Senior Stories

15 Seconds of Fame

Decades ago – a mere blink of the eye in Seniortime – the soup-can painting Andy Warhol saw fame as the pinnacle of modern consumerism. In 1968, he insightfully stated “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.”

After waiting 35 years, last week I got mine. At least 15 seconds worth.

There I was, just hanging around, minding my own business, when CBS Evening News called. Might they interview me for a segment on how today’s low interest rates are adversely affecting seniors?

My 15 minutes had arrived! Here, finally, was my ticket to fame and fortune.

It happens that hardly a day goes by that I don’t get e-mail from at least one reader of Suddenly Senior who is being forced to choose between eating and purchasing needed prescription drugs. Many who were earning at least 5 percent on their money-market accounts, now get one-quarter of 1 percent. Translated: for every $100 in interest previously earned, they now net a measly five bucks.

I’d be delighted to talk to CBS about it!

One week later, with film crew and newsperson hanging on my every word, I gave them an earful. I railed about how seniors have been financially raped, first by stockbrokers, now by banks. I frothed about Greenspan’s credo of low inflation and high unemployment that has forced countless seniors into bankruptcy. I ranted about the obscene cost of pharmaceuticals and lamented that this equation literally robs seniors of long and useful lives; the most effective drug in the world is useless if it’s not affordable.

For 45 minutes I was a tsunami of senior complaints. I enthusiastically echoed thousands of reader grievances ranging from age discrimination and Congressional Medicare fraud, to recounting attempts to cope with Big Pharma’s never ending, ever creative war on seniors. Including suicide.

Then, I waited.

That weekend, dozens of CBS promos showcased my proclamation that “seniors are being brutalized by financial rape.”

I knew the network wouldn’t be able to resist the “rape” sound bite. But how would they abbreviate my lengthy bombast into 20 – 30 words?

Meanwhile, I considered the purchase of a signature stamp in anticipation of an onslaught of autograph seekers. Just in case.

Boycott Walgreen’s!

That Monday, Dan Rather seemed particularly alarmed as he introduced the segment “Making Ends Meet.” Entitled “Seniors Sour Over Prime Rate Cuts,” my interview was over before it began.

Wow! I thought. Is that all there is?

It wasn’t. My phone started ringing and didn’t stop till midnight. I heard from crusaders. Like the guy wanting me to promote his boycott of major drug stores; another asking me to join against the privatization of Social Security; a woman wanting me to campaign to legalize euthanasia. (“Is this personal?” I asked.)

I got dozens of calls from seniors. Many are unable to find work even at minimum wage. Others need medical help. All were enraged by a perceived betrayal by the Bush Administration.

The phone rang for three days. In the space of a couple of on-air minutes, I’d gone from anonymous old coot to Wunderkind. Everyone felt that I’d spoken The Truth about Seniors. Most, I think, heard me say something I didn’t, but that something was so important to each of them that they heard it anyway.

Over the next few days, 500 new readers subscribed for e-mail delivery. Welcome, all.

Then, as suddenly as it had started, it was over.

Until today, when I inquired at a new bank about transferring my account. My current bank has changed names more often than an al-Qaida operative, becoming increasingly creative with service charges with each name change.

The lady at the new bank said, “Don’t I know you?” I told her that I wrote a column for the St. Petersburg Times. “No, I mean don’t I know you?”

She looked at me, closer this time. “Yes!” she screamed. “Marion,” she shouted to the wide-eyed woman at the next desk, “here’s the guy on the news last week.”

Right away, I decided this was the bank for me. I didn’t care what they charged.

Fame does that to you. You’ll see when your 15 minutes comes to call.



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