Old Ladies Seldom Pop the Clutch
Yes, I am guilty of ageism, or whatever the real word is. Sue me.
Some might accuse me of sexism, too, but I won't cop to that.
I was on my way home with the kids and had to stop at the grocery store to pick up nine items. Nine. Not ten. Nine. I had eight of them in the cart when I told the kids, "Wheel that to the front and select a likely lane." Yeah, I really talk that way, even to children. In the case of my kids, the result is this: they understand what I'm saying. Go fig.
My daughter pushed the cart toward the check-out lanes, her older brother tagging along. I went two aisles over, grabbed the ninth item off the shelf, and made my way to the front of the store. I spied my daughter at the far end of the check-out area, swishing the cart this way and that, unable to decide which express lane to commit to. (For his part, my son was doing an absent-minded left/right shuffle to mirror each swish.) I glanced at the second lane closest to me and saw a woman with snow-white hair and a relatively small hoard of groceries --they covered just one-third of the conveyor belt-- that had already had a few items scanned.
I planted my considerable frame at the upstream end of the lane and waved my kids over. Choosing that lane went against one of my Rules To Live By --never get in line at the grocery story behind an old lady-- but I figured: I'm not in that big a hurry; she doesn't have that many items; half of them will be scanned before the kids get here; how bad can it be?
Worse than I would've wished, but not as bad as it could have been. I thought it a blessing that she didn't pay by check, as so many of them do, and the disorganized deck of coupons she produced with a magician's flourish was nowhere near thick enough to stop a bullet, as so many of them are. By that time, the kids and I had unloaded our cart and were just waiting... waiting... waiting...
I felt a shallow wave of fatigue wash over me. I turned to my son, who at 13 years is fewer than three inches shorter than I, and slowly lowered my forehead to the point of his shoulder. He doesn't like to be touched, but he stoically endured this aggravating assault for the short time it lasted. Then I raised my head and whispered, "This is one of life's little lessons: never get in line at the grocery store behind an old lady."
He looked at me intently. For one horrified moment I thought he was going to ask --loudly-- "Then why are we behind one right now?"
I quickly said, "I did it on purpose, this time, to illustrate the point." Too late, I remembered to cross my fingers and whip them behind my back. We eyed each other for a few heartbeats, and I waited for him to call me on my b-grade s.
He was preempted by his sister, who asked --loudly-- "What?"
I leaned toward her and said quietly, "You know... the old lady rule."
She had the grace to lower her voice a little when she said, pointedly, "Yeah, especially when it's not an express lane."
I threw her a narrow-eyed glare. She threw it right back.
Finally, the transaction in front of us was settled. The white-haired woman turned toward her cart and everybody in the store thought she was done. She grasped the handle, stood there thinking things through for a short eon, then turned back to the checkout girl. I'm pretty sure the checkout girl was new. I'd never seen her before and, more telling, she didn't heave an obvious sigh before leaning over the counter and explaining some of the finer points of a grocery receipt.
The woman turned toward her cart a second time, and the world held its breath. Everyone, that is, except the checkout girl. She looked in my direction and came closer to rolling her eyes without actually doing so than I would have thought possible. The white-haired woman again grasped the cart handle, took half a step, and stopped to think it over for another measured chunk of eternity.
I started a silent slow-count. Honestly, I don't know how long it lasted, because at some point I started to slip into self-hypnosis. When the checkout girl turned to us and asked, "So how you guys doin'?" I answered with a protracted moment of blank stare. She seemed to understand.
So, as I said, I am guilty of a certain ageism, or oldism, or whatever the proper term is for thinking certain things about that, uh, broad demographic. Some might accuse me of sexism, too, since I single out old women rather than old people. To that charge, I answer thus...
A stereotype, Your Honor, is a cliché that has proven itself a truism so often it has become a convention. Or something like that.
Furthermore, prejudice is diced stereotype sprinkled into a simmering stew of negative emotion. The truly criminal ones consist mostly of fear. Mine is merely mild impatience. Chew on that awhile.
Besides, it isn't sexist to call a woman a woman, and when's the last time you saw an old man shopping for groceries by himself?
P.S.... Bud "I Always Wind Up With The Cart
That Has A Sticky Wheel" Selig must go.