Larry and Jennie Josephson take a rolling stroll on the Upper West Side. It’s the first time Larry’s been outside in weeks, and the first time Jennie’s been back to New York since…uh…well, never mind. Jennie and Larry take on the sensible questions that they’ve both been asked in the past two years about Larry’s well-being and his future.
If you can contribute to Larry Josephson’s GoFundMe, it helps Larry pay for home health care and other medical items that his income doesn’t cover.
If you’d like to instead contribute to the general fund for federal workers, that works for me too.
The music in this episode is from Podington Bear and Dr. Turtle thanks to a creative Commons License via the Free Music Archive
Comments? Questions? Find Jennie on Twitter
I can’t always correct mistakes in real time, so I’m going to correct them here.
Larry’s surgery was in January 2018.
The percentage of Americans with no retirement savings is actually much higher than Larry mentioned in the episode.
Sensible Questions from Well-Meaning People
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:00:06] Whoops. Sorry. We stuck the spokes of the wheelchair on a Christmas tree.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:00:12] Oh wow.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:00:12] Which is s a hazard at this time of year.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:00:16] Oh fortunately the Hanukkah bushes are put out earlier in the year.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:00:21] That is my very old dad.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:00:24] Larry Josephson is almost 80 years old.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:00:31] So, when was the last time you were outside?
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:00:34] It’s so long ago. I can’t remember, it’s several weeks ago.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:00:38] We are rolling towards a coffee shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on a brisk and sunny January afternoon. I’m pushing the wheelchair and trying not to wheeze. My dad is holding the mic and trying not to cuss when I hit a bump in the sidewalk.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:00:54] Oh Jesus. Oh careful.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:00:57] I’m actually a very good driver when it involves cars.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:01:01] So if you want to know what it’s like to be very old?
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:01:03] Yeah.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:01:04] It sucks.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:01:07] I’m Jennie Josephson and this is a podcast about what it’s like to be the long distance daughter of a very old dad, how it feels to be the dad in question, and what we’re going to do to fix the fix we’re in.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:01:24] I live in Los Angeles and my dad Larry Josephson lives in New York. But the conversation you’re about to hear today is not long distance. In early January 2019, I went to New York to do a New Year’s check in. My goal is to get there three to four times a year, but I don’t know if you know but New York is really expensive so sometimes it ends up being twice a year, which is starting to maybe be not enough times.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:01:52] Our conversation takes place in two parts. Inside the RadioArt studio and out on the streets of the Upper West Side. We went down the street. We got some coffee. We got his glasses tightened. We walked back and then we did our best to get back into the apartment which actually turned out to be the hardest part. We started this conversation with a familiar question for anyone with an older family member.
Jennie Josephson: [00:02:15] How are you doing this week?
Larry Josephson: [00:02:18] Well this week I’ve been working very hard. I’m doing this Go Fund Me campaign and getting all the email addresses together and the business here the Radio Foundation requires a lot of attention managing money booking the engineers in the studio and so forth. I mean usually take a nap in the afternoon and this week I haven’t been able to because I’m sort of juiced on adrenaline.
Jennie Josephson: [00:02:46] OK so let’s back it up a little bit. At this point you’re almost how old.
Larry Josephson: [00:02:51] Seventy nine and three quarters.
Jennie Josephson: [00:02:53] OK (laughs)
Larry Josephson: [00:02:55] I got four months to go till I’m 80.
Jennie Josephson: [00:02:58] OK.
Jennie Josephson: [00:02:59] And so one of the issues that I see sometimes is your–because you’ve been running this company for 40 something years. You have a slight inability to remove it from your DNA. The Radio Foundation is you. And you are the radio foundation.
Larry Josephson: [00:03:14] That’s tru e. Le Foundacion c’est moi.
Jennie Josephson: [00:03:17] Sure. But my problem with it is that you part often gets a little neglected. So you put all this effort into keeping a nonprofit going that involves you know pretty rigorous tax stuff reporting.
Larry Josephson: [00:03:32] Well we have somebody who does that.
Jennie Josephson: [00:03:34] No I know but you tell them what’s going on and you have to hire an assistant to do that.
Larry Josephson: [00:03:39] Right.
Jennie Josephson: [00:03:39] And you have the world’s most long suffering assistant on the face of the planet. But the problem is the you part starts to take more attention and it makes it harder for you to run the Radio Foundation.
Larry Josephson: [00:03:52] You mean my physical situation.
Jennie Josephson: [00:03:54] Life is a seventy nine and three quarters person. So when are you shutting the radio foundation down?
Larry Josephson: [00:04:00] Oh when I die. It gives me something to do. Because if I don’t have you do I get very depressed and just lay in my bed and read or listen to music and some very interesting people have come through here. Alec Baldwin brings a whole bunch of people, stations and networks book people into here. And so I get to meet some interesting people, sometimes talk to them.
Jennie Josephson: [00:04:27] OK. Because that’s what people like I, to add a little context to this discussion. I am your daughter. This studio that we’re in right now was my very first bedroom when I was brought home from the hospital and then my mom found a frozen water glass on that the sill there and moved me into that other room because this room is cold. It’s a cold room.
Larry Josephson: [00:04:48] It is.
Jennie Josephson: [00:04:48] Which I like it’s the only cold room in the house. I come in and hide in here somewhere.
Larry Josephson: [00:04:52] There used to be a radiator there we took it out in order to build the bookcase.
Jennie Josephson: [00:04:56] People who when you get into scrapes like you fall down or you end up in the hospital or you end up in rehab. People ask me very sensible questions like why is Larry still running a business. Why is he still in his apartment he should be in some care facility. He should be you know retired and just hanging out with friends. You are shaking your head. Tell me why.
Larry Josephson: [00:05:21] Well for one thing I never had. I don’t have a pension so I the only pension I have is Social Security which brings in sixteen hundred and fifty dollars a month which is not enough to live on. I basically automatically send that to the landlord to my rent gets paid and it leaves about 200 250 a month leftover. And the rest of it I have to get somehow from grants. We’ve raised millions of dollars here.
Jennie Josephson: [00:05:49] So when people say I have to work until the day I die.
Larry Josephson: [00:05:52] Right.
Jennie Josephson: [00:05:53] You are that guy.
Larry Josephson: [00:05:54] Yeah I’m that guy. And so- something like 40 some percent of Americans have no savings and no pension. My biggest fault is I never pay myself enough out of those funds may I put it into the programs I hire people to work to improve the studio get some new equipment but I just don’t I’ll take care of myself.
Jennie Josephson: [00:06:20] Yeah you know there would be periods of time where you wouldn’t call me like you know this is like 2017, 2018. Pretty rough. You weren’t calling me and I was like a little maybe too involved in my life. Keeping it going. Keeping everything running. Other sets of parents with various concerns. And then I would get an e-mail from someone in your life, you know multiple different someones, That’s basically like your father looks terrible. He’s not moving. This was like pre surgery right. What are you doing about it. Why aren’t you here.
Larry Josephson: [00:06:59] Well because you have a life of your own. And I like to think that I’m very independent. I always have been. The few times in my life that I’ve worked for a corporation I didn’t like it except for WBAI which is a corporation in name only it’s basically it’s a radio station or it’s a family or an insane asylum with a radio transmitter. It’s how I usually end station breaks. So I’m a New Yorker now.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:07:35] Do you want to go up 86th or up Columbus?
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:07:36] We should go, let’s go this way on Central Park cuz the pavement is the sidewalk is less cracked.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:07:47] Let me put on my gloves.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:07:49] OK. Let me lock it. No? Well I just don’t want to roll–
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:07:56] I know I’m locking up my body.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:07:58] OK.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:07:59] So this is what happens on to control freaks go for a stroll.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:08:01] Well. The thing I noticed is that you and I in many ways are very much alike.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:08:09] Yes.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:08:12] Now this used to be a cleaner. No I don’t know what that was.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:08:15] That’s a high end florist now.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:08:16] Yeah.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:08:17] How do you think we got to be alike?
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:08:20] I have no idea.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:08:23] Really?
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:08:24] Well.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:08:26] I was a very observant child.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:08:28] Oh really.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:08:29] Yeah. Well I think they’re also like our love of food is not learned it comes from-.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:08:36] Generations of Jews.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:08:37] Yeah right.
Jennie Josephson: [00:08:40] The other question that many people have asked me is why don’t I just pick you up and bring you out to Los Angeles and you live. I mean I have a one bedroom so we’d have to get another place. That’s the first thing. But why don’t I just take care of my clearly aging father. Every day you know for the rest of his life, you wanna do that? You want to come out to LA?
Larry Josephson: [00:09:01] No I’m not. I’m. Every time I’m out there for any amount of time I get into the sun and the relaxed lifestyle out there but I, except for my children and friends. I’m about work. If I’m not working and working extra hard. I feel like I’m I’m failing. Sometimes I have to pee really bad and I I don’t. And I keep working then you know editing something or writing something until it’s inescapable. But I am a New Yorker. It’s a kind of tragedy I use a wheelchair and I can’t go out into the world by myself I need someone I have a home health care aide or you or somebody. And so I’m stuck here on the other hand I don’t mind it because there’s all kinds of toys and gadgets and music and speech and stuff. So I can be very content. Now why and why wouldn’t I want to be in a say an assisted living.
Jennie Josephson: [00:10:02] Yeah that’s the other question. We should call this episode questions Jennie gets asked about her father.
Larry Josephson: [00:10:07] Sure yeah.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:10:12] I don’t make friends very easily. In fact I don’t think I’ve made a new friend since my BAI days. I can maybe some couple of them but I’ve rediscovered some cousins and things. But I am a I’m a loner except when I’m in a situation where I can shine where people know me and know what I do. Then I become very loquacious and talk and talk and talk and talk. But I spend most of my time by myself in my head you know scheming plotting fantasizing dreaming. You know the book by Thurber the life of J. Walter Mitty.
Jennie Josephson: [00:10:52] I mean I saw the movie.
Larry Josephson: [00:10:53] Yeah pretty much. And I’m Walter Mitty. I have rescue fantasies all kinds is that I spend my time by myself. I was with a few months ago your husband’s father and we were set sat opposite each other at long table at Barney Greengrass which is if you don’t know is the Jewish Vatican.
Jennie Josephson: [00:11:17] That was like a couple of years ago. Yeah.
Larry Josephson: [00:11:18] Well really. Hi. Welcome to the space time continuum. Yeah well I’m. Anyways like two to three years ago maybe four.
Larry Josephson: [00:11:28] I’ll take your word for it. But anyway so I sat opposite him and I didn’t say a word to him.
Jennie Josephson: [00:11:33] Yes I know.
Larry Josephson: [00:11:34] You got very angry.
Jennie Josephson: [00:11:35] That was super rude.
Larry Josephson: [00:11:37] Well it’s not rude it’s me. First of all he and I have different interests in different life history and I don’t know I didn’t have anything to say and by the way I’ve always done that. Your mother was angry at me for that and many girlfriends I’ve had where we go to a restaurant. I don’t say a damn thing you know I’m thinking and so that’s who I am. So I don’t mind being alone here and I have you know a large apartment. It’s a three bedroom apartment with a view of the park and a living room and dining room and several other rooms kitchen maids room. This was a grand apartment It was finished in 1899 and it’s it’s not one of these huge New York apartments but it’s pretty large.
Jennie Josephson: [00:12:29] Yeah I would say. My God only a guy living in an eleven room house could say Oh this is not that large.
Larry Josephson: [00:12:37] Well my dear late friend Margo.
Jennie Josephson: [00:12:40] Don’t let him tell you what he pays for it.
Larry Josephson: [00:12:41] No don’t. Almost nothing. That’s another reason. If I moved to L.A. and had to get you know some place, the rent would be-.
Jennie Josephson: [00:12:51] It’s $4000. We checked. Like this is other thing too is like not to make this Jennie’s justification tour for current behavior but we checked and the place that your aunt is in is four thousand dollars a month which is more than. That’s actually more than both of us pay in rent together in two different places and I don’t think that that four thousand is includes many meals but.
Jennie Josephson: [00:13:14] No, it’s more than four. But the the the point being at a certain point at 79 or almost 80 you have a right to decide as long as you can feed yourself and other basic necessities. You still have the right to decide how you want to live your life. I believe that philosophy even though it often results in unexpected calamities.
Larry Josephson: [00:13:43] Well I could have a calamity in my own apartment and in L.A. or any anywhere in this place since I fell actually before that. But this place has grab bars every couple of feet and grab poles around the toilet and around my bed and so I can generally navigate. If I get careless and I’ll fall and I haven’t fallen since January.
Jennie Josephson: [00:14:08] Hold on I got a knock on something.
Larry Josephson: [00:14:12] I mean sometimes I get very shaky and almost fall but I can hold on to something and I’ve had many hours of physical therapy. I’ve when I start to fall I can sort of stamp my feet and make some motions and recover and that might not always be true and I sense that I’m deteriorating in the last six months I have something called lower body Parkinson ism which means it used to be before I found a doctor who knew what it was I would start walking along. I also I would walk very very fast out of control and unless I could grab onto something I would fall and hit the building or something.
Jennie Josephson: [00:14:53] I saw it once and it scare- in Los Angeles. It scared the living shit out of me.
Larry Josephson: [00:14:58] Yeah well. And then you careened into a wall.
Larry Josephson: [00:15:01] Yeah. Well it turns out that there’s a simple drug that fixed it called Sinemet is stopped it. You know that doesn’t happen anymore. As long as I can afford the drug so when I’ve also found out that my income isn’t very great that’s low five figures and I’ve qualified for expensive free expensive drugs from the big pharma companies.
Jennie Josephson: [00:15:27] Well you’re their best client.
Larry Josephson: [00:15:29] Yeah I know there are people who think that I don’t have cancer although I could go out and get some.
Jennie Josephson: [00:15:37] Well add it to the list what do you have five stents.
Larry Josephson: [00:15:40] Yeah. 5.
Jennie Josephson: [00:15:42] Do you name them? Did you name your stents?.
Larry Josephson: [00:15:43] Now I didn’t name my stents.
Jennie Josephson: [00:15:45] Do you have stents inside of stents now?
Larry Josephson: [00:15:47] Yeah. 1.
Jennie Josephson: [00:15:48] Yeah. Okay. Huh. So all right. Let’s back out here for a second. So essentially you’ve lived in the same apartment since I was born for forty two plus years and you have a really insanely almost insanely loyal assistant who by rights should not still be working here but she does. I think she would decide she likes the cat. Yeah that’s the principle yes. And then you have a home health care worker a primary one who is also really the person who puts up with the most of your nonsense to be perfectly well I disagree with that I know.
Larry Josephson: [00:16:29] I don’t think she’s a very strong woman and I don’t give her much trouble. I really don’t. And we’ve gotten used she’s she’s worked for me since the middle of 2015.
Jennie Josephson: [00:16:41] Yeah I really like her. We sit there in the kitchen and have conversations.
Larry Josephson: [00:16:44] Right.
Jennie Josephson: [00:16:45] So you know your continued ability to stay in this apartment rests in a large percentage on the shoulders of these two women.
Larry Josephson: [00:16:53] Yeah. And I also I have this rationalization that given the low rent I pay that it would be cheaper for me to stay here and hire people to take care of me than it would be to go out to L.A. and probably be alone in a one bedroom apartment and everybody just about everybody I knew growing up or as an adult has gone yeah. So off I would be very much alone there would be nobody to talk to. And as I say because you know I don’t make friends. In fact people start to talk to me and I basically push them away.
Jennie Josephson: [00:17:28] I’ve noticed.
Larry Josephson: [00:17:29] So there may be a time though it could be I’m beginning to feel weaker now and I may be either have to get some money to hire somebody that have helped like 18 hours a day it’s now only 4 and I can see myself going downhill and the Parkinson’s I haven’t told you this but the Parkinson’s seems to be moving up into my body when I type something I type a lot of letters twice tell them and I go see the doctor but other indications that it’s it’s slowly very slowly taken over and I have my little list my illnesses diabetes diabetes type 2 congestive heart failure lower body going to upper body Parkinson ism. What else.
Jennie Josephson: [00:18:17] A little bit of a temper.
Larry Josephson: [00:18:19] Well that’s that’s not an illness.
Jennie Josephson: [00:18:22] Yeah, well I think it is to be honest. If I inherited it from you then it’s an illness, right? All right well episode 3.
Larry Josephson: [00:18:31] It may be some sort of body chemistry or whatever but I don’t usually let out on people anymore right.
Jennie Josephson: [00:18:41] Yes we’ve mercifully passed this phase. All the waiters in New York City are so grateful.
Larry Josephson: [00:18:47] While the problem is that since I had that operation in January 2017 I haven’t been to a restaurant or a theater or a movie place or anything yet because of the getting out of here.
Jennie Josephson: [00:18:59] Yeah yeah. I mean you lost a lot of strength. So the other argument for keeping you in this apartment as long as possible is that you are a profoundly shitty patient in rehab care and what I would assume to be also you know if you’re in a retirement facility you – granted you are recovering from a surgery but you don’t push yourself.
Jennie Josephson: [00:19:21] You just lie there like I would your anytime I would walk in unless you were in an appointment for a physical therapy or occupational therapy. You just lie there staring at the ceiling doing your thinking thing. And I was shocked. Between January when you had the surgery and then March when I came back to spring you from rehab you deteriorated significantly. You weren’t eating. You didn’t like the food you know, you were just kind of like not comatose but like really catatonic. It was just me walking into this room and I got you you know and this other crazy whatever the crazy guy of the week that was in there with you facing each other not talking and it was just like walking through the valley of the exposed nuts.
Larry Josephson: [00:20:06] Well.
Jennie Josephson: [00:20:07] It certainly really like it was not good. You did not like that.
Larry Josephson: [00:20:13] No. It’s a bit of an exaggeration but frankly I’d rather die than live in some facility because I don’t get along with nurses. I mean it’s not as bad as it seemed seem to you. There were some nurses who were very nice to me and I was nice to them and the therapists were good and.
Jennie Josephson: [00:20:31] You just didn’t like the women who told you what to do.
Larry Josephson: [00:20:33] Yeah that’s right. That’s it.
Larry Josephson: [00:20:35] That’s a big part of my makeup as I don’t want anybody particularly a woman or wife or whatever to tell me what to do.
Jennie Josephson: [00:20:41] Yes or a daughter.
Larry Josephson: [00:20:44] No I’m not. And that’s not true. I take most of your criticism and.
Jennie Josephson: [00:20:49] You politely listen mostly.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:20:59] Sorry.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:20:59] Shit. No that’s OK. Never turn in. So for right now we have to find out whether Pedro’s there.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:21:08] I’m gonna take a three hour nap.
Larry Josephson (on walk): [00:21:11] You’re entitled to.
[00:21:21] He’s not there.
Jennie Josephson (on walk): [00:21:23] I can do it. All right I get you anyway. Shit. The last mile is the hardest.
Jennie Josephson: [00:21:33] Part of you that want to do this podcast is because from the outside. If you’re not getting the blow by blow you look like. No I don’t say a fool. You look very stubborn for staying here and I look like a really shitty daughter.
Larry Josephson: [00:21:49] No that’s not true.
Jennie Josephson: [00:21:50] No I know but I you and I know our deal. We know our arrangement. I check in on you if I you know if I don’t do a good job checking on you somebody calls me on it. I get emails from people art or bargain texts from you know home health care workers or you know like I’m being fed information about you when things are bad.
Larry Josephson: [00:22:10] Yeah. And I also when you call I give you super optimistic report.
Jennie Josephson: [00:22:15] Yes I know. So here’s what I think. I think that we kind of know where we are we know. We know day by day every day could change. We don’t really have like a fix. There’s no fix. That we’ve come up with is just like manage another problem get through another day manage another problem. Right. But that’s really what a lot of people are doing. If you think about it. Like I’m not allowed to tell you the stories of what’s going on in other parts of the family but it’s much worse. It’s much much worse and I think you’re all in all doing a pretty good job.
Larry Josephson: [00:22:49] Well I have a survival instinct whenever I get into a bad situation either with a woman or with money or with whatever. Somehow I like Superman I take off my business suit and become Superman and figure out some way to solve the problem and usually I do.
Jennie Josephson: [00:23:06] I guess that’s where I got it.
Larry Josephson: [00:23:08] Yeah. No you’re very, you’re better than I am. You’re more organized and I’m amazed at what you can do. And that’s a problem with parents and children is that the parent is the last to know that the child is fully developed and capable of doing anything and probably better than the parent. But it takes it’s a very slow process.
Jennie Josephson: [00:23:32] Yes it took 79 years.
Larry Josephson: [00:23:33] Well no you’re only 42 but.
Larry Josephson: [00:23:38] Well I just wanted to say for the record that I’m very proud of you. I’m very proud of what you have accomplished and what you were able to do in some difficult work situations and family situation that you did basically take charge woman and can make anything work.
Jennie Josephson: [00:23:55] Well you and I know a shocker. I also am the type of person who likes to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and invent scenarios and dream about things and think about things and I can let whole hours go by.
Larry Josephson: [00:24:06] I can let whole days go by. So it is interesting to hear you say that because I guess that’s where I got that from like I don’t think I got that. God bless her. From my mom. My mom only exists in the present moment accomplishes heroic levels of things in a day and then passes out.
Larry Josephson: [00:24:24] Right.
Jennie Josephson: [00:24:24] I got the Mitty from you.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:24:29] I can’t guarantee that every episode of this podcast will end with the discovery of a missing puzzle piece of my own personality. Sometimes you just get lucky. What you are going to hear as we go forward is the ongoing story of one kid and one parent.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:24:46] But you’ll also hear from other kids and their parents from older friends caring for each other like family and for people trying to keep themselves afloat when there’s no one else to do it.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:24:58] When we need to clear things up we’ll find some experts. But this isn’t a strictly journalistic podcast.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:25:05] Thanks to Podington Bear for the first two music tracks and Dr. Turtle for the last two. Both are available under a Creative Commons license at the Free Music Archive.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:25:15] Thanks to Matthew C. Flanagan for helping me shape this and hopefully all future episodes. If you happen to need a public radio quality studio for an hour or more. Please check out the radio art studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:25:30] If you don’t need a radio studio but you’d still like to help out my dad Larry Josephson has a Go Fund Me which apparently everyone will have now or in the near future.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:25:42] He uses his to fund the cost of his home health care worker. And doctor bills and food and other realities of life on a limited income. You can find it at go fund me dot com slash Larry. Dash Josephson. The dash is important. If you have a story you want to tell us about. Or better yet with. The older family members or friends in your life. Write us at. Tell it anyway at gmail dot com. That’s tell it anyway. That’s a podcast that’s returning for its long delayed season 2 as soon as I finish editing this one.
Jennie Josephson (Narr): [00:26:21] Talk to you soon.