There are certain turning points most women never forget. One of these is the first time someone calls you Ma’am.
It all started with a simple expression: Ma’am.
I was sitting in a restaurant.
“More coffee, Ma’am?” the waiter asked. It was downhill from there.
I was 29 years old and had just been called Ma’am. I was mortified. I didn’t believe it could get any worse.
But it has. (And I’m not counting the time I was called ‘Sir’ a few years later when I boarded a bus in Vancouver’s legendary West End. Ironically, it was one of the rare occasions that I was actually wearing a dress and heels.)
It rankled, for instance, when I was 36 and expecting my first child and the doctors pronounced me to be of Advanced Maternal Age. When our second child came along two years later I was prepared: Yes, yes, I know — I’m an even older, Older Mother.
Every year or so our family dentist finds himself a new business partner, another up and coming (wet behind the ears, my father would say) young doc who, as luck would have it, is assigned to me. Inevitably, he x-rays my teeth, gives me a lecture about my ancient dental work and apprises me of the fact that my molars are crammed with huge mercury fillings that predate Christ himself. He then points out that there’s a ‘Crown Watch’ on just about every damn tooth in my head — as if I need reminding.
I’ve grown accustomed to being called Ma’am (happily, I haven’t been called ‘Sir’ again). It’s just a greeting, a salutation, a sign of respect. Besides, it doesn’t matter how I’m perceived, as long as I am content within. Yeah, right.
In spite of my attempts to remain optimistic, and young at heart, however, recent events have convinced me that I am now rapidly approaching my golden years. You can’t stop a train, my husband says.
I was shopping for shoes the other day and had just tried on some snazzy red leather sandals and was seriously mulling them over when I mentioned to the Twenty-Something guy helping me that I also needed a pair of shoes for work.
I told him that I walk and stand a lot when I’m at work and gestured hopefully at a shelf of crossover hikers with nifty toggles and those bungee laces that look like garter snakes. So what does he do? He bypasses all of them, and all of the cool looking, outback shoes that have reinforced toes and sexy names like Ridge Rider, Sienna Climber and Durango. He goes down a different aisle altogether and hoists up a pair of… what fresh hell is this… White leather, sensible, crepe bottom shoes… you know the kind.
Now, I had just tried on a pair of jazzy, au courant sandals. My toes were nicely polished with hot pink nail enamel. I was wearing my usual weekend clothes, a pair of Levis and t-shirt. I was carrying a shopping bag from the Gap. My hair isn’t grey, not yet, anyway. It isn’t permed, or dyed, or coiffed, for that matter. In fact, it has a life of its own: some good days, some bad. That day it was… let’s say, tousled. And even though in certain social circles my hair might be considered dated, I like to think it’s more Charlie’s Angels than Golden Girls.
So what was it? What on earth made him show me that particular shoe?
This was a shoe that not even a nurse would be caught dead in, a shoe so ugly that it was a travesty. It was a shoe so bereft of style, that if it could talk it would be crying, begging to be put out of its misery; a shoe so pitiful that if it had hands it would reach around and strangle itself with its own laces.
I couldn’t help it. Instead of just saying no thanks, and moving on, I had to gently tell him that he was out of line. If the time ever came that I would even remotely consider shoving my pedicure, my cornless — thankyouverymuch — toes, into those over structured, arch buttressing clodhoppers, it would be Game Over.
“Ha, ha,” he laughed, “Ha, ha,” like he was kidding.
Now I was confused. Was I being punked?
I just couldn’t read the guy.
What was he thinking? Was he thinking? What would give him the idea that a woman like me: a Gap bag toting, midlife crisis, trapped in amber, stretch Levis and shag hair, ‘Fuchsia Pop’ by Revlon, kind of woman, would even be remotely interested in wearing a shoe like that? Was he on commission? What, exactly, was he on?
I left the store without buying the red sandals. My next stop was the Food Court. I went straight to A&W and ordered a Teen Burger.
I was in the bank a few days later and the teller, another Twenty-Something guy, had seen me clutching a government cheque (our monthly Child Benefit cheque) while I waited in the line up.
He was already talking to me as I approached the counter. If that’s a pension cheque (pension cheque!!), he was saying, I was out of luck if I wanted to cash it, because they were mailed out too early this month… and if I look at the date…. blah, blah, blah.
But I had stopped listening at “Pension Cheque.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” I said to him.
He was obviously embarrassed.
I put the cheque on the counter in front of him.
“Um, Child Benefit…”
He squirmed a little.
“You don’t really think I look 65, do you?” I pressed.
He refused to look up.
Evidently, he’d been getting the gears from Old Age Pensioners all day. He looked like he was about to burst into tears, poor guy. Customer service ain’t no picnic, that’s for sure. My sense of fair play prevailed and I quickly turned the subject back to business.
Ahh, it’s tough to be young… I remember it well.
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