Bob, who directed advertising commercials before he retired, repeats again to his three friends, “You know how it was for me. The president took me to lunch and said, ‘Bobby, you’ve earned the right to rest. We want to help you.’ Perfect for advertising…the world’s hidden microphone…as our president liked to say. And what they really were thinking was: Get the guy out already. His old thinking may embarrass us with a client. We’ll also save his salary–’ Listen, we can’t forget what happened to us. And we promised we wouldn’t.”
Bob and the other men, all in their late sixties, married, friends since high school, have been meeting regularly in the late afternoons at certain inexpensive diners around New York City that they’ve learned aren’t crowded at that time. They brood over coffee and dessert for a couple of hours, discussing their frustrations, while the diner’s manager and waiters after awhile give hints for them to leave, returning to clean the table, restock sugar packets, fill salt and pepper shakers.
The men have decided that they want to develop a project that’ll give them work and prove they’re still vital, since no one wants to hire them individually. “With all our experiences, we have to be able to create something useful,” they often repeat to each other.
Today, they are in a small diner in Brooklyn, near the Brooklyn Bridge and not far from a trendy area that is attracting successful, young professionals. At this off-hour, the occupied tables have either gray-haired men and women, who look retired, or women with young children, whom they might’ve just picked up at school. The mothers represent the new residents whom the diner clearly doesn’t want to be chased away by senior men who appear to have no place to go.
“These mothers are so attractive,” says Bob. “In high school, we were picky about girls but now every woman looks beautiful to me.” He laughs. “People believe that the retired lose their standards. How we dress, how clean we look–so why not with women too?” He laughs again. “What does it matter now?”
“Wrong–we can still attract eyes,” smiles Kenny, a former high school literature teacher and occasional amateur actor, who often smoothes his thick hair while talking. “Agree with me?”
“My drugstore doesn’t sell trick mirrors,” Bob says.
“C’mon, Bob,” Kenny answers, “why can’t you loosen up–?”
“If we could return to what we’re here to discuss,” interrupts Myron, “maybe today we can finally agree on a project.”
He is a former life insurance company actuary, who usually wears a well-pressed sports jacket, like today. Kenny and Steven favor wash and wear pants but with a dress shirt from when they worked; while Bob normally just switches between several blue, worn, multi-pocket work shirts and jeans.
“You all said you’re interested in the grant proposal I emailed you,” Myron continues. He looks at the other three men and then rests his coffee cup on the table. “Because of me, you three have life insurance policies and have kept this protection with my old company. The papers I sent you are from their program inviting policyholders to apply for grants for projects to help the retired become healthier. You know my idea: we apply for funds to do a film to show the retired how to stay vital. Because, we know, vitality produces health. Bob has always lectured us about the power of movies to affect people. And the film will show our own personal vitality.”
Myron pauses. “The grants are for ten thousand dollars per policyholder. I’m not eligible but I could have influence if you three put in a proposal. Let’s apply.”
“But I told you on the phone,” says Bob. I’m possibly interested–but thirty thousand dollars is about enough money to shoot a high school talent show rehearsal. I directed a lot of commercials when I was in advertising. With so little money, we’ll make a film that no one will look at, or, if they do, will reinforce the bias that the retired can’t produce anything important and should just go away.”
“I’m not creative, I’m an actuary, a number’s person,” argues Myron. “But Bob, give this idea a chance. There are like forty million people over sixty-five. Many are widows and widowers wanting to date again. We’d have a huge audience. Many have to be nervous about how to meet someone new, how to discuss the health and financial problems they may have now.”
Myron pauses, looking at a few notes he’s scribbled on his napkin as he’s been talking. “I can see a film that encourages and guides seniors on going out and finding a relationship. A film that shows them–and everyone—that seniors are still very vital. We’ll portray how by connecting to someone, the stress that people living alone have would decrease and their health improve. I think we can win a grant to do this film. Bob, you’d be our director, and the film wouldn’t have to be slick–just honest. I already have a name: The Retired Person’s Dating Film.”
“I like it,” Kenny says. “In the film, we could act out issues that the retired who live alone have in making relationships.”
“Mr. Former Amateur Actor, if we do an animated film,” says Bob, “would you still favor this under-funded movie project–?”
“Bob, I don’t think Kenny’s not talking about promoting himself,” interrupts Steven.
A former social worker, Steven usually protects a friend being criticized, which the others recognize as Steven’s way of showing himself that his social work knowledge is still needed— And Bob now offers a smile to Kenny, and Kenny replies with his own smile to Bob, each smile feeding the other.
“Since the film will be dealing with establishing relationships,” Myron says, “that also includes advising the lonely retired about the right way to return to sex. How quickly and what’s expected with a new partner? Discussing sex never hurts the sales of any film. Bob, this video could be big and again, we need you to direct it.”
“I understand the actuary in you already counting a few dollars from making the film,” says Bob. “That’s numbers. But sex and the actuary?” Bob smiles at Steven.
“Maybe I now want to see myself becoming more than an actuary,” laughs Myron. “Crazy? But don’t the three of you also still think of being something new, more? At least, a little? Be honest. And that’s not really promoting ourselves, agreed?”
“So do we request money for the film?” Myron waits. “Me, the short, uninteresting, retired actuary. I’ve overheard too many people say that. But now, all of us, maybe, with the film, are being given a chance to strike back.”
Kenny laughs. “ Except if we don’t do the film soon, we’ll become too old to remember whatever lines we write for ourselves in the script.”
“We should strike back now,” adds Steven. “I mean, if we really think we have a chance.”
(Chapter 2 under “Categories” to the top, right of page)