• C'est moi

    VP of Marketing & Communications for Rackup, but nothing here reflects what my employer or colleagues think. In fact, they probably think it's all cray-cray.

    Jackie Danicki
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Herb & Dorothy (Or: Old people really get to me)

By that I mean, they have the ability to drive me to the brink of tears just by existing.

Granted, I was feeling extra-raw on what would have been my grandparents’ 69th wedding anniversary. But as I walked to an appointment that day, it seemed I saw wrinkled faces and slow shuffles all around me. Like this couple, all dressed up (pantyhose, jacket and tie, the works) and probably coming or going from someplace like the library. You know how people of a certain generation are about dressing properly to leave the house.

Old couple, dressed to the nines

At one point, walking down the street, I noticed an old man looking out the window. I looked away. Then I stopped, walked back a couple of steps, and waved at him with a huge smile on my face. He beamed back at me and waved frantically. As I moved on, I wished I had at least taken off my sunglasses so he could see my eyes. I also wished I’d taken his picture, but then considered that not every special thing in life need be documented. (I passed the same building again the next day, and felt exceedingly upset that the old man wasn’t in the window.)

Then I happened upon this scene, which just about provoked a full rush of tears:

"Herb & Dorothy" screening

The hand-holding is what killed me.

Turns out this was a private screening of Herb & Dorothy, an award-winning documentary which opens tomorrow:

HERB & DOROTHY tells the extraordinary story of Herbert Vogel, a postal clerk, and Dorothy Vogel, a librarian, who managed to build one of the most important contemporary art collections in history with very modest means. In the early 1960s, when very little attention was paid to Minimalist and Conceptual Art, Herb and Dorothy Vogel quietly began purchasing the works of unknown artists. Devoting all of Herb’s salary to purchase art they liked, and living on Dorothy’s paycheck alone, they continued collecting artworks guided by two rules: the piece had to be affordable, and it had to be small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Within these limitations, they proved themselves curatorial visionaries; most of those they supported and befriended went on to become world-renowned artists including Sol LeWitt, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Lynda Benglis, Pat Steir, Robert Barry, Lucio Pozzi, and Lawrence Weiner.

After thirty years of meticulous collecting and buying, the Vogels managed to accumulate over 2,000 pieces, filling every corner of their tiny one bedroom apartment. “Not even a toothpick could be squeezed into the apartment,” recalls Dorothy. In 1992, the Vogels decided to move their entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The vast majority of their collection was given as a gift to the institution. Many of the works they acquired appreciated so significantly over the years that their collection today is worth millions of dollars. Still, the Vogels never sold a single piece.

Of course, I’ll be first in line tomorrow for my seat to view this one, with a big wad of Kleenex stuffed in my bag. Old people, they just get to me.

3 Responses to “Herb & Dorothy (Or: Old people really get to me)”

  1. When I spearheaded our strategy review last year I decided that we did enough work with youth-based charities and should focus on Help the Aged and Age Concern instead. The charity sector in the UK is disproportionately obsessed with young people, even though there are more people aged over 65 than under 16 in this country. It does my head in. And it breaks my heart when you read statistics that something like four million older people will go for a month or longer without talking to anybody else. I don’t understand how people can abandon their older relatives like that.

  2. Well, it makes me feel a bit better to know that at least some of the elderly who are ignored probably managed to alienate everyone close to them. I know quite a few people who, if they don’t change their ways, will certainly end up alone and ignored. I will only weep with regret that they failed to stop damaging people’s lives long enough for anyone to stick around.

    But yes, it is DEEPLY sad to see and think of lonely old people. I can see why so many of them prefer to take on jobs like acting as greeters at Wal-Mart or even bussing tables at restaurants. I nearly always get tearful when I see old people working such jobs (imagining if my gramma and grampa had been forced to do such things), but many of them seem to keep going on the purpose and human contact it provides.

    Someone said, “Oh yeah, you cry at old people because you know you’ll be just like them someday.” Maybe subconsciously; for the most part, I don’t think much of living that long. I just seem to suck up their despondence and loneliness, and scenes like the two old men holding hands across their wheelchairs makes me wonder why it takes us that long to start being human with one another.

  3. Jackie, I have this reaction too (what can we do, we’re sensitive folk, right?)

    You may also be interested though in a project I’m floating for funding that looks at another perspective on aging. I’m calling it The New Generation and basically, the idea is to get out and help tell the stories of those people who are alive and active and hopeful, but maybe didn’t expect to be. I want to understand what their experience of that is, and to share it with a wide audience. I think how we acknowledge and honour older people in our communities is something very important.

    I’ve written about it here:
    http://perfectpath.co.uk/2009/06/03/projects-for-funding/ and started a new blog for it at http://anewgeneration.wordpress.com

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