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Surfing the Web: A new weapon for the truly mature

By SHEILA STOLL

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 2001


I'm somewhere between fatigue and belief in a conspiracy theory. I'm also somewhere between middle age and death. Being more than old enough to qualify for AARP, I do qualify for those demeaning honorary titles such as golden ager, senior citizen and mature adult, said in a way that makes me feel it isn't in reference to my being admitted to entertainments intended for "mature audiences." (I may be too mature for that sort of entertainment.)

My fatigue and indignation are the result of the ubiquitous dumping on seniors, which reached a frenzied national pitch during Election 2000. That outbreak was directed largely at Florida retirees. Letters to editors in states far removed from Florida expressed the opinion that they were drooling, senile obstructers of the March of Progress and therefore shouldn't be allowed to vote. It was enough to make me tired.

That was the most public, obvious incidence of an unfortunate attitude stridently articulated by people who haven't as yet reached a certain age.

I've become used to being treated by doctors who look like Doogie Howser. I put up with people who invite me to dinner at 5 o'clock because they assume I don't drive after dark. But I'm becoming increasingly annoyed and alarmed by agencies and institutions that make assumptions about my prospective longevity, attention span and "spunk." (That's a word young people use to describe people my age who aren't doormats: "She may be older than God, but she's spunky.")

I suspect that HMO Medicare doctors are maintaining their obligations to their stockholders rather than maintaining my health. They're willing to give me a prescription for high blood pressure that will stop my heart, then give me a pacemaker to keep it ticking long enough for me to keep my next appointment.

The credit card company that tries to rip me off assumes that if it gives back what was stolen I won't make any more fuss. Wrong! I want the sucker who lied to me fired, and I might want legal sanctions against his employer.

The assumption seems to be that, being old, probably tired and easily intimidated, we should expect to be treated with thinly veiled contempt and won't be around long enough to make any real trouble when we're treated shabbily.

There is arrogance among the cyber-generations: "We are eons ahead of the radio generation. They aren't on the information highway; they shouldn't be in the fast lane on any highway. If they're active, they should play golf or square dance. They should volunteer to make teddy bears for needy children. They should not take part in any serious discussion of national priorities. They should not expect to be treated like real, wage-earning people. Their time is about used up, and the sooner they shuffle off their mortal coils (as quickly and quietly as possible,) the better."

I often get the impression that because I'm not physically intimidating, can't be viewed as threatening because of influence, money or corporate power, I'm fair game for anyone who likes to push other people around.

With much struggling, many crashes and various kinds of grief, I can now surf the Web. (Your public library or community college will be happy to help if you don't have a computer or don't know how to make it work. If you have a grandchild living nearby, you're home free.) To my amazement and delight, I've discovered help.

I don't have to go physically to some government office, take a number, eat my sack lunch while waiting to talk to a person who gives me a form to fill out and then take another number. There are Web sites that provide electronic complaint forms I can fill out and file from my very own keyboard.

So I don't give up with a sigh, discouraged by the daunting process that requires travel and inconvenience when a bank, credit card company, HMO or others try to walk over me. Their assumption that no one my age would bother to fight back is wrong.

I'm no longer standing in line behind Rodney Dangerfield; I've found a way to get respect. If those to whom I complain don't see me, they don't know how old I am. They can't make negative assumptions about me. I've had prompt responses, and situations seem to miraculously smooth out when my HMO hears from the State Medical Board about my complaint.

The Exchequer of the Currency in Houston seems to carry more weight than I do on my own with my bank-issued credit card. The Better Business Bureau put the fear of retribution into the dentist who tried to scam me about my insurance. The attorney general in most states has a Web site that tells you what to do when someone tries to rip you off, or succeeds.

By word of mouth and through searches of government Web sites, I've found enormous amounts of useful information to get beyond the attitudes, down to the nitty-gritty. Don't give up and let them get away with it. We have resources; we must learn to use them.

- You can write to Sheila Stoll, c/o Seniority, the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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