It’s a well-worn joke that when people of a certain age gather, the lead off item on the agenda is an “organ recital” – an accounting of aches, pains, maladies, medications, impending surgeries, recoveries from recent surgeries, etc. There’s something reassuring in knowing that your body is not alone in its increasing malfunction. Occasionally, it’s a relief to know that, by comparison, things aren’t as bad for you as they could be.
But the organ recital is just the opening move in an agenda that is equally predictable, although the order of the items varies with the composition of the group, the frequency with which its members gather and the state of the world at large. There will be exchanges on topics currently being addressed by the media favored by that particular group. For Blue State folks like us, these will include NPR, MSNBC, The New York Times, The New Yorker and occasionally The Atlantic. Some members of the group – the faster readers and those with more time on their hands – will have gotten to these sources ahead of the others and act as advanced scouts reporting on news or opinion pieces that the laggards can look forward to encountering on those media.
If the group were to be dining together this weekend, the predictable items might include: the Chicago mayoral race (latest polling); Bibi’s most recent assault on democracy in Israel (particularly, though not exclusively, if those assembled are predominantly Jewish); DeSantis’s or Trump’s latest desecration of democracy (non-denominational); the recent or imminent emergence of a) crocuses or b) cherry blossoms, with related plans for gardening as soon as freezes are no longer a threat.. Allow openings for unplanned topics about recent natural disasters or breaking stories about scandals involving celebrities or public officials.
Depending on the composition of the group and the members’ shared history, there will be time for information and gossip about friends or relatives they have in common. With the aforementioned group of a certain age, the conversation will surely address news about who “is losing it,” accompanied by protestations of gratitude that despite the physical losses covered in the opening portion of the conversation, aside from missing names and a growing inability to deal with emerging technologies, they are sufficiently intact to do crossword puzzles, Jumbles and – mostly – remember the plots of recent plays, movies, books and TV shows.
Which brings me to the next critical component of the agenda – the cultural round up. Apart from the possible earlier exchange of medical information, this is the most potentially useful part of the evening because it includes information that can be put to practical use. The pandemic just about killed off reports on movies seen in local theaters and temporarily silenced theater and restaurant recommendations. Instead, suggestions about what people are watching on the streaming services has moved to #1 in this section. The absolute glut of options for home viewing makes these exchanges particularly valuable and you’re likely to see people pulling out their phones at this point to enter names of series in the Notes section.
I’m going to model this exchange by recommending a series we’ve just finished, so hold your phones at the ready. I invite you to skip this section if: a) Your list of recommended shows is already so long that you’ll never live long enough to watch them all, or b) You don’t watch TV because it cuts into your reading time. (A gold star for your self-discipline.) I’m about to model what this recommendation item might look like when you reach it on the agenda.
Several years ago, we became absorbed in a British series called Last Tango in Halifax, which looks at a very late romance between a charming couple and the ways in which their adult children relate to it. One of those children, played by Nicola Walker, a difficult woman harboring a lot of resentment and bitterness really captured our attention. So, when we came upon another series called The Split, in which Walker has the lead, we were all in.
Over three seasons, the family of mother and two of her three daughters, work together in a family law practice that specializes in high end divorce cases. Those cases become interwoven with the marital and other problems the lawyers themselves and their one non-practicing sibling are grappling with. The writing is terrifically smart, neither as toxic as Succession’s nor as banal as – well, too many to bother mentioning.
Strangely, we’ve never heard any discussion of this series, neither in our frequent recommendation exchanges nor in reviews in the media, even though it captivated us night after night for several weeks. So, I’m offering this gift to you, as if we had sat together in a meeting that followed the above agenda.
We’re wrapping up our simulated meeting now, which would probably involve the logistics of setting a date for our next meeting, whether online or in person. This simple piece of business can extend for an excruciatingly long time, absent a decisive taskmaster who can move to a quick adjournment without hurting anyone’s feelings.
I know I’ve adopted a satiric tone laying out the elements of a typical social gathering, but there’s no disrespect intended. I’ve spent many pleasant hours marching through one variation or another of this agenda, but there’s still room for amusement at the predictability of this aspect of our social lives. So, take a mental snapshot of this agenda and see for yourself how closely your next gathering adheres to it. If the prospect bores you, stay home and watch The Split.