When I was at the store buying groceries which included a bottle of wine, the cashier asked to check my driving license. I don't flatter myself that I'm being carded because I look under-age but it always makes me smile. The cashier, who couldn't have been more than seventeen or eighteen herself, looked at my card, then at me...back at the card, at me again...and blurted out,
"Whoa, you look good for your age!"
Her eyes widened with horror as she realized that she'd said something potentially offensive and she slapped her hand against her mouth to shut herself up. I laughed aloud at her obvious train of thought.
"God, I'm real sorry, " she said, "I didn't mean it like that..."
"It's okay, I know you didn't," I reassured her.
"I meant it as a compliment!"
"No worries, I know you did..."
"I'm real sorry, ma'am. OMG, my mom would kill someone if they said that to her."
"I took it as a compliment," I said, "Now, put it out of your mind."
"Are you British?" was the follow-up, and I was pleased to change the subject.
But I thought about it in the car on the way home, how difficult we find it to say, "You look good," without adding "for your age." And I remembered a similar occasion, perhaps ten years ago.
I was in Sally's Beauty Supply. I had a fierce summer cold which had kept me in bed for several days and which had given me itchy, bloodshot eyes; a swollen, beet-colored nose; dry, cracked lips; and a cold sore the size of India. The grey roots of my hair had needed attention for ages and displayed over an inch of old-age for the world to see. In an effort to raise my spirits, I'd decided, probably foolishly, that I would shampoo a red rinse through my lifeless rats-tails.
There was a line at the cashier counter because the young female "associate" hadn't mastered the till yet and was totally frazzled. I reckon she was maybe sixteen years-old. When she came to serve me, she took my Clairol Hair Color (auburn) and said,
"You got a Sally's card?"
You know, I probably did possess such a card but with a bunch of disgruntled frogs scratching at my throat, I didn't feel like talking so I just shook my head. And then came the infamous, never-to-be-forgotten line:
"Do you want the discount?"
What discount? Hadn't she just offered me a discount with the Sally's card? Was there another discount on the actual product? I shrugged at the teenager and said gruffly, "What discount?" I knew my words were almost unintelligible so I turned to the lady behind me to see if she were any the wiser. She wore a sympathetic expression but was biting her upper lip in an effort not to laugh. She put her hand on my arm as she turned to the assistant.
"Sweetie, never ask a woman if she wants the discount. If she wants it, she'll ask for it."
"What discount?" I repeated to the friendly woman in the queue.
"Well, um," she smiled kindly, "she asked if you wanted the senior discount."
"The senior discount...how old do you have to be to get the senior discount?"
Still suppressing a laugh, she shook her head. "Sorry, honey, but you have to be fifty-five."
My head was so fuggy, I could hardly take in the fact that this teenage assistant thought I looked like a senior citizen when I was only forty-five, but it was clear that the youngster was not really aware that she'd said anything wrong. She carried on with the business at hand. Me, I went back to bed for two full days.
When I consider it now, I'm struck but how unimportant age is, how it's only significant if you believe it to be; or, at least, (if you disregard the accompanying aches and pains) how it's simply a matter of perspective. Earlier this year, my delightful, beloved ex-husband, John, was tremendously excited about his upcoming birthday because, at age sixty-two, he was finally going to be allowed into Barton Springs pool for $1. On his birthday, he went to Barton Springs, proudly announced through the glass at the pool kiosk, "One...at the senior citizen rate, please," and the young man on duty didn't look up, never questioned him, didn't even register his existence. He didn't care one way or the other. John was rather disappointed there wasn't anyone to acknowledge how old he was; or more specifically, how good he looked for his age.
So perhaps it's better to be who you are with no concern for your actual age. Better not to worry about what anyone else thinks; now there's a thought! People will always see you differently from the way you see yourself, if they see you at all. "What other people think of you is none of your business!" the adage goes. All that counts is how you feel about yourself. Also, as demonstrated by the boy at the pool, no one really cares anyway. And as long as you get the discount if you want it, why should you care?