I was walking down one of the aisles of the L.A. Convention Center the other day when a woman thrust something into my hand and said, "Constipation problems?"
I can't recall ever having been asked that in public by a stranger, and it took me by surprise. Even my best friends don't ask if I have constipation problems.
"No," I said, leaning into her face, "how about you?"
Before she could answer, my wife stepped between us and said pleasantly, "So good of you to ask, we'll just be on our way. Come, dear."
"Wait," I said, as Cinelli led me off, "we were discussing our constipation problems."
"I know what you were discussing," she said, "and I want you to leave people alone. Take notes but don't talk to anyone."
Then she added, "I swear to God, Martinez, if you didn't have a column you'd be standing on a street corner somewhere swearing at passing motorists."
We were at the Time of Your Life Expo, which consisted of several hundred exhibits aimed at those over 50, into which category I, alas, fall.
The Expo lasted three days and was attended by 46,000 old people with constipation problems. The packet handed me was a sample package of a bulk-forming laxative.
It was one of many samples distributed. Everything from balloons to sewing kits. Old ladies snapped them up like anteaters at a termite hill, while a piano played "Glow Little Glow Worm."
Man, I hate that song.
I have mixed feelings about getting old. I was devastated the first time a movie theater ticket-taker gave me a senior citizens rate without asking. On the other hand, it saved me $3, so I took it.
"I just don't have a lot of enthusiasm for anything old," I said to Cinelli as we checked out the exhibits at the Time of Your Life Expo.
"I wouldn't worry about it," she said. "You've never had a lot of enthusiasm for anything. I can't ever remember seeing you happy."
An exhibitor asked if I would like to be tested for dry mouth. Cinelli answered for me.
"No thank you," she said, "his mouth seems sufficiently wet." Then she said to me, "See how easy it is to be polite, Little Glow Worm?"
We took a pamphlet that said dry mouth is the hidden cause of gum disease. Dry eyes, I learned later, is also a problem of aging.
As you get older, your juices go. It's part of a withering-away process, like buckeye trees dying on a hillside.
I counted 21 free, quick-hit medical tests at the Old Dog Expo. I could have been screened for stress, cholesterol, glaucoma, cataracts, diabetes, body fat, bad posture and fatal baldness, to name a few.
"If there were a test for attitudes," Cinelli said, "you'd fail."
A man handed me a booklet of recipes at a Rice For Life exhibit. No doubt for those whose sense of taste had been irreparably damaged by dry mouth. Treat yourself to a "Souper Rice Supper," it said. Like hell.
"I'll take it," Cinelli said. "He hates rice, soup, sunny days, puppy dogs and 'Glow Little Glow Worm.' "
There were about 1 million people over 65 living in L.A. County in 1989. That's a 10% increase over the preceding year. We are either living longer or octogenarians are being shipped in from Miami Beach.
As a result, everyone wants to cash in on what is perceived to be a new and growing market. We're talking leisure toys and life-monitoring systems here, not running shoes and weights.
Buy a spa, geezer. Buy a vibrating chair, a muscle massager, a pulse regulator, a security system, a motor home, a bike, a burial plot, a stun gun and a blood pressure kit. Buy a ticket to heaven.
Even Reader's Digest, friend of the emotionally limited, offers a large-type edition for those with sight problems.
Now, for instance, you can read "God Bless Irving Berlin," "A Christmas Miracle" and "The Dog Who Knew Better" without undue strain on either the eyes or the brain.
The Time of Your Life Expo also offered seminars on chair dancing for cardiovascular fitness, and Ukranian egg dyeing for those with impaired imaginations.
Additionally, we were entertained by the Dancin' Grannies, the Huff 'N' Puffs and the Pepper Steppers. Really? Yup.
"Terminal cuteness is also a disease of aging," I said to Cinelli. "Maybe I'll organize the Writing Whipper Snappers."
"Maybe we'll just leave this place and buy you a martini and some pasta so I can tolerate you long enough to remember I married you for better or for worse."
We did exactly that. After two martinis I even whistle "Glow Little Glow Worm," but I'll be damned if I'll glimmer.