Tuesday, May 14, 1996
Laughing all the way to geezerhood

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

We call ourselves the Bridge Club, although we don't play cards. We also don't have dues, rules or a superior attitude toward people who are not members. We call ourselves the Bridge Club because we think that sounds more elegant than "a bunch of women getting together to eat too much and laugh."

Some of us are married and some of us are not. The ones who are married don't complain about their husbands, and the ones who are single don't complain about men and their failure to commit. All of us work, but none of us is politically correct enough to add "outside the home" when we say so.

When we first knew each other, we were all in our late 20s and early 30s, and our idea of a racy evening was ogling the bag boys at Kroger. This was back in the days when we applauded wildly at, say, a Bonnie Raitt concert and were not in danger of flogging ourselves to death with our own upper arms.

We did not discuss our digestion. Or our cholesterol. Or trophy wives. Or hot flashes. We used to give each other outrageously lewd gifts. I expect that this Christmas, someone will get a gift certificate to a medical supply house instead.

The Bridge Club has come of age. Middle Age.

This could be the ideal time for a lecture from Mary-Lou Weisman.

New book, new life

"As soon as the first change-of-life revolutionary stepped out of the closet wearing a white silk blouse, hoop earrings, 3-inch heels and a face lift, and spoke the words, 'Is it hot in here or is it me?' the dread taboo was broken," she writes in her book, My Middle-Aged Baby Book: A Record of Milestones, Millstones and Gallstones.

A free-lance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, The New Republic and "all the women's magazines," she swears she just tossed this one off for fun. "If I'd known it was going to be a hit," she says across a cappuccino at The Cincinnatian hotel, "I'd have written a more expensive book."

True, it's only $12.95, but about 7,745 baby boomers will turn 50 every day for the next 10 years. That sounds like 28 million opportunities to give them something that's more fun than a gift certificate for a truss or estrogen pills. Modeled after the baby books that our moms kept for us, it lists such watershed events as "buys first jeans with elastic waist" and "stops wearing Spandex."

Just ahead of the baby boom curve herself, she's 58 and calls herself simply a grown-up. "I've never worn Lycra in my life. I've never carried a bottle of water." Middle age, according to her, is when you're over 40.

Hmm. Could you be a little more specific?

"If you've begun to wonder why your gums recede, if you have Tums in your pocket and Mylanta in your drawer, and if you have your proctologist's phone number on speed dial, you've reached middle age."

Oh. I'm sorry I asked.

Our duty to be a burden

Here's more:

"After the age of 30, the brain loses about 100,000 neurons a day. These nerve cells tend to take the car keys with them and leave important things behind, like the words and music to the Mickey Mouse Club theme song."

Her book discusses the various options for "independent senior citizen lifestyle," including being a burden to our children. "You are the embodiment of family values. You are the extended family everybody's been whining about for the last two decades. Your children and your children's children need you."

She knows something about that. Her son, Peter, died when he was 15 of muscular dystrophy. That book, Intensive Care: A Family Love Story, was nearly 15 years ago. Another son teaches at Harvard, and Mary-Lou and her husband of 35 years live in Westport, Conn.

Like its author, the middle-aged baby book is funny and thin but unmistakably substantial. It's an invitation to laugh our way to old age, reassurance that we're not alone and the suggestion that there is some very good time left.

Maybe this is a club we'd all like to join, no matter what it's called.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.