“I was so mortified!” were the exact words of my friend L upon describing how it felt to receive a AARP membership offer in the mail on the eve of her 50th birthday. For you foreign readers out there, AARP stands for American Association of Retired People and everyone in America can be sure of one more thing, besides death and taxes, and it’s that half century reminder in the mail box. A wake up call that it’s time to think about getting old.
Although I have a few years until my name is called, I vowed to find out what $16 a year buys you in your old age. The first flaw lies in the name – Dr. Ethel Percy, who founded AARP in the late ‘50s, must have been extremely optimistic in calling it an Association for Retired People because, aside from Bill Gates, I don’t know of many other folks who will be retiring at 50 or anywhere near it.
The official website is a sad affair populated by photos of older people looking intent on having fun: a woman in a somewhat skimpy dress lying on a day bed, a couple with silver hair adoringly gazing into each other’s eyes and, my personal favourite, a large dude clad in black leather astride a black Harley. The lead article under “Relationships” was “Do you think you are sexy?” – a long expose on how libido takes a dive once you reach 50 (worse for women than men), packed with statistics and other depressing factoids that prevented me from reading past the first three paragraphs. I didn’t have the heart to scroll down to look for a Viagra ad buried there somewhere.
To entice newly minted 50 year olds to shell out those $16 a year, there was the alluring gift of a black fake leather travel kit, one of those seen around the necks of many an American tourist, filled with credit cards, travel maps and other necessities for the traveller who moves around in packs. Among the benefits of a membership are discounted insurance (health, home, car and whatever else), travel tips we couldn’t get from Rick Stevens and a bi-monthly magazine with reassuring facts on our sex life. And a voice in Washington. Bingo! AARP, with 40 million adherents, is the single most powerful lobby in Washington. What they advocate for, to make our old age better, I chose not to find out yet. The dude on the black Harley was depressing enough. I merrily clicked on “close” rejoicing that I still have a few years before I get to wear skimpy dresses while lounging on a day bed.