I arrived home yesterday to a piece of mail that made Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2011, officially, the Happiest Day of My Life, a combination of all three of my nephews’ births, my wedding day and my divorce day, college graduation and my second-, third- and fourth-favorite Christmases ever.
In my hands was something I had declined last year but now had the chance to rectify the situation, an opportunity I shan’t again let pass.
I had an AARP membership application.
I should probably use this time to note that I’m 35, and while I’m five weeks away from turning 36, I’m still a good 14 years and five weeks away from turning 50, which just so happens to be the AARP membership age.
I read the letter, read, re-read, re-re-read and re-re-re-read the fine print (given the target audience of the AARP, you’d think the fine print wouldn’t be quite so fine), and I saw nothing, not one word, mind you, that said anything at all about a need to, you know, be retired to actually be a member of the American Association of Retired Persons or, at the very least, close to retirement age.
To be perfectly honest, while I care about the needs of our aging population (things like Medicaid or Medicare, whichever one is for old people), I care much more, in the short term, for things like the amazing AARP discounts. Members get immediate savings on restaurants, stores and hotels (the hotel savings alone are worth the cost of the membership), and even though some have strict stipulations (Denny’s, for instance, gives 20 percent off, but only between the hours of 4 and 10 p.m.), overall, the value was staggering.
I faced a few immediate decisions in filling out my application, most notably being how long did I want to be a member, with options of one, three and five years. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a gamble for AARPers to select the five-year membership since a) they’re old; and b) might not live another five years. When you might reach your personal expiration date before your membership card does, you might want to select a shorter plan.
On the other hand, one year at $16 didn’t seem like a good enough value, so I opted to split the difference, settling on three years for $43 (or $14.33 annually). I wrote my check, placed the prepaid return envelope in my mailbox and waited for the good times to starting rolling.
I explained all of this to a friend, who immediately questioned my ability to join an organization designed specifically for the elder members of our society. She put it in simple terms: “Kevin, you’re not old enough to join that.”
“I can join the NAACP, and I’m not C,” I countered. “I’m barely even a P.”
Despite making what I believed to be a valid argument, one that even the Supreme Court would have to uphold, I began Wednesday morning with a few doubts. While I remained confident in that my membership application said absolutely nothing in the negative about my being 35, I still felt like someone somewhere was going to swoop down on me and accuse me of not being old enough (which while technically true remains not my fault since I had a pre-approved membership application).
Not wanting to risk the wrath of The United States Secretary of Scary Old People Who Can Put Young Whippersnappers and Wiseacres in Their Places (I think we’d all be in agreement that Wilford Brimley has a lifetime appointment in this position), I got on the AARP’s website to do some research.
Wilford Brimley: The Man Who Invented Old Age
Again, nothing seemed to contradict my long-standing belief (OK, so one-day-standing belief) that I was eligible to be an AARP member solely because they had invited me to become one. I decided to test the system by filling out another application, knowing I could cancel out on the confirmation page.
One problem: instead of providing a final look-see at the information prior to confirmation, the AARP membership application just goes directly to the “Congratulations, you are now a member” page.
First off, see: I can’t operate a computer! I’m clearly eligible to be in the AARP.
Second of all, I would suggest the AARP, which up to that point has the most elderly person-friendly website I’ve ever seen, not jump straight from “enter your payment method” to “Congratulations, you are now a member.” Speaking on behalf of all AARP-eligible persons throughout this country, the extra step wouldn’t kill you, but it might induce some panic-stricken heart attacks among us.
To make sure I hadn’t fouled up the system, I called the toll-free number to make sure I wasn’t going to have separate memberships. An older-type woman answered the phone to assist me (I think her name was Peggy, which sounds like the absolute perfect name to be answering calls on the AARP hotline), and in resolving The Case of the Multiple Memberships (to be fair, I think she just flipped ahead to the end of the book and read the upside-down answers), she casually mentioned that I would be getting an “associate membership” since “you don’t sound like you’re 50.”
Uh-oh. I don’t like this smart mouth on Peggy.
“Um, what exactly is the difference between a membership and an associate membership?” I asked.
“An associate member gets access to the magazine.”
“No, no discounts. You only get the magazine.”
“So, to be clear, I’d be paying $43 for three years worth of the AARP magazine and get none of the discounts?”
“That’s correct. You’ll be an associate member until you’re 50.”
I thanked Peggy for her help and asked to speak to a supervisor.
After being on hold for 15 minutes, the supervisor, Tammy (again, perfectly named), got on the phone with about the kindest voice I’ve ever heard outside of a Cracker Barrel. This is smart business on the AARP’s part: I can’t get overly angry at a grandmotherly type.
Except, of course, when this grandmotherly type is trying to gyp me. If that’s the case, let the anger commence.
I stayed calm, though, and explained my case, using phrases like:
• “So, even though the literature says nothing about a so-called ‘associate membership,’ you’ll still take my $43, send me a monthly magazine and pretend everything is OK?”
• “This sounds like a scam.”
• “I’m having a hard time seeing how this is legal.”
Tammy explained to me that I had erroneously received the pre-approved membership.
“It’s usually targeted mailing,” she said, “and it really shouldn’t have reached you.”
Let’s pause for a minute to address the fact I’m on a targeted mailing list from the AAFRP (and Mom, yes, I’m afraid the “F” stands for exactly what you think the “F” stands for, but in this case, it’s totally justified, much like when you used to say “sht”). Some might find this insulting; I find it liberating. I do certain things in my life to accentuate my youthfulness, so why not embrace the other side?
But back to Tammy …
“That’s the thing, though – I did receive it, and I think it’s only fair that it be honored,” I told her.
I literally got cold chills (although, to be fair, it might have just been a draft blowing through at work; I’m in the AARP now – I get chilled easily).
Tammy told me she would delete my date of birth, thus allowing me to have a full membership. She took my credit card information, gave me the website to access my temporary card and said she would be talking to the marketing department to advise them to do include an age-related disclaimer on the future applications.
I thanked her and told her I would be an AARP member for life. “I hope to one day be 50,” I explained.
She laughed and said that’s an admirable goal. This Tammy was a bit of a flirt; I thought about asking for her number, maybe taking her for a bite at Morrison’s Cafeteria, but I let the moment pass. Maybe I’ll catch her some other time, perhaps at Del Boca Vista.
Now, though, I have bigger things to consider since I’m an AARP member. I have discounts to use, and, frankly, a cause in which to fight. I will stand up for the rights of my fellow AARPers. We will not be swept aside by a younger generation in their skinny jeans and bad haircuts.
No, we will fight.
I will fight.
I will fight for my right to party, particularly at reasonable hours with music at a respectable level and with plans to clean up the mess afterward.
I’m in the AARP, and that’s how we roll.