mall appearance of the Carpenters. Grandpa watched helplessly as high school girls all over the country gave up their virginity as easily as he had once given up chocolate for Lent. Grandpa probably never forgave Grandma for boxing him in, and both of them grew to hate the flower children for reaping what they had sown a decade earlier.
They fought back the only way they knew how: they cut their hair, sent troops to Vietnam, voted for Nixon, and made "Hee Haw" one of the most popular shows on TV. And now, their bony, liver spotted hands simply won't let go. We've tried to pull the plug on them but they won't stop watching the fucking TV, demanding that someone spoon-feed them Dick Van Dyke and Chuck Norris. Chuck, the white guy who couldn't hold Bruce Lee's toilet paper, is suddenly a Texas Ranger fighting for the little guy. This is not a blow for decent programming, it is their final death rattle. Bruce's corpse would be more believable than Chuck Norris, but a steady stream of letters of support for his show pour out of the nursing home even as I write this, like an opened artery bleeding all over the good taste of American TV. Grammy and Grampy won't die off without gurgling loud enough for the whole house to hear.
This is why I've turned pro. I don't look to bait them, because I only want the bitter ones. And when I find them, stooped over a card table playing Parcheesi and drinking plum juice, I don't have to bait them. All I have to do is turn the heat down a little bit at the community center, or change the brand of pickles in their refrigerator, or mention how Madonna is a great role model for Christian youth. They practically fall out of their blanket-lined wheelchairs to tell me about the days when people had some goddamned respect. This is the flag they raise, and I hurry to salute. I smile at their stories, and I "yes" them into a false sense of complacency. "So, did you hear that Chuck Norris is playing the lead in Torch Song Trilogy?" I'd inquire, casually fluffing up their pillows. "I hear he's doing the whole play dressed in nothing but a diaper made out of the American flag..."
I do my part, but I can't do it all alone. Something must be done, because today's elderly have jumped off the dock and swum to the boat. We need to address this vocal seniority before they ruin TV forever. Scrape 'em off! Barnacles don't let go of the ship either, but no captain with any pride left is going to allow them to stay on the hull before setting out to sea. The elderly of today refuse to let the cruise end even as they try desperately to change it; they want the deckhands to dance for them while they cling to the rudder. It's time to get the musket and put Old Yeller out of our misery.
About the author:
The only thing Mr. Walsh likes more than writing inappropriate material is speaking of himself in the third person. Mr. Walsh recently completed his first book, Catholescence, a humorous memoir of growing up in a large Irish Catholic family. He is currently working on another book, a collection of his short stories, and a screenplay. He is currently fending off repeated requests from his mother-in-law for grandchildren by pointing at his dogs and saying, "There they are."