I spend a lot of time in supermarkets. Since people pay me to write about food, I’m sure this is not breaking news to y’all. But I got a news flash when I realized that I can mark phases of my life by checkout clerks’ reactions.
There was the first time I bought alcohol. It was Cold Duck and I was under 18, but let us draw a veil over just how much under. Actually, I’d like to forget ever having purchased the fizzy alcoholic Kool-Aid, but I’m making a point here.
I was going to a New Year’s Eve party, and Cold Duck was the rage. When the clerk scanned the bottles without a second look at me or ID request, I had no doubt that she thought I was a sophisticate planning an elegant evening of socializing in my trendy apartment (although the plastic cups I also bought might have been a clue otherwise). I hadn’t felt so grown-up since my mother finally had allowed me to wear high heels.
A few weeks after college graduation, I received my first “ma’am” from a bagger. He wasn’t that much younger than I was. I was still young enough to see this not as a sign of advancing age but as a mark of adulthood, along with my microscopic checking account and yard-sale dishes. Being ma’am-ed meant I looked like I might be someone who could cook coq au vin for boyfriends and own a new car.
The years went on, and the ma’am-ing continued. I stopped noticing it as I moved up to merlots and craft beers. I didn’t feel crushed that the clerks never asked for ID. I hadn’t been carded, even when I should have been (see the Cold Duck incident).
However, the big one was coming.
One Tuesday morning, unsuspecting, I passed through the line on a regular weekly trip. The clerk handed me the charge slip.
There it was: the senior discount.
Then I saw the sign proclaiming every Tuesday as senior discount day.
Once again, this feat of aging was accomplished without a second glance or asking for ID, which would have shown I was absolutely not at the magic age. Nope. No way.
When I got home, I analyzed my purchases to see if they shouted “this woman is obviously two steps away from the grave.” Except for the Metamucil (which was for a cat with a digestive condition, I swear), I could detect no pattern that added up to “over-60.” Unless to a teenager, offering advice on cooking Brussels sprouts and purchasing a lot of salad means that you’re their grandmother’s age.
I called my hairdresser and made a color appointment.
Avoiding the store on senior discount day has allowed me to remain in denial. But time catches up with us all.
A recent change involves the last thing I hear clerks say as I leave. It isn’t “Have a nice day,” but “Do you need help out with that?”
It’s happened several times, no matter if I have three bags or 10. Lately, the cart has held guacamole, chips, wings, beer and cheese for watching basketball games – not exactly the food of the feeble.
By the time I get to the line, I’ve walked through the entire store pushing that cart, including swerving around couponers blocking the aisles as they flipped through notebooks. That’s a lot farther than the last remaining paltry distance from the checkout line to my car. Do I really look like I won’t make it? That I’ll collapse in the “parking for customers with children” spaces?
The ironic thing is that when I had a broken wrist years ago and couldn’t lift bags with it, I had to beg for someone to help. And that was with an obvious plastic brace strapped around my left arm. But I wasn’t at That Age back then.
It could be worse. At least the clerk hasn’t shouted after me: “Be sure to come back on senior discount day, ma’am.”
Debbie Moose is a Raleigh cookbook author and former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at debbiemoose.com.