ROBERT ST JOHN: I may take them up on the insulated travel bag offer

By Robert St. John

I am officially old. I walked into my office yesterday and the mail was stacked neatly on my desk as usual. There were a couple of bills, several solicitations, a thank-you note, a letter from a column reader, a few pieces of junk mail and – on the top of the stack, front and center, addressed to me – a letter from the AARP.
Actually, it was an authorized dispatch from the “office of the chief executive officer” of the AARP in Washington, D.C. I fumbled for my reading glasses and clapped my hands twice to turn my lamp on.
How could this be? I’m only 50 years old. Yesterday I was planning a trip to Panama City as a senior in high school. A few blinks later I was walking with a bachelor’s degree as a senior in college. Today, according to this group, I am just a senior. No title before or after, just “senior” and eligible for discounts at participating restaurants.
The AARP stands for American Association of Retired Persons, or retired people, or retired podiatrists. I’m not actually sure which, because nowhere in the official literature is the acronym explained. This group is so well known they are a stand-alone contraction. They are the KFC of lobbying groups.
Looking at the unopened envelope, I was expecting a lot of material and a pretty heavy sales pitch inside. But there was very little information about the organization and its goals and principles inside the correspondence. I guess the retention rate of 50 year olds might be low, so they figure the first round of communication need only make a brief introduction. According to friends who saw their fifth decade come and go many bowls of bran cereal ago, this will be the first in scores of solicitations as I begin to creak and falter my way through seniordom.
There was, however, a free insulated travel bag in it for me if I signed up today. They were serious about this insulated travel bag. It was dangled in front of my soon-to-be-cataract-filled eyes all throughout the letter, on the outside of the envelope, the inside of the envelope, the back of the envelope, next to the hard-plastic membership card, and as a postscript directly below Chief Executive Officer Addison Barry Rand’s signature. “P.S. Return the form above to receive your Insulated Travel Bag – FREE.”
At every turn there was something about the free insulated travel bag. I’ll admit I don’t know too much about being old. But having an insulated bag to carry around with you must be an extremely important part of the process.
After reading further, I learned that the membership card they enclosed was only a “temporary” membership card. They needed my $16 before I could receive a “membership kit” and an “official” membership card.
I began to wonder if people at movie theaters and buffet restaurants scrutinize AARP cards as much as we do in the bar business. Do senior citizens get carded? Would the cashier at Shoney’s look closely at the card, then up to my face to see if I might actually be a senior? Would I pass? It’s like spring break in reverse, you’re actually better off if you don’t pass the scrutiny.
For $16 the AARP promised me a 12-month membership in their organization, free membership for my wife, a free subscription to “AARP The Magazine,” access to discounted products (Metamucil, anyone?), 10 issues of the “AARP Bulletin Paper,” and access to discounts on several goods and services.
Whereas the offer to extend my wife free membership is a noble gesture, I am not sure the office of Mr. Addison Barry Rand knows exactly what would be in store for me if I offered said wife – who is nowhere near retirement age – a membership card to the AARP (even if there was a free insulated travel bag included).
Though, in the end, it might be the insulated travel bag that seals the deal for me. They hawked it so effectively I might spend $16 just to see the thing. Though I am not sure that – in this decrepit state – I will be doing any more traveling.
It seems like yesterday I was a member of the KISS Army. Today I am about to be a member of the AARP.
There might be one major problem. One would think that membership in the American Association of Retired Persons mandated that said member be retired. I am not retired. I don’t plan on retiring soon. I might never retire. Though I think I’m going to join the AARP, because, over the course of writing this column, I have come up with several uses for an insulated travel bag. Now pass the Metamucil.

Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.