I also have grown children and grandchildren, living in other parts of the country. I recently moved to a new state, downsized in a BIG way, and settled myself in a one-bedroom apartment. I love it! I’ve made many new friends, am very active in my Unitarian church, in addition to being the Office Administrator there on a part-time basis. My children are supportive and we stay in touch by email and phone. When I do have a quiet moment at home I relish the time—reading or cooking or watching Netflix.
My advise to seniors: Make the most out of each day. Get involved. Find friends of your age. It's a wonderful life.
This gal would agree:
I’m 79 pushing 80. I have lived alone for over 30 years, but I have never been lonely, bored or depressed about it.
I have some health problems, BUT I’m very active. I’ve been a Master Gardener for 15 years, helping people to save money, eat better, and learn to grow and save their food by canning, freezing, dehydrating. I also oversee 300 volunteers in three counties to be Citizen Scientists, monitoring rain gauges for CoCoRaHS.org. I’m in my eleventh year doing this.
I also am computer literate. Anyone can become literate on computers at most libraries, college classes—many are free for people over 65 years of age. Other people are active in their church activities, listening to children read at your local schools, help out at animal shelters. Volunteer at art galleries, museums, etc.
I had three children; they are all old now. Only one son is in my life. That is alright, as we do NOT OWN our children just because we happened to bear them. Mine are all good citizens and not a drain on anyone, so I feel I must have done something right. I do not owe them and they do not owe me.
This woman is frustrated by older people who wait for their children to cheer them up:
I’m 68, a widow (for 18 years), childless, and an only child. Lonely? Yeah. I don’t even have any family to complain about. Why don’t people with non-communicative children call THEM, write to THEM, reach out to THEM. Good grief, people! I don’t have that option. Wish I did.
Here’s a reader who’s not old yet:
Thank you for addressing the topic of aging and living alone. My partner and I, now in our 40s, are child-free by choice. I have always known I didn’t want children, and we have both been asked many times who will take care of us when we’re old. The answer is that it requires a lot of planning and saving—something that it seems as if some of your letter-writers have not done because they were relying on their children.
I think it would behoove everyone to plan for old age as we do, by making sure there are caretakers, decision-makers, and others in place when the time comes, and building a network of peers with common interests to keep us company. Relying on your children for both support and companionship is often a losing strategy, and it damages relationships with them by breeding resentment.
Nobody seems to care that I live alone in my 70s. My two adult children and four adult grandchildren are busy living their lives. It’s hard to put into words the feelings of loneliness that overcome me.
I give many gifts to my children. Yes, I’m invited to birthday parties and graduations—any celebration requiring a gift—and now I am broke, living off Social Security, fearful I’ll soon be homeless. I’m lonely and in fear of my immediate future.
I have no social contact with others my age. Guess I’m an introvert, lonely and wanting a friend.
Here’s another reader, Brenda:
I’m alone in Texas. My four children are out living their lives. If I died, they would find out two weeks later. My oldest daughter might care. My second daughter wouldn’t care. My son might be slightly shocked, but he would get over it quickly.
My youngest is the only one who shows much care. She calls me every Sunday. She is all I have, so I will love and cherish her from 2,000 miles away.
In an earlier note about a short documentary, The Forgotten Ones, featuring an 80-year-old woman living by herself in Chinatown, I asked readers what it’s like to grow old without any family at home. If you’re anything like Maude, it means fun, independence, and a daily sense of discovery (not to mention sex with someone in his early 20s):
A reader remembers his self-reliant grandmother:
She spent all of her life in San Francisco’s Chinatown, living in an apartment like your video’s por-por [a Chinese term for “grandmother”], but her place was smaller and up two flights of stairs. (I never visited Manhattan’s Chinatown, but the feel and vibe seems not too unlike SF.) My grandma was also by herself, after my grandpa passed away in the ‘90s. She chose to live in Chinatown because it was a familiar place and everything she needed was there. She refused to move in with us, away from Chinatown.
Many older people in that neighborhood also do not want to rely on their children. They don’t want to accept that they need to be cared for in their old age. They are sentimental about Chinatown and want access to all of the things they’ve been used to.
My grandma’s friends were her neighbors, as there was a community kitchen and bathrooms with showers that were publicly shared. Each week we would visit her at the apartment, as it was a drop-off point between shopping trips. Her birthdays were the time our families gathered. As a teenager I would still make a trip to see her, but in my 20s those trips lessened.
While my grandma did not do what the por-por in the video did [go through garbage bags on the sidewalk for discarded baked goods], she would sometimes ask shopkeepers for food that cannot be sold anymore—which they would’ve disposed of anyway—and make something out of it. We insisted that she should treat herself by buying things fresh, but she stubbornly argued that they are still good. I thought in her mind she had won something for not having spent a penny.
One of the most popular videos we featured this summer was a 10-minute documentary by Mantai Chow profiling an 80-year-old woman named King-Sim Ng. Ng’s husband died in 1985 and she has been living alone in Manhattan’s Chinatown for 15 years. Here’s a snapshot of her life, as seen by Mantai:
“This is just so sad and disturbing,” says reader JT. Another one, Ben, also got emotional over Ng’s story:
I think a lot of people can relate to the woman in the video, especially people coming from immigrant families. I almost cried watching this video because Ng, like my mother, also worked in the garment industry and her husband, my father, had also passed away. My mother is in a different living situation, but I can imagine the hardship this woman must have gone through as an immigrant and now alone living in Chinatown.
Do you live alone in your old age and want to share your feelings about it—positive, negative, or somewhere in between? Do you enjoy your independence or wish you still lived with loved ones? Please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the end of Mantai’s film, Ng disappears after being hit by a car, leaving the audience in angst. One reader pleaded in the comments section, “Do you have an update on her?? I would like to know whether she lived or not.” Mantai replied:
I got in touch with Ng finally in June after the film is done. She is back in her apartment safe and sound. She seems to be fine but her legs are still a bit weak. [Her friend] Tay visits Ng in her apartment almost every day now to give her food and stuff. Her children also are helping out! I hope things will get better for her.
A few days ago, after I got a hold of Mantai, he went to see Ng at her apartment and filmed a short update for her fans:
Such a sweet lady! Thanks to Mantai for the followup and happy ending.
Back when the documentary first aired, one reader created a commenting account (ChinatownGirl) just to share this remarkable coincidence:
I came across on the street the lady who “disappeared” in the video moments after she was hit by the car. So here’s what really happened:
On a drizzly night, Feb 4 around 10pm, I was walking down Mulberry St. to the subway. I saw a little old lady on the curb, next to her shopping cart. There was a big Italian guy on the phone with 911/ambulance dispatch. Apparently he had swiped her with his car and she had fallen.
Three Chinatown punks (I use that term 100% affectionately) were taking a smoke break outside a bar. One of the punks ran inside and came back out with an umbrella to shield the old lady from the rain. I went over and put my backpack under her arm to keep it out of a puddle. The punks and I asked her in Chinese how she was doing and where it hurt. She said her hip was very painful.
The Italian guy was talking to the 911 operator: “You wanna know how old she is? Er…um, I guess I’d say she’s 50-something?” I turned to the old lady and asked her how old she was in Canto. She said “I’m 80!” (White people REALLY can’t tell how old Asians are, I thought…)
While waiting for the ambulance, I asked her if there was anyone we should call? She dug into her many layers of coats/vests and pulled out the plastic ID pouch that all Chinatown grandmas have with their reduced-fare Metrocard. There was a worn piece of paper with her kids’ numbers on it. When the EMTs got there, I translated all the questions about meds and pain scale/locations. Then I called her son’s cellphone. He was in Queens. He was really concerned and thankful, and headed out immediately to meet her at NY Downtown hospital where she’d be taken.
Later that night, I got a text from him:
Hello Good Samaritan, Thank you very much for tending to my mother. I’m sure it was very reassuring for her to have you there. I am at hospital now but she’s getting x-rays, so I haven’t seen her yet. Thanks again & best regards
I sent a text back:
Sure, of course. A similar accident happened to my grandma at Chatham Sq a couple of months ago while she was crossing with her shopping cart too. I’m glad I was just passing by in time to help tonight! Hope she gets better soon. Good night,**--**
The next day, my uncles texted me, saying their old Chinatown friend told them I had helped his mom and helped him get to the hospital quickly. I asked my uncles how the stranger knew we were related? Because, they said, their friend only knew of one person named **--** in Chinatown!
Chinatown is not dead. It’s got to evolve, but it’s not dead. We are still here, our networks are centered here, and they run deep. I encourage more of us to re-engage and re-invent what we want Chinatown to be. What are the strands of the old Chinatown worth preserving? And how do we do that? I would like to hear your thoughts. [If you have any, please email email@example.com]
And for those who would ask, Why doesn’t the son have his mom live with him in Queens? Why don’t they live with her in Chinatown? Why would they let her pick trash in Chinatown streets and spend so many hours alone?
That gets back to the guilt/ambivalence over caring for our elders. Chinatown has been a community of working-class immigrants. We struggle to keep family connectedness across rifts caused by psychological economic trauma, relentless personalities that are required for survival, and the sometimes tragic success of working yourself out of poverty, only to transform your next generation into something that you are not. It’s a lot more complex than this video makes it out to be.
This video has gone viral among my Asian-American friends. I guess it speaks to a deep-seated guilt/ambivalence that many of us feel over caring for elderly parents and grandparents. Or a nostalgia for the Chinatown(s) of our childhoods that cannot exist anymore.
As someone who was born, raised, and is still working in Chinatown, I always appreciate a spotlight on the neighborhood, especially a narrative of relatively high production value like this one. However, I could not help but feel from the very beginning that this piece was somewhat sensationalistic. It leads you to believe, from the beginning, that this PoPo is eating out of the garbage, only to reveal moments later that she’s feeding birds.
The worst part is where it dramatically says, “she disappeared,” then reveals moments later that she was hit by a car. Then the video simply ends, mercilessly leaving the viewer hanging about the old lady’s well-being. A bit disingenuous when the filmmaker clearly knows what happened to her.
So now the comments section of TheAtlantic.com is filled with assumptions and condemnations for her “ungrateful” children who have supposedly “abandoned” her. The viewer is left with a sinking feeling that Chinatown is dead—just a husk of a once-thriving society, a place where a sweet old lady would be left alone to die anonymously in the street, a place that’s abandoned so hipsters should move in with their bars and galleries. No! I think this is actually a very dangerous narrative to broadcast, and somewhat irresponsible of the filmmaker!
Mantai replies to his critic:
Thanks for shedding light on what had happened that night. I am the producer and director of the film. I totally agree with you that Chinatown is not dead. The food sharing shown in the film is the proof. She helped her friend, meanwhile getting help from another friend. I think this is a beautiful picture. A lot of kindness and people take care of each other.
One thing I would like to clarify in response to your comment saying that “a bit disingenuous when the filmmaker clearly knows what happened to her.” I finished this film in March. The only thing I knew by then was she got hit by a car. I called and went to 20+ hospital but still couldn’t find her. I tried to reach out to her family members to no avail. At that point, I did not know her whereabouts and her conditions. Her friends and I only had her home phone number. All we could do was to wait until someone picked up the phone again. As a matter of fact, I [didn’t get] in touch with her until lately.
This 10-min documentary is just a glimpse into her life. I agree that it’s a lot more complex than that. This film is meant to stir up discussion and bring awareness to the society about the issues facing the elderly people in Chinatown, not to put blame on anyone.
This reader makes a great point in defense of Mantai:
It was apparently not intentional on the filmmaker’s part to leave out the information about her ultimate whereabouts and condition that elicited such strong to. However, it would be quite brilliant on his part to leave it out intentionally, because it would be consistent with the troubling feeling of loneliness and the disturbing sense of being practically invisible in a crowded city.
Otherwise, many viewers would not think much more about Ng or elderly people like her, much less take the time to write and criticize the filmmaker or express feelings of what psychology calls “disequilibrium,” which is required for learning, inquiry, action, etc. A neatly packaged video with a “happy ending” would be much easier to accept AND move right along to something else.
I speak as a second generation Asian American who—along with friends sharing similar backgrounds—has dealt with issues present in this thought-provoking film. When we pass by an elderly person (or people in similar conditions, such as the homeless or mentally ill), this film, and its unintended ending, reminds us to wonder about that person’s life challenges and actually do something that could help ease their burden, because it’s not just a movie; it’s real life.
One more reader for now:
As much as I appreciate this quick glimpse into Ng’s life, it begs a couple questions. The most glaring one has been asked by other readers: Where are her children, and are they aware of her dire straits? Secondly, is Ng aware of and able to access local charities and agencies that can assist her (i.e. Citymeals on Wheels and food banks)? Thirdly, is there some way that concerned audience members can offer assistance, such as a GoFundMe or a preferred charity?
As far as I know, Ng is aware of some community/charity groups in Chinatown. But I know there are elderly people including Ng who are somehow reluctant to reach out for help. The reasons might involve personal preferences, cultural issues, etc. It is a lot more complicated than what we think. I feel like it is the time to ask questions and figure it out together.
As to her family members, I have very limited access to them. To be honest, I don’t think it is fair to put blame on her children because we simply don’t know much about their family. They might have their own difficulties.
In terms of what we can do, I think we can keep our eyes open. When we see a need in our own community, we give a helping hand. It can be as simple as chatting with the elderly people in the street, buying them lunch and eating with them. This kind of support is especially important for those who are reluctant to reach out to the community centers and social services.
What the happiest Springsteen album in decades can teach us about Joe Biden, the wisdom of maturity, and the meaning of life
I recently saw a photo of Lyndon B. Johnson in the first year of his presidency. He looked like a classic old guy—wrinkled, mature, in the late season of life. It was a shock to learn that he was only 55 at the time, roughly the same age as Chris Rock is now. He left the presidency, broken, and beaten, at 60, the same age as, say, Colin Firth is now.
Something has happened to aging. Whether because of better diet or health care or something else, a 73-year-old in 2020 looks like a 53-year-old in 1935. The speaker of the House is 80 and going strong. The presidential candidates are 77 and 74. Even our rock stars are getting up there. Bob Dylan produced a remarkable album this year at 79. Bruce Springsteen released an album today at 71. “Active aging” is now a decades-long phase of life. As the nation becomes a gerontocracy, it’s worth pondering: What do people gain when they age, and what do they lose? What does successful aging look like?
To raise doubts about the Democratic nominee, right-wing-media smears don’t even need to make sense.
On Tuesday, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham broke some news: An “investigative journalist” named Matthew Tyrmand had uncovered a cache of 26,000 emails belonging to Hunter Biden’s disgraced business partner Bevan Cooney, who is now in jail. Tyrmand claimed that he had gotten hold of the emails via a person in the same facility as Cooney (a “federal work camp for white-collar infractions,” is how Tyrmand put it). Tyrmand explained that Cooney felt stiffed by Biden, the son of the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, and implied that Cooney had handed over his own Gmail password in an act of revenge.
Perhaps that’s what happened. Or perhaps not: I have good reason to doubt the reliability of the source. The last time I saw Tyrmand was in October 2017. I was speaking at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and he was in the audience. Security guards were keeping an eye on him after I warned them that he might show up: He’d come to another public lecture of mine the previous day in New York City, then had turned up in Boston and announced on Twitter that he was following me to Cambridge. His goal, I think, was to shout at me and draw attention to himself while waving a cellphone camera in the air, which is what he’d done in the past. But the lecture went off smoothly; afterward, a very gentle and very tall Harvard professor stood firmly between us, engaging Tyrmand in vigorous conversation so that I could slip away unharassed. I didn’t hear directly from Tyrmand after that—I block the social-media accounts of tiresome trolls. But I gather that, year in and year out, he continues to post obsessively about me and my husband, a Polish politician, including photographs taken surreptitiously in public places. I have no idea why.
“Our boyfriends, our significant others, and our husbands are supposed to be No. 1. Our worlds are backward.”
Kami West had been dating her current boyfriend for a few weeks when she told him that he was outranked by her best friend. West knew her boyfriend had caught snatches of her daily calls with Kate Tillotson, which she often placed on speaker mode. But she figured that he, like the men she’d dated before, didn’t quite grasp the nature of their friendship. West explained to him, “I need you to know that she’s not going anywhere. She is my No. 1.” Tillotson was there before him, and, West told him, “she will be there after you. And if you think at any point that this isn’t going to be my No. 1, you’re wrong.”
If West’s comments sound blunt, it’s because she was determined not to repeat a distressing experience from her mid-20s. Her boyfriend at that time had sensed that he wasn’t her top priority. In what West saw as an attempt to keep her away from her friend, he disparaged Tillotson, calling her a slut and a bad influence. After the relationship ended, West, 31, vowed to never let another man strain her friendship. She decided that any future romantic partners would have to adapt to her friendship with Tillotson, rather than the other way around.
America survived one Trump term. It wouldn’t survive a second.
Updated at 11:14 a.m. ET on October 14, 2020.
The most important ballot question in 2020 is not Joe Biden versus Donald Trump, or Democrat versus Republican. The most important question is: Will Trump get away with his corruption—will his crooked and authoritarian tactics succeed?
If the answer is yes, be ready for more. Much more.
Americans have lavished enormous powers on the presidency. They have also sought to bind those powers by law. Yet the Founders of the republic understood that law alone could never eliminate the risks inherent in the power of the presidency. They worried ceaselessly about the prospect of a truly bad man in the office—a Caesar or a Cromwell, as Alexander Hamilton fretted in “Federalist No. 21.” They built restraints: a complicated system for choosing the president, a Congress to constrain him, impeachment to remove him. Their solutions worked for two and a half centuries. In our time, the system failed.
How anti-Trump women in America’s suburbs are ushering in a new era of political activism
To say that Susan Polakoff Shaw is a delight is to say nothing particularly controversial. The 61-year-old Ohioan’s charm is an objective fact, like snow being cold or a square having four equal sides. She laughs loudly and swears often. Her strawberry-blond curls are piled on the top of her head, like Ms. Frizzle, and she wears jean jackets, chunky jewelry, and blue plastic-framed glasses, like the kooky aunt you wish you had. She is also, importantly, a woman of action—“a mover and a shaker,” as one of her friends put it to me. Her one-woman communications firm, which she founded in 1991, has been hired by the International Olympic Committee to work press operations for 15 Olympic Games.
So naturally, when Shaw attended her first meeting of a local Democratic club in 2018, she saw it as her next big project. The gathering was fairly dull, a handful of older people seated around tables in an echoey ballroom on Cleveland’s west side. There was pizza, sure, and a lineup of local speakers. But there was no attendance-taking, no callouts for volunteers, no planning for weekend projects—even though the midterm-primary season was under way. Things have got to change if we’re going to beat Donald Trump, Shaw thought to herself as the meeting wrapped. And things did.
The president of the United States poses a threat to our collective existence. The choice voters face is spectacularly obvious.
In 1973, a United States Air Force officer, Major Harold Hering, asked a question that the Air Force did not want asked. Hering, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was then in training to become a Minuteman-missile crewman. The question he asked one of his instructors was this: “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?”
The writer Ron Rosenbaum would later call this the “forbidden question.” Missile officers are allowed to ask certain sorts of questions—about the various fail-safe systems built to prevent the accidental launching of nuclear weapons, for instance. But the Air Force would not answer Hering’s question, and it moved to discharge him after determining that officers responsible for launching nuclear weapons did not “need to know” the answer. “I have to say I feel I do have a need to know because I am a human being,” Hering said in response.
As society gets richer, people chase the wrong things.
“How to Build a Life” is a biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
One of the greatest paradoxes in American life is that while, on average, existence has gotten more comfortable over time, happiness has fallen.
According to the United States Census Bureau, average household income in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, was higher in 2019 than has ever been recorded for every income quintile. And although income inequality has risen, this has not been mirrored by inequality in the consumption of goods and services. For example, from 2008 to 2019, households in the lowest income quintile increased spending on eating out by an average of about 22 percent after correcting for inflation; the top quintile increased spending on eating out by an average of just under 8 percent. Meanwhile, domestic government services have increased significantly: For example, federal spending on education, training, employment, and social services increased from 2000 to 2019 by about 30 percent in inflation-adjusted terms.
The bumbling provocateur who stormed the United States in 2006 has now become an unlikely voice of reason.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the already infamous climax of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the Amazon sequel that heralds the return of the titular Kazakh journalist and agent of chaos played by Sacha Baron Cohen. Borat’s daughter, Tutar, is interviewing Rudy Giuliani in a hotel room when the situation takes an alarming turn: The former Mayor of New York, and current lawyer to the president, is shown reclining on a bed and reaching his hand into his pants. The whole scene is so cringe-inducing that it’s a relief when Borat himself bursts into the room, interrupting the encounter and jolting the tone from creepy dread back to zany confusion.
“She’s 15. She’s too old for you,” Borat tells Giuliani, a typically tasteless rejoinder from America’s favorite faux-foreign mischief-maker. (While Tutar, the character, is 15, the actor playing her is 24.) As absurd and embarrassing as the hotel meeting is for Giuliani, who called the scene “a complete fabrication,” it underlines the accidental premise of the movie, which was shot surreptitiously over the course of this year. When Borat first rampaged through the United States for his 2006 cinematic debut, he held up a fun-house mirror to Americans’ views of outsiders, capturing real people nodding and smiling politely at this supposed journalist and his provocations. But in 2020, Borat has become the peacekeeper rather than the agitator.
Cases are rising in all but nine states. Unlike the past two waves, this one has no epicenter.
Updated at 9:20 p.m. ET on October 22, 2020
The United States is sleepwalking into what could become the largest coronavirus outbreak of the pandemic so far. In the past week alone, as voters prepare to go to the ballot box, about one in every 1,000 Americans has tested positive for the virus, and about two in every 100,000 Americans have died of it. Today, the United States reported 73,103 new cases, the third-highest single-day total since the pandemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic.
This third surge is far more geographically dispersed than what the country saw in the spring or summer: The virus can now be found in every kind of American community, from tiny farm towns to affluent suburbs to bustling border cities. This is the first of the American surges with no clear epicenter: From North Carolina to North Dakota, and Colorado to Connecticut, more Americans are contracting COVID-19.
Where the desperation of late-stage meritocracy is so strong, you can smell it
Photo illustrations by Pelle Cass
Updated at 6:01 p.m. ET on October 22, 2020.
To make the images that appear in this story, the photographer Pelle Cass locked his camera onto a tripod for the duration of an event, capturing up to 1,000 photographs from one spot. The images were then layered and compiled into a single digital file to create a kind of time-lapse still photo.
Image above: Cornell versus Dartmouth, women’s lacrosse, October 2019
On paper, Sloane, a buoyant, chatty, stay-at-home mom from Fairfield County, Connecticut, seems almost unbelievably well prepared to shepherd her three daughters through the roiling world of competitive youth sports. She played tennis and ran track in high school and has an advanced degree in behavioral medicine. She wrote her master’s thesis on the connection between increased aerobic activity and attention span. She is also versed in statistics, which comes in handy when she’s analyzing her eldest daughter’s junior-squash rating—and whiteboarding the consequences if she doesn’t step up her game. “She needs at least a 5.0 rating, or she’s going to Ohio State,” Sloane told me.