Slipping Out of the Demographic

For the past month of September I have been enjoying a daily bowl of raspberries, harvested from the bushes along our screened porch.  A previous essay nattered on about the beauty of raspberries, and positioned the seeds and thorny bushes as only minor annoyances that could not diminish their perfection.  But enough about me, a better story is about one of nature’s many ingenious solutions to seed dispersal – attractively packaging the indigestible seed in a luscious, brightly colored fruit that is then defecated.  Well, okay, this strategy is more effective for birds and bears than for suburbanites, but the basic fact is that from the raspberry’s evolutionary point of view, fruit is nothing more disposable advertising, and I am delighted to be the willing pawn in this scheme.  That is not the case with another form of seed dispersal, pretentiously called epizoochory, which basically describes seeds with little hooks on them that attach to your fur (or clothing), an idea co-opted by the clever folks at Velcro.  The other day I came in from gardening covered with hundreds of minute seeds embedded in my shirt and pants.  The clothes sat in a crumpled mass on my floor until I realized that extracting the seeds was the perfect multi-tasking activity while I stood in multiple airport lines as I headed toPhoenix.  I plucked and deposited seeds in the airport van, in the security line (where one seed accidentally got stuck on the suit jacket of the man in front of me), a few got lost in the airplane itself, in the Super Shuttle van in Phoenix, and the last few went down the drain at my final destination in Scottsdale.  I was the dream seed dispersal agent for my unassuming back yard weed.


Fall is progressing and sadly my raspberries are petering out.  As I watch Sunday night football, my thoughts have turned to the human equivalent of seed packaging and dispersal.  Here the terminology has flip-flopped.  The TV advertisements are essentially the seeds, representing the ultimate agenda, and the programming is just trying to lure us in to digest the ads.  But unlike the raspberry, where I am barely aware of the seeds, the enticing TV show is full of large, ugly and indigestible seed/ads.  I am reminded of the Woody Allen joke in the movie Annie Hall where he tells his psychiatrist that his live-in brother thinks he is a chicken.  He is driving Woody crazy by pecking around the house, building a nest, and the constant cackling is driving the entire household crazy.   The psychiatrist points out the obvious solution of asking his brother to leave, but Woody replies, “I would ask him to leave, but we need the eggs.”  Woody was referring to his tortured relationships with women, but he could also be describing my relationship to TV.

Lately, I feel like a slightly different version of Woody.  The television ads are cackling away, but they not providing any eggs, at least not eggs that I find palatable.  At age 60, I have just entered my third third, and I am experiencing first hand the effects of falling out the target demographic.  Marketing experts have concluded I am fallow ground, and whatever seed they might present, however attractively packaged, will remain infertile, spawning no impulse purchases, no wild spending, no change in habits.  I have blown by age 54, the age when most advertisers start regarding you as nothing but worthless chaff as they hone in on the more desirable 18 to 54 age range.  Increasingly TV shows are a total puzzlement and even the advertisements themselves are indecipherable.  Nick, who spent the early part of his career in marketing, has a simple explanation – the ads are creation of twenty somethings, who have an entirely different outlook on life and definitely a different sense of humor.  It is an amusing game to put the TV on mute and then try to guess the advertiser.  If the ad is totally incomprehensible, it is probably an ad for Geico insurance.

I hesitate to admit this, but I have subscribed to People magazine for about 20 years, and now I am falling out of this demographic also, and I would like to let the subscription subscription lapse.  My litmus test is whether or not I can name any of the starlets showcased in their skimpy dresses, plunging necklines and teetering heels.  Recently I have been batting less than .500, in part due to the innumerable reality shows who anoint their pathetically bickering participants as “stars,” worthy of a breathless People profile.  However, I hesitate to dump the magazine based on my mother’s experience with the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle.  It was one of her favorite activities, until one day she just quit, saying that she could no longer keep up with all of the new contemporary references – TV shows and movies that she had never heard of.  The ritual of the Sunday crossword is one of the many ways I have followed in my mother’s footsteps.  Since People magazine is my main source for contemporary pop culture, I think that I should stick with it for a while longer.

I may have fallen out of the prime demographic, but I haven’t yet felt another one beckoning.  I don’t think that I’m ready to become a member of AARP, or investigate that life insurance designed to pay your “final expenses.”  Last year, I signed up for a Shakespeare class with an organization called the “Life Long Learning Institute,” a name that cleverly disguised the fact that this is basically a senior center.  I was the youngest person there.  Although my classmates were lovely people, now I am on their mailing list and I get emails announcing ice cream socials, 11 AM trips to the bowling alley, and periodic death announcements.   I don’t think that anyone eagerly wants to self-identify with the senior citizen demographic, it smacks of defeat.  When I asked my very peppy 88 year old father-in-law if he ever went to his local senior center, he said, “Why would I want to do that?  It’s just for old people.”

While I reject the senior citizen designation, maybe I can take advantage of the meager perks my age would allow.  But I strike out here also – I will have to wait a good 5 to 10 years to be eligible for senior discounts.  I remember my mother making a vow to ski until she was at least 70 so that she could get the senior rate, but at about age 65 this began to look like an overly ambitious goal, so she started fudging her age.  She would say to me, “Look at this face, it is as well worn as Yogi Berra’s catcher’s mitt, I bet I could pass for 70, don’t you think?”  And then she would step up to the ticket window and say, “How much is a ticket for this old skiing granny?”  She was usually successful, but for the moment I am rejecting this strategy.

Last winter, I finally discovered an arena where I thought I could use my age to my advantage.  At age 60, I could enter a senior tennis tournament.  I was always a pretty decent tennis player, but not an exceptional one, such that any age-related erosion in physical abilities could be compensated by improvement in my technical skills – particularly my feeble backhand.  In contrast, I assumed that the top tennis players in younger ranks had already peaked in terms of their technical ability, and their game would inevitably decline with age.  One of my great skills is an old Dobbin type of durability – no prosthetic joints in this body.  My goal was to outlast attrition.   So I signed up for a series of tennis lessons, and told the pro that I was in the market for a new backhand, and asked him if he could deliver under budget.   Once or twice a week throughout the winter, I flailed away, but it was harder than I thought.  By spring I still didn’t have one good backhand, but rather 5 or 6 mediocre versions, which would have to be enough.  I was specifically looking for an over 60 single tennis tournament, preferably one on a clay court, and ideally one that was local.  I knew that the draw would be small, and that was all the better – a regional ranking of 5, for example, would sound very accomplished, even if the total pool consisted only of 10 players.  Therefore, I was completely disappointed, shocked and angered to find that such a tournament does not exist; over the age of 50, almost all singles tournaments are based on your USTA ranking.  My seniority would not count for anything.  There was no way I was going to enter a tournament where everyone had the same ability.  I would be instantly humiliated by young 20 and 30 years prancing and dancing around the tennis court while I huffed, puffed and plodded.   I could only excel if everyone was the same age, and then there would be some chance that I would have one of the higher rankings.

Okay, so what if I don’t qualify for senior rates, actually that’s great news, and besides they seem more like sympathy discounts.  And so what if I have been kicked out of the dominant demographic, it’s probably the best thing could ever happen to me.  If networks and advertisers don’t want me, well that’s their loss.  I can wean myself off of TV and find other forms of entertainment.  A book comes to mind.  And then of course a DVR is a great work around, the equivalent of thornless raspberries.  The DVR is just the ticket for the intrusive advertising in the few shows that are still worth watching, particularly live events, such as football games.  The trick is to start the recording, then take an afternoon nap, perfect if the Bears have the late game, wake up around the third quarter and then start watching the game from the beginning, skimming through the ads.  If you have timed it correctly, you will catch up to the live programming in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.  Now I’ve got the sweet raspberries without the thorns, and the eggs without the cackling.

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

You might think that turning 50 was bad, but I’ll tell you what is worse,

When you get to 60, you’ll really want to put the time clock in *******.

On the basis of focus groups, demographics and many other studies,

Advertisers ******* their budget for the young and not us fuddy-duddies,

No penalty is *******, TV has become a wasteland, barely worth a look,

Rejected, neglected and disaffected, now I just reach for a book.








Answers:  reverse, reserve, severer

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