Listen up: Your future’s talking



In “This Old Man,” a 2014 essay in “The New Yorker,” Roger Angell recalled a conversation he had with some young friends – he was 93, they were merely in their 60s:  “There’s a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences. The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they’ve just left it. What? Hello? Didn’t I just say something? Have I left the room?”

Nope; the long-time staff writer had made the mistake of growing old. “Honored,” he wrote, “respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. You’ve had your turn, Pops; now it’s ours.”

Between 2005 and 2015, the number of people over 65 in New York City increased by more than 19 percent, more than double the rate of the general population. The number of working people in that age group grew by 62 percent, to 17 percent of the workforce. People over 60 already make up over 18 percent of the city’s population – and by 2040, one in five New Yorkers will be that old. Many of them face today’s headlines with a grim sense of déjà vu: they’ve already lived through much of what’s in the news. And like Angell, they have something to say, if only we’d listen.

Why ignore the very people we aspire to be, someday? To be blunt, it’s either elder or gone; if the actuarial tables fall in your favor, you’re going to be a member of this club down the line. The staff of The Midtown Gazette decided to listen:


Doris Shapiro. Photo: Robert Tokanel.

Doris Shapiro, 88, said she would describe the state of the country as “horrendous,” and that she’s particularly concerned about the fate of DACA recipients. But at her age, she said she’s learned not to let things “get you so far down that you’re buried.”

“It’s raining, but I’m not complaining, because I’m breathing, and I’m not seething,” she said. “I make up little things like that. I like to make people laugh.”


Bill Herschman. Photo: Yuhong Pang.

“I live through the Cold War and Vietnam war, all unnecessary stupid wars. Trump is going to do something stupid and disastrous to North Korea. And the leader of North Korea is inexperienced, who knows what he could do. They are two unstable people. That’s what scares me most. War is always the last resort, which I don’t think he understand,” said Bill Herschman, 69, who worked for Social Security for 30 years.


Zoe Kennedy. Photo: Andrew R. Calderon.

Rushing over with her heart on her chest, Zoe Kennedy, 74, exclaims that she installed her own heart rate monitor last night. “Step by step, I followed the videos on the website and did it my self,” she announced. “I thought to call my daughter in LA and said, ‘No, you can do this.” Kennedy believes the tech classes gave her the confidence to be autonomous, and she said it feels great. “It’s better than rice and beans,” she joked, and after a chuckle, added, “I am saving my own life.”


Rosali LaPeńa, (left) and Pamela Bergen-Slaperstein, (right). Photo: Andrew R. Calderon.

Celebrating her tech instructor’s birthday, Pamela Bergen-Shaperstein, 72, polished off a fluteful of champagne and spoke openly about the challenges her peers confront in the age of Internet. “We are deliberately forgotten,” she lamented. “We are worlds apart. Advertisers forget us, our children speed past us, people on the train don’t wait for us.”


Paul Rosario. Photo: Andrew Calderon.

Paul Rosario came to the Senior Planet Exploration Center on a whim. At 66, he hopes his newfound computer skills will help him to get a part-time job, and eventually a stable home. He returned to New York after some time away to find an inhospitable real estate market for older New Yorkers. “Looking for housing as a senior is very hard,” Rosario said, who is on a fixed income from Social Security, which reduces his options. He said he lives in a rental apartment in Chelsea, admitting he’ll need to leave soon.


Pat Abfall. Photo: Yulong Li.

“I grew up in Eisenhower,” said Pat Abfall, a 71-year-old traveling from Lorain, Ohio, referring to the era when Dwight Eisenhower was president. “We were afraid of Communism. That was the only fear we had. When I was in school, we would crawl under our desks in case they bombed us or something. And that was such a remote fear.” But she says her fear now is more immediate. “I’m always looking around to see if we are more or less protected wherever we go,” she said. “Maybe it’s the unknown that I’m afraid of.”


Grace Colon. Photo: Andrew R. Calderon.

While waiting for the senior entrepreneurs class to get underway, Grace Colón, 60, taps away at her iPad. “Don’t think because I had toes amputated I am living more slowly,” she said proudly. Colón takes her age in stride. “You can cry or make it VIP,” she said, emphasizing that being older is not without its perks. “People will give me nicer seats at the theatre. Why? I have a walker and they don’t want to piss off ADA, so I get VIP accommodations.”


Judith Forrester. Photo: Madis Kabash.













Judith Judith Forrester, strolling through the Museum of Modern Art, responded to a question about the current turbulent times. “It depends what you’re stating with the use of ‘turbulent times.’ It’s all a matter of perspective; turbulence seems to be a hashtag in of itself. I would say in my years that this is more of a caricature of an exaggerated time. Perhaps a time of one of Nostradamus’ predictions; he saw fire and the destruction of old structures – as if the world was ending. I’m extremely torn in the heart with those that are suffering in these times so the caricature has become more real. However I am trying to look at it from a collective perspective and look compassionately at those I agree and disagree with. ”


Juan Delarosa Cruz. Photo: Yuhong Pang.

“We have too much freedom and people take advantage of it and begin to get involved in delinquency,” said Juan Delarosa Cruz, 67. “You can easily go to a store and buy a pistol. The television shows children’s pornography and there is a channel that shows sexy movies 24 hours a day. That can harm our children. I admire the judicial system in China, because they have everything under control.”  Cruz has studied Mandarin for a year.


David Fox. Photo: Robert Tokanel.

David Fox, 67, said he believes everything President Donald Trump does is “for his next ego trip,” and that he expects him to start a nuclear war with North Korea.

“I read that there’s 260,000 Americans in South Korea,” he said. “Plus the South Koreans, that’s a lot of people. A lot of people are going to die.”



Pawnee Sills. Photo: Amanda Williams.

Actress Pawnee Sills, 82, came to New York in the early 1960s to pursue her long-time acting dream, and says that one of her biggest roles was as a receptionist in the 1964 film, “Lilith.” She lives in the Westbeth Home of the Arts in Chelsea. In the process of finding her skills, she says, she found herself as well: “Who am I? What do I want? Why am I here? The ‘five W’s. After having that understanding of myself, you’ll have it for the rest of your life.”


Jo-Ann Shain (right), and Mary Jo Kennedy. Photo: Amanda Williams.

Gay rights activists Jo-Ann Shain, 64, and Mary Jo Kennedy, 62, have been together for 35 years and were one of five couples fighting for same-sex marriage in the 2005 Hernandez vs. Robles case, in which Shain and Kennedy sued for the right of same-sex couples to marry in New York.

“We basically lost,” said Shain, who married Kennedy after same-sex marriage became legal in New York in 2011. But now they fear what may happen next.

“We got married on the first day,” said Kennedy. “We’re afraid that it’s going to get rolled back by this current administration.”


Myra Mae King. Photo: Tiffany Wong.

Myra Mae King, 76, formerly a social worker and now a bridge teacher at Hudson Guild, is disgusted by President Donald Trump. But she is especially alarmed by how he was elected, which was revealed in a recent  “60 Minutes” segment with Trump’s media strategist. “Facebook helped the Republican party create 100,000 Facebook ads in a day, based on data about your personality, your habits,” she said. “That didn’t happen before–that’s scary technology.”


Timothy Lien. Photo: Yulong Li.

“When we were kids, growing up in North Dakota, the old-timers – they all hunted. They’ve got deer, rabbits and stuff like that, but they just had a one-shot rifle,” said Timothy Lien, a 64-year-old who now lives in Utah. “Then it started with handguns. Everybody had to have a handgun for protection, which was totally ridiculous. Nobody had handguns when we were kids.”


John Baker. Photo: Marsha McLeod.

“The scariest overall issue is global warming because it’s going to wipe out the human race,” said John Baker, 68. “Racism won’t wipe out the human race, economic development won’t wipe out the human race, but global warming could. It will affect the person in the basement much more than the person in the penthouse—certainly people who can afford it won’t feel the effects as much.”


Carole Aupied. Photo: Rohini Chaki.

“I’ll be upfront, I’m a Democrat. How did we ever elect a man that is so unstable emotionally? I’m just outdone by this,” said 76-year-old Carole Aupied. “I fear for my daughter, she has a pre-existing condition, and I fear he’ll take away her health insurance. Oh, you’ve got me really riled up now!”


Roger Blanc. Photo: Madis Kabash.

“The disparate points of view – the separation among people is concerning me,” said Roger Blanc. “If you look at the Clinton and Trump campaign times it’s a good example of how disparate it is. The hatred and anger has continued… the devils court that has not been resolved!”


Pat and Pete Unger. Photo: Rohini Chaki.

Pat and Pete Unger, outside Lincoln Center, discuss our current turbulent times. “I worry about how politically correct we’re getting,” said Pat Unger, 78. Her husband, Pete Unger, who is 80, disagreed. “I actually don’t mind that,” he said.

“All this about removing the monuments – sure, there were some bad guys,” said Pat Unger. “But wiping out the bad, you can’t tell your grandchildren what to learn from if you just erase history. Learn from history, don’t try to change it.”


David Levitz. Photo: Marsha McLeod.

“I have a 90-year-old mother—she was born in 1927—and she says there’s never been anything like this. I’m a momma’s boy, so I’ll defer to her,” said 62-year-old David Levitz. “Maybe it’s Trump’s personality. He’s a question mark—unfathomable. Clinton was impeached, that was upsetting; the Iraq War, that was upsetting; and [George W.] Bush was very destructive, but this is something new, we may feel we’re moving into fascism.”


Carmen D. Photo: Sierra Moreno-West.

Carmen D., 72, originally from Puerto Rico, moved to New York when she was 8 years old.

“I don’t think the world is scary. I think it’s overpopulated, and I think everything is very expensive. When I was raised, you could get a lot for ten dollars, but now you cannot get enough for twenty dollars. So, in that respect I think the world has changed a lot. In terms of how to live peacefully and quietly.”

“What worries me is the crime and the disrespect for life. Especially if you’re older. I mean I’m afraid to travel at night. I would love to come out at night, but I can’t. I hear from other people that they’re very afraid. After 7 o’clock they want to be upstairs because of what’s happening nowadays. People don’t have no regard for life.”


Gerald Sussman. Photo: Lindsay Cayne.

Gerald Sussman, 65, sitting on a bench near Columbus Circle, said that  today feels like “the end of the world,” but he’s “not surprised.” Five years ago he didn’t think he could see the country being around in 50 years. Now, he doesn’t think the country has even 10 more years because of all the natural disasters occurring and the unprecedented political scene. “How much longer can this go on?” he asked.


Sandra Lloyd (left) and Jan Penn (right). Photo: Jinsol Jung.

Sandra Lloyd, 74, and Jan Penn, 71, are both visiting from London. Lloyd is a former ballet dancer and teacher and Penn used to work in IT. They said the danger of international conflict and war worries them the most, especially regarding North Korea. One of the most amazing thing that happened in their lifetime was that “humans have been on the moon,” said Penn.


Andel Rodriguez (L) and John Laporte (R). Photo: Siraphob Thanthong-Knight.

Two friends, Angel Rodriguez and John Laporte, sit outside the Hudson Guild Elliott Center, discussing the Las Vegas shooting and how it feels to grow older.

“What made his mind think like that?” Andel Rodriguez, 78, said of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock. “I think there should not have been any debate about gun control now. It should have been in place a long time ago.”

“It is crazy that a 60-something-year-old could kill 58 people,” said John Laporte, 79, of the Las Vegas shooting. “Why would any one do that? I don’t get it,” said Laporte, who is turning 80 in December.

The two men have strong opinions on aging as well. Rodriguez, who grew up near Hudson Guild, visits the senior center five days a week: “Getting old is only good when you can help other people, and not the other way around.” Laporte does not let his walker stop him from getting his daily walk, but beyond that has no particular advice. “I do not know if there is any secret in longevity,” he said, with a smile.


Raymond Beegle. Photo: Sierra Moreno-West.

Raymond Beegle, 75, is from Los Angeles but has lived in New York since 1970.

“Nothing keeps me up at night. I sleep very well. I think it’s the inevitable dissolution of a culture. A civilization more or less lasts a thousand years, and it’s either transmogrified into another kind of civilizations like the Greeks who were sort of adopted by the Romans, and the Romans were adopted by the Western pagans, you know. So I’m not troubled by it, but I see the dissolution of the civilization that I love very much. The civilization that had to do with what was really beautiful, what was really true, and now it’s a civilization of what is ugly, what is violent, and sort of masquerading as the truth.”

“The values have changed a great deal. Say with music, I’d say perhaps 20 percent of our population, that’s a rough estimate, listen to Beethoven and Mozart. Great music is about something. It’s about high ideas. It’s about the nobility of the human heart and that kind of thing, and that’s diminished almost completely. The music people listen to is about how I’m going to get laid, how much money can I get, how do I look.”


Barbara Plimack. Photo: Yuhong Pang.

“I have four grandchildren and I’m worried about their future because of the politics,” said Barbara Plimack, 75, whose husband served in the army during the Cold War. “Now, it’s much harder to get a good job unless you have connections. Abortion is legalized, but he (President Trump) is pushing back on that. Our beautiful… jerk which we have as a president talks about making trouble with Iran again.”

“I just want some peace.”


James Connolly. Photo: Jinsol Jung.

James Connolly, 77, used to work in telecommunications, laying out wires for fiber optic cables in Brooklyn. The current times are “so different from when I grew up,” he said.

He’s concerned that “the government can’t work together.” The most surprising thing to him is social movements, such as gay marriage. “You couldn’t even speak about it in my time,” said Connolly. “I’m glad we could so something for them.”


Norman Morris. Photo: Marsha McLeod.

“I think it is patently obvious that there has never been a president like Donald Trump. We’ve had good presidents, we’ve had bad presidents, and we’ve had mediocre presidents, but we’ve never had one like Donald Trump,” said Norman Morris, 75. “Trump is not just a conservative president—he is a clinical narcissist running our country, and I am truly nervous. There is history B.T. and A.T.—Before Trump and After Trump.”


Mary Herrmenn Puris. Photo: Lindsay Cayne.

Mary Herrmenn Puris, 67, said  that she is surprised Donald Trump is in office — and that he is still there. “Everything pretty much revolves around him and his ability, or lack of ability, his complete insanity,” she said. She is “shocked” that the country has continued to allow him to act as president. “As bad as it was back then, at least we were doing something,” she said.