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Guestwords: Tips for Growing Old in N.Y.C.

Thu, 04/25/2024 - 11:49

Many think of New York as a vibrant, youthful city — intense, demanding, the if-you-can-make-it-there place. And they're not wrong. But it's also a wonderful location for spending your golden years. That is, if you just keep a few simple dos and don'ts in mind.   

Streets: A key thing to remember about walking when old on the streets of New York is not to be self-conscious. The reason people are staring at you is not because you're old. It's because you have no piercings or tattoos, your hair is not green, you're not vaping, and you are not weaving down the sidewalk on some lethal form of transportation.     

It is suggested that you avoid neighborhoods like Alphabet City or Tribeca, where there are so few walkers over 65 you might think that ICE has been given a new mandate. Stick to the Upper East Side, where you blend in. But if you should wander into, say, Chelsea, do not fall prey to the illusion that the bike lanes are any indication of where a bicycle might be coming from. Their only purpose is to show that your city government is "environmentally friendly."     

It's solely on you to keep yourself vertical, so be on the lookout for young Oblivians on their cellphones striding in the opposite direction. Their body density is much greater than yours, their bones less brittle, and to them you are like so much underbrush. So, remember that while they might prefer not to be the proximate cause of your trip to the emergency room, saving the world on Fortnite (it's a video game) must take priority.     

Subways: The operating assumption in the subways is that if one has made it down the steps one does not require a seat, so what you're going to want is a strategy. Accordingly, it's key to zero in on a susceptible target demographic. That would be millennials. They have consciences, and their own parents' needs have not yet become an annoying pain in their ass. With the right facial expression, they are easily guilt-tripped into giving up their seats, but first you must get their attention. An initial hurdle is that they will be buried in their iPhones, which seem to work somehow in the subways though yours won't.     

One tactic, guaranteed 100-percent effective, is to fake faint onto their laps. However, if you prefer a subtler and less athletically demanding approach, you can let slip some object, like a pack of hearing aid batteries. When they look up annoyed at this intrusion from the real world, be sure to reach for the object with a visible tremor and a wan smile that conveys the stoic contrition of one who expects nothing but is prepared to be delighted.   

Now, just checking: What were you doing underground during rush hour anyway? As much fun as it may be to get around at half price on your Geezer Pass, that's really no excuse. There are plenty of other good times for lording it over the youth. You're what? On a tight schedule? Puh-leeze.     

Restaurants: Should you find yourself at one of New York's toniest eateries, like Jean-Georges, Daniel, or Le Bernardin, try not to angst about the price of the glass of wine you ordered. Yes, you could be home enjoying an entire bottle of a better year for less money, but avoid thinking that way. Consider it instead the cost you incur for the right not to be embarrassed when, a bit later, you and your companion are going to request two plates for one appetizer.     

When the waiter returns to take your food order, always begin by asking, "Do you have any specials?" This will lay the groundwork for your next question. "Would you mind repeating that?" Once you have gotten that ritual out of the way, it is time to turn to the menu itself, which, even if you knew how to activate the light on your phone, would be illegible. Pick a broad category like meat, or fish, and ask a young person who can read small print to help you narrow it down to two dishes. Then when the waiter returns, ask a bunch of questions like, "Would it be possible to cook the veal cordon bleu without cheese?" or "Could you ask the chef to leave out the mushrooms?" The fun of being finicky, you will find, only increases with age.     

As to the music, you can always try, "Would it be possible to turn it down?" If the waiter is well trained, she will dutifully "check" before returning to tell you a nice little story about why it's not going to happen.     

Always say "yes" when your waiter asks, "Would you like to look at the dessert tray?" It will make her think better of you for a moment. Be sure to pretend you gave serious thought to spending another 30 bucks on a slice of pie. Then you can request the bill and ask that she wrap up the food you didn't eat. Never ever say, "Can we please have a doggie bag?" Putting aside that the expression is so 20th century, it's A) insulting to the chef and B) given your slow shuffle to the table when you originally sat down, your waiter won't believe you have it in you to walk one.   

A solid way to maximize enjoyment of your restaurant experience is to keep in mind that the point of being there is neither the food nor the conversation. The food will be disappointing in one way or another — too salty, overcooked, and/or room temperature when it should be hot. And the chances of your being able to communicate with your dinner companion over the ambient noise are nil, unless, of course, you both know sign language. No, you are there to get out of the house, spend some money, and come back with something to complain about. And it's good for the children to hear you're "enjoying the city."     

Office buildings: Some of the skyscrapers on Park or Sixth where you might need to go to change your will are harder to get into than the Doomsday Seed Bank. If it's been a while since you got your driver's license, pretend not to notice when the security desk officer keeps looking from your picture to your face and back. He is simply doing his job.     

Assuming you make the cut, don't attempt to insert the pass he gives you into the turnstile slot. Standing there and watching how the younger visitors sail through won't help. It will just piss you off and waste your time if you try to do what they do. You will mangle the pass and need to start over at the security desk. But don't worry. There will be a guard on the other side of the barrier pretending not to watch. Catch his eye and extend your hand with the pass in it. Strike the right balance between forlorn and entitled. Do not say one word. If you do, you risk a lesson and a test you will flunk when what you want is to be on the other side of the barrier.     

And in conclusion, if you follow the above suggestions, you will find the city a most comfortable place to grow old. You can walk everywhere!     

Until you can't. At that point, send out for pizza or Chinese from a restaurant that still accepts telephone orders. And don't worry. Your interactions with the help desks of Verizon, Optimum, and Con Ed will still leave you with plenty to kvetch about if you should succeed in speaking with a human. 

Ken Miller is a financier and civil rights activist who lives in Bridgehampton. His writing has appeared in magazines including The New Republic, Fortune, Foreign Affairs, and Time.

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