The geriatric twilight zone

Someone’s got it all wrong. According to the Administration on Aging, our nation is getting older. In 2014, those of us 65 and older represented 14 percent of the population, but by 2040, we’ll beef up our numbers to 21 percent. Heaven forbid I should ever disagree with the government, but someone is just not paying attention. They don’t see what I see. Everywhere I go, I’m surrounded by children.

Something viral crawled up my nose last year and seemed to object to my breathing correctly so I asked Doc Prab to recommend a nasal doctor. I told him that I didn’t need the entire ear, eye, nose and throat regime, just concentrate on my right nostril. He recommended a guy who’s attached to the Memorial Clinic at Passavant East and I showed up for my appointment. I wasn’t sure if they were a genuine medical clinic since they only asked me my birthdate once, but I’d already parked my car and decided to stay. A cute little gal came in to check my weight (a vital part of any nose work), then asked me questions running the gamut from my eating habits to whether or not I tend to fall down a lot. Although these inquiries seemed to be straying further and further away from my nasal passages I tried to be polite and tell her that no, I tend to remain upright on most days. I didn’t ask her birthdate, but I’m sure she was no older than 17. She told me to wait (What else could I do?) and the doctor would be right in. Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw but it seems that in recent years, the time spent waiting in waiting rooms has lessened. I’m sure that it has more to do with the financial bottom line than patient comfort, and in a matter of minutes the doctor came blowing into the examining room. I use the term “doctor” with some hesitation because I’m still not sure. When did they start giving medical degrees to 14-year-olds? This guy was just a kid! Okay, he was a nice kid and he seemed to be a smart kid, and he was certainly a well-dressed kid, but he was a youngster! There’s no way this guy could have made it through 13 years of public education, four years of college, then God-knows-how-many years of Nose Doctor School. I thought he’d come in to collect the trash.

The young lad prescribed some nasal spray, told me I didn’t need surgery, and I was out the door. (Sidebar: the Memorial Clinic has the funniest elevator in Jacksonville. The elevator buttons have only two floors, Ground and One, but a tiny voice inside the car announces where you’ve landed. Duh. Like you have a choice.) As I exited the building, I noticed that all the reception stations were manned by what looked like jr. high girls.

The next day, I traveled to a county in Northern Illinois to conduct their opening day teachers’ workshop. My GPS told me I’d found the right building, but when I walked in the door I thought that I’d come a day late. School seemed to already be in session for every seat was filled with high school kids. Wrong. These were the teachers. No way. Absolutely no way! I’d taught for over forty years and I knew what a teacher looked like. These were kids! I’d seen this on an old episode of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” Aliens had landed in a small town in George and abducted everyone over 50 years of age so that the town was run by kids with a southern drawl. This group of young educators sitting before me that day didn’t have southern accents and there were no indentations left by flying saucers in the schoolyard, but I knew that something very strange was happening.

I went for coffee at The Soap Company Coffee Shop last week and my order was taken by a fourth-grader, the girl in the drive-up window of First National’s Morton Avenue facility couldn’t have been more than 12, the checkout girls at County Market could barely see over the counter and the kid who changed my oil could practically walk under my car without ducking. Rod Serling had been prophetic … someone is abducting us at an alarming rate and no one seems to notice!

Several years ago, I traveled with a group of youngsters from Paris, France, to Lucerne, Switzerland. Our tour guide was just two drops short of worthless so the narration and navigation were pretty much up to the bus driver and me. In the far distance I saw a series of hills rising up out of the eastern horizon, so I instructed my kids to get out their cameras. “We’re approaching the Alps!” I said in my finest faux know-it-all voice. An hour later we drove right past my “Alps,” a small series of hills the size of which you’d find around Chandlerville. Greg, one of my students, smiled and said, “I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, Mr. Bradbury.” Yeah, I guess it is.

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