the longest lives

‘How Old Is Biden? Well, He’ll Have a Lot of Good Advisers.’

Zooming into retirement homes, where the presidential race is on everyone’s mind.

A drive-by COVID-19 testing site at the Florida retirement community the Villages on March 23, 2020. Photo: Paul Hennessy/Alamy
A drive-by COVID-19 testing site at the Florida retirement community the Villages on March 23, 2020. Photo: Paul Hennessy/Alamy

Minna Katz, 94

Roland Park Place, Baltimore, Maryland

I put on lipstick so you could see me. It’s funny, we’re not going anyplace, but I dress up for myself. You’re talking to me from the den. It’s a two-bedroom, teeny-tiny apartment. It’s what’s called a continuing-care community. You come in as an independent, and if you need more care, you can be moved to an assisted-living apartment. We moved in February of 2015. So it’s five years.

We’ve had a couple of people that had medical issues other than COVID, and they became ill. They were tested; they were positive. They were moved into particular rooms that had been set up to take care of people with positive results. Within two or three days, they died. I mean, not at the same time, but each in their own time. They were sick to begin with, and the virus finished them.

Everybody working in health care here looks just like you see in the hospitals, with the face mask and the shield and head covering and gowns and gloves. We don’t have any of our dining facilities open. You call down every day for your lunch and dinner, and it gets delivered at your door.

We have a new CEO, Sam, who appeared maybe ten weeks ago now. When Sam appeared, we were in the midst of something called the norovirus. Norovirus is the one that’s nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It’s ugly, and it’s highly contagious. I said to him, “You know, dealing with the norovirus is a blessing in disguise.” And he said, “How so?” I said, “Because you’ll be ahead of the game if the corona comes.” I was right, because it was not a hard transition to go from what we were doing to what we’re doing now.

One thing we have continued doing is the fitness program. A room that used to hold 15 people now holds a maximum of seven so that the chairs are quite far apart. I do four classes a week. It’s only a half an hour. A half an hour’s enough for an old lady.

Our CEO has stressed, and I feel strongly about this, that when you’re living in a community like this, you have a responsibility to one another. He said, “This is what we’re going to do, and I don’t want you going off-campus.” I haven’t left. I lost a tooth more than a month ago. I called the dentist. Her people at the office sent via a modern-technology center a picture of the X-rays. And she said, “No, she doesn’t have to come in. Unless it hurts and then we’ll take care of it. But otherwise, we can wait this out.” So I’m waiting.

Everybody needs haircuts here. I see the women who cut and color their hair, and at this point they’ve got this white stripe in the middle. I say, “They all look like skunks.” Not me! We have two bartenders. There’s a man for the lower floors, and I have a young woman. She comes Monday, Wednesday, Friday. “Happy hour! Happy hour!” She knocks on the door. She’s run out of the kosher white and red. They were much better than the regular stuff. She’s carrying gin now and, I think, tonic to go with the gin. She’ll say, “Do you want two?” I usually get two and will put one away to have on the weekend if I want it. Because the good wine is gone, I’m drinking beer.

I happen to believe that it’s a mistake to reopen now. I give our mayor here credit. Now our governor, Larry Hogan, last week he said you could start opening up some things, like the beaches. I didn’t pay attention, particularly because I’m not going anywhere. The mayor said, “No, no, no. We’re not opening yet. We are not opening yet until we are sure that it’s not going to lead to more deaths.”

The truth is, Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing. Now to start this whole brouhaha about who’s going to do this? Is it the Feds or is it the governors? Instead of thinking about what he’s going to say, he’s saying things off the seat of his pants. He’s going by his gut, so his intestines must be in knots.

I would say the majority of people here are Democrats. If they have voted for Trump, they’re not saying much. I think, at this point in time, anybody who could possibly win would be the person we would want. Because we don’t want another four years of a Trump administration. At the moment, Joe Biden’s the only contender. We’re all in that same age category. I think it would be wise to have a vice-president who’s younger, just in case. Any Democrat who wins, it’s going to be more than one four-year term to undo the things that have taken place these past four years.

Raymond Kelly, 93

The Glen at Hiland Meadows, Queensbury, New York

We’re definitely staying inside pretty much all the time. Everything kind of started in slowly and then every day they thought of something else and something else. The latest one, now, as soon as we leave our room, you have to have a mask on. No visitors at all. That was one of the first things. They’re trying their best to keep an eye on us, I think. It’s getting tolerable, but it’s awfully boring. I thought maybe the tempers would be a little shorter about now, but no, everybody has kept their cool pretty much.

Surprisingly not too much fear, but there’s a portion of the people that they’ll see you and they’ll practically hug the wall till you get by. But others couldn’t care less, and others are just doing the minimum they have to to stay in the six feet. It’s a mixed reaction. I wouldn’t call it a panic or anything like that yet. We’re one of the few adult communities around that has not had a single person catch the virus. At my age, I wouldn’t care if I caught it, but I wouldn’t want to catch it and bring it back to here. Otherwise, I’m kind of realistic that at my age you don’t worry about too many things anymore.

It’s a nasty disease. There’s no question about it. I’m amazed at how really deadly it can be. I was an anesthesiologist; I put you to sleep. I gave you a hell of a discount if I didn’t wake you up. Even being a doctor, I assumed it was like the flu — you get a little sick for a day or two, but then a week later you’re back to tip-top shape. But no, it’s not only working on your lungs, but it hits your heart, hits your kidneys, hits everything.

There’s a lot of talk about elections. It’s like religion. I don’t think you’re ever going to convert anybody. If you like Trump, you like him; if you don’t like him, you hate him.

I happen to like him. I don’t think he’s Mister Personality or anything like that, but I think he’s been a pretty good president for us, as far as getting things accomplished. I think he could clean up his rough edges a little bit, but that’s the way he is.

I wouldn’t want to be in Trump’s shoes, though, because it is a horrible decision to make. If he opens up everything and then the stuff hits the fan, he’ll be cursed from here to there. If he doesn’t open up pretty soon, he’s going to get flak from the whole world, letting the country fall apart. It’s a very difficult decision, but I think they’re trying to do it the right way — open up different sections of the country, not everybody all at once—but it’s hard to have some of these smaller states that have very little involvement with this being treated the same as the bigger states, like New York and Jersey and all that.

Myra Olshansky, 78

Century Village, Pembroke Pines, Florida

I’m getting stir-crazy. I’m gaining weight because I’m home all the time, and I eat when I’m stressed. But I am in good health. I mean, I have two of the factors that the coronavirus seems to feed on: high blood pressure, which is under control, and a heart problem, which is under control. I think the last thing is diabetes. I don’t have that. Thank God. But, basically, I have Xfinity, I have Netflix, I have my Kindle. I love to read. I’m reading all the time.

I am a very proud American. I think the first person I ever voted for was John F. Kennedy. Everybody loved him. I vote every election. I am very saddened by the man who is our president right now. I mean, he thinks he’s a king, and he makes very bad decisions. I got a call from someone just recently: “Would you be willing to answer some questions?” I said, “Sure.” She says, “What do you think of the current administration?” I said, “I think it’s horrible,” and she hung up on me. I hope that the new election will bring us someone who has a heart. Trump has a complete lack of empathy. None whatsoever. He doesn’t care about anyone except himself.

It made me feel better to see that the governors are making decisions that are good for their states. I think, in general, Governor DeSantis has been doing a good job. It’s a horrible job. I mean, I’m 78, and I have never lived through anything like this. As a child, we were all worried about getting polio, but doctors all gave us a vaccine and then we didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Biden may or may not be a great president, but we have to get rid of Trump. I’m glad that Bernie Sanders didn’t get it, because he would have alienated everybody. So far out there. Biden is a good candidate. At least he has experience, which is more than the others had. One thing when you’re dealing with people my age — I’m still quite bright, but my short-term memory is shot. How old is Biden? Seventy-seven? Well, he’ll have a lot of good advisers. I don’t have any advisers. You can’t get to be my age without a sense of humor; otherwise, you’re in big trouble.

Mary Lowry, 72

The Village at the Triangle, Austin, Texas

My husband has pulmonary disease and then he also has an autoimmune disease, so he’s on a medication that suppresses his immune system. But he and I both probably initially didn’t take it so seriously. I guess we’re more conservative, and I just look — all of a sudden, there’s nothing open other than grocery stores. And you think, What are all those people doing? You just worry about people who are unemployed and for this extended, indefinite period of time. It’s frightening.

I think people are going to be conscious of social distancing, wearing protective equipment, whether it’s gloves and a mask. You could reopen without it just being a critical situation. I know we’re dealing with something we’ve never dealt with before, but it just seems so radical what’s happened. I feel like, well, I should be able to go places, because I’m one of those that would be — I am healthy and I’m 72, so if I got sick, I think I’d probably recover. My husband, Pete, would not. But I think we can be careful with him without everybody else having to pay the price.

Sharon Thiemann, 78

The Willows at Brooking Park, Chesterfield, Missouri

I changed my Zoom background, and I don’t know how to get rid of it. See, I’m in San Francisco now.

We live in a retirement community. We’re in the independent-living section; there’s 150 units. Things in St. Louis are locked down, like New York. We have one resident and one worker who tested positive. That’s it. We don’t know whether it was a housekeeper or what. He or she is quarantined at home. Our nursing-home facility has had more. I have no idea how many, but they had a nurse that had it and then some of the residents got it.

I would say 99 percent of people are taking the coronavirus seriously, mainly because of our age. When we get groceries, we wipe them down when they come in. I know there are people who go to the store a lot and do things just to get out.

Normally, we don’t talk politics here. We found that to be a pretty volatile thing, but everybody is just so angry with the way Trump has handled everything. I know we have some people who are Republicans who are part of our friends group, but I think they feel the same way too. I think Pence is such an, excuse me, ass-kisser that he always praises the president and would never ever do or say anything. Thank God for Fauci. If he gets rid of Fauci, people are going to be up in arms about that.

We will vote by mail. We got the forms and everything. I just think it’s dangerous to put that many people in a room, unless the polls do social distancing and put tape on the floor and everything they should do, but it’s a presidential election; everybody’s going to turn out.

I think people are more about getting rid of Trump. If Cuomo had decided that he would step into the race, that would have been awesome. He would have been a shoo-in, but that’s not going to happen, and I don’t think anybody else at this stage of the game is going to come forward. What is Biden? Seventy-seven? We have a lot of people here who are 80, 90, and even 100. So 77 here is a kid.

Biden’s not going to run again. He’ll serve four years. The big thing is going to be the vice-presidential candidate. Biden was talking to Stacey Abrams the other day. I’m sure he’s talked to everybody. I think Elizabeth Warren’s not a warm, fuzzy person. She comes out as the favorite when they do polls, because I think people think she’s a strong woman, which she obviously is. I like Gretchen Whitmer, the governor. She’s not a senator. So we don’t have to worry about taking a Senate seat away, which is another problem with Warren and some of the other people; we don’t want to lose those seats.

Stan Sugarman, 82

Lakes of Delray, Delray Beach, Florida

I wake up in the morning and get a newspaper so I can see what day it is. Florida is the same as Washington, and it’s unfortunate in a pandemic like this we pick sides. It’s not about America anymore. It’s about blue and red. That’s where we are today. Four more years of this, and America won’t be here anymore. I feel sorry for my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren.

I was born in 1937, so I was alive during World War II. As bad as World War II was, this is worse. I’ll tell you why. Because during the Second World War, we had a government. We had a head on top of the shoulders. We don’t have a head on top of the shoulders.

It’s too bad that we have 330 million people in this country and we have to have two people who are close to 80 years old running for president. It’s really terrible. My son is a Republican. To the right of Trump, actually. My son has a Ph.D., so he’s not stupid. I don’t know why; we’ve never discussed it.

Doug Tharp, 85

The Villages, Sumter County, Florida

I think Governor Desantis has done a very good job of keeping people informed. I’ve been pretty pleased with him. Trump has done a fabulous job. I think he’s taken a lot of guff, but I think he’ll go down as one of our better presidents.

First of all, I don’t know how many straight days he’s briefed people. He put together that task force, which was a great idea. I think he’s taking the majority of the advice from the people he put on the task force. He restricted immigration from China when it first started in January. I think he’s stayed on top of things. I think working with the governors of all 50 states and letting them, by and large, do what they want to do when they’re coming out of the virus. I think he’s been tough when he needed to be.

I think he has all of the people in mind. When he says he worries about one death, I believe him. He’s trying his best to get the country back to where he had it before all of this started. All of the criticism is coming from Democrats.

It’s unfortunate that they have the differences that we do between the split in our country, and I just think it’s not good for the country. I blame both sides of the aisle for their inability to bend where they needed to bend. But for Democrats, it’s just all about Trump. All they want to do is get rid of him. That’s their single focus; they’re not going to deviate from that all the way to the election. It’s too bad they don’t have a stronger candidate, but that’s their problem.

If I were to contract the virus, I suspect my chances of recovery are certainly not as good as they would be if I were 20 years younger. But I think you take risks every day, whether you drive or do whatever you do.

They just opened the restaurants, and I have a friend and we’ve been out to two restaurants now, practicing social distancing; people are wearing masks.
I went to the doctor’s, and they’re all wearing masks, checking temperatures before people go in. I don’t have any fears at all. I mean, my guess is that I’ll probably end up dying from something else.

*This article appears in the May 25, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

‘How Old Is Biden? Well, He’ll Have a Lot of Good Advisers.’