I had to interact with the public yesterday in several venues: the drug store, the supermarket, the library, the pet food store. In each place I was confounded by the aged. From what demographers are telling us, it's just going to get worse. Now that I've tipped past the half-century mark, I'm beginning to wonder just when I'll start exhibiting the signs of Old Fogeyism. I saw enough symptoms yesterday to start tallying them.
The Stunned Sheep
These meat-on-feet walk around a public place, usually in a store of some sort, looking as if they'd been taken to a foreign country, dumped from a car in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and then hit in the head with a clown hammer. These blue-hairs walk around with the same stupefied look most of the rest of us would have if we were instantaneously transported to the Emerald City. They never seem to be in the process of buying anything, instead their job is to get in the way. They push empty carts around and gaze myopically at foods they would never buy.
The Friendly Old Coot
These gummers can't resist trying to engage you in conversation, but they socially inept since they spend most of the day in conversation with their parakeet.
"Say, that's a lot of soda pop you're buying. What are you going to do with all of that?"
How do you respond to that with something other than "frell you." What business is it of theirs what I buy and how I intend to use it?
Mr. Been There, Done That
Usually an old-timer who has a face that looks like fine-tooled saddle leather and smells like he's smoked a carton of Chesterfields in a phone booth. He can't resist telling you what a fool you are for selecting the items you're about to purchase.
"You shouldn't be buying those folding plastic sawhorses."
"They ain't strong enough!"
Imprinted in the plastic is a warning from the manufacturer that they should not be used to support more than 400 pounds. To me, if it weighs more than that, I'm not liable to be hiking up onto a sawhorse. The "frell you" response is most appropriate here.
These are the old folks who have to read the fine print on the Campbell's soup can. The same soup they've been buying for 75 years. Their proper stance is to put their grocery cart sideways in the aisle, hold onto the handle and reach across to the other side of the aisle to read the contents of the Distillata bottle: "Water." Their peripheral vision has so deteriorated that if you stand next to them, awaiting them to move so you can navigate the aisle, they can't see you. A "Pardon me" will stir them from their concentration with the same vigor as firing a gunshot next to Delayed Stress Syndromed Vietnam vet.
This is a driver who's had their license for 71 years. They can be found navigating a 20-year-old land-yacht down the street, at least 10 miles below the speed limit. If it's a man, he's wearing a hat while he drives. If it's a woman, she's wearing a plastic rain scarf on her head. You know you've encountered one of these by the twisting and turning of their heads: Everything on either side of the roads so fascinates them that they can't pay attention to the traffic ahead of them. "Look at that! That man's mowing his lawn!"
Mom's Day Out
Usually a woman who is being taken to the store by their middle-aged offspring. They navigate through the store with the same speed as a snail on stilts for the first time. What's nice about the duo is that they travel down the middle of the aisle.
"Momma, do you want some bananas?"
"I only want one and a half. They're binding, you know. I need to get a laxative. The last time I was to the doctor he said my legs wouldn't hurt so much if I'd keep off of ladders. When are we going to get prune juice?"
This isn't exactly restricted to the aged. These are the people that are so tired that they have to lean on the grocery carts to keep from falling over. If they're that tired, what are they doing out of bed? I've known people with mononucleosis who have had more pep.
The Advice Seeker
These are sometimes combined with The Examiners. They will stand in front of the item you wish to purchase and compare two boxes of pizza rolls to see if the store brand has different "All natural spices" listed in its ingredients than those offered by Totino's. When you finally reach around them to grab a box of egg rolls, they look at your purchase as if it were a box of fresh-frozen Manna straight from the Sinai Dessert.
"Are those good?"
"No madam, they are horrid. I am an automasochist and force myself to eat disgusting food in order to achieve sexual release."
The Pack Mule
These are the remaining old-timers who haven't yet had their driver's license taken away because they can't see over the dashboard anymore. The come to stores to buy not only their own groceries, but victuals for their housebound friends. They insist on having six piles of items that each must be rung up separately since electronic calculators are still awaiting invention in the XXIII½ Century and it's too hard to round off change to the nearest dollar. A typical order sitting on the conveyor belt is one banana, four slices of dutch loaf, a can of Cream of Celery soup [store-brand], two kaiser rolls, and a bottle of glycerin suppositories. This is enough for a week for most people over 80. The Mule usually pays cash for each transaction until they get to their own. They will watch the cashier tote up their items and wait until they are presented with a total before they start rummaging around in their purse for their checkbook. The check cannot be handed to the cashier until it is painstakingly entered in the check register. Then they start looking for their check-cashing card.
The Get-Away Driver
This is usually a man – wearing a hat, of course – that must park in the fire lane in front of the store, as close to the entrance as physically possible while his wife goes in to wander the aisles like a stunned sheep, since it's too far to walk from the Crip parking space. Why doesn't he do the shopping? It's not manly, of course. At least, not as manly as sitting in an idling car, listening to Rush Limbaugh, and smoking Pall Malls.
The Prime Timer
Since these people aren't working, you'd think they'd have all of the time in the world to do their errands outside of the few meager minutes that working stiffs have to do their errands before the sidewalks are rolled up. Go into the supermarket at 10:30 a.m. and old farts are nowhere to be found. Check back at 5:30 p.m., and they're clogging the aisles. Go to the barbershop on a Saturday afternoon and six of them are waiting for a trim. Where were they on Wednesday at 2:30?
Usually found in restaurants. Nothing on the menu is any good and the service is lousy as well. At least they insist on making their food order arcane: "I want the cream of wheat boiled for only ten minutes instead of 15, and make sure they don't use any salt or cook it in an aluminum pan." They vocalizations in close conversations sound like they learned to whisper in the boiler factory. If they tip more than a penny, it's usually 50¢. Wait staff are encouraged to spit in their food.
A close relative of The Complainer and may accompany them. These are the people who insist on waiting until you're eating your spaghetti to tell their dining partner how they had the varicose veins stripped from their legs, or other anatomical details that would send a thoracic surgeon puking from the room.
Lem and Abner
A grizzled duo who between them have lost 160 percent of their hearing. They flock to places like theaters and libraries to hold conversations as if they were in their own living rooms. They are immune to glares and always have a cutting word for those who ask them to keep it under 80 dB.
This is usually some old nanny goat who expostulates at everything she sees. She's usually sitting behind you in the theater. She makes sure she punctuates the film or play with plenty of "Ohs," "Ahs," and "Isn't that darling" to make sure everyone around her knows how cunning the display is and what a sensitive, appreciative soul she is. Sometimes accompanied by Bratty Granddaughter.
Where does that smell come from!? These are little, frail white-hairs wearing chiffon scarves who have that distinct Oldster Spice smell. It smells like a combination of unguents and sprays that only sell to those over 75, Jean Natte and Granny Funk. Whatever it is, it forms a miasma that can contaminate an entire grocery-store aisle and sticks in the back of your sinuses for 45 minutes.
Surly Unkempt Chauffeur
He looks like he's 19, hasn't shaved in the past month, but the facial hair has only appeared in mangy spots. He's driving a beater that he's parked in front of the entry to the store so that it's nearly impassable. He's got his ball-cap on backwards, his car radio blasting out rap, and a Marlboro stuck in his puss. But, don't be too hard on him, he's there because he drove Mam-maw to the store to do her grocery shopping. He'll also get a 40-ouncer of PBR and a carton of smokes from her by way of gratitude. It'll also prevent him from stealing money from her purse later. He'll grow up to be The Getaway Driver.
The Man Whom Time Forgot
He's the old sourpuss for whom the world started going to Hell the day after he turned 21. He complains loudly – to himself, but in hopes that everyone around him will hear and agree – how everything was better back in his day. "These bananas don't taste as good as the ones we used to pick fresh outside the barracks on Guadalcanal." Nothing is as good as it was back when he could see, taste, feel, walk, and have sex.
The Disaffected Bagger
He makes the Lost Generation seem like hard-charging up-and-comers. He's working at the grocery store only because his parents won't support his ganja habit anymore. His head's shaved to a five-o'clock-shadow and he's attempting to grow a goatee but Nature's against him. Bagging groceries is his Purgatory. He'll put fifteen #10 cans of tomatoes on top of the bread and then use separate bags for a magazine, for a box of tissues, and a pound of bolognie. He's more interested in making time with the pimply-girl cashier than making sure that everything you bought gets in your cart. Ugly tribal tats are mandatory.
The Border Guard
This Nazi is most common at wholesale clubs and computer stores. Their goal is to be sure you're not sneaking a spinet piano out of the building by hiding it under your shirt. In the computer store, they stand next to the Scream Gates of Theft [which are always ignored] and demand to see your receipt. They've watched you pile you stuff up at the register, watched the clerk bag it in a translucent bag, and watched them hand you a receipt. But, they still have to check to make sure you aren't in cahoots with the cashier and are walking out with an Apple G4 for which you've paid 12¢. Their counterpart at the wholesale club checks your receipt and compares it to the overflowing shopping cart of junk and suckerbait you've just bought. It's not an item-by-item comparison, just a looksee to make you feel guilty. Why do they do it? "Vee vere chust followink orders."
They're women you'd think never saw food before. They're usually an old lady, but the Foodphobic can also be younger. At one end of the youth spectrum she makes Callista Fockart look a linebacker and at the other end she's as massive as a DeSoto. When the food arrives at the table she's the one who complains about the servings being so large that she doesn't know what to do. The olderster will have 90 percent of it boxed up and live on it for the next week and a half. The youngsters will also take home the same amount and gorge on the remains at home. The difference is that the one with the pipe-cleaner figure will immediately purge while the porker will finish it up with two malts and a dozen donuts, then call for a pizza, extra grease please.
So, I can't wait until more and more of these people start populating my life. Feel free to contact me to add to the list.