Throw-Away Culture v The Planet

Building 2.16.17

Built in late 1980s

The very lovely, 12-story building in which I have lived for four+ years – along with 90 other condo-owning geezers, sometimes more delicately referred to as “retirees” or “seniors” but let’s face it – is about to embark upon an exterior repair job that will run upwards of $3 million. Repair. Not build, or upgrade, or renovate. Repair. This building is slightly over 25 years of age. (Its owners average generally at least three times that; are WE getting $3+ million repair jobs? We wish.)

Our building exterior is a material known as EIFS, which stands for Exterior Insulation Finishing System. According to its Wikipedia page, EIFS is “a general class of non-load bearing building cladding systems that provides exterior walls with an insulated, water-resistant, finished surface in an integrated composite material system,” in case you care. I am on the Homeowners Association board of directors. For a writer whose undergraduate degree was in Art and who was born essentially without a left brain, I know more about EIFS than I ever wanted to know; I can absolutely promise you that.

EIFS is still quite commonly in use. But I think they have figured out something that early EIFS people overlooked: using paper in an exterior building material is a very bad idea. Guess what happens when the sealant shrinks and water gets in and there’s paper involved. Our EIFS people hadn’t figured that out yet.

3965 Sacramento April '17

Built in 1905

Oh, well. What’s $3 or $4 million to fix a 25-year-old building? I do have to mention that the 4-story house we sold in order to move into this lovely building was itself built in 1905. Throughout a century or so of earthquakes and California rainy seasons (about half of which time it belonged to my husband  and/or the two of us) our exterior repair ran to a few thousand dollars in repainting every six or eight years. It is hard not to mention that I grew up in Virginia, where 18th century buildings (still doing fine) dot the landscape.

No offense to the building industry, but what’s wrong with building buildings to last more than 25 years without 4’ by 8’ panels falling off (yes, two of them did, in a bad storm earlier this year) in the middle of the night?

Building damage 1

(After the storm)

This essay started out to be all about planned obsolescence. EIFS buildings perhaps are not deliberately designed to become obsolete in a decade or two; ours just happened to fall into that category. And the above just came to mind as I was starting to write. But about planned obsolescence. It has its own Wikipedia page. According to that page, it “tends to work best when a producer has at least an oligopoly” (which also has its own Wikipedia page.) It was inspired not by the building nightmare but by my recent experience with my beloved Epson printer/copier machine.

My beloved Epson WF 3520, age four years, took to printing in weird colors. After extensive cleaning of the print heads and performing other bewildering actions in the Systems menu, I persuaded it to resume printing photos (for instance) in absolutely true colors. But now it’s inserting disconcerting lines across peoples’ faces and stuff. Not good. I made a trip to the local Office Max where it was purchased four years ago to ask what else I might do to make the lines go away. The following conversation ensued:

Me: “Is there another Systems thing I can try?”

Office Max clerk (age 20-something): “Did you clean the print heads?”

Me (proudly): “Yes.”

OM: “And the nozzle?”

Me (hesitantly): “I think so.”

OM: “How long have you had it?”

Me: “About four years. I bought it here.”

OM: “Oh! That’s a pretty good run.”

Me (an aside that was totally lost on OM): “Clearly you weren’t born in 1933.”

But come on now, folks. Four years is a “pretty good run” for a $400+ machine used by a little old lady who doesn’t print out much beyond an occasional letter or a short story every now and then? God help us.

Old-time sales & service shop

The DiMele Bros repair shop in NYC

In the olden days, which are getting more olden by the day, there were places called Repair Shops. There was often one titled Mr. Fix-It. Alas, one does not repair anything much in this brave new day – one simply tosses it away and buys the latest new model. In San Francisco we do have a spot beloved by many, Phil’s Electric. (This is an unpaid plug.) If you have something electric that Phil’s can’t fix, you’ve probably worn it out over too many decades.

Things electronic, however, are another matter. You don’t wear out an iPhone 4, you discard it for the 5 and then the 6 and then the 7 and now maybe the 7S. Can you wear out a FitBit? Or an Apple Watch? Or any item gently referred to as a “device?” Nahh.Funky cellphone lady You can, without undue effort, lose them to theft, ineptitude or malfunction. In the latter case – see above re my lovely Epson – the good news is that function can actually be restored in some cases.

Having just done an internet search I find there are more than a few electronic repair places in San Francisco, so perhaps all is not lost. There’s even one near Phil’s Electric.

Moving Mom and Dad

The folks are getting on in years, the old house needs work, the Stuff is piling up everywhere — it’s time to look at moving. But the big question is, where to? Urban condo? Assisted living? Retirement village? LifeCare facility? Co-housing? Maybe even the dreaded Nursing home or dementia facility?

Making the decision to move into what is likely the last residence on this side of the hereafter can be daunting, sometimes devastating. Whether it involves oneself or one’s older family members, the Final Move often exhausts patience, finances and family resources. But good choices are out there, and good help (sometimes free, more often adding to the growing costs of this life event) can be found. In previous posts this space has offered glimpses of these choices and experiences: Helping Mom Die (10/16); Hanging in the ‘Hood (9/29); Justice Souter’s Retirement Housing (8/10.) What follows is a look into the LifeCare option. I should first insert a grateful nod to the source of this headline, a great book by Sarah Morse and Donna Quinn Robbins.

I have just returned from a visit with my sister Helen and her husband, newly installed in a spacious two-bedroom cottage at Kendal at Ithaca (NY), a Continuing Care Retirement Community. To do this necessitated cleaning out and selling (of course, the sale fell through when everything was on the moving vans, but last-minute calamity is to be expected) the far more spacious four-bedroom plus roof deck 1920s condominium in Boston they have called home for nearly 40 years. It was not pretty. Despite my earlier Boston visits to whittle down the Stuff factor and later urgings to connect Helen with the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, the job tested the limits of patience and strength of their four extraordinarily loving children.

Nonetheless the deed did get done, and Kendal at Ithaca is perfect for Helen and Clare, thanks to a confluence of happy circumstances: their physician daughter has relocated from Seattle to Ithaca; Manhattan is a comfortable Cornell bus trip away; desired features are in place. KAI includes a community center with a dining room in which their monthly fees entitle them to one meal per day, a fitness center, a large library, a van to take residents to doctors’ appointments etc. Best of all, says Clare, who has Parkinson’s, “they can’t throw me out.” The major appeal of LifeCare, or Continuing Care communities, for many seniors, is the inclusion of facilities for different levels of care which one may require in the future. (Worst of all, Clare adds, is the fact that “we have a lot of Parkinson’s, so I see myself 3 years down the road… 6 years down the road.”)

Continuing Care communities do not come cheap. But for seniors who have a chunk of change from a home sale or other source and a comfortable retirement income, they fortunately exist in growing numbers across the country.

For my own part, and I am certainly very senior, I was suffering anxieties and depression after one day. I need regular infusions of 30-somethings and 40-somethings for basic survival. Again, from what I’ve heard about co-housing — the perfect choice for many others as they age — that arrangement would feel crowded and disorderly. But there is the growing aging-in-place “Village” movement, which many would not choose but seems perfect to me.

Thank heaven for choices. It is seldom too early for Boomers, or Beyonders, to start considering them — and while you’re at it, you may want to clean out the attic.