BY BOB SMITH
I just turned 58 years old, my wife is 56, and we’re fairly well-preserved, as they say. I have salt-and-pepper hair, lately more salt than pepper, but my face is relatively wrinkle-free and, if I do say so myself, I am reasonably attractive. The same is true of my wife Maria, who has a fantastic tan all summer and whose hair is even more brown than mine.
This past summer we went to the movies with Maria’s sister and her husband, who are both in their early 50s – which means the sunny side of 55. We agreed that the latest mindless mid-summer action flick would be an appropriate diversion for a cloudy day, and set off.
We got to the theater, one of these strip mall, ten-screen multiplexes, and stood patiently in line. When our turn came, I stepped up to the window and spoke through a metal grille in the glass to the worker inside. She appeared to be in her early 20s, dressed in torn jeans and a funky tattered shirt. Her attention appeared to be fairly evenly divided between issuing tickets and responding to whatever messages were popping up on the screen of the smart phone that lay on the counter, directly under her downcast gaze.
“Two adults for ‘Summer Action Movie,'” I said, sliding a twenty into the round, silver depression under the glass.
She looked up for a millisecond from the phone screen (someone was LOL about something, or no doubt would be soon) to grab the $20. As she slid it toward the cash drawer, she glanced at my face, punched a button on the console that caused two tickets to pop out of a slot in the counter, and began to make change. She ripped off the tickets, counted out my change, and slid the pile back through the hole in the glass.
“Enjoy yuh show,” she mumbled without conviction, smiling faintly as her eyes dropped to discover that one of her friends, someplace, was now LMAO.
The entire transaction had taken perhaps five seconds.
We were a bit early for the movie, which didn’t start for 40 minutes, which meant we would have to endure some shopping time in the adjacent strip mall. As we strolled across the parking lot, I remarked that going to the movies in mid-afternoon had its benefits, as I noticed that I had gotten more than the usual change back from my $20 bill.
“Must be an early bird special,” I joked.
“Wait a minute,” my sister-in-law said. “We got charged three dollars more than you.”
“That can’t be,” I said, reaching for her tickets. Sure enough, their tickets showed a price of $10 each, whereas ours were only $8.50. They were identical, I thought, until I saw that sinister two-letter abbreviation following the reduced price: “SR.”
I had gotten the senior discount! Without even asking for it! Without even being asked my age!
Everyone laughed, including me, but at some level I was steeped in shame. Did I really look that old? It had taken that gum-chewing, screen-staring, overgrown adolescent less than a second to size me up and conclude: “old guy.”
And just how old was that?
I was too ashamed to ask at the theater when we went back in to see the movie, but later at home, I logged onto the Web site of the chain that owns the theater and found that the “senior” ticket cutoff is age is 62 and up. Okay, Bob, so suck it up. The kid added four years to your real age – she wasn’t that far off, was she? But it wasn’t the four years that got me – it was the realization that, to your average twenty-something, I am undeniably, at a glance, a genuine “old guy.”
It’s akin to the mild discomfort I felt the first time a younger, but fully adult, person called me “sir” (when I was all of 35), only worse because being a “senior” carries with it all sorts of negative connotations. I am now counted among those who go out for the “early bird special” dinner, and takes home leftover dinner rolls along with single-serve packets of jam and half the envelopes of artificial sweetener from the plastic caddy on the table. To people like the distracted ticket taker, I am now one of “them,” the faceless, inscrutable, wrinkled old folks who do and say strange things; who fear steep steps, acidic foods, and sudden death; who have bald spots where others have hair, hair where others have none, and who involuntarily, without warning or apparent shame, pass wind upon standing.
Quite literally, old farts.
I wanted to go back to that window and give her the $3 back and demand full-price non-senior tickets, just like the ones she sells to every other citizen under the age of 62.
But I didn’t, for fear I would further embarrass myself, and end up the subject of an instant message that involved the ticketress describing herself as ROTFL.
We put the three bucks toward a jumbo popcorn. The one with free refills, so you can take a full bucket home.