Laughing off life’s absurd surprises can give our kids a valuable perspective, or at least keep us from going crazy.
I went in for kids’ boots. I came out questioning my mortality.
“Would you like a senior citizen discount?” the cashier asked.
“A senior citizen discount,” I repeated.
The cashier looked up from scanning our items. “Are you 55?”
A little distracted by her on-the-nose guess, I heard myself acknowledge my age to the outdoor store.
“Well, you might as well take the discount,” she answered.
The cashier had made a point. If you’re that old anyway, why not?
I needed to cut this short. There was someone waiting in line behind us. Also, my 8 year old son, whose boots we were buying, was liable to enter the conversation. Kids are loose cannons at this age. They have an amazing grasp of the language, enough to embarrass you in public. My daddy really is 55. He was born in 1967. I’m only 8.
Feeling a bit stupid by this point, I waited for the cashier to smile for some reason.
The cashier didn’t smile. Apparently, this considerate lady didn’t understand how miserable her question was. She was only 35. To her, it was completely reasonable to ask a stranger’s age and give the discount that he deserved. Her previous question was whether I was a rewards member at her store. I had said no. This was her revenge.
I took the discount.
Afterward, I’m left thinking, “I was just age profiled!” We already knew you couldn’t be anonymous while shopping online. We accepted all the trackers learning about us. But you hoped you could blend in at a real-life store, especially when wearing a baseball hat.
I thought we outgrew age profiling. Back when we started buying alcohol, we were asked to prove our age. It was a novelty to bring out your ID to show that yes, you were 21. At some point, the cashiers stopped asking. You couldn’t be mistaken for 21 on a good day. Unless you were a New York supermodel, the change hardly bothered you. There was a large gap between 21 and officially old. You sat comfortably in between. Life went on.
Then, on the other side of life, the age question at checkout returned. Only this time, for passing the age check, you weren’t rewarded with beer. Because you’re old this time, you were offered financial assistance in the form of a 5-10% discount.
In my grandparent’s generation, a senior citizen discount started at 65. Now it was 55. There was money in making people feel old.
You get a hint of age profiling when you turn 50. It’s when a certain senior citizen organization begins sending you membership offers. There’s no bigger buzzkill in life than getting mail from a senior citizen organization. But hey, even frugal shoppers in their 20s are joining the senior citizen organization to capitalize on the discounts. There’s no shame in saving money, they say.
It may be true, but some of us can’t bring ourselves to join a senior citizen organization. Saving money isn’t the top priority. Not being profiled ranks higher. Refusing the box that corporate America places you in for marketing purposes ranks higher. Anyone with a marketing background can tell you that putting people into categories helps companies make money. Senior citizen dollars are huge. Getting you to ponder the pine box before your time spurs you to spend money on either planning for it or keeping it from coming.
We all love discounts, but some of us can’t say yes to labels. We won’t join the senior citizen organization. Everyone has to grow older, but do we all have to do it together?
The cashier at the outdoor store handed me my purchased items. She didn’t offer me a shopping bag. It was a waste of the earth’s resources. Instead, I juggled the items as Julian and I left through the store’s automatic doors. The doors used electricity to slide open for us since we had no shopping bag.
Julian made his first comment on the exchange. “That’s funny, Daddy. The lady offering you a senior citizen discount.”
“Yeah, isn’t it? Let’s get you to McDonald’s.”
I had promised Julian a milkshake at the Mcdonald’s next door. We stopped at our car where I deposited Julian’s winter boots and a Christmas present for Percy, a big yellow truck. Julian and I left our car and walked across the parking lot to the Mcdonald’s.
The restaurant was mostly empty at 4 p.m. The main Mcdonald’s in our town was usually mobbed with hungry people. I ordered for Julian, and then we sat nearby and waited.
Our table was behind the ordering line. A man at the end of the line looked at us. He had gray hair and a sleepy-looking face. He was probably in his 70s. He kept smiling.
I thought about the checkout line scene. See? You can shake these things off. It gave me the chance to show my son that being an older dad was no big deal. Besides, I didn’t hear the exact amount of the senior citizen discount. I took it as a personal win. It was like it never happened.
“I can’t wait to drink my milkshake,” Julian said.
The man at the end of the line turned again. He spoke to Julian. “Grandpas know how to treat their grandsons.”
He meant me. I was the nice grandpa treating my grandson.
I needed to start shaving every day.
This post first appeared at I Can Count to Four.