Grandpa Goes to Grenada

Dorothea Lange

You're not going to find me sucking on caribou eyeballs or slurping down raw walrus hearts any time soon. But when it comes to growing old gracefully, we all may have a few things to learn from the primitive Eskimo. From the snowy shores of Siberia to the Northern stretches of Nunavut, Eskimo people know what to do when they outlive their useful years. One professional pontificator at Drexel University discovered that backward societies the world over have practiced some form of "death hastening" for the decrepit. Rather than hog the whale meat while youngsters starve, generous geezers wander into the white wilderness, never to return. Others inform their families that the hour has come, and then ride the shoulders of society's productive members to a public suicide ceremony. That way the burden of being old only lasts a few minutes instead of decades.

Compare that unwritten contract between fathers and sons to the highway robbery on the road of life that is America's Socialist Security program. In case you've never stopped to ask what happens to the 6.2 percent of your salary that disappears into the jackboots of the "SS" administration, here's the way our system "works": Kennedy cultists in Washington plunder the pocketbooks of people who earn money, collect virtually no interest on it, and then give it away willy-nilly to people who never pulled down a paycheck or saved a penny in their lives. And the Democrat party thought Enron was a scam. Just thinking about this shameless con game may hasten my own death!

Someday soon the free-loving baby boomers are going to grow too expensive for their own good. Like lemmings or locusts, they've got an insatiable hunger for free prescription drugs and federally subsidized book groups. Maybe these unreformed hippies got the "munchies" from too much "medical" marijuana. Which is why we should offer them all the ganja they can smoke in a new string of publicly chartered and privately managed senior settlements throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, and the rest of the low-cost world.

Now it won't be hard to bundle Grandma on the plane to sunny Panama for a few weeks. But familiarizing yourself with a little bit of demographic history may help explain why we all need her to stay there. Being the greatest and most efficient economic engine that the world has ever known, America could afford to leak some cash in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Back then, a small number of old-timers feasted on the all-you-can-eat buffet of government giveaways. But our grandparents were randy ones--they were fruitful and multiplied. And so between the years 2000 and 2030, Minnesota's senior population will explode from about 600,000 to near 1.2 million. Unfortunately, that growing horde of gray-hairs is also expecting to push their walkers up to the trough. Oh, and did I mention that the trough of Medicare and Social (In)Security commitments is going to need to be filled with $10.9 trillion dollars beyond what's currently funded (this, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office)?

Old people are addicted to handouts, and like anyone who's been coddled for a lifetime it's too late to break them of the habit. To be reasonable, our parents were promised that the government would be their babysitter one day. Unfortunately, where today there are 4.3 working adults for every Price Is Right watcher, there will be only 2.6 people without ear hair to push each full wheelchair by the year 2030. It was the wrong promise to make, but we're more bankrupt than Willie Nelson and his farm buddies if we're not good to our word.

Unpopular Democrats cling to the panic of the elderly--without these terrorism tactics, they'd never win another election. (Which is why Gore had to try that creative ballot counting in Florida.) Meanwhile, the Grand Old Party tries nobly to convince plastic addicts who are taking cash advances on October's paycheck that they should learn the difference between a 401K and Special K. Good luck with that.

The truth is that neither party has all the answers. And whether you want Howard Dean performing abortions in the West Wing or you want George Bush protecting your kids from Koran-carrying maniacs, you probably realize that our country has a problem on its hands when it comes to entitlement programs. Unless doing word scrambles and playing slot machines in Hinckley starts paying a salary, the quarter of a million Minnesotans who will be over age 85 in 2030 won't be able to pay anyone to change their adult diapers. We need to look beyond the war of words when it comes to this widely loathed experiment in American socialism. Specifically, we need to look south.

...And east and west, too. Instead of scouting for more dollars--and more taxes--to feed the maw of entitlement deficits, why not make the money we spend go farther? Like, to the Pacific coast of Mexico? To the rolling scarps of Slovakia? To the balmy, volcanic islands of Vanuatu? Why are we planning to commit our parents to state-subsidized gray ghettos when they could live like royalty in luxury, free-enterprise retirement communities all over the globe?

Many Minnesotans already voyage south when Paul Douglas starts getting that wild look in his eye come November. But paying for a surgeon to stick a stent in your fat-hardened arteries is no cheaper in Tucson than it is in the Twin Cities. So what if Uncle Sam encouraged a wagon train of those RVs--say the least capitalized 20 percent of the senior population--to keep rolling across the border? Heaven knows enough Mexicans are drenching their shirts while swimming across the Rio Grande in the other direction.

According to the slide-rule wizards at the World Bank, the per capita income in Mexico is $5,910--which is the equivalent of $8,540 in U.S. purchasing power. How far do you think a thousand-dollar-a-month prescription drug payout would go in Ixtapa? Poland's income per potato-liquor drinker is $4,570--or $10,130 in purchasing power parity. The castle your great uncle Wladimir could buy in Warsaw on his postal service pension is no Polack joke.

These are countries begging for foreign investment and intellectual capital. Do you know the coot next door with the retirement watch from 3M, who calls the cops when your BBQ goes past 8:00 p.m.? Well, it turns out he has both those things. Black folks from Minneapolis's north side, following America's historically helpful role in Liberia, could act as stabilizing elders for an African continent laid low by AIDS deaths and youthful upheaval. All altruism aside, the equation is simpler than a Bingo board. America's bifocal wearers could see twice the lifestyle in another country for less than half the government spending.

International retirement resorts and roaming senior cruise ships are already a boom business. (Everyone can afford to play shuffleboard once you shed the labor-cost straightjacket of crooked union contracts.) But not every senior is going to be ready for the adventure of a lifetime in tropical climes--or to get in touch with his ethnic roots in Minsk or Monrovia. As Americans, the elderly who haven't saved enough on their own have the right to remain miserably and hungrily in our midst (though ultimately, relocation for foreign-born and some low-income seniors may need to become compulsory).

The way I look at it, America has a single question to answer when we plan the future for our near and dear fogies. Do we want to imagine our elderly having their feet rubbed by peso-an-hour nurses in comfortable condos as they gaze at the gentle surf off Cabo San Lucas? Or do you want your ma and pa cutting out coupons for a Purina dinner while toiling into senility as a greeter at Wal-Mart?

Made up your mind yet? Now just promise that you'll save some tequila for me!


Believe it or not, the first appearance of "The Right Man" was about as popular around City Pages as Sirhan Sirhan at a Hyannisport cotillion. And it left a lot of the paper's usual readers braying about lost causes and bawling for the poor into their fat-free chai coolers. No new opinions welcome here! The I-Hate-America editor of this T&A tabloid actually spiked the column you're reading now in favor of running a dull hatchet job on our President George Bush--whose main crime, as far as I can tell, is believing that American lives are worth more than those in Mullahstan.

Maybe open minds prevailed in the publisher's office--or perhaps advertisers came out of the woodwork to endorse some writing that doesn't insult small business owners. I personally believe it was your letters that won "The Right Man" another page in the paper. Turns out Che T-shirts stained with patchouli oil aren't an instrument of the revolution, but your e-mail messages are. Kindly copy those declarations of independent thinking to [email protected]. I promise, shedding those tired liberal orthodoxies will keep you looking and feeling younger!

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