The Rudest Question

Whenever I have a doctor’s appointment I anticipate a certain amount of discomfort and embarrassment. But should that begin in the waiting room? Two of my doctors are connected with a large university facility and to confirm your identity, you have to announce your date of birth in the waiting room. This strikes me as rather cruel. Waiting rooms are small and oddly intimate spaces. The first time I was asked, I put on my best Tennessee Williams accent and said, “Why darling, don’t you know it is bad manners to ask a lady her age?” The receptionist stared vacantly at me and flatly repeated the question. During subsequent visits I have taken to quickly saying my numbers, then slinking to the nearest seat, feeling the eyes of the other patients stealing glances at me. As other patients come in, I am guilty of the same age assessment game, surreptitiously peering out from behind Newsweek – gee, someone looks a lot older than 60!

At my last appointment, I was ready for the age question and simply held up an index card with my date of birth. The receptionist laughed and then told me about a patient who responded to the dreaded date of birth question, by shooing her husband to the farthest corner of the waiting room before whispering her numbers. Ridiculous? Not really. I know a number of women who’ve never told their husbands their age. I don’t know the exact age of most of my women friends. One night over drinks, a friend who’d kept her age a closely guarded secret, revealed her DOB. I was flattered; I felt like family. She said she’d told so many lies about her age that to remember her actual age she had to stop and do the math.

The bigger issue, aside from UCLA changing their nasty way of identifying patients, is why after 50, no one wants to admit their true age. For most people over 50, every birthday is their 30th. The other day I heard a very bright progressive radio talk show host ruefully commenting that her birthday was approaching and she’d be 30 – again. We try to comfort ourselves with bromides like “50 is the new 30” and “60 is the new 40”. I asked an 80 year old friend if 80 was the new 60. He replied, “No, 80 is 80.’ Well said. Maybe by the time we get to 80 we can start wearing our age as a badge of honor. Maybe it takes getting to 80 to stop playing foolish ego games regarding age.

But when you start admitting your age, will people view you differently? What I certainly fear about aging is that I will no longer be relevant, that my ideas will seem hopelessly old school. I work part time in an office where I am definitely the oldest on the staff. So far I haven’t felt any age discrimination from my younger co-workers. In fact, I enjoy all of them especially a 25 year old young woman. I could tell from our conversations that I was older than her mother. The other day we were talking about something in my past, and I off-handedly mentioned my true age, which I’d been careful to obscure. She blinked many times, and turned ashen. As I rushed to get her water, she said, “Wow, you don’t look your age.” I couldn’t tell whether she was shocked because I was that old or, horror of horrors, that young. To her credit, not long after that incident we went to see a play together and afterward went to a bar where I got CARDED. I asked the bouncer if it was seniors’ night and if I was entitled to a discount. The bouncer took one look at my license and practically threw it back to me. I’ll take his dismissive behavior over the movie ticket gal who gave me the senior discount without my asking for it! Ouch – that hurt. But I digress. I had a lively evening with my young friend and we’re planning another girl’s night out. For me, I felt incredibly free. I no longer needed to disguise dates from my past to prevent her from determining my age. So, how old am I? Well, I was born after WWII but I missed being a baby boomer by 5 months.
Now it’s your turn to do the math.

Jan Bina – still not ready to admit her exact age to the world.
In The Trenches Productions

Published in: on October 6, 2007 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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