I remember the stun.
It was the first time someone outside of my kids mistook me for an "old" person.
It was one of those poignant moments in life that you don't forget. It had nearly the same impact as remembering where I was when I heard the space shuttle Challenger blew up. Or where I was when Reagan was shot. Or what I was doing when I heard Elvis died.
The wounding occurred inside the Jack in the Box on Orangeburg Avenue in Modesto from a terribly misguided young lady behind the register. She was in the process of ringing up my lunch purchase when she uttered the fateful words, "Will this be with your senior discount?"
I wanted to half cry, half scream.
The knife went in so deep I almost didn't know how to respond. After all, I think I was 45 or 46 years old when this occurred.
The wind knocked completely out of my ego - this was the first time anyone ever dared to say I was a senior and be so far off the mark - all I could utter, in a rather incredulous sounding tone was, "W-h-h-h-h-a-a-a-a-t-t-t-t-t?"
The girl felt the weight of her grave trespass and mumbled an apology.
I immediately began second guessing my appearance. Was it the graying at the temples? The crow's feet? The deeper facial lines? The ignorance of this teenager?
Things are tough on the 40-something crowd. It's really the last decade of life before people start really assuming you ARE old. Then when you reach your 49th birthday you start receiving mail invitations to join the AARP, which is short for the American Association of Retired Persons.
Retired persons? So is that it? You're old when you retire? Looks like I won't be old for quite a while then. I'll be 54 this summer. I get that some people are fortunate enough to retire at my age because they have really great jobs that offer retirement plans that let them do so (of course that's less and less in today's economy). My dad worked for Ma Bell and was able to retire at age 50, a luxury that I don't honestly think benefitted him. But as I see people close in age who I know - mostly in cushy government jobs - retiring, I'm certainly not seeing retirement on my horizon anytime soon.
But all this opens up a huge question for me: At what age do I actually become a senior citizen?
AARP says 50.
Some businesses say 55. Others don't give senior discounts until age 60.
Social Security says 62 but then again my full retirement age is 67.
Growing old is confusing enough without the confusion over exactly when you officially become old.
I suppose that each person has a say as to when one accomplishes "old" by how they live and the quality of their life. I recall my great-grandparents as always looking and acting old. When I was 11, my great-grandfather Cranford was 75. He perpetually wore work overalls, sat on the couch way too much and shuffled off to the bathroom a lot. They always sat around to the silent sound of a coo-coo clock ticking on the wall. They also "dipped snuff," which was a disgusting habit to watch because they let tobacco dribble out of their mouths into a coffee can next to their feet. My mother said they always seemed old to her even in the 1950s - which means they were old acting in their 40s.
They were trapped in old habits, old ways, old thinking. They also worked a heck of a lot harder than anybody today, which accounted for the degradation of their bodies.
Besides, we keep hearing that 40 is the new 50, 50 the new 60, 60 the new 70. Chock it up to easier lifestyles, better conveniences, etc. For crying out loud, we don't even like to be called "grandpa" or "grandma" when we have grandkids in our 50s. My grandkids call me "Pops" not "Grampa."
Being "old" is foreign subject matter to me - and even more so now that I have a significant other who is 39 years old. I don't think and act as a senior citizen. My PhotoAge app - yes there is an app that judges how old you look by photos of yourself -consistently pegs me as being in my late 30s or early to mid-40s. (Come to think of it, having such an app might be an indication that you are old and just trying to prove you're not.) I think about my grandparents being my age and I just cannot picture them doing the things that I am doing, such as running, hiking the back side of Half Dome, or hang gliding.
The consensus of nearly 3,000 adult Americans who were surveyed over the phone by the Pew Research Center, is that a person becomes old at age 68. Well that's a relief - until you're 68 and the age of "old" has to get pushed back. For example, in the Pew survey, younger people (30 and younger) said that the typical person becomes "old" before reaching their 60th birthday. But of those surveyed who are 65 or older, they say "old age" begins at age 74.
Here's more food for thought: Apparently people believe that certain milestones qualify you as being "old" as opposed to strictly considering chronological age.
The same survey asked about other potential markers of old age including retirement, forgetfulness, experiencing bladder control problems, getting gray hair, and having grandchildren. The survey respondents said a person is old when he or she:
• Turns 85 (79 percent);
• Can't live independently (76 percent);
• Can no longer drive a car (66 percent);
• Turns 75 (62 percent);
• Frequently forgets familiar names (51 percent);
• Has failing health (47 percent);
• Has trouble climbing stairs (45 percent);
• Has bladder control problems (42 percent);
• Is no longer sexually active (33 percent);
• Turns 65 (32 percent);
• Retires (23 percent);
• Has grandchildren (15 percent);
• Has gray hair (13 percent).
So here's the deal. To lie doggo as a way of avoiding becoming "old" can be achieved by staying in control of your bladder, being able to climb stairs, remain sexually active, dispensing birth control to your children, keep your nose to the corporate grinding stone, stocking up on hair coloring, popping supplements for the brain so you remember the names of your friends, staying healthy, driving your car and living on your own. "Old" just may never catch up with you if you can stay on top of all of that).
While I haven't been carded in a long time for a beer purchase, I still encounter people who can't believe I'm old enough have children ranging from 26 to 30. I suppose I should relish in that for now.
At the very least, I can hang out with people older than me and get an instant feeling of being young.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at email@example.com