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A hero who looks 53: that's reality

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By MARLENE SOKOL, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 27, 2002

I like it that Jan Gentry looks her age.

Fifty-three. Not 43, not 33. Not like Rene Russo or Susan Sarandon or Goldie Hawn.

When a much younger Survivor: Thailand castmate moaned, "I don't want to be on the old lady's team," viewers booed him. Rude it was. But it made for great television.

Early deadlines forced me to write this column without knowing the outcome of Thursday's show. Gentry, a first-grade teacher at McKitrick Elementary School, could be history by now.

But win or lose, she is my hero.

She was also the toast of Chuck E. Cheese on Saturday, where several McKitrick families gathered for a birthday party.

But, though some parents are taping the show for their little ones, my own two -- who don't even go to McKitrick -- insist on watching it "live." Jan-mania has moved in and taken over, and the obsession is all my fault.

It's like this:

Middle age is traumatic in America. We should rejoice to see 53. But we don't, especially women, who get crazy at even the idea of menopause.

We read magazines at the gym and in doctors' waiting rooms, purporting that 50 can look like you just stepped off the set of Friends.

Is that what we are supposed to want? To be survivor Robb Zbacnik, 23, from Scottsdale, Ariz., with flawless skin and the intellect of a gnat?

Or to be Gentry, looking every day her age in pigtails and overalls, swimming miles around an exotic island and then returning to life as a schoolteacher in Lutz?

Cheering her on has been wonderful therapy. Healthier than hormone replacements. Better than Botox.

* * *

Remember how those school uniforms were supposed to save us money? Someone suggested an oxidizing laundry booster to get food stains out of the knit shirts. You've got to be careful. Otherwise you will burn holes in the uniform pants.

Then it's back to Bealls to save more money.

* * *

Sign of the times at Party City: A pinata on display, shaped like a soldier dressed in camouflage, selling for $9.99.

Could Saddam Hussein be this year's hot Halloween costume?

"Definitely not," says Rick Getchell, costume manager at the Original Carrollwood store.

So what is the year's big seller?

"Spiderman," Getchell said, as if there were any question. It's clearly the coolest ready-to-wear costume on the market, and what I would dress up as if I couldn't be Jan Gentry.

"Even some of the girls are dressing up as Spiderman," Getchell said. "I'm probably going to run out of them, although hopefully they will get replenished."

Tell you who I would not want to be: A restaurant owner in that shopping center. The former Jo-El's is vacant again, with a window poster advertising the Florida Reptile Show. Something called Marcelo's Place opened and closed at the site before I could even taste the antipasto.

The old Whaley's Market is holding its own under the improbable name "Grumpy's." And Party City is going strong. Proving, perhaps, that people will always pay good money for color-coordinated paper goods.

And to dress up as Superheroes.

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