Friday, February 20, 2009

"One for the Ages"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Now that I have reached 55, which means I am only 10 years from retirement, although at this rate I will be working posthumously, I realize how much I have in common with the highway speed limit: Nobody obeys either one of us.

Nonetheless, I have reason to be happy, not only because I am still alive (maybe I should get a second opinion), but because, according to AARP, I am officially eligible for senior discounts.

As a baby boomer who still acts like a baby even though the boom is over, I firmly believe that people my age deserve a price break. This belief is rooted in one unshakable truth: I’m cheap.

So I recently called Luci de Haan, a spokeswoman for AARP in New York City, to find out how much I could save.

"You can get discounts from hotels, airlines and companies that are licensees of AARP," de Haan told me. "You can also go to movie theaters with your AARP card. There’s not an official arrangement between smaller vendors and AARP, but you can try."

Shortly after my birthday, I went to a CVS pharmacy on Long Island, N.Y., to buy some toiletries. But when I put a can of shaving cream, a pack of razor blades and a stick of deodorant on the counter and asked if I could get a senior discount, cashier Christina Hendrickson said, "You tried this five years ago when you turned 50. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now."

"But I’m officially eligible," I pleaded.

"You could have one foot in the grave and you wouldn’t get a discount," said Hendrickson, who is in her 30s. "It’s against company policy."

I paid the full price, which came to $15.72, and went to Port Jeff Beverage Center to see if I could get a senior discount on a six-pack of beer.

"You tried this five years ago when you turned 50," said manager Frank Stoutenburg, echoing Hendrickson at CVS. "It didn’t work then and it won’t work now."

Stoutenburg, who recently turned 50, said that when he got his first mailing from AARP, he threw it in the garbage. "I’m in serious denial," he acknowledged.

Owner Bruce Bezner, 52, said that age is relative. "I have a grandson who’s 6 and a son who’s 5," Bezner noted. He paused and added: "Different wives."

"Besides," Stoutenburg said, "55 is the new 35, so you wouldn’t qualify for a discount anyway. You’re way too young and way too good-looking. With the exception of a few more gray hairs, which make you appear distinguished, you look the same as you did when you turned 50."

That made me feel a little better, so I paid the full $10 for my beer and headed over to Charmed Salon & Spa to see if I could get a senior discount on a haircut.

"Sure, why not?" said owner Maria Vieira, who has been cutting my hair, both gray and brown, since I was in my 40s, which is the age group she is in, although, like me, she looks a lot younger.

Maria – we’re on a first-name basis – said she would charge me the regular price for a haircut, a very reasonable $17, but would throw in a free shampoo and conditioning treatment for an overall saving of 30 percent.

That sounded good to me, so I went in the back to be worked into a lather by an assistant shampoo specialist named Luz, who declined to give her age but hinted that she, too, might be considered a boomer. She also might be considered an angel because her Angel Wash treatment was heavenly.

Afterward, I got my hair cut by Maria, who pointed out that 55 is middle age because the average life expectancy is between 90 and 100. I don’t know if those figures are accurate, but since 55 is the new 35, they must be.

"When you turn 65," Maria promised, "I’ll clip your nose hairs for free."

I can’t wait! Until then, I’ll enjoy getting older. And even if I can’t get senior discounts anywhere else, it beats the alternative.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Million Problem Password"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

One of the sad realizations of my life, which has been complicated beyond endurance by an electronic conspiracy that threatens what little is left of my sanity, is that I will never be a winner on my favorite game show, "Million Dollar Password." Even if you paid me a million dollars, I could never remember every password I need to continue my daily existence.

Like most people who are not legally dead, I have approximately 150 passwords for virtually every aspect of my life. I can’t keep track of them all. To make matters worse, some of them change regularly.

For example, every month I have to come up with a new password for my office computer. And I can’t use any of the previous dozen. I have used various combinations of my name, my wife’s name and our two daughters’ names, along with numbers (you need them, too) based on anniversaries, birthdays, shoe size, my decreasing IQ, anything I can think of. When I run out of possibilities, I do the same with the names of our dog and four cats. Once I even used an expletive. It worked!

Why, you may wonder, don’t I write all my passwords on a piece of paper? I am not glad you asked, but I’ll answer anyway. The reason is twofold: (a) I would forget where I put the piece of paper and (b) somebody else would find it and steal my identity, though why anyone would want it is beyond me. I don’t want it myself. Nonetheless, it would further complicate things.

Recently I became so flummoxed and desperate, which I may have to use as passwords, that I sought help from Tony Dottino, a management consultant who founded the USA Memory Championship, a national brain-teasing event that will be held March 7 in New York City (more info at

I was in the inaugural competition in 1997 and finished 14th in a field of 18. I came back for the 10th anniversary two years ago and, as the oldest contestant at 53, fared even worse: 38th out of 41.

"I remember you," Dottino said when I called him. "You are not easy to forget. Unfortunately, passwords are, which is why most people can’t remember them."

Even Dottino, a memory expert, said he has trouble with passwords.

"They drive me nuts," he admitted. "The whole idea of having a password for everything is just brutal."

"How can I keep track of them all?" I asked.

"It’s almost impossible," Dottino said solemnly. "The worst are the ones that have both letters and numbers and a minimum of eight characters. They’re a royal pain, especially if you have to keep changing them. I must confess that for me at times, it’s hopeless."

If this password problem can baffle a mnemonic maven like Dottino, who could possibly help me? You guessed it: Regis Philbin, host of "Million Dollar Password."

"Jerry!" Regis exclaimed when he returned my call. "This is exactly why I am computer-free and cell-phone free! I live my life without wondering what my name is! Everything you have these days has a code or a password! Then you have to punch the stupid thing in! It’s ridiculous! It’s not worth it, Jerry! You’ve got to give it all up! Live a new life, Jerry! You’re joining my computer-free club! You’re an important guy, Jerry! You don’t need people knowing your password!"

Yes, it’s true: Regis Philbin has no passwords. He has simplified his life the way I and millions of other people wish we could simplify ours, but can’t.

Still, he did help me come up with a solution to my problem. From now on, I am going to use only one word, with a series of numbers starting with 1 and going, if necessary, to infinity, for every computer, telephone and bank account in my life.

The password is: "Regis."

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima