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by Albert Vorspan
I WAS SURPRISED to read in the New York Times on July 13th that a very respected retirement home, the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, had developed a policy encouraging sexual relations among its residents, irrespective of age or medical condition. They are encouraging sexual intimacy, the article said, and even put "Do Not Disturb" signs on the doors of couples who were making out,
Wow, I thought, donning my long-discarded journalist cap, why not sleuth around a bit and find out what is going on, if anything, in our own quiet and lovely retirement community in the mountains? After all, my wife Shirley and I have been married for seventy years, so we must know a thing or two about sex, having produced four children within six years, our personal brand of planned parenthood. Moreover, the subject matter was not unknown to me in my journalistic career; fifty years ago, scrambling to support a growing brood, I wrote a forgettable piece for a humor magazine entitled, "I was a philanderer for the FBI." It was anonymous mishegos, but I pocketed the ten bucks.
My first interview in my new assignment was with Ruth, an elderly woman whom I accosted during lunchtime in the dining room. After stealing a glance at her name-badge, I pretended we were buddy-buddy. "Hi Ruth, you are looking great. Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Why not?" she said sweetly. "Sit down, young man. Eat."
"I just have one question. When did you last have sex?
She choked on her tortilla soup and they took her away on a stretcher and the headwaiter demanded that I leave the premises, which is silly because I am a resident and he is not.
I had to dodge the motorized scooter aimed at me by a wild-eyed resident who had eavesdropped on my conversation with Ruth and looked to me very much like the guy hugging the nuclear bomb as it dropped through the sky in Dr. Strangelove. Another crotchety old fellow demanded that I be listed on the roster as a sex offender.
The headwaiter next demanded that I finish my lunch at table 37, which I knew does not exist.
BUT WHEN I TOLD a horny old fellow about the policy at the Hebrew Home for the Aged, he asked, "You don't have to be Jewish, do you?" and applied on the spot for transfer to Riverdale, with circumcision only if necessary.
And one elderly female resident said, "I really would be interested, but by the time I get undressed, clean my false teeth and put away my hearing aids, the guy is playing pinochle downstairs."
Of the thirty people I queried, seventeen said "Get lost," one said Omigod and three said Mind Your Own Business. One guy fell out of his wheelchair trying to punch me, then threatened to sue me.
One male resident told me the sad story of going to the pool with a lovely woman resident and how they got so tender in the hot tub that he passed out and they were too embarrassed to call for help.
I read the Times story to Sadie, an outspoken feminist. The article recounted an 85-year-old woman's comment after losing her husband after a long and happy marriage: that she would welcome a new relationship because she missed curling up with her husband and because "It's no good being alone and I hate a cold bed." To which Sadie snorted, "Let her get an electric blanket."
WHEN I ASKED TO INTERVIEW an official at our residence, the only staff member who seemed available was the gal who puts paper into the communal bathrooms. When I asked her what the policy on sex is, she laughed and told me: "We once had a resident here named Martin Sexauer, and the first time somebody called and asked, 'Do you have a Sexauer there,' the concierge replied, 'Are you kidding? We don't even get a lunch break.'"
The Times story also suggested that sex would pick up greatly when the baby boomers start infesting retirement residences. For Shirley and me, that's a mixed blessing. Our four kids are wonderful and we adore them, but do we need to have them here, underfoot — especially when I don't think we ever got around to that sex-education chat we were supposed to lay on them three generations ago?
Albert Vorspan is the senior vice-president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism and former director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. He was integral in the establishment of the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC. He is the author of several books on Judaism and social justice, as well as a number of books of Jewish humor published by Doubleday.