Nearly all the commercials I see on television seem directed at my demographic, the graying baby-boomers. I see ads for motorized scooters, miracle canes, adult diapers, constipation cures. Have you heard about the aging Deadhead who needed a Clapper to light his Lava Lamp?
And the tube is glutted with ads for drugs to treat an enlarged prostate, restless leg syndrome, and especially the vaunted "question of blood flow," erectile dysfunction.
These aforementioned advertisements give me the blues. Are these maladies all I have to look forward to? If any three of these conditions happen to descend on my aging carcass, please haul me up to the edge of a volcano and give me the heave-ho. I will have had enough.
But the television commercials that fascinate me the most are those for treating erectile dysfunction, the non-pejorative term for impotence.
The actors chosen for these ads represent probably one-tenth of 1 percent of seniors who have managed to remain perfect physical specimens.
My personal favorite stars a trim, silver haired Lothario with the physique of Tarzan. He's seen driving a vintage '65 Mustang convertible, and his red-hot girlfriend is a ringer for Sheryl Crow. The narrator proclaims that this fellow is "on the go, and won't let a condition like ED slow him down."
A similar commercial opens with a hunky 50-something fellow unloading camping gear from a fashionably weathered pickup truck. He's parked on a beach, facing the Pacific. John Lee Hooker picks a blues on the soundtrack. The man is trying to light the bracken he's collected to build a campfire on the beach, but the lighter wont spark. Nonplussed, this hail fellow gets a jack-knife from his tool kit as the announcer crows, "This is the age of knowing how to make things happen! Why let a little thing like erectile dysfunction get in the way?"
The aging stud then starts the campfire by striking a rock against his jack-knife (rocks are hard!) and firing the tinder. All is going according to plan. And just as you ask yourself why this fellow happens to be lighting a fire, the camera's field of vision widens to include a yellow tent with a lantern inside it, and--behold!--it's the silhouette of a woman who seems to be arranging the bedding. Oh, that sly fox.
For aging fellows like myself, these actors are, of course, chosen to reflect our ideal selves: We look terrific. We're independent. We're wealthy (at 30 frogskins a pill, we'd better be). We drive vintage cars. Our women are former supermodels. These people bear no resemblance to the boomers I know. Let's have a more realistic commercial.
Let's imagine a real-life schlub named Vern. Vern doesn't look too hot. 20 pounds of blubber spills over Vern's belt. The top of his head is a baldpate covered with sun blotches. His rusted Dodge squats amid a city of tents at a KOA campground.
Vern's wife is from the real world, as well. Hilda is a muffin-topped grandma with a shock of silver hair pinned atop her head. She's wearing a faded Cubs T-shirt large enough to fit a grown bear. When Hilda enters the tent on her knees, her silhouette blocks the lantern light and causes the tent to go dark.
Meanwhile, Vern is pouring siphoned gasoline onto the damp wood in the fire pit. But -- what the heck? -- Vern's lighter wont spark. Vern attempts to make a spark by striking a rock against his Barlow knife. But nothing results. Vern tries it again and the knife breaks.
So, Vern ambles over to the old Dodge. He finds a rag on the floor, presses in the cigarette lighter. He jams the end of the rag against the orange ember of the lighter and the rag ignites. Vern steps up to the fire pit with the rag alight, and tosses it in. The pit explodes into an inferno that catches in the dry leaves of a nearby tree. Campers scramble from their tents, grab their kids and begin fleeing for their lives. Sirens begin to wail in the distance.
Just at this moment, Hilda tears back the flap of the tent, her face orange in the firelight. She hollers, "I suppose on top of all this, Vern, ya forgot to bring them blue pills."
"Nope," says Vern, as he tamps out a spark that threatens to ignite his woolen sleeve. "This here's the age of knowin' how to make things happen. I brought them love pills. I ain't going to let a little thing like erectile dysfunction get in they way. C'mon baby, light my fire!"
Hilda beetles her brow at Vern, who's gaping at her amid the fiery tableau. Hilda uncorks: "The only thing them blue pills are gonna do is keep ya from rollin' out the danged sleeping bag. You're on your own, Vern. Go away. Buy ya a Playboy, or somethin.'"
Aging is a continual succession of losses -- whether it's in mobility, vision, the death of a spouse, not to mention a sudden proclivity for horrid fashion choices. Aging involves growing ugly, with all of its attendant social miseries. Attractive women suddenly address you as "sir." The clerk at the burger joint offers you the senior discount, despite your not having asked for it. You exit your neighborhood pharmacy with a grocery bag full of prescription medication.
Aging is a never-ending assault on body and soul. Remember it the next time you're about to complain about a grumpy old man.