It's not easy to be a caring, liberal kind of person, as the landlord in my family testifies. He is struck – not in a genial way – by the ingenuity of his tenants, who have mostly been welfare recipients. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Fresh from the discovery older people are turning to drink in their droves, a report last week says the Germans have uncovered another problem: geriatric junkies are choosing to keep using the drugs of their choice, which aren't exactly the sort doctors prescribe.
Their role models, says the report, are people like wrinkly Willie Nelson (and just about every other country music star, historically) and permanently pleated Keith Richards, living testimony to the power of being able to afford nothing but the best. I'll add Rod Stewart, on the grounds that he wrote that wishful ditty For Ever Young, though he himself is looking more and more like an ageing dunny brush.
It may shock young people to learn this, but there's a point beyond which older people do realise their wrinkles aren't going to go away, no matter how many potions they slap on them or bean sprouts they eat. The laws of gravity do their insidious work to the point where they won't be ripping their gear off in public, still less in some stranger's bedroom, and prefer to cover even their own bathroom mirrors to spare themselves the sight of new developments. Sex, at this point, becomes nostalgia. The idea of pulling off anything at all being no longer an option, even under the benign influence of self-medication, older people wisely let themselves go.
The lure of the permanent tracksuit (never worn for athletic purposes) and the trainer shoe (in which no athletic training is ever done) proves irresistible. Forced out of work through redundancy, unable to get more work, however menial, because they're too old to appeal to youthful recruiting staff, the first thought on their minds may not necessarily be sowing silverbeet in a window box and watching it grow. Not unless they're under the influence of a pleasantly numbing substance.
There are options, admittedly. They could turn into feeders of many stray cats, protectors of town pigeons, or volunteer to pick up rubbish in public places. It must be pleasant, though – aside from the coughing fits and paranoia – to suck on the daily toke and switch off instead. The health system has brought some of the problem on itself, in Germany and no doubt here as well, by keeping addicts alive with methadone programmes. No point in complaining about the cost now.
In Germany, police have busted a 50-year-old man and his 85-year-old mother dealing in cocaine and with lots of heroin in their possession, to support their own addictions. Some would applaud this market approach, or "taking of personal responsibility" as a social worker might put it. "Opium Grandpas" as the German press calls them, have also been caught dealing marijuana to teenagers and have sought medical help after eating too many hash cookies. So what did we expect from baby boomers? A gentle slide into oblivion was never going to be an option.
And so to my relative's tenants: He frequently finds elaborate lighting systems rigged up in the cupboards and attic crawl spaces of his rental properties when they leave. One especially ingenious character even set up a complicated lead system to an outdoor shed. My relative doesn't applaud his tenants' green fingers – as perhaps he might. Instead he idly wonders – foolishly, I feel – why he pays taxes so his tenants can park themselves full time on the sofa, training for the pension.
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