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Thursday, September 23, 2010



My local YMCA often plays host to many special health related events. They are committed to promoting the wellbeing of all of those in the community and accomplish this in a way that is fun for the whole family.
When a holiday is approaching, the Y often will decorate to create a festive mood. At Christmas time, they’ll put an inflatable snowman or Santa on the roof. In the spring, it will be replaced by the Easter Bunny who greets all those who enter the Y. I think they even put an enormous ghost on the roof for Halloween.
Recently, they held an event just for senior citizens, complete with vendors who provided many ways for the elderly to remain healthy. They advertised this occasion in the most obvious of ways- by putting a giant inflatable elephant on their roof with a sign that read ‘Senior Health Day’ emblazoned across it’s side.
When I first saw this 15 foot tall elephant, I stood for a moment and reread the sign, sure that I had mistaken it for something else. Was the Y hosting a circus? Were they raising money to bring the elephants back to the Philadelphia zoo?
No. I read it right the first time. I also noticed as I scrutinized the giant beast, that he had seen better days. This was not a cute cartoon-like character with floppy ears that helped him fly. This behemoth was missing an eye, looked like he could use a bath, and one of his tusk had gone a bit wonky. He looked a bit malevolent as well, squinting down at me with his one eye.
Is this a form of ageism, I wondered? If I were a person of advanced years, I would be a tad insulted, miffed, and down right cranky if someone thought a moldy elephant was a fair representation of my age class.
I looked around, expecting to see a mob of angry seniors picketing out front, waving their canes and signs that would read, GREY IS GREAT! and SAY THAT TO MY CANE, YOU WIPPERSNAPPER!!
What message were they trying to send? - Hey seniors, have you really let yourself go? Have you gained a few pounds since retiring and now look like an elephant? Come work out at the Y!
I certainly hope that they are not implying this: Here’s an elephant! He’s grey just like your hair-come exercise!
Or the most offensive of all implications: If your skin is as wrinkled and baggy as a pachyderm’s, try out our steam room, maybe it will shrink back to normal!
To be honest though, I’m not sure what they could have put up on the roof to represent Senior Health Day. A giant inflatable Jack Lalanne seems apropos, yet a little frightening. It could also be somewhat dangerous since the Y is so close to a busy road. I can imagine cars swerving here and there, plowing into trees, while the drivers screamed, “AHHHH, Jack Lalanne is HUGE!” To be honest, even at a normal size, the beefed up 90 year old scares me.
Any way you look at it, it is down right rude and makes no sense to advertise Senior Health Day on the side of an elephant.
But, maybe I’m being too negative. Perhaps the message they wanted to convey is complimentary in nature, something like this: Hey, elephants have great memories amd just like you old folks, they never forget. Sure, you told me the same story 5 times today, but you can still recall what dress you wore when Norman Schwartz took you to the prom in 1939!
Don’t get me wrong, I think the YMCA is on the right track with encouraging the elder community to stay fit, but they need to find a less discourteous and confusing way to promote senior health.
In fact, I love that our Y branch has so many seniors working out. They all seem to be enjoying themselves and look like they know what they are doing; with the exception of that elderly man I noticed who mistook the bicep machine for a free blood pressure screener. In truth, seeing all those seniors inspires me to want to exercise when I am old and grey. That is, if my children haven’t sucked out all of my life force energy by then.
In the meantime, I’m afraid that the colossal elephant may have scared away some of the more mature patrons at the Y. But I guess it could be worse; do you remember that giant Mickey Rooney head they used to advertise the Tabas hotel? It sat on Lancaster Avenue, scaring the passing motorists. What if that was on the YMCA roof?
Now that, my friends would be offensive.

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