I extended my stay in Los Gatos a couple of days for a new project that turned up. After my bacchanal at Whole Foods the other night I took a long walk along the Vasona Reservoir to the south end where I sat on a bench in Oak Meadow Park and heard, over the din from Highway 17, a new voice in this usually private ether of mine, a special voice among other voices who were struggling, angry and fearful. I traced the source to a plaster, off-white two-story building on Industrial Way across from where I sat. In the dark I was just able to make out the painted and peeling sign: Lakeview Senior Care.
Oy Gevalt! as my grandmother would say. I was set for a front row seat to the final throes that await us all. Believe it or not the prospect rather cheered me, not, I hope, from schadenfreude (a moot victory in the long run) but from real curiosity. Were there, as I suspected, sentient beings trapped in that hideous, loveless white box, so close, tauntingly, to the magnificent sea and mountains, love and beauty so near but worlds away?
I crept into the noisy mix and found, since it happened the women were sleeping, only thoughts from the men of Lakeview, who are tormented night and day by a hormonal imbalance that forces them to feel like randy fifteen year olds.
A startled voice said, "Who are you?"
"Are you reading my mind?" I was stunned. The voice was in my head.
"Yes. Are you reading mine?"
This was the start of my collaboration with Jim, a 94-year-old retired OSHA inspector and resident of Lakeview who, like me, was a telepath who had never met another telepath. You can imagine the interest we've had in each other over the last few days, like two happy dogs sniffing each other's assholes. I haven't met him in person yet. It's strictly brain to brain.
Jim has all sorts of ailments: walking is painful and slow, his vision is poor, his hearing is poor. Everything about Jim is poor except his brain, which, as far as Jim and I can tell, is working fine. And even though the combined functioning of his prostate, testicles and penis does not produce the same daily charge of lust and semen he recalls from youth, the one or two orgasms he manages per week can be surprisingly intense, and unrelenting desire presses upon him even when the ejaculatory charge is low. Jim tells me that the sex urge never ends for men. He says it never ends for women either but their hunger is a more subtle disturbance, easier to disguise than the 24-hour male disruption.
Jim's view is that when, in modern consumer culture, sexuality starts to appear unseemly in middle age (at least to the young, who buy most of the products), it is driven underground, stoking its flame. Over the years as one demographic of potential lovers after another becomes unavailable forever (by law, custom or physiology), men and women are driven into a private existence of near total deprivation- evolution taking its sweet time in ridding us of vestigial passions. Jim says that even though his member doesn't work like it used to, his inner soul is beset with desire as much as ever. Of course the consumer culture looks to make a buck here. Often the guys in the lobby watch a Cialis commercial together (usually on the evening network news, the source for oldies), and even the non-telepaths feel a communal despair. Once an 85 year old woman named Margaret, one of the more cogent residents, told the grumbling men, after a particularly grotesque Cialis ad featuring a woman looking into a man's eyes, pouring an ocean of love into this man, flooding him with love, real love...anyway, listening to some of the men (including Jim) gag and complain, Margaret observed that these commercials are written for women. Men don't like being described in pathological terms like "dysfunction," and they are skeptical that real love can come from a drug. Women however are receptive to another message in the ad: By using a drug to get an erection, men are not being vain, futile, pathetic or any of the other negative things that male focus groups associate with the product. On the contrary, buying and using the drug is itself an act of love, a tribute to the woman's beauty and the man's need of her. Margaret explained that once the women are on board, the men follow.
Jim says he sees the same suffering in every kind of man- janitors, school superintendents, doctors, businessmen, scientists- you name it, in their dotage they sizzle and burn within. Some of the still gregarious guys share their pain as a social experience when they watch local ABC7's weather girl, Sandhya Patel, night after night in the lobby. The bravado is usually profane:
"I wouldn't kick that number out of bed!"
"You'd never have the chance- a girl like that wouldn't give you the time 'a day!"
"How would you know? You ever get laid?"
But most of the men keep their suffering to themselves. Eldon, for instance, who used to work as a dry cleaner, is troubled when Sandhya wears a blue knee-length dress, especially if it has a narrow belt of blue fabric cinched around her slim waist, the ends hanging down from the knot. That triggers something in Eldon, who sometimes grabs the arms of his walker to steady the memory surge: the soft blue fabric over her lap, his hand sliding up the thigh, under the soft blue fabric. Then Eldon departs into a chemical dream of laps and love. The overriding emotion is love- albeit associated with the lap/thigh- rather than lust, although Eldon has an erection during the experience that he will need to deal with sooner or later.
Mentally strolling through the lobby I surveyed each man's sexual sentence, how each man counted the years of that sentence against the parade of new and beautiful humans swarming around his prison.
Think of it, all across America, all across the world, ugly, loveless holding facilities for relentlessly horny but disabled obsolete males of our species, choking in their death throes at the sight of Taylor Swift on TV and longing for oblivion, at least before the morning meds kick in. Lakeview Senior Care has taught me to be impatient with our limited paradigm for geriatric care. Yes, elderly men have their bedpans emptied and their asses wiped, but who empties and wipes their dicks?
The elderly women too feel residues of intense emotions, often about families and homes, long-gone or imaginary. I did find women who masturbate and think about sex, but it's an occasional need, not a constant eating of their livers as with men- this is why women live longer. The women remain the more practical of the genders. When they have dementia, it often concerns cleaning things. One woman wipes her desk top with an imaginary rag all day. In her mind the filth on the desk is all the filth of her life: bad food, bad women, bad men, bad sex, accumulating forever and wiped away forever.
The men and women of Lakeview Senior Care have in common that they are cut off from humanity. Each life is isolated, as much as people in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison up the coast. The isolation started many years ago, before they were elderly, as they approached retirement age and were still ambulatory and lucid, so that by the time they are placed in storage at Lakeview they are well acquainted with their fate.
I've checked out Lakeview's staff. Some are people with feelings who care for the patients, some are just doing a job they hate. All the staff receives euphemistic training about creating a productive life for seniors, and all have received more practical on-the-job training for running a facility charged with keeping people calm as they wait to die. The veteran staff have developed considerable skills in this area and are prized both for their acceptance of distracting drugs as a basic right and for a bedside manner that, from the best practitioners, can suggest love. Even the most skilled care, however, does not include masturbatory services. Some day the medical industry will look upon us as we do upon the Dark Ages.
Jim takes things in stride. He enjoys the visits of a young Pilipino social worker named Karen. She sits across from him looking pretty and competent, and asks him questions. Once she asked:
"You wrote that you don't like growing older. Why is that?"
Jim is used to Karen's scripted comebacks to his expressions of discontent, e.g., "It's important to keep busy. We've found that seniors can find significant meaning in their lives through expanding their interests," etc, so this time, when Karen asked why he doesn't like growing older, Jim replied, "Because when you grow older you get ugly, stupid and then you die."
Karen turned her cute smile on Jim and chuckled. Jim read in her thoughts that the comment amused her and she planned to share it later with colleagues. He cracked a small smile indicating he would not fight her on this. What could she say, after all- that aging doesn't make you ugly, stupid, and finally dead?
I asked Jim if he had any suggestions to make end-of-life care more supportive. Jim said that special care workers should come by a few days a week to masturbate the patients, both men and women. He said he felt strongly that this would go a long way towards alleviating the plight of the elderly, adding that he once invaded Karen's mind to see what it would take to get her to masturbate him. He found that if there were a course, a certificate and extra pay, she'd have no more problem with it than with pulling a catheter out of his dick (or sticking one in!).
This morning I said goodbye to Jim from my park bench. I told him I enjoyed his company and would stay in touch, telepathically if not in person.
I had arrived in Los Gatos needing to force myself to care about politics, and I ended up with a new perspective on why politics is irrelevant: It's not about anything. For instance, no candidate talks about the sexual desert that awaits us all. Understandable, perhaps, given that no one talks about it. If we don't talk about it we don't have to do anything about it, but how much could masturbatory services, to take one example, cost Medicare? Nationwide it would probably cost less than our recent bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan. Of course cost is not the only, or even primary concern. We are hamstrung by archaic beliefs, the chief of which is that God loves our suffering, that we deserve it because we are rebellious creatures who have defied Him; thus to alleviate our punishments would be to fight God.
Such religious views offer far from a reasonable default position on sexuality in the elderly. The disappeared cultures of prior humanity had gifts for old age that we can barely imagine. The "primitive" elderly had life and community. We have Ambien and Atarax. Note to the future: If you figure out the plight of the elderly, it stands to reason you will also help the young.