Category Archives: Aging Well is the Best Revenge

Yay for Schmucks with Underwoods!

Buried among the woeful news of recent weeks is a surprising victory. The TV writers who’ve been suing the networks, studios and talent agencies for age discrimination for almost ten years just won a $70 million settlement – the largest age discrimination award in history. It will change the landscape, the way employers treat workers, and possibly what we see on TV.

I had thought this case would drag on for generations, like the lawsuit in Dickens’ novel “Bleak House.” I joined it as a plaintiff in 2000 and figured I would die before it was resolved. (20 of the writers did)

A relatively small number of unemployed writers were going up against multi-national corporations with battalions of lawyers and deep pockets. And screenwriters have always been at the bottom of the totem pole. Jack Warner of Warner Bros referred to his staff writers as “schmucks with Underwoods.” (for those too young to remember, an Underwood was a typewriter)

The challenge at the outset was: few of the writers I knew wanted to join the suit, fearing they’d be blacklisted. Even if they had evidence that they’d been passed over for jobs because of their age, they still were hoping for a break, a comeback. The law prohibits companies from discriminating against anyone bringing legal action against them, but as my lawyer told me, “There’s going to be a list and everyone will know who’s on it.”

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This is a serial about love and awakening. Enter the contest below and win a free book. Check “Recent Posts” on right side of page to read past installments or start with Part One.

I knew there was a bio of me on Wikipedia, but I’d only seen it once. Last week, though, a friend said he checked his regularly to make sure it was accurate. I went to the site, typed in my name and read: “Davidson’s first job was with the Boston Globe, where she became a national penis finder.”

I blinked. I read it again. Was I seeing what I thought I was seeing? Yes, there it was in the familiar blue type of the free online encyclopedia, the source people trust, the source that gets 30 million visitors each day and is said to be more accurate than the info in a professionally produced encyclopedia. “National penis finder.”

How the hell had this happened? I tried contacting Wikipedia, which is like trying to contact a human at Microsoft. Anyone can edit anything on the site, anonymously. It’s monitored by volunteers who can’t possibly keep tabs on edits to 13 million articles. How do they prevent this from happening all the time?

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You’d think the car was made of gold. It was a ‘98 Honda Civic that belonged to my 94-year-old mother who’d driven it only 37,000 miles. It turned out to be the most valuable material possession she owned.

The hot car.

My sister, Terry, and I had flown to L.A. to close down our mother’s life there. After moving her to Hawaii to a home for the memory impaired, we realized she would never return to the condo where she’d lived for 38 years. Terry and I had cleared two weeks from our schedules to sell her car, her condo and everything in it.

I checked the blue book value of the Honda, thinking we’d be lucky to get a couple thousand, and was surprised to see it valued at $6800. I wanted to list it at $6500, but Terry said she’d had trouble selling used cars, whatever the blue book said, and we wanted a quick sale. We compromised at $5900.

Within minutes, the phone rang and barely stopped all day. The first thing people asked was, “Has it been in an accident?” No, we said. Everyone begged to come with cash and take it sight unseen. Clearly we’d priced it too low. Because of high gas prices, we surmised, everyone wants a small car that gets good mileage, and this car had gone only 37,000 miles! One man wanted it for his handicapped sister who was trying to live independently. A 16-year-old girl had saved all her birthday and bat mitzvah money and job earnings so she could buy her first car, and this had to be it. One woman asked, “Are you Christian? We are.”

No, we’re Jews.

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Published May 16, 2008 by Sara Davidson

“Does age bring awakening?” I ask myself as I stand in the drugstore checkout line, clutching a box of Depends. My sister, Terry, and I are about to move our 93-year-old mom out of the condo where she’s lived for decades to a home for people with memory impairment.

Mom has always been a dynamo: strong-willed, opinionated and exacting. She told us that she wanted to stay in her home until the end, and we respected that. The problem was: her home is in L.A. I live in Colorado and Terry lives in Hawaii, so we’ve had to manage her care from afar. We hired two loving women from El Salvador to stay with her, but they’d call us in alarm. “Your mother isn’t eating. She says she’s too tired to go to the park. What should we do?”

Mom falls asleep while getting her nails done.

We flew to L.A. to assess the situation, and I was shocked that mom, who’s always been tireless, was nodding out all day. While eating lunch, getting her nails done or in the middle of a conversation, she’d drop her head to her knees and go to sleep. She was becoming incontinent. When we took her out to eat and brought her home, she asked, “Whose house is this?” So… maybe she wouldn’t notice if we moved her?

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Published January 22, 2008 by Sara Davidson
On Christmas Eve, Joan Borysenko and I re-created a dish that her mother and my grandmother used to make. In our memories, it tasted like heaven, but we hadn’t eaten it in more than 30 years and were filled with nostalgic longing. Her mother in Boston called it a “veal pocket,” and my grandmother in Los Angeles called it “stuffed breast of veal.” The recipe had been carried here from the shtetls — Jewish villages in Eastern Europe — and used ingredients that other folks discarded: the ribs of the calf and stale bread.

Joan and I with shtetl food.

We hatched our plan one night while we were talking about the ancestral dishes we grew up with – our comfort food – that our children hadn’t known. Sure, they’d eaten matzo ball soup, brisket and potato pancakes, and my daughter used to love chopped liver until she became a vegetarian. But they’d never eaten my grandmother’s stuffed cabbage, kishke, knishes or any kind of strudel. Would these foods soon become the snows of yesteryear?

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In New York last week, I joined the striking film and TV writers on the picket line in front of the Disney store on Fifth Avenue. Before the morning was out, I’d gotten involved in a tussle that could only happen when writers strike.

I picked up a sign that said, “Fair Share for Writers!” and joined the line of hundreds in an enclosed space on the sidewalk. Our numbers kept growing until we couldn’t move at all, just shuffle in place. There were star writers like David Chase, who created “The Sopranos,” and Tony Kushner, who wrote “Angels in America,” along with writers who barely earn a living. (The average member of the Writers Guild earns $60,000 a year) I caught up with a friend who writes big horror movies, but who’s one of the calmest, dearest, sane people I know. He asked that I change his name, so let’s call him Jerry. We hadn’t seen each other in years and were catching up, when we spotted a trim man in a beautifully tailored navy suit and tie outside the barrier. “Go home!” the man yelled, “Go back to work!” People started asking, “Who is that guy?” and we heard, “He’s from management. He looks like a suit, doesn’t he?”

He was, in fact, the only man in sight wearing a suit. Writers live in jeans or sweats and sneakers.

We kept shuffling and talking, handing out fliers to passers by, blowing whistles and beating drums. The Suit kept trying to incite people, and had a cameraman with him. “Don’t you want to work?” he shouted. “When was your last pay check? If you ever hope to see another one, get your ass back to work!”

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Published September 20, 2007 by Sara Davidson

It’s the moment of truth. Six glass jars have been sitting in my garage for three weeks. Like a mother hen, I’ve been watching them as the water inside turned cloudy and the cucumbers morphed from bright green to a yellowish pea color. Nervously, on the 21st day, I open the jar. Fzzzzzzzt! The brine bubbles and spurts – it’s alive! I pull out a pickle, take a bite and…. Glory to God! It’s the exact same taste as the dill pickles my Hungarian grandfather used to make, every year when I was growing up.

“Best pickle I ever tasted,” says my friend, Jenna Buffaloe

His pickles set the standard: crisp, tangy, juicy, spicy, a symphony of flavors, whereas all other pickles I’ve tasted have at most, two or three. Even pickles from delis on the lower East side of New York taste tepid by contrast with Grandpa Louie’s. His pickles were comfort food; every time someone in our family moved to a new home, one of us would bring a jar of pickles and set it in the kitchen. No house was a home without it. No holiday table was complete without a dish of pickles. But when my grandfather passed away in the 70’s, his pickles died with him.

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I’m sitting in the president’s office at Fox Broadcasting to pitch a drama series inspired by Leap! There are four of us trying to sell this project: Goldie Hawn, Marta Kauffman, Nancy Josephson and me.

“What good is jewelry sitting in the box?”

Goldie, who will act in and produce the series, draws all eyes. True to name, she glows, she sparkles, and makes you want to smile. She’s wearing a strapless, rose-colored summer dress that wafts just below her knees, and a necklace with diamonds so large I think at first they’re fake. The necklace, made of uncut diamonds as big as nickels, is an antique from the Raj period which Goldie bought in India. “I’ve decided to wear my jewelry,” she’d said before the pitch. “What’s the point of it sitting in the box?”

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Published April 23, 2007 by Sara Davidson

For three weeks, I’ve been lying in bed with my head down and my legs elevated and ice packs on my calf. A hematoma—a pool of clotted blood from internal hemorrhaging—has taken over my leg. It’s the biggest hematoma—about 8” long and 3” wide—that my primary doctor, David Hibbard, has seen in his career, which is not the kind of record any sane person would want to set.

How the hell did this happen? I didn’t fall, have an accident or trauma to the leg. The doctors I’ve seen can only speculate on what started the bleeding, but I blame it on Robert Butler, MD, whom I interviewed for an article about the science of aging, that will be published in the N.Y. Times Magazine on May 6.

Robert Butler, MD, says you should take no fewer than 10,000 steps a day. Ha!

Butler, who’s 80 and remarkably lean and fit, has charm, charisma, and, according to one of his colleagues, “He knows everything.” He’s the kind of 80-year-old I’d like to hang out with or, better yet, be. He helped found the National Institute on Aging, won the Pulitzer prize and runs a think tank on aging in New York.

Every morning he clips on a step counter, a black device that sits on the waist band and counts every step you take. “You should take no fewer than 10,000 steps a day—roughly five miles,” he says, during our interview. “At the end of the day, I’ll check the counter and if I haven’t done enough, I’ll go for a mile walk.”

“That’s awesome,” says the young woman who’s videotaping the interview.

“I’ve never seen one,” I say.

Butler takes the step counter off his belt and hands it to me. “You now have one.”

I tell him I’m scared to find out how many steps I’m taking, and the first day I clip it on, my fears are confirmed. I’m taking less than 2,000. (Hey, I work at home, I’m a writer)

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