Beaton column: I don’t want your welfare for seniors
Sprinting up Aspen Mountain one fine July morning a few years ago, I had a heart attack. I knew enough medicine to do something I’d never done before. I asked a stranger for help.
The stranger phoned for assistance and stayed with me. Mountain Rescue soon appeared. I was a full-fledged member at the time, and had worked with these same men and women in recovering battered bodies off the Maroon Bells. It was embarrassing but comforting to be rescued by my friends.
Later that day, after Aspen Valley Hospital confirmed my myocardial infarction, I was flown to Denver on a Lear Jet ambulance. I can think of better circumstances for a ride on a Lear Jet, but I’m not complaining.
I held together, up to a point. As we flew over Frisco, the well-intentioned EMT from Denver who was tending me tried to cheer me up. “Hey buddy, in six months you’ll be fine. You’ll be back at all your old hobbies — golf, bowling, everything!”
I gazed out the window as a tear silently rolled down my cheek.
Later I thought, “Screw that.” On the four-month anniversary of my so-called heart attack, I was in New Zealand standing on the summit of Mount Cook, one of the harder mountains in the Southern Hemisphere.
A few weeks ago, a flier came in the mail for “seniors.” That’s supposed to include me now that I’ve bested 60 years, or at least wrestled them to a draw.
The flier was chock full of free stuff. Now I get free or discounted passes on, well, just about everything. Golf and bowling go without saying, of course. But there’s also free or discounted nutrition classes, seminars on navigating the tax system, music concerts, computer training, toenail trimming, yoga, book clubs, movies and teeth cleaning.
The local taxpayer-supported recreation centers (in competition with the private ones) offer senior discounts that they call “Silver Sneakers.”
And don’t even get me started on Social Security, Medicare and “affordable housing” for seniors living the good life in places like Aspen, where 60 percent of the taxpayer-subsidized housing goes to people older than 50 making up to $186,000 a year.
These freebies are not really free, of course. They’re paid for by the rest of you. My discounted movie ticket is paid for by your reverse-discounted one. My free toenail trimming is paid for by your inflated one. And so on.
This got me thinking. Why do I get freebies and discounts? I don’t need them. For that matter, why do seniors in general get them? American seniors are the richest demographic in the history of the world. The average net worth for Americans over 65 years old is 26 times the average net worth of those younger than 35.
Young people are saddled with six-figure student loans to pay for the college scam. They sacrifice to make mortgage payments. They scrimp and save to start a family. At their expense, meanwhile, their relatively rich parents and grandparents receive freebies, discounts and taxpayer subsidies.
I have something to say to young people struggling to build a life while paying for freebies for seniors: Keep your money. I don’t deserve it, I don’t need it and I don’t want it.
And let’s call it what it is. It’s welfare.
My father used to say, “Welfare comes in many forms.” To be sure, not all forms of welfare are bad. For example, I think of that day on Aspen Mountain when I was rescued by a kind stranger and by committed friends on Mountain Rescue — every one of whom is an unpaid volunteer.
Welfare in the original sense meant looking out for the well-being of people around you in a way that helps you both. What that stranger and my friends on Mountain Rescue did that day was good for me and — I know from personal experience — was good for them.
But welfare corrupts and perverts once it transforms from an act of kindness by one person for another which benefits them both, into a demand for an impersonal entitlement. It’s all ruined when “help me” coarsens into “gimme.”
So keep your goddamn gimmes. Don’t dare condescend me with a discounted movie ticket.
Next winter, I’ll be wearing silver sneakers of a sort, but not the sort that the taxpayer-subsidized rec centers talk about for seniors. I’ll be climbing Mount Cook again, and my footwear will be silver-colored crampons.
So see you around. But I warn you — don’t try to pay my way.
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