When boomers ask, “How are you,” do they really care?!?

If you’re a baby boomer, you’ll get this. We mean, you’ll really get it! Namely, the all-too-familiar habit some of us have of actually telling people how we are when they ask, “How are you?” It seems to be driving Santa Barbara, California’s Barbara Greenleaf up the wall. But if you ask her how it feels to be stuck to that wall, she won’t tell you.

As far as I’m concerned, the only acceptable response to the polite question, “How are you?”, is the equally polite response, “Fine.” Sadly, though, a whole generation didn’t get the memo that says, “The world doesn’t really want to hear your problems” and that generation is now mine. Which means, fellow boomer, yours.

Once upon a time it was only my Uncle Willie who, when asked “How are you?”, actually went into detail, but now a shocking number of my contemporaries have taken up the tell-all cudgel. Why? They’re not running for president, so why do we need to know?

When reporters asked President Lyndon B. Johnson about his gallbladder operation, he pulled up his shirt and displayed the scar.

Maybe Lyndon Johnson had to bare his gallbladder scar and Dwight Eisenhower had to circulate his cardiogram to reassure the populace that they would live out their terms, but Morty Dunklemeyer, the Buick dealer who lives two doors down? Really??? I don’t think the American people will rest any easier in their beds knowing that, although his blood pressure registered 150 over 100 at his last reading, he’s now taking Metopolol to lower it. And as for his trick knee….

Barbara Greenleaf

Nor do I need to know what the X-ray of Morty’s hip revealed, why he needed an MRI, and how he really should go for another CAT scan but that it will have to wait until after his colonoscopy. And though his overall cholesterol reading is over 200, his HDL, the “good” cholesterol, is so much higher than his LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, that his doctor is holding off on the Lipitor for now. As my eyes glaze over and my mind desperately reaches out to my happy place, I ruefully reflect that, with the Mortys of the world, you get the diagnosis and the prognosis but, alas, never the synopsis.

After a certain age, every communal get-together seems to start with a 15-minute organ recital, and it’s not of the hymnal sort. Based on these orations I would say that America is now not only the arsenal of democracy, it’s also the arsenal of home remedies. Our bathrooms are chock full of muscle relaxants, Ace bandages, Epsom salts, heating blankets, knee braces, arm slings, and wrist supports. And those are only the orthopedic fixes.

Even though I’m definitely not discussing health, I secretly hope you have a feel-better tip for me. If you don’t, then you’re the only one. Everyone else I know is loaded with advice, and they’re adamant about it. Have a delicate stomach? You must try the Low Fodmap Diet (or Paleo, or Mediterranean, or Atkins). Got a bad back? You have to use my chiropractor (or yoga instructor, acupuncturist, tai chi practitioner).

Actually, if you’re really uncomfortable, nothing beats two acetaminophen and two ibuprofen. But, as I have taken a vow of silence when it comes to medical issues, you didn’t hear that from me.


You can buy Barbara’s book here: “Children Through the Ages: A History of Childhood.”


  1. My best advice for feeling well is finding something to laugh about each day. Thank you for providing me with this morning”s dose.

  2. All too true these days… But that’s because America has become one giant medical/medicine-for-profit Corporation. When you turn a certain age, you get sucked up into the grinder, and are stuffed with as many for-profit drugs as doctors can get you to suck down. Sadly, for many, life is based around their next doctor visit. And even sadder is the fact that many people actually believe that their ‘friendly’ doctor actually cares about them.

  3. Funny and ‘on point.’ It’s reflexive for some, like showing pics of your grandkids. I try not to do it, letting that beast out of the bag only with a small group of fellow boomers. On the serious side, however, I am surprised and concerned by the number of boomers who use prescription tranquilizers to deal with the very real problems of aging. I think the country is paying a price for that (I’ll let you all think about that). A pundit I listen to on occasion often wonders how many of our elected representatives take meds for anxiety and/or depression, and what that may do to their faculties.

    Anyway, good piece!

  4. I have a canned response of “Another day, another dollar in the hole….”
    I figure if I want their medical history, I can probably find it on Facebook. But you won’t find mine there. Something about COMSEC and OPSEC carried over from active duty…

  5. Personally, I pause upon hearing this question… look the ask-er in the eye… make a snap judgement about whether they’re asking because they’re interested or because they’re being “polite”… and then – respond accordingly. Mostly though, my answer to “How are you?” is “Good enough!”… It satisfies some, and leaves just enough room for wonder with others. Fun story Barbara!

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