Recently Jane Fonda gave a talk here in Berkeley, touting her new book about aging gracefully — and she pointed out to us that suddenly Americans are now living longer than ever before and that our bodies are now being asked to function 30 or 40 years longer than they had been originally designed to do.

This situation reminds me of what has happened to many 1953 Chevrolets down in Cuba — forced to perform 40 years longer than Detroit had intended. However, Cuban cars have now buckled down to the job nicely. But the Cuban cars are only able to do this because they are well taken care of.

Are Americans also taking good care of their bodies? Hardly. A lot of American bodies have been subjected to all kinds of lack of exercise and junk food and will be lucky to keep on running even for 40 or 50 years at all. However, if you keep your body properly tuned up, according to Fonda, old age can be the best time of all. Now that’s good to know.

Remember about 15 years ago when no one knew hardly anything about menopause? And then, because so many Baby Boomer women were about to go through it, we suddenly all wanted to know what to expect. And then suddenly menopause came out of the closet, Gail Sheehy wrote a book about it and then we all knew what was what.

Well, now Jane Fonda is exploring the uncharted country of Old Age for us too.

“As I got older,” said Fonda, “I asked myself, ‘Why isn’t anybody talking about it?’ So, since I love to do research, I began to research old age. I am currently experiencing old age — but it doesn’t define me. I knew that this research was important because there’s currently no road map, no new way to look at old age. But, while it can be hard if you have infirmities, Alzheimers or are poor, many of us can take incredible advantage of this new length of time we now have.”

As so many of us are living longer than most people have ever lived before, Fonda has written a book called “Prime Time,” that promises to supply us with a handy and practical guide for navigating this whole new territory. Good for her.

“But it is easier to be old and have money than it is to be old and be poor,” Fonda added. Hear that, all you greedy smirking hand-wringing corporatist bastards? Hands off our Social Security or we’ll all chase you down the street with our walkers and canes!

Don’t mess with us old guys.

PS: At the beginning of her talk, Fonda’s opening question to the audience was, “Who remembers Blue Fairyland?” I do! “When Tom Hayden and I lived here in Berkeley,” she continued, “we were part of the Blue Fairyland pre-school cooperative. In fact, there are ten pages of notes in my FBI file just about Blue Fairyland alone.”

My friend Suzie Lydon used to send her daughter to Blue Fairyland back when her husband was the drummer for Janis Joplin and we all hung out with the Floating Lotus Magic Opera on Woolsey Street. Good times.

Fonda also talked about how QVC, the shopping channel, had recently cancelled her show due to bomb threats that they had received. At first she had been crushed but then the cancellation brought out the fight in her. Fonda also talked about her past experiences in Hollywood, her upcoming movie spoken in French, and her current and past work on behalf of Vietnam veterans. Plus she still does a lot of mountain-climbing and also has a boyfriend. Plus, with the help of exercise and Botox, she really looked good.

Wow. I hope that I will be able to grow old that gracefully — except, of course, for the exercise and Botox part. I like the natural look better — and much prefer lying in bed reading murder mysteries over spending hours on a Stairmaster — because apparently my right ankle and knees didn’t read Fonda’s book in time and thus couldn’t realize that they were spozed to last 40 more years.

PPS: After the Berkeley hippie/music/art scene started to fall apart at the end of the 1970s, Suzie Lydon became a heroin addict and wrote an outstanding and inspirational book on the subject, entitled “Take the Long Way Home” I recommend it highly for those who want to know more about what motivates heroin addicts and how to understand their crazy drive to rock bottom.

As Suzie told me later at a Labor Day picnic in Tilden Park back in 2003, “I am probably the only full-on, down-and-dirty heroin addict I know of who has actually lived to tell the tale and also has the literary training and skill to write about what that particular hell was actually like.”

Jane Stillwater

Jane Stillwater