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Life out here — A viewpoint by Bret Kofford: Senior discount my (bad) eye

June 13, 2001

The young woman at Jack in the Box tells me the price of my meal and I squint up at the price list through my mod new prescription shades, the ones I got a couple months ago not because of age but because of all the years of reading on computers.

"I think you didn't charge me enough," I say to the clerk.

There are many things I should be that I am not, but I try to be honest, much like that honest president guy whose name I can't recall right now, which seems to be the case with many names lately.

He was a tall guy, wore a beard, I am thinking, and the next thing I know the young lady is saying something to me I can't quite make out. I don't hear as well I used to, but that's not a sign of age. It's a sign that I still rock, still listen to loud music, still believe tinnitus is better than jazz lite. That's right, I am still as red hot as a chili pepper, I am still raging against the machine, I may not be as slim as I used to be but I could be shady if I chose.

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"Pardon me," I say, leaning forward to the clerk with my good ear.

She speaks loudly enough for everyone in line to hear.

"I said I gave you the senior discount," she nearly shouts.

I am dumbfounded, lost for words, which has been happening more and more lately, although that has nothing to do with age. I've been tired a lot, that's all.

Gathering my composure, I ask the young woman. "Do you know how old I am? Take a guess."

"I don't want to," she says.

"OK, I'm 42. I am not a senior anything. How old did you think I was?" I ask.

"I don't want to answer that, please," she says.

"Well, I don't want your senior discount. Take it off my order," I say indignantly.

"OK," she says, "but it really saves you a lot of money, sir."

I quickly do the math in my head to calculate the savings, something I have gotten better at in recent years. I soon realize I will make a pretty penny off this deal. And the truth is I have been feeling the urge in recent months to invest in several pairs of sensible shoes.

"OK, I'll take it," I say.

Muttering to myself, I pay my reduced fee, limp to a table and squeeze into a booth to eat my sandwich.

I want to get up and tell the clerk I have just come from playing basketball, mostly with men half my age. Sure, I had a bad day, and I have had a bad two or three years, but I feel I'm on the verge of a comeback. The legs are not gone permanently, I am convinced. And the clerk should note that looks can be deceiving, that early male pattern baldness, early gray hair and early ear hair run in my family.

I thought it was funny when the relatively young girlfriend of one of my brothers was mistaken for his daughter. I thought it was hilarious when someone just a few years older than I am was mistaken for my dad … twice. Those were funny because all good humor is based in truth, and the truth is those dudes look old.

There is nothing funny about my situation because I could never be mistaken for a senior citizen. I look young. My face and attitude are cherubic. The only reason I limp on an arthritic knee is surgery resulting from my continuing athletic pursuits. The wrinkles around the eyes are a sign of years in the sun, not age. The roll around the waist has been there since I first could toddle to the cookie package.

Upon my return to the office, I tell some of the younger men there of the horrible mistake in Jack's place. I expect communal shock at the mistake. I get derision.

Feeling crotchety, even curmudgeonly, I tell two of the younger men, Richard Montenegro and George Avila, if they think it's so funny we can go outside and I'll show them who is the old man. I thank God that neither takes me up on it because I really don't want to fight anyone anymore, not even the Pomeranians next door. I am even less inclined to tangle with anyone bigger and younger, which both these guys are. That is not a sign of timidity of an aging man. It is a sign of wisdom arriving early.

When I pick up my son and tell him of the terrible mistake at Jack's, he is delighted. He tells me the truth is I really am getting old. Consider, though, this comes from a kid who reminisces about the good old days "when Snapple was popular."

I tell him he should remember I come from the good old days when parents went to the back yard and got switches off the tree for the rear ends of disrespectful 13-year-olds.

Apparently knowing nowadays I get cranky if I don't have my nap, he takes another tack, telling me my mistake may have been ordering the chicken filet sandwich.

"Maybe they thought you were an old guy who eats healthy food, so you look really good for a senior citizen," he says.

I am proud of the boy for his quick and clever thinking. As a hip young parent, I want to compliment him for his adroitness.

Now if I could only remember his name.

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