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  • Dan Albert S. de Padua

Who Are All These Old People?

My father related to me how once proud old U.P. professors had to go to the municipal hall and suffer the indignity of getting in line and getting hassled by clerks to receive their pension checks of about P6,000.00 each from the GSIS. It was a monthly ritual, and if they arrived a little too late, they might be sent shuffling off to return the next day. These were former college deans, professors emeriti, Ph.D.’s, and national scientists. But the system had humbled them into numbers in a queue. They had retired.

I have retired, too. When younger friends ask me what I do all day, I tell them I watch movies at the mall with the senior citizens who get into the theaters for free. That always gets a laugh. My fellow weekday moviegoers arrive before noon in shorts or with shawls or in outfits a few years to a few decades out of style. They come in small groups of noisy friends. Many are elderly couples who argue about everything. Some walk around alone, plainly missing the partners who have passed on. Several are still sprightly, others seem to move at three quarters speed, and a handful need the assistance of canes or companions. Why my friends laugh is not really clear to me.

When I was in elementary school, a friend and I walked home every afternoon through the university campus. We’d talk about nerdy boy stuff—outer space, comic book superheroes, maybe sports, sometimes girls—and we’d often see this old man who tucked his faded short-sleeved polo shirt into high-waisted baggy pants. He’d hear us debating and smile quietly. One day he invited us to drop by his laboratory in the sciences building. Kids talked to strangers back in those days. Turned out he was a pioneering microbiologist, not a mad scientist or anything weird, just an old guy who had stories to share with a couple of kids. They had some fascinating stuff in their labs, including if I remember correctly a few rocks from the moon sent to them by NASA. He answered all our questions and said we could come back anytime. We never did.

Today I wonder about the old people at the municipal halls and in the malls. I wish I knew their stories. What had they discovered? Who did they teach? Where had they been? Regardless of their stations in life and their previous occupations, the sheer number of years they’ve been on this earth guarantees a wealth of adventures. Sometimes the storytelling can be repetitive, but it’s a small price to pay to hear the lessons that took them a lifetime to learn.

At multi-generational family gatherings at restaurants, rather than listen to the seniors we chuckle a bit when they pull out their discount cards. We might even get a little annoyed when they insist that the bill be recomputed for the sake of a small amount of savings. Although I’m still a good number of years away from 60, I think I understand why the senior citizens’ card is so important. These grandparents were once great providers. If they hadn’t been, we wouldn’t be around today enjoying all the good food. But now that they don’t contribute to the family income, they may feel that their greatest value is in reducing the family expenses. We don’t tell them otherwise. We should before it’s too late.

On the day I went to pick up my retirement check, the security guards did not know me even after I gave them my name. They made me sign the log sheet completely with my name, company, person to be visited, purpose of visit, and time in. They called into the office and I thought when the people inside heard my illustrious name someone would come rushing out to usher me in. Instead, the guard asked me, “Meron na ba daw kayong quitclaim?” I waved my new manila envelope and answered Yes. The guard instructed me to sit down in the reception area. A fresh-faced kid eventually came out and sat beside me. I had not met him before. He opened a sealed envelope, dug out a check, handed it to me, and showed me the other documents in the envelope, including a certification that I had worked at the company. Then he asked me for an ID that he could xerox. This company used to issue my ID, but it was now asking me to prove my identity. As a check signatory of the company, over the years I must have signed away company funds many, many times over the amount of my retirement check, but this young man wanted my ID. Then, it was all over. My tenure with the company I had served loyally as a senior executive for 11.46 years ended with a whimper of anonymity.

In response to a previous column, a millennial wrote “we think we are equal with everyone else because—news flash—we are.” He added, “Age does not give one the right to have an automatic seat, or a ‘po’ after every sentence. These are earned, not given.”

I am very tired, and I am guilty at the same time.


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