Observations strike a chord
December 9, 2003
I was minding my own business and going through the motions of another day. It seemed fairly similar to the day before until I got a gentle reminder that changes occur even though you may not be aware of them. That moment came as I was standing in line filling out the paperwork for my flu shot.
It was just another little ritual until a man walked up to pick out his forms. The lady behind the desk gave her cheery presentation about what to fill out. There was a slight pause and then she added that he looked like he must be on Medicare and would he please fill out the extra forms.
As she said that I could feel a gust of wind rush past my eyelashes as the air left his lungs and body. He was so deflated by this stranger’s observation about his probable age he shrank right before my eyes. It was obvious, in that instant, he realized that he looked older than he thought.
People can be disarmingly candid sometimes. They see things you thought you were able to conceal. They inadvertently make observations when you don’t want them to. It’s not their fault. They just see things you can’t that are obvious. They’re not fooled, no matter how hard you try. Some aspects of your appearance are eventually very evident to others.
As a pre-teen you just want to play in the street and try crazy experimental body contortions. The adults populating the neighborhood are just a backdrop. You’re lost in play one day when a little old lady remarks how your skin is so smooth and your hair is so shiny. You’re dumfounded. Who would care about or notice those things? It’s the same hair and skin you’ve had all along. What’s so special about it? Only years later do you realize she was right.
When you become a teen you’re still trying to ignore every adult within sight. At home you make yourself as unavailable as possible, slipping from one room to another as furtively as the moment requires. Somehow when relatives visit and finally catch a fleeting glimpse of you they comment on your increased height, deeper voice and new facial hair. You’re perplexed. They claim you’ve changed so much, yet they still know it’s you.
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Twenty-four hours before your 21st birthday, you hurry through the far corner of a crowded casino and brush past a slot machine. Before taking two more steps the security guard swoops in and without checking your identification, says you’re too young to be in the building. Two days later you drop a roll of silver dollars on the same guy’s toe and all he says is, “Ouch!” You think: “I must suddenly look much older – maybe after 21, the aging process speeds up exponentially.” This, you soon find out, is definitely true.
One day you wake up, look in the mirror and everything looks reasonably in order. Later, when you go to the supermarket you find out someone has somehow stamped “sir” onto your forehead. The clerks call you sir. At first you think, “I’m not a ‘sir’, I’m just another customer, no need to show deference or separate me into another sub-group.”
You go home and look for the “sir” written across the forehead. You can’t see it but it’s there in indelible ink and doesn’t wash off. Women have their own word on their forehead, but I’ll spare them the added distress for right now.
Depending on your level of maturity there must be something like 80,000 hairs on your head. Some of them are shorter or longer, straighter or curlier, but they’re pretty much all the same. So you think. Somehow when that one hair out of 80,000 turns gray your closest, trusted friends point it out thinking you need help finding it.
Their only concern is that you fix it before it spreads. You know they’re thinking, “I can’t be old enough to have a friend with gray hair. He’s got to be much older than I thought.”
Like that man getting the flu shot, we’re all fair game. At some point someone is going to make an innocent comment and remind us that it’s a new day and something is different about us. Yes, things can change quite a bit while we’re not paying attention.
Who knows what the next observation will be. I’m just hoping that no one ever tells me that I better hurry if I want to catch the casket sale going on at the mortuary.
– Off Beat is a column written by Tahoe Daily Tribune employees when they get around to it. Lincoln Moy is a graphic artist at the paper.