I’m a changed person. Up until today, I was always up for a good colostomy bag joke. You know what I’m talking about: Is your colostomy bag full, or are you just happy to see me? Ba-da-bum! Or the old shoes-to-match standby, as in “My auntie’s got a colostomy bag … and shoes to match.” Ba-da-bum!
So great was my vulgar enthusiasm for this unfortunate accessory that I once—way back in the punky late ’70s—decorated an entire fashion window display with “dead-stock” colostomy bags from an old medical supply warehouse. THAT’S how thigh-slappingly funny I thought they were … until, that is, I remembered that Madonna was about to turn 50, on Saturday, Aug. 16. I decree that there will be no colostomy bag jokes at the expense of the mesmerizing mistress of perpetual reinvention! Happy birthday, Madge!
My own 50th birthday, some five years ago, did not really seem to affect me significantly. I remained oblivious to my advancing dotage and continued to indulge in the occasional colostomy bag joke. (I’m starting a slush fund for a colostomy bag. Ba-da-bum!) It was easy to deny my own mortality, but Madge’s? That’s a whole other bag …
The fact that Madonna’s life passages might have more impact on my outlook than my own is not so strange. The whole point in being a fan—a mere speck of dust on the chariot wheels of your adored queen—is so that you can displace your discomforts and concerns into the lap of your idol. Bottom line: Now that Madge and I have become old farts, it no longer serves our best interests to be cavalier about colostomy bags, dentures or Geritol. Glamorous, intelligent, nouveau riche people like Madonna and me will always change the focus of our humor to suit our psychological needs. Ditto Joan Rivers.
Back in the day, when Joan was in her 50s, she delighted in making adult diaper jokes that focused on June Allyson. At the time, aging hoofer Miss Allyson was a high-profile spokeslady for Depends, the ’80s adult diaper du jour. “It’s so humid in New York today that June Allyson is wearing double Depends!” shrieked Joan on her hit TV show. Now that Joan is in her 70s—you look great, Joan!—the stream of adult diaper jokes seems, unsurprisingly, to have dried up. Meanwhile, Lily Allen, the Brit pop sensation, is at the height of her senior-citizen-mocking years. At 23, she has colostomy carte blanche. Her hit album Alfie contains an evil ditty called “Nan, You’re a Window Shopper,” in which she derides her grandmother as follows:
You only buy the paper just to cut out the coupons,
You’re saving 50p but what do you want with tampons?
You’re always at the doctor picking up you prescription,
And they throw in some KY just to ease up the friction.
You’ve got a leak in your colostomy bag,
Yeah, it’s got a hole in, hole in, hole in.
Instead of collapsing into helpless laughter over this, the new me got all indignant and had a “well, really, young people today” kind of reaction. Honestly, I did.
I explained my changed worldview to my sister Shelagh this weekend. Having worked for a U.K. nonprofit called Age Concern for a decade or two—its goal is to prevent the abuse of senior citizens—she has always been appalled and unamused by colostomy quips. Her sense of humor was further tested recently when the local branch of Social Services was rebranded “Adult’s Services.” The painstaking addition of an apostrophe and an “s” to the word “Adult” has done nothing to stem the flow of unsavory e-mails and pervy callers. This good woman’s attempts to help the aged are continually interrupted by horny blokes snorting down the phone like libidinous pachyderms.
Back to Madge: When I interviewed Mrs. Ritchie for Elle magazine last spring, I asked her about her birthday plans. She flashed me a glamorous, don’t-push-your-luck-you-little-midget kind of smile and said, “I haven’t thought about it.” And why should she? I am sure Mr. Ritchie will buy her a little special senior something, with shoes to match, no doubt.