"I need three people to ride in the van with me to go pick up the folding tables."
I joined in with my fellow food distribution volunteers, and one of the guys said, "Ma'am, you can have the front seat."
"Thanks, but please don't call me ma'am, or I'll have to hurt ya. When you get older, you'll understand how ancient this makes one feel."
We all laughed, and the driver shared her first ma'am moment and how, even at 35, she had felt kind of insulted, too. I felt that I had achieved my point and was hopefully on my way to being regarded as an equal and not some delicate elder—until we got to the pick-up spot for loading the tables. My back just couldn't equal the strength of the three 30-somethings. I joked that I might better accept a "ma'am moment" and spare my lower back as I uselessly stood by.
Damn, damn, and double damn. Anyone can have a back issue, but when you get to my age, you simply appear old. Yes, my birthday is around the corner, and most of my November columns lean towards this inevitable thing called "getting older." It happens to everybody once a year. Oh sure, one day doesn't make it happen; it is an ongoing process. But on your birthday, a number officially changes. I will be 68. And damn if I don't feel like it. But I sure as heck try not to act it—unless there are heavy-ass folding tables to load into a van (when did they get heavier, and when did vans start being so high off the ground?).
The other day, I went to pick up a supply of cat food from my veterinarian. It was a small, lightweight case of cans and a medium bag of dry kibble. My car was mere feet away, yet the young and thoughtful employee offered to carry it for me. I said, "Oh, this is nothing. I just got through lifting 80 pounds." Yes, 80 pounds! What in the world would anyone other than a weightlifter or construction worker be doin' picking up 80 pounds? I just had to prove to the helpful young woman that I did not need help with 10 pounds. Now she must think that, in addition to being old, I am also delusional about my superpowers.
Funny how I have no problem admitting my physical shortcomings to a friend of like age. And if I have the upper hand in the dialogue when addressing the young and supple, then trashing my own looks, caused by the ravages of age, can be rich! Just seeing the fear in their eyes that one day this will be their reality is rather satisfying. I am fodder for stand-up comedy—I could work the AARP club circuit.
I might call myself an old fart, but don't even think about saying that to me or anyone of a certain age if you are young. And it's not just that getting older has become personal and real to me. I have always felt anger when someone older is disparaged in any way relating to their age or looks. I remember when I was bartending at a restaurant (I was much younger then), and a waitress referenced her customers at one of her tables as "the old couple over there." Thought I would come out of my skin.
"Couldn't you just say the couple at table 51?"
Why mention their age at all? (I hoped that they would stiff her, but then, of course, she would have bitched about how "old people" are lousy tippers.)
My parents had me when they were older (not old), and they would often be mistaken as my grandparents. This really got under my skin (and I assume that it annoyed them, too). I suspect my sensitivity to ageism has much to do with my parents and the role models they unwittingly became for me. They were my first up-close and personal example of age having nothing to do with ability. They could hold their own against any of the younger parents. They simply did not ever use age as an excuse not to rise up to whatever life threw at them. As I entered adulthood, they would become my friends, and I always expected my younger friends to treat them as equals. Many a party of mine included Mom and Dad—they were Veronica and Phil to everyone, not a Mr. and a Mrs. And now I, too, request that my friends' children call me by my first name. Give me respect as a person—not because I am older or have the advantage of height over some five-year-old.
When I start to feel my age in a negative way—like a prelude to a permanent interruption of life—I look about me and see role models everywhere: people older than I, creating, politicking, policing, governing, legislating, and singing their asses off. Oh, Tony Bennett, croon me a love song! Germaine Bazzle, uplift me with your scatting. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you will always continue to inspire me; please look down upon our Supreme Court, sending it strength and righteousness. And, let's remember, regardless of your political leanings, the next president will be well into his 70s. When I think of the power that we have and the opportunities still available to those willing to jump in and be engaged, my sagging butt seems like a minor distraction.
Let's forget ageism and think ageless. So, show me some respect and skip the "ma'am" formalities, get to know me, and expect—always, please expect—a lot from me.