My mother hates her assisted living place, and I don’t blame her. It’s decorated with Norman Rockwell prints, vintage Victrolas and piped-in Andrews Sisters tunes, like a Depression-era Disneyland. Why does she have to listen to music from when she was 10 when she spent her adult years listening to the Beatles and the Stones? She spent her youth going to lectures and poetry readings and now makes Popsicle-stick art with people of opposing political views. Ever since I hit the big 5-0, even before, I’ve thought about where I want to be as Act 2 heads toward Act 3, and many of my friends and peers are thinking about it as well. We actually got excited planning for our future “alt assisted living.” It’s like an episode of Friends for the over-50 set — “The One About the Return to Roomies” — but we are grownup, wiser, kinder, smarter, and no longer skimming off the peanut butter or leaving dirty socks on the kitchen table.
Mom was from an era when family was the focus, which left little support when they moved away or passed on. Since we are the generation who moved away and formed our own families, both nuclear and social, now we want to grow old with them as well! I’ve never hated the idea of senior communities or assisted living, (no more cooking or cleaning, hello!) but I want it to be on my terms.
When I asked my friends where they saw themselves in 15, 20, 30 years, the responses were different, but the sentiment was overwhelmingly the same: together!
- “We live in a sleek, subsidized, affordable, elderly housing tower where Mario Batali is the chef and we get free tickets to Hamilton.”
- “We have opportunities to learn about new topics, and everyone is responsible for an on-trend TED Talk, and we’ll present Mature Moth storytelling slams, like ‘The night I spilled soup on Jackie O.’
- “I want us to have a weekly movie club, with trashy ’70s/’80s flicks like The Poseidon Adventure and The Breakfast Club, where we recount the first time we saw them and what we were wearing.”
- “Creativity, dreams and goals excite and keep us going. We have to meet weekly and inspire one another to continue to grow/work/create. Mandatory innovation and productivity!”
- “There should be a kindergarten in the same area, if not for the gentle mixing of ages, then at least for us to be able to have something to yell about.”
OK, the dialogue has begun; here are my thoughts.
Artisanal Aging. A mini-midlife Brooklyn where aging hipsters live in areas like NoStro (no strollers), DecLi (decent lighting) and ReMen (reading glasses provided with menus) and spend their days drinking decaf lattes, wearing AC/DC T-shirts without anyone calling them “vintage” and playing in rock bands, where they can literally relax in a rocker while playing with their band.
Senior Night Fever. For the senior who came of age in the Studio 54 era, it’s Donna Summer’s dream house, with nightly disco dances from 6 until 9, drag bingo, a DJ in every infirmary and spandex Sundays.
Hippie Valley. Where aging flower children sway to Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix, and MC Way Gray tells everyone to avoid the Brown Metamucil.
Project Pensioner It’s Real Housewives of Happy Valley meets Survivor! For those who always dreamed of being on a reality show, PP lets you live in a swirl of cameras, backbiting boomers and real-life challenges, like figuring out how to create a slideshow on iPhoto, write an age-appropriate OkCupid profile and listen to the Weeknd with your grandson without wincing or asking why he couldn’t add an extra “e.”
What’s your utopian living? With whom? Where? Doing what? Think about it now; ask your friends. Let’s do this!
Nora Burns is a founding member of the comedy groups Unitard and the Nellie Olesons and also performs comedy solo. She will perform her latest show, David’s Friend, in New York this winter. She has written for Paper magazine, TimeOut New York and TheaterWeek. Nora lives in New York with her husband and two kids.