Where Did I Leave The Damned Glasses This Time?
By Jerry Bowen
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Ventura, California is a beach town north of Los Angeles, where the sea breezes blow in and the parade of life saunters down Main Street most every day and night.
Retirees, the homeless, surfer dudes and those tan California girls, window shoppers cruising the thrift shops and high-end antique stores.
Tattooed wonders with their life stories on arms and legs and chests and other regions better left unseen. A street musician mid-block with the open guitar case playing for a buck or change.
Diners trying to decide on Mexican or East Indian, sidewalk or courtyard cafe. All happening to the rhythmic clacking of skateboarders wheeling up and down the street.
It is on Main Street across from the olive oil shop that my wife and I turn into the movie theater. We go there often to escape and be entertained by Hollywood's latest offerings. At this stage of our lives the late afternoon matinees and senior discount tickets go hand in hand.
So it was that we entered theater Number 6 expecting the usual sparse crowd only to find ourselves lucky to find two seats together in the middle of the last row. Before us as the trailers played out on the big screen was a crowd of "us."
There were Boomers in all their silver-haired splendor, stud muffins and their brides, jammed in to see our generation's equivalent of a teenage zombie horror show. Except the horror is real.
We survivors of the wild, liberating, chaotic 60s, now navigating the 60s of our own lives, had been drawn to a haunting film, Still Alice. The story of a brilliant, beaming and endearing woman's descent into early Alzheimer's.
Call it the Boomer disease. Guaranteed to rob its victims of every memory of the crazy old days that haven't already been erased by too much booze and weed and other excesses. Guaranteed to rob the straight arrows too.
It's an awful prospect. And yet, there we sat as moths drawn to the flame. Entranced by Julianne Moore's portrayal of this stricken character. Most of us realizing that we know someone afflicted. Or we know someone who knows someone.
There is a colleague from my old days in the news business whose wife developed early-onset just like Alice in the movie. And died a very premature death.
We have friends, a couple who share our passion for the outdoors, hiking, kayaking, nights under the stars who are living their lives in the shadow of the disease.
The husband lost his father to Alzheimer's. His mother is now in the throes of decline. The wife is overseeing the care of her mother who is slowly failing to the illness.
They are shadowed by the hereditary odds. People whose parents or siblings have Alzheimer's are at a slightly higher risk of developing the disease than the rest of the population. Doesn't mean they will. But it's there. And it's sobering.
And so we watch the movie, watch Alice out for a jog suddenly unable to realize where she is. We cringe in the holiday dinner scene as she introduces herself to a guest she had met a couple of hours earlier and Alice's family gives her the "What's this about?" look.
If we are honest, many of us have asked the "What's this about?" question at one time or another. What does it mean that I've lost my drugstore reading glasses? Again. And can't remember right away where I left them. Or the name of that film I saw just last week. On the tip of my tongue. What was it?
Discovering the location of the lost glasses and finally remembering the name of the movie become mental touchstones. You forget. You remember. You move on. It is not Alzheimer's, thank God. It is just a normal memory hiccup. That's what we tell ourselves.
There are 78 million Baby Boomers. It is estimated that as they age into senior citizens, one in three will eventually die of Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. One in three. An army of flower children.
There is no cure, but a stimulated mind and a healthy body seem to help slow the illness. Crossword puzzles and speed walking may be survival training. Bridge and jogging might be the key to longer life, Alzheimer's or no.
Still Alice triggered a continuing conversation in our household. Who will bear the staggering cost of healthcare for a generation that has saved too little on average for health crisis or for retirement?
Is Alzheimer's the tipping point in the right to die debate? Will this generation again force its will on society arguing this disease is not a way to live and certainly no way for anyone to die?
Some of these questions were raised in the film. A film worth seeing. Thought provoking and entertaining. Julianne Moore's performance alone carries it.
It was an emotionally moving experience and then it was back to reality. Stepping out into the early evening street theater coming alive on Ventura's main drag.