Called to Testify: My 15 Nanoseconds of Senate Fame

Article excerpt

FORUM

Aging Today Editor Paul Kleyman was among five witnesses who testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging on Sept. 4, at a hearing titled "The Image of Aging in the Media and Marketing." (For a discussion of one of these presentations, see the "Business and Aging" article on page 11.) The following commentary is his personal reflection on the occasion. To view the hearing on streaming video or to access the written testimony, visit the website at http://aging.senate.gov, click on Committee Events, then click on the Sept. 4 hearing.

I stared at the screen, mesmerized like a monkey with a mirror. There I was-or am-and can be found any time, round the clock, for years to come-on the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging website. The streaming video is predictably fuzzy at the edges, and blurrier than I'd like when enlarged to full screen. As I watched the first time, my image froze whenever I moved the cursor back to rehear something at a frame that suggested a bad night of karaoke. "Volare!"

C-SPAN carried only the live Internet audio link of the Sept. 4, 2002, committee hearing, "The Image of Aging in the Media and Marketing" (not unexpected, since the House was back in session), and ABC World News tonight was there, mainly to tape the testimony of Emmy Award-winning actress Doris Roberts, who plays the mother on "Everybody Loves Raymond." She delivered a strong speech about ageism in Hollywood. When I glanced toward her end of the witnesses' table, I felt reassured about surviving my own 15 nanoseconds of recognition. She, too, held up pages of her testimony to read, as I knew I'd have to do, but her pages were loose for easier handling. I took the professional cue and removed the staple from mine.

THE SUPERSHUTTLE RIDE

The previous afternoon I'd flown in to Dulles Airport and was sardined into the last available seat in the back of a blue Supershuttle. It was go degrees, and Washington's subtropical air thickened around me like olive oil. The van driver reminded me of the actor Ossie Davis, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing earlier this year. The driver was paunchier than Davis and did not elevate to his 6 feet 2 inches, but the man, who might have been in his late 6os or early 70s, turned out to share more than a passing resemblance to Davis. He would leave a lasting mark on me and my task in Washington. I was struck by his poise as he calmly recorded his passengers' destinations and informed us of his routing plan. Mine was to be the last of five stops, but I didn't feel at all rushed in the care of a man so well composed.

The driver soon left the main freeway, before it became a rush-hour bog of fenders and fumes. The van easily coursed along local highways through McLean, Va., and other familiar suburban map names. Now and then he'd slow a bit to note an odd landmark- "On our left is the personal residence of the Saudi ambassador, with the Saudi crest on the iron gate"-but his navigation was as confident and unhalting as that of any well-- seasoned riverboat pilot of Mark Twain's lore. Even when he later swung U-turns in Washington traffic, I never thought for an instant that any but the most competent of hands were at the wheel.

Yet, there was one unsettling moment during our tour through the tree-lined side streets of Washington. It was an incident that I would hold in mind the next morning as I raised my triple-spaced text before me and tried to remember to look up now and then at the senators and the lenses. A fellow passenger asked about a painted elephant at a busy corner. Our guide faltered a moment, rendering an unrelated reply. When another of us repeated the question more distinctly, the driver exclaimed, "Oh, the elephants." He explained that perhaps 300 large pachyderm and donkey figures (all about the size of baby elephants and real donkeys) were "Party Animals" that had been painted by different artists. The results, now displayed in front of commercial establishments around town, would be auctioned off to raise money for arts programs. …