Age Well Senior Services

‘Growing Old Isn’t For Sissies’

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Back in the early 1960’s, before Mrs. McD and I were married, we were both employed at a large defense-oriented firm in Northern California. The staff was a well-educated crew that tended to be very young and had vibrant social lives.  They worked hard but they also partied, they enjoyed good food and good wine, they played golf, they skied, they traveled, and on autumn Saturdays they tailgated before (and sometimes during) home football games at nearby Stanford University where many of them had studied. 

After leaving the organization, Mrs. McD and I lost touch with all but a very few of them. Amanda Vaill once wrote a book about the lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s expatriate friends, Gerald and Sara Murphy, which she entitled “Everybody Was So Young.” And that title captures the visual memory I had over the years of our former colleagues.

Then, decades later, in the 1990’s, we attended the retirement party of one of them.  We walked in the door of the restaurant, full of excitement, and were stunned.  There were probably four dozen people there, all of whom we knew, but many we could not recognize.  Gone were the full heads of hair and polished facial features.  We noticed a few canes and walkers in the crowd, and Mrs. McD’s old boss, who was otherwise quite lucid and engaging, had had a stroke and couldn’t remember her.

Well what did we expect? That time would stand still for thirty years just so we could, for a few hours, relive our days as twenty-somethings?

This past weekend Mrs. McD and I saw “Quartet,” a thoroughly enjoyable British film about aging and the aged.  (Films about old people, particularly those starring Maggie Smith, seem to be a growth industry in Great Britain these days.) The main characters in “Quartet” — Wilf, Reggie, Jean, and Cissy — are all retired operatic vocalists, quite famous in their day, who live in the Beecham Home for Retired Musicians. Their attitudes towards aging differ sharply.

“I hate growing old,” Wilf says.  “Hate every bloody minute of it.”

“I’m not like you, Wilf.” Reggie says. “I positively liked getting old ,,, I’ve made the transition from opera star to old fogy with aplomb.”

Like Wilf, Jean, a retired world-famous diva and Reggie’s ex-wife, is being dragged kicking and screaming into her advanced years.  “I don’t like it all,” she complains.

But growing old is what people do, she is told. That fails to mollify her.

“You still have your future,” Cissy tells her.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of it — there just isn’t,” Jean replies.  “It’s all been.”

I know a very successful stage and film actor, now 70 years old and still quite active and in superb physical condition, who acknowledged he went through a period of denial about aging. “I went down and applied for Medicare today,” he told a group of us about five years ago.  “Me? Medicare? Awful.  Just awful.”

Another time he said he couldn’t understand why, some years earlier, his agent kept sending him up to L.A. for auditions and when he got there, he found himself competing for roles with, in his words, “a bunch of old guys.” Then at one of those auditions he went on a bathroom break, and while washing his hands he got a good look at his visage in the mirror. A sudden epiphany swept over him.  His agent was sending him there for these parts because in fact he had become one of the “old guys.”

It’s easy to tell if you have become old. Young female checkout clerks start calling you “Honey,” and asking if you need help getting that tube of toothpaste you just bought out to your car. You purchase wine and the guy behind the counter, thinking he is sooooo funny, says, “Are you sure you’re old enough to buy this?” Words like “cataract” and “prostate” enter your vocabulary. And, sadly, you begin to lose good friends. By the time you have experienced about a half dozen of these events, denial goes out the window, and you come to realize that you are, undeniably and unalterably, old. It’s as if you expect your official geezer decoder ring to arrive in the mail any day.

But as Reggie suggests to Wilf in “Quartet,” old age isn’t a terminus. It’s just a natural part of the journey that you can enjoy if you have some luck and play your cards right. We live among 18,000 retired people, and just as we weren’t all born with an equal amount of talents and abilities, neither do we all enter retirement with an equal amount of physical and mental tools.  Because of illness, injury or age, not all of our original equipment, including our minds, functions the way we’d like it to.

The more fortunate among us are able to create our own retirement regimen without the help of a recreation director for the superannuated. People write, they paint, they volunteer, they play golf and tennis, they act and sing and dance, they work as extras in movies and TV, they happily play the role of doting grandparent — the list goes on. But  some are able to do few of these things. They suffer from a variety of physical ailments or, Like Cissy in “Quartet,” they are in some stage of dementia.

Some, sadly, define themselves by what they can no longer do. But many more, including many with notable disabilities, define themselves not only by what they can still do, but by what new horizons they still plan to conquer. Their motto seems to be what Bette Davis once said: “Growing old isn’t for sissies.”

Several years ago when I first began this blog I interviewed a group of buddies who have lunch several times a week at Age Well’s congregate meal at the Sylvester Center. As they ate they made plans for a bunch of things they were going to do that week.

“You guys are pretty busy,” I said.

“Young man,” one of them replied (I was seventy-four at the time), “once you start sitting in your chair and staring out the window, it’s all over for you.”

Aging, journalist Regina Brett once said, is all a matter of perspective. “After having breast cancer at 41, “ she wrote when she turned fifty, “I’m thrilled to grow old.”

As that ubiquitous author Anonymous once wrote, “Growing old beats the alternative. Dying young only looks good in the movies.”


Coming up on the Age Well Calendar:


Friday February 22: 6th Annual Senior Summit Clubhouse 3, Laguna Woods Village, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Registration begins at 8 a.m. Complimentary breakfast and lunch. RSVP by February 15 to (800) 510-2020 or (714) 567-7500.

Saturday, March 2: “The Captain’s Ball 2013. Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.  Cocktail reception and Silent Auction begin at 6 p.m., followed by dinner, live auction and dancing.

Dipity Do!

Thursday, January 24th, 2013
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

“Serendipity,” Arnie said out of the blue with great enthusiasm.  At the time, he, Mrs. McD and I were sitting in our backyard reading the newspaper and sipping coffee, which we do several times a week.

Mrs. McD looked up, paused and finally asked, “Why did you say that?”

“It’s in this story.  I said it because I like saying it. Serendipity! Serendipity! Serendipity! Dipity! Dipity! Dipity do!”

“Arnie, sometimes you’re weird,” she said.

“Hang on,” I said.  “Don’t you like saying things just because they sound fun?”

“No,” she said.

“Well I do, so ignore her, Arnie.”

“Tell me one thing you like saying just for the fun of it,” Mrs. McD asked me.

I had to think about that for only about two seconds.  “I love the name of that Romanian gymnast, Oksana Baiul. Bye-oool Bye-oool. Bye-oool! Bye-oool sounds so cool!”

“You two are just classic cases of arrested development.  And anyway Bye-oool is Ukranian,  not Romanian, and she’s not a gymnast…”

“.… she’s an ice skater,” Arnie said with an abrupt interruption.

“Very good, Arnie!” Mrs. McD said with a sudden smile.

“Oh, don’t look so darned surprised. I got a few brain cells. I’m a very surreal person.”

“Surreal?” I said.

“I think he means cerebral,” Mrs. McD replied.

“And I do try to keep up on things.”

“How do you keep up, Arnie?” she asked.

“Well just for one itty bitty example, like this,” he said. 

He reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, which he then unfolded.  At the top it said, “Don’t Miss The 6th Annual South County Senior Summit.”

“I’m gonna be there,” he proclaimed.

Mrs. McD and I looked at it. The sub-headline read Dignity, Safety, and Independence: Educating Older Adults and Honoring Veterans. “Look at who’s involved,” I said.  “Supervisor Pat Bates, Marilyn Ditty from Age Well, Tony Rackauckas, the District Attorney, and a bunch more.”

“Yeah, that last name bothers me,” Arnie said, with a dark look coming across his face.

“Tony Rackauckas? Why?”

“I don’t know if I should tell you, but last year I got called for jury duty, parked in the wrong place two days in a row and got two tickets. “


“And I never paid them.  I’m afraid the DA will nab me.”

We both laughed.  “Get serious, Arnie,” Mrs. McD said.  Mr. Rackauckas doesn’t run around the county with a list of parking scofflaws in his pocket.”

“You sure?”

“Very sure.”

After a bit Arnie and Mrs. McD went back to their newspapers, but I kept reading the flyer. The variety of the speakers’ backgrounds was impressive. Then I got to the bottom.

“Aha!” I shouted.  

“Aha what?” Mrs. McD said.

“I know why Arnie is going.  Look here.  ‘Complimentary breakfast and lunch.’”

Arnie got a sheepish grin on his face.   “Okay, ya got me.   I figured I’d show up for breakfast, listen for a while to the first speaker or two, then sneak out for nine holes of golf, and get back in time for lunch.”

“You’ll do no such thing, Mr. Arnold,” Mrs. McD said.  “You’re going to sit between Riley and me, and if you get up to leave, I’ll scream, ‘Stop that man! He took my purse!’ With the DA in the room, you won’t get halfway to the door.”

Arnie looked at her in disbelief.  “Would she really do that?” he asked me.

“You bet your Buster Brown Big Boy Boots she would.”

Arnie was crushed. “Dang!” he said at last.

6th Annual Senior Summit
Hosted by Orange County Supervisor Patricia C. Bates
Orange County Office On Aging 
Age Well Senior Services
Laguna Woods Village
Dignity, Safety, and Independence: Educating Older Adults and Honoring Veterans

Who Attends:

Seniors attend the summit. Professionals in the field are there as vendors. During the breaks seniors can visit their booths.

What to Expect:
Quality information on hot senior issues and topics.
An update on the county’s involvement in senior issues from Supervisor Bates.
The opportunity to talk with professionals in the field.

When & Where: February 22, 2013 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Registration begins at 8 a.m.
Clubhouse 3 in Laguna Woods Village 23822 Avenida Sevilla
Enter Gate 3 Off Moulton Parkway between El Toro and Glenwood

Complimentary Breakfast & Lunch
Door prizes, free admission.
RSVP by 2/15/13
(800) 510-2020 or (714) 567-7500

When the Words Aren’t Exactly What You Mean

Monday, January 7th, 2013
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Mrs. McD is a big fan of what is known as “found humor,” funny sayings that really aren’t intended to be funny. Such was the sign she read about that a college professor posted on his classroom door when he had to move his lecture to another location:  “Deviant Behavior will take place in room 215 today.”

Richard Benson is a Brit with a most engaging wit who appears to be making a career out of collecting found humor. He has published a number of small books ( about answers students have given on tests — all of them clearly wrong answers.  His most recent collection is entitled F For Effort  —  More of the Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers.

Some of the answers, however wrong, appear to be the students’ attempts to give what they honestly believe is the right answer.  For example:

Q. What are lobsters, crabs and crayfish all classified as?

A. They are all crushed Asians.

Q. How cold is it at the North Pole?

A  So cold that the people that live there have to live somewhere else.

Q. Name two plays by Shakespeare.

A. Romeo and Juliet.

Then there are actually some really intelligent wrong answers. These are given by people who are certain they don’t know the correct answer so they might as well have a little fun with their response.  For example:

Q. Where is Chicago?

A. Right now they’re in fifth place.

Q. What was the age of Pericles?

A. I think he was about forty.

Q. What people live in the Po Valley?

A. Po’ people.

One can discover found humor on billboards, in newspapers and magazines — even in the spoken word.  Years ago we had a co-worker at a large organization in Northern California who, call after call, answered her phone by saying. “This is Sue James. Can I help you?” Every call that is until one day, when a bunch of us were standing around her desk distracting her, and she answered, “Sue James.  Can you help me?”

Such bloopers aren’t limited to mere amateurs. The Modesto (CA) Radio Museum has a wonderful collection of them from live TV and radio, such as:

At the opening of a show: “And now, Lawrence Welk and his shampoo music.”

Police dispatcher to all cars: “Suspect has blue hair and blonde eyes”.

Anonymous announcer: “Don’t forget, tonight at nine, our special guest… because it is.. .will be.. I forgot.”

The site (( also has some delightful audio of a dozen or so bloopers, including a hilarious new one of Anderson Cooper cracking up on the air.  Unfortunately it’s too long to repeat and, to be honest, probably not appropriate for a family-oriented blog.

One of the most famous radio bloopers of the 20th century was when the famous announcer, Harry Von Zell, announced, “The next voice you hear will be that of our new President, Hoobert Heever.” Funny, right?  Except that according to the famous myth-debunking web site,, it didn’t really happen.  Von Zell said the words alright, but not at a live broadcast of a Presidential speech. According to Snopes   , an enterprising fellow named Kermit Schafer recreated the verbiage on a record that became a hit, and has caused thousands of people to proclaim that not only did it happen, they heard it live.

Two of my favorites come from the days of live network TV commercials. So the story goes, an announcer who was proclaiming the virtues of a particular refrigerator reached for the handle to open it up so he could brag about its spacious interior. Only the darn thing wouldn’t open. He tugged more, eventually so hard that the entire unit moved.  Still no luck. In the background, a frantic voice could be heard screaming, “Fade to black! Fade to black!”

Then there was the announcer who was promoting a cigarette on live TV by inhaling slowly, and then exhaling with apparent pleasure. Finally, after one super ecstatic exhale, he looked at the cigarette in his hand, smiled, and said slowly, “Man that’s coffee.”

Finally, let me close with two of my favorites from F for Effort.

Q. Define germination.

A. To become a German citizen.

… and ,,,

Q. How do you keep wine from turning into vinegar?

A. Drink it.

Join the Next Meal Club Today!

Meals on Wheels from Age Well Senior Services provides seniors with three (3) nutritious meals per day. Thanks to volunteer delivery, central kitchen efficiencies and other subsidies, each dollar you donate provides one full meal.

It’s winter, and even in Southern California the livin’ isn’t easy for everyone. Donating to  Meals on Wheels is a piece of cake — pun fully intended.  Just go to

Thank you!

Besse Cooper: 42,000 Sunrises

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
By Riley McDavid Riley McDavid

A lot happened in 1896. After a hiatus of more than 1,500 years, the Olympics were reborn in Athens. Thousands of sourdoughs, their minds filled with dreams of riches, made their way to Alaska when gold was discovered in the Klondike. In Turin, Italy Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme, one of the most performed operas of all time, premiered at Teatro Regio.

But for Richard Brown and his wife Angeline of Sullivan County Tennessee, the big news was the birth of their daughter Besse Berry Brown on August 26.  She would go on to become the oldest known living person in the world in 2011 and the last known survivor among all of those born in 1896. On December 4 of this year, at the age of 116, Besse died quietly in her bed at a Monroe, Ga. nursing home about an hour’s drive from Atlanta.

I don’t think any of Besse’s survivors nor Besse herself, were she still alive, would object if I said she wasn’t just another sweet old lady. Sidney Cooper, 77, said his mother was a strong, determined woman who, like the school teacher she was, could be a disciplinarian. She was fair and honest, he said, but “when she said something needed to be done, you’d better do it…she was very intelligent,” Sidney Cooper said. “She loved to read.”

Besse graduated from East Tennessee State Normal School in Johnson City — now East Tennessee State University — in 1916. Soon after, she got a teaching job earning $35 a month. When she heard from a friend she could make more in Georgia, she headed off to Monroe for a salary twice what she had been making in Tennessee.

The Associated Press referred to her as “a retired Georgia school teacher with a passion for politics,” and that passion exhibited itself early. CNN reported she joined the suffrage movement when she was 24, speaking about the importance of having a voice in politics and registering women to vote. After the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, she never missed a chance to cast her ballot — except twice, in 2012 and in 1948, when she and her husband believed Thomas Dewey would easily win.

In 1924 she married Luther Harris Cooper and over the years they had four children — Angeline, Luther H, Jr., Sidney and Nancy, all of whom are alive today. She outlived her husband, who died in 1963, by 49 years.

Besse Cooper’s life reads like a timeline of modern history. She was ten the great earthquake destroyed most of San Francisco, fourteen when World War I erupted, twenty-three when Tsar Nicholas was deposed, and thirty-one when The Jazz Singer, the first talkie, premiered.

When she was thirty-five engineers broke ground on construction of the Empire State Building, just fifty on D-Day when Allied troops landed on Normandy, sixty when  Bill Haley and the Comets introduced Rock Around the Clock.

At sixty-five she read in the newspapers that Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash. She was seventy-four when the Boeing 747 took its maiden flight, ninety-eight when apartheid ended in South Africa, one-hundred-one when Princess Diana died, and one-hundred-five when Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Somewhere in the last week I read or possibly heard on the airwaves that Besse for a time drove a Model T. She never had a driver’s license, however, because back in those days there was no such thing as a driver’s license.

Time NewsFeed quoted Sidney Cooper as saying that his mother cherished her 80s most out of the nearly twelve decades she lived. He said she loved to garden, watch the news on TV and read — despite her declining eyesight. When asked for her secret to a long life, Cooper told the Guinness website earlier this year: “I mind my own business. And I don’t eat junk food.”

Early in 2012, when Walton County began construction of a bridge on a main thoroughfare, there was a movement to name the finished span after Besse. On August 24, 2012, just two days before her 116th birthday, the bridge was dedicated before a gathering of elected officials, her children and citizens. A sign at either end reads: “In Honor of Besse Brown Cooper. The Oldest Person in the World.”

“Maybe we can do this again next year when she turns 117,” one of the officials said.

(You can see the dedication on YouTube, and although Besse herself is not present, three of her four children are.

Just a little over three months later, Besse Cooper died. “She looked real good when she passed away,” Sidney Cooper told Reuters, saying his mother died quietly and without suffering. “She got up this morning, had a big old breakfast and got her hair fixed,” he said. “It’s just like she got up planning to do it.”

Leaving a Paper Trail

Monday, December 3rd, 2012
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Death.  Okay, I just lost half of the small audience I had.  The remainder are realists.

Some people are obsessed with the subject — like Woody Allen, for example, whose humor is peppered with references to dying. “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, “ he once said. “I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

I am not so obsessed, but I am writing about death for two reasons. One is that a good golfing buddy of mine died recently. We had played eighteen holes together almost every Friday for the past eight or nine years. His passing was nothing sudden; he and we all knew it was coming. And two weeks ago our foursome — he and we — were together for the last time at his memorial service.

I was never the most prompt member of the group, and at least once every eight or nine weeks my cell would ring as I was driving into the golf course parking lot, and it would be my friend saying, “Hey!  Where are you?  We’re ready to go.”  I wish he had left those words on my voicemail.  I would keep them there forever.

That’s why death has been on my mind.  But the reason for this entry is because of the recent troubling experience of a good friend of mine, Bernie, which is not his real name. About a month ago he went to visit his very sick brother who was a widower.

“Would you take care of my stuff after I go?” his ailing brother asked him. “Stuff” seemed a little too generic for Bernie, but the man was seriously ill so Bernie readily agreed. He told me that, as tactfully as he could, he asked his brother where all the information was that he would need.

“In the den,” he replied.  “In the roll top desk and the filing cabinet.”

“What about the, ah, burial?”

“Cremation,” his brother said.  “It’s all arranged and paid for.”

Just a week later the man was dead, and after a short interval, Bernie screwed up the courage to go through his brother’s papers.

“Riley,” he told me later, “it was a mess.  There were a dozen bank CDs, but some were outdated.  There were insurance policies but no indication of which were still in force.  There were passbooks and two credit union accounts whose last transactions were in 2006, and there were some stock certificates.   Riley, who in blazes keeps stock certificates anymore?” And no, there was no list of assets that he could find. There was a two-sentence handwritten will, which turned out to be quite legal.

Bernie is doing his best to sort all this out, but I doubt that everything will ever be resolved.  “I know Mrs. McD is clued in to your finances, Riley, but you have kids too.  For crying out loud, leave some organized records.”

Actually I had already done that.  About ten years ago, after reading a magazine article on the subject, I created what I called Riley’s Contingency File on our mutual computer.  It contains things to do (e.g., cancel my cell phone account), people to notify (our broker, Social Security, etc.), a list of all assets and liabilities, income sources, locations of pink slips, burial wishes, It contains things to do (e.g., cancel my cell phone account), people to notify (our broker, Social Security, etc.), a list of all assets and liabilities, income sources, locations of pink slips, burial wishes, planned giving to charitable organizations like Age Well, the info all the nation’s newspapers, wire services, and TV networks, not to mentions TMZ, will be clamoring for to use in my obit, and so on and so on. the info all the nation’s newspapers, wire services, and TV networks, not to mentions TMZ, will be clamoring for to use in my obit, and so on and so on.

Some of the info changes regularly — CDs roll over, amounts of banking accounts rise or fall, stocks are sold — so I update it regularly and print out a new copy for Mrs. McD every three or four months. If you don’t have such a file, you should make one quickly.

Fortunately you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.   Some years ago Sue Nunn, who gives five-part Fiscal Fitness workshops at senior centers, created a contingency file template for her two grandmothers. Today’s version of that template is on our web site.  Go to, click on Senior Info, then click on Contingency Notebook.  That will pull up a nineteen-page fill-in-the-blanks document that you can complete. And do it soon, because you don’t want to leave your family in the lurch.

A huge note of caution: This is NOT a set-it-and-forget-it exercise.  Just as the lawn needs regular mowing and the carpets need regular vacuuming, your contingency file needs regular tweaking.  Each time you incur a new debt or pay off an old one, or when a CD rolls over, or when the bank that holds your home mortgage sells it to another institution, you need to update the contingency file and put on it quite prominently the date of the latest revision.

Woody also said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.” But everybody does of course, so make sure you’ve done what you can to spare your heirs the agony of trying to reconstruct the pieces of your life.

Invisible People

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

For those of you not old enough to remember, which is just about everyone under 60, Naked City was a popular television detective series that told the fictional story of police work in a Manhattan precinct. The show, which aired on ABC from 1958 to 1963, was shot entirely in New York, and each episode was structured as a documentary in order to achieve a gritty realism.

Among actors who got their start in New York at that time, Naked City remains legendary because the show’s celebrated casting director, the late Marion Dougherty, wouldn’t take just any performer for bit parts that had only a few lines. Instead she scoured the city’s small theaters and acting workshops to find richly talented performers who were just cutting their dramatic teeth. Thanks to her, Naked City was where we first got to see then-unknowns like Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Peter Falk, Martin Sheen, William Shatner and many others.

Among the viewing public — the viewing public of a certain age, that is — the series is mostly remembered for the iconic closing line the narrator uttered at the end of each episode: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.”

Think about that line next time you are riding the Metroliner to Los Angeles and looking at house after house just beyond the tracks.  Or when you are waiting in your car at a busy intersection and seeing dozens of anonymous people crossing the street.  Or when you are driving by a nondescript apartment building whose inhabitants are hidden from view.

When I was very young — maybe nine or ten — my friend Jerry and I were walking on the west side of Bangor, Maine, taking a circuitous route home after playing basketball at the Y.

“Can you help me?” a woman’s voice called out.

We looked up to the left and a lady was standing in the doorway of what could be described as, at the very best, a modest one-story triplex.  We asked if she was hurt or sick.

“No. My hall light has gone out and I can’t put a new one in.” Now kids that age can be a little suspicious of older strangers, and that we were.  Nevertheless we walked bravely up to the door and into the hall. She had a new bulb in her hand, and Jerry, who was a bit taller than I, climbed up on a chair, took the old bulb out and put the new one in.

She thanked us, and then asked about where we were going, and we told her. She wanted to know what school we attended, and we told her that too. Pretty soon we realized she didn’t want to let us go.   She desperately wanted company.  It turned out she lived alone and her only son was half a continent away in Kansas.

Eventually we pulled ourselves away but not before she had given us each an apple as recompense for helping her. Come back again, she said, but we never did.

There are indeed many stories behind the closed doors we pass in every city and town, and most of us don’t know but a tiny fraction of them.  I will tell you who does know them: our Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers.  Each one knows a dozen or more, and collectively they could write a book — many books.

They know people like the light bulb lady, elders whose spouses and friends have passed on and who need human contact as much as they need nutrition. They know people who are otherwise healthy but who can no longer drive and get to a supermarket for food. I met several of them once during a Meals delivery ride along.  Had it not been for Meals on Wheels, they would have been forced out of the emotionally comforting surroundings of their homes and into some kind of institutional setting. And mostly they know those who simply can’t afford sufficient nutritious food.

Statistics about this latter group are daunting. According to one recent study, 8.3 million seniors face the threat of hunger every day in America.  Every day.

And it’s true right here. 

“Orange County may be the land of plenty for some, but not everyone’s living the good life,” Age Well CEO Dr. Marilyn Ditty wrote in an op-ed. “It’s especially true for thousands of homebound senior citizens who depend on Meals on Wheels for their survival.”

You can help by joining The Next Meal Club.

“The what?” you ask.

That was the reaction Mrs. McD and I had when our good friend Arnie first told us about it.

“Ain’t you two never heard of that old saying, ‘I don’t know where my next meal is coming from?” he explained. “Well there’s tons of seniors right here in this county who actually don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  So Age Well has created the Next Meal Club so its Meals on Wheels program can help feed people who are in that kind of pickle.”

“How does it work?” Mrs. McD asked

“You send a donation to Age Well Senior Services,” Arnie said.  “Since people have to eat every day, ideally the donation is a recurring one — so much every month, for example. “

Send a check to Age Well at 24300 El Toro Road, Suite A-2000. Laguna Woods, CA 92637. Or go online to and donate using a credit card. If you have questions, call (949) 855-8033.

Think about the big numbers for a bit — the 8.3 million seniors facing hunger every day and the nearly half-million meals Age Well provides every year. But mostly think about the smallest number — one.  Bring an invisible recipient to life by drawing a mental image of someone you’ve known who has struggled to get enough nutritious food. And make your donation today.

“In a nation and county as great as ours, Dr. Ditty wrote, “no one should be going hungry.”

White Knuckles

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

“How old were you the first time you flew?” Mrs. McD asked me. At the time we were riding along the 405 on our way to Long Beach Airport.

“Sixteen,” I said.

“Were you scared?”

“Only when we started to take off.” The plane, I explained, was a single-engine four-seater owned by two acquaintances.  They heard that a high school friend and I were going from Bangor, Maine to Boston, and because they needed some flying time, they said they would fly us there for ten bucks each.  (Those were different economic times.  A gallon of gas for a car cost nineteen cents, and a brand new single-engine four-seater set you back only about $4,000, about the price of a mid-level Cadillac at the time.)

Anyway we took off from a small airport in Brewer, Maine, just across the Penobscot River from Bangor.  As we taxied out, I expected to see a sleek asphalt runway, but no way.   It was composed of loose gravel and small rocks, and as we gained speed the little craft shook and bounced all over.  We finally took off and after that everything was fine.

These days I am a white-knuckle flyer.  It’s not because I am nervous.  It’s because ever since a particularly harrowing incident about ten years ago Mrs. McD has insisted on grabbing my hand just as we begin hurtling down the runway and squeezing it until the blood has run out of my knuckles and all my fingers are a ghostly white.

The incident in question was a flight we took from Walla Walla in eastern Washington to Portland, Oregon after visiting our daughter and her family. At the time the Walla Walla airport was so small that the young lady who checked us in later put on a different hat, ran around to a different counter and became the security person who screened us before we boarded. 

“How small was the airport?” (To steal a line from Jay Leno.)

So small that my daughter told us of how a young mom, whose husband flew on short hops several times a month, found out when his plane would be landing.  She didn’t call the airline or check online.  She waited until she heard the sound of the engine, and then hopped in the car and went to pick him up.

Small airports tend to be served by small aircraft. Our flight from Walla Walla was in a turboprop called a Metro. Unlike the huge craft that would take us from Portland to California, the Metro was a tiny thing that seated only about 18 or 19. It was so small that it had only one seat on either side of the aisle, and passengers had to stoop to walk to their seat.  All but one, that is.  An extremely short young lady walked fully erect to the rear of the plane, then turned, smiled at the rest of us as we struggled down, and said, “Welcome to my world.” According to Wikipedia, the Metro was the stalwart of such giants of the aviation industry as Bearskin Airlines, Key Lime Air, and Perimeter Aviation.

When we got to the airport it was rainy with high winds, and there were occasional flashes of lightning. One lady hesitated as she attempted to climb aboard. She looked at the plane, looked at the sky, then looked back at the plane and muttered something about “crashing and burning.”

The co-pilot, a smiling young jet jockey with slicked-back dark hair, told her, “Come on! Get on! We’re gonna have fun.”

Eventually we took off and the flight wasn’t as rough as I expected — it was much worse. We were buffeted by frightening turbulence, so much so that for much of the flight, every passenger on board was clutching the metal rail on the seat immediately in front. The rear of the plane seemed to fishtail in the wind, and I had visions of the entire craft splintering and all of us tumbling out into the sky. Periodically, we would go through several moments of relative calm, and then, without warning, the entire plane would bounce, much like a powerboat hitting a wave. There were audible gasps, a few epithets and other assorted noises from the anxious passengers.

Eventually — thankfully — we reached Portland.  If for some reason we had had to go to Walla Walla again, and if our only two choices from Portland were flying in a Metro or walking barefoot over hot pavement, I would have walked. It was the only time in my life that I honestly felt I was in imminent danger of death.

But I have digressed hugely.  As you recall, this entry began with Mrs. McD and I on the 405 heading for Long Beach Airport. When we got there, we had a couple of surprises awaiting us.  First, a great big sign as we approached the TSA security line said people 75 or older no longer had to remove their shoes during the screening process.  TSA wasn’t checking ID’s for age.  They were just eyeballing people to see if they looked at least 75.  If you think every senior citizen is happy with this move, you’d be wrong.  I have since read that septuagenarians who have had “work done” by any of the 286 plastic surgeons listed in the Beverly Hills Yellow Pages are mightily affronted when the TSA person waves them through.   “After all that money — how can I possibly look 75?” they seem to be thinking.

Surprise Number Two is for those of you who occasionally fly in and out of Long Beach: According to the attendant at the Jet Blue counter, the new Long Beach Terminal will open in December. If the artist’s renderings are to be believed, it will be a beautiful, modern facility.  That’s the good news. The bad news is that we still have to board by walking out to the tarmac and climbing up some stairs.

A Mind Game

Sunday, October 21st, 2012
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Because Mr. and Mrs. McD are away on their annual fall trip to the beautiful northwest, we are re-running one of Riley’s favorite blog entries from the past. This one originally appeared in August of 2010.


By Riley McDavid

About six years ago I went out to play golf and was put with three guys I didn’t know — two who played together regularly and a third, named Robert who, like me, had come to the course alone in search of a game.  Robert was a tallish slim fellow with a traditional East Coast taste in clothing and a beautiful golf swing.  I guessed that at one time he had been a very low handicapper or possibly even a pro. 

But his play this day proved to be inconsistent, and he was also a bit slow, both in his movements and his speech.  All of this clearly bothered the two we were paired with and as the round progressed, they became impatient and eventually left after nine holes. It took me several holes to realize it, but Robert was afflicted with some sort of dementia. Several times he left clubs behind, and once he walked off towards his second shot without realizing he had left his golf cart at the tee. On the sixth fairway, Robert asked how far we were from the green.

“200 yards,” I said.

So he reached in his bag and pulled out a one-iron, a club so rare these days that I doubt anyone in our men’s club carries one. On it in hand-painting were the numbers “200.”  “My wife did that for me on all my clubs.  I can’t always remember how far I hit them.” Nice, I thought, but, given his spotty play, I cringed at the idea of his trying to hit a one-iron. It’s a club so difficult to master that Lee Trevino once said, “If I ever get caught in a lightning storm, I’m going to hold up a one-iron because even God can’t hit a one-iron.”

Robert took several practice swings, and I waited for the inevitable. But when he swung, for just one moment, every muscle, every sinew, every synapse in his body remembered what it had probably done perfectly thousands of times before.  The ball took off on a low trajectory, rising ever so steadily until it was over its target. Then it seemed to pause in the air before finally falling softly to the green. It was the closest thing to poetry I have ever seen on a golf course.  In years past, I thought, he must have played entire rounds filled with magnificent shots like that. Alas few of his hits this day were that fluid.  He took four swings to get out of a bunker and much of his fairway play was poor.

At the end of the round, Robert asked me if he could have the scorecard.  He said his wife really liked it when he showed her his score.

“Unfortunately, I can’t,” I said.  “I’m a club member and I have to turn it in for handicap purposes.” But I suggested we go up on the verandah and make out a duplicate card for his wife. So we sat and sipped some soft drinks as he dictated scores for me to write down, and then we each signed the card.

Afterwards, I asked him where he was from, and he said North Carolina. He went on to describe some lakes and cabins and small towns, but it was apparent after about four sentences that he couldn’t remember what question he was answering. Eventually we got up to leave, and he said, “What’s your name again?” I told him and he said, “Oh, yes.  You’re that nice fellow who helped me on the golf course.”

Since that day I have encountered three or four more golfing partners in various stages of dementia, not an unusual number considering the advanced age of the majority of our club members.  Once, in a moment of dark impatience, I remember thinking that I wished they could have been mean or vulgar or profane, so I could have said, “See! You got what you deserved.”

But the ones I’ve met, at least, are not any of those things.  They’re just sweet people, walking slowly into that gentle fog, just over the next hill.

Next on the Age Well Calendar

23rd Annual Seniors Prom benefiting Meals on Wheels and Honoring our Veterans.

Date: November 4 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Includes Buffet Dinner and features music by Johnny Vana’s Big Band Alumni with special guests The 40’s Fly Girls. Tickets are $40 pre-sale and $45 at the door. Pre-Sale tickets available through Friday, October 26, 2012 at south Orange County Senior Centers and at Age Well Senior Services.

Arnie Matriculates

Monday, October 8th, 2012
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

“How about nine holes of golf this afternoon?” I asked Mrs. McD one day last week.

“This is Thursday.  You always play with Arnie on Thursday. What gives?”

“Can’t play.  He’s got a class.”

“Arnie’s in a class?  What is it — traffic school?”

“Don’t be so hard on the guy.  And anyway, I didn’t ask him what kind of class.” But Mrs. McD did just a few days later when we ran into him at a coffee shop.

“I hear you’re going to school, Arnie,” she said.  “What are you studying?”

“Right now I’m taking General Electric requirements. “

“What?” I said.

“My GE courses — English 1A, math 101 and so on.”

“I think he means general ed courses,” Mrs. McD said.

“I’m studying at the community college. I’m gonna go all the way and get a degree.”

“Good for you,” I said.  “What prompted you to do this?

He reached into his backpack and pulled out a newspaper clipping.  “A long-haul trucker buddy of mine from Little Rock sent this to me.  It’s from The Arkansas Times. Read the part he highlighted in yellow.”

So Mrs. McD and I put our heads together and began reading.

“For generations of Americans, it was a given that children would live longer than their parents. But there is now mounting evidence that this enduring trend has reversed itself for the country’s least-educated whites, an increasingly troubled group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990.

“Four years,” I said.  “That’s a lot.”

“Keep going,” Arnie said.

“Researchers have long documented that the most educated Americans were making the biggest gains in life expectancy, but now they say mortality data show that life spans for some of the least educated Americans are actually contracting.”

“So you see,” Arnie said, “if I get more education I’ll live longer.”

“Arnie it doesn’t quite work …” I began, but before I could finish, Mrs. McD kicked me under the table and shushed me.

“Good for you, Arnie,” she said.

“You two went to college, right?”

“We did,” Mrs. McD said.  “Riley actually has three degrees.”

“Wow, Riley!” Arnie said.   “You’re gonna live forever!”

Later that evening Mrs. McD brought a computer printout into the living room.  It turns out the Arkansas Times piece we read in the coffee shop was an excerpt from a longer piece by Sabrina Tavernise in the September 20 New York Times.

“It’s a problem that’s got researchers stumped,” she said.  According to the article, white women without a high school diploma lost five years of life expectancy between 1990 and 2008 and white males without a diploma lost three years. Life expectancy for both blacks and Hispanics of the same education level rose, the data showed. But blacks over all do not live as long as whites, while Hispanics live longer than both whites and blacks.

“Don’t they have clues about why all this is happening?” I said.

“Nothing solid, but they did make some guesses as to what the culprits are: a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack health insurance.”

“But they’re just guessing,” I said.

“That’s right.”

“So why did you shush me when I tried to explain to Arnie that taking classes wasn’t going to make him live longer?”

“Well first off, you don’t know that to be true. He might get all involved in some super interesting studies that might give him an even more positive outlook on life. That by itself can promote better health. Remember what that Age Well volunteer told you at the senior center?”

“Mary Ellen, the 90-something who’s so doggoned peppy?” I said

“That’s the one.  You asked her how come she worked so many days a week.  Why at her age didn’t she just kick back?”

“I remember.  She laughed and said, ‘Kick back and what? Watch Matlock reruns?’ And when I protested, she said, ‘Riley, When you say my age you really mean at my old age, so let me tell you how my friend Meg defines old age.  She says it’s always fifteen years older than whatever she happens to be at the time.”

“She rather shut you up,” Mrs. McD said, and I agreed. Just then the phone rang, and Mrs. McD got it.  “It’s Arnie,” she said after a few moments. “He wants some help with his homework.”

Next on the Age Well Calendar

The Aging in Place Summit “Don’t just survive —Thrive!” presented by Age Well Senior Services and South Shores Church

Date: October 23 from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Location: South Shores Church: 32712 Crown Valley Parkway, Monarch Beach.  Admission is free.

For more information: Call Danielle Dale at Age Well, (949) 855-8033, or email her at 

23rd Annual Seniors Prom benefiting Meals on Wheels and Honoring our Veterans.

Date: November 4 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Includes Buffet Dinner and features music by Johnny Vana’s Big Band Alumni with special guests The 40’s Fly Girls. Tickets are $40 pre-sale and $45 at the door. Pre-Sale tickets available through Friday, October 26, 2012 at south Orange County Senior Centers and at Age Well Senior Services.

‘Don’t Just Survive — Thrive!’

Thursday, September 27th, 2012
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

At least once a year in a blog I invoke the name of the late Dr. Robert Butler (1927-2010), the medical visionary who founded the field of gerontology. He is frequently cited in the popular media as an expert on aging, but that’s an incomplete description. His overarching goal wasn’t simply to extend life, but to make older life better.

“He was a giant and was one of my mentors,” said Dr.  Marilyn Ditty, CEO of Age Well.  “One of his quotes I frequently repeat in talks: ‘Are we living 20 more years with purpose and joy, or is it just taking us 20 more years to die?’” Dr. Butler scoffed at the modern catch phrase that 90 is the new 60.  The ideal isn’t just to live to 90, he said, but to make 90 a better 90.

“His work established that the old did not inevitably become senile, and that they could be productive, intellectually engaged, and active — sexually and otherwise,” Kate Zernike wrote in the New York Times a few days after his death. “His life provided a good example: He worked until three days before his death from acute leukemia.”

Dr. Butler’s name may or may not come up during this year’s Senior Summit October 23, but his ideas certainly will be in evidence. As he often pointed out, in the 20th century the average life span increased 30 years, which is greater than the increases in the last 5,000 years of human existence. And the summit will explore ways to, as its title suggests, thrive, not simply survive during these extended years.

The summit is being presented by Age Well Senior Services and South Shores Church. In addition to Dr. Ditty, speakers will include:

Dr. Kerry Burnight, Ph.D, “Aging in Place”

Dr. Sameh Elsanadi, MD Geriatric Psychiatry, “Psychological Challenges”

Elizabeth Logue, CSST, NCIAF, Physical Therapist, “Physical Challenges”

Lisa Gibson, MS, RD, “Nutritional Challenges”

Dr. Tandy Sullivan, pastor of the Second Halfer’s Ministry at South Shores Church

There will also be a question-and-answer session.

The summit will be held on Tuesday, October 23, at South Shores Church, 32712 Crown Valley Parkway, Monarch Beach, from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Admission and parking are free. There’ll be light refreshments during registration and lunch will be served at midday.

To attend, contact Debbie Green, 949/496-9331, ext. 123, by October 19.

Next on the Age Well Calendar

23rd Annual Seniors Prom benefiting Meals on Wheels and Honoring our Veterans.

Date: November 4 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Includes Buffet Dinner and features music by Johnny Vana’s Big Band Alumni with special guests The 40’s Fly Girls. Tickets are $40 pre-sale and $45 at the door. Pre-Sale tickets available through Friday, October 26, 2012 at south Orange County Senior Centers and at Age Well Senior Services.