A few years ago, an almost imperceptible change began taking place in my mind, over time, and without my conscious knowledge. It was beneath the bright florescent lights of the supermarket that the extent of my transformation was revealed to me. Within the political framework erected by the divide and conquer principle, I was becoming an age-ist. I present the following exerpt as evidence:
The old man in front of me is slow. It’s as if he’s operating in another space-time continuum altogether. According to the laws of his continuum, he’s moving at the speed of light for all I know. But from where I stand, behind him in line, with only thirty-five minutes left of my lunch hour, he’s like a slow motion replay. He empties his cart onto the conveyor belt.
Items: A ten-pound bag of dog food, frozen chicken, frozen peas, a potato, a nectarine. Food for today. Tomorrow, he’ll come back for food for tomorrow. It gives him a destination, a chance to leave his television programs behind and exercise his consumer power, a power that he relishes as, one by one, his other powers diminish.
For instance, the power of eyesight. Although the total for his groceries is digitally displayed in red, he asks the cashier “What’s the damage?’ He fumbles in his wallet for the eight dollars. For the thirty two cents, his hand plunges back into his pocket and emerges clutching a plastic coin-holder. Squeezing it open and emptying it onto the counter, he laboriously separates six nickels and two pennies from the other coins and pushes them towards her before picking up the other coins, one by one, and replacing them in the plastic pouch.
Glancing at my watch, I see that my thirty-five minutes have become twenty-eight. I can barely refrain from asking him to step aside while I sweep the coins into my hand in a single motion, shove them into the pouch and hand it to him. I seethe silently, wondering why he has to do his shopping during working peoples’ lunch hour. They ought to pass a law. He hoists the bag and begins his interminable journey towards the automatic doors. I pay for my custard-style yogurt and breeze by him. Sitting in my car in the parking lot with the radio playing, eating my yogurt, I catch a glimpse of him in my rear view mirror making his way slowly across the parking lot.
His car, a brand new Cadillac, is parked next to mine. Finally reaching the car, he fumbles with the keys for several moments before opening the trunk and putting his bag of groceries in it. He then moves around to the driver’s side door. By the time he has actually gotten into the car and shut the door, I’ve finished my yogurt. Not wanting to get trapped behind him in exiting the parking lot, I quickly start the engine and back out of my parking space.
Mentally, I begin drafting legislation, giving speeches before congressional committees, writing letters to the editor, challenging the head of the AARP to an open televised debate. My premise is simple and easy to understand—nobody that takes longer than ten minutes to get into a car should be allowed to drive one.
My mind begins formulating a master plan in which letters are issued to all licensed drivers seventy-five and older. “You are hereby summoned to appear at the Department of Motor Vehicles”. There, in the parking lot, senior citizens are lined up directly across from their own vehicles, a hundred yards away. A referee in a black and white striped shirt shouts through a bullhorn “At the sound of the starting gun, begin advancing towards your vehicle. Anyone unable to hear the starting gun will be automatically disqualified”. A flurry of motion as hearing aids are turned up to high. “The use of walkers and canes are permitted, but be aware that winners will be subject to random testing for steroid use. You’ll have ten minutes to reach your vehicle, get in, and fasten your seat belt. Good luck out there.”
At the bang—locomotion. Racing against the clock towards their vehicles, they sprint, stride, hobble, limp, and shuffle. Also represented are lurching, weaving, veering, creeping, toddling, meandering and sauntering. The sprinters and striders have a definite edge. Things are not looking good for the shufflers and saunterers, like wounded zebras left behind by the herd.
There would be a national lottery open to those forty-five and under who respond to the letter stating that “For just one dollar, you can win a chance to personally take away the drivers licenses of those whose driving poses a menace to public safety.” Could I, as a winner, face the tears and pleadings of these elderly people as they are stripped of the driving privileges which symbolize their God-given American independence? Have I got the right stuff? Do I have what it takes?
But these images fade each payday as I try to budget what is left over after social security taxes into something that might be called a life worth living, and I wonder, have they earned it? How am I to respect people who in essence, told the government “We can’t trust ourselves, so we want you to take our money from us and save it, and while you’re at it, take our children’s’ too.”’ Did they earn the large homes they now rattle around in, or were they merely beneficiaries of inflation, waiting, as the smaller homes they purchased for twenty thousand dollars became worth a hundred and fifty thousand at the expense of the next generation, who, as a result, can never hope to own a home outright? Am I to have empathy for the caravans of Winnebagos wending their way to Washington to lobby for everything from senior citizen discounts at fine hotels to unlimited health care paid for by people who themselves cannot afford a yearly physical exam?
Television commercials advertise posh retirement communities, whose residents spend their golden years playing golf and tennis, while documentaries show children struggling to survive in low-rent high-crime concrete playgrounds. All these things have contributed to the difficulty of respecting my elders, as have the rising costs of hip replacements and heart transplants. But ultimately, it is the newspaper headlines that read “Octogenarian crosses center divider, killing family of five” that finally decides it for me—Yes, I’ve got what it takes. I’d enter that lottery.