At at shop upstate in New York recently, I reached a milestone in my life that I would like to share with you.
At the checkout I had just delicately arranged all my proposed purchases: hundreds of dollars’ worth of the finest wool/cashmere suits, silk ties and footwear so refined your feet were virtually guaranteed to hurt.
(Why am I lying to you? It was in fact a pile of cheap lumberjack shirts, absolutely no ties and a pair of comfy loafers so hideous that even a nurse wouldn’t wear for them for a 12-hour shift.)
The smiling, chatty, friendly American assistant was getting on my nerves. Unaware that I live in London, where conversations with strangers are confined to helping police with their inquiries or taking part in a vox pop, he was chirping away like I was his best friend. It was non-stop attentiveness.
In my heart, I knew the guilty party in this exchange was me, so I did my best to show willing by adopting the smile pioneered by Gordon Brown. The assistant asked if I needed to know where the rest rooms were.
Again, sorry, I’m lying about that last bit. I think I’m trying to put off the awful moment when I have to share this story with you.
My rictus grin and occasional grunting were no match for the assistant’s relentless happiness. Eventually, he totted up the cost of my spree and asked if I had a store card. I would get 15 per cent off if I had a store card.
In what may have been my first actual words since arriving at the till, I said I lived in the UK and didn’t really have a need for one. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realised my mistake. I had opened up a whole new avenue of conversation for my eager buddy to walk down.
After several more minutes in which he held forth on Princess Diana, British dentistry and the “blaaaady weather” we arrived back at the point where he was asking for money.
“So,” he mused, staring at the till. “We really must find a way to get you a discount.” I tried to protest but he was having none of it. He turned to look at me, with a flash of excitement in his eyes. He’d thought of something!
“I know! I can get you the Seniors’ Discount! You’re over 55, yes?”
Across state lines in New Jersey, they heard my jaw drop. Baby bald eagles in Alaska turned to their parents and asked what that noise was.
I am 48 years old. For the first time in my life, it was being suggested TO MY FACE that I was closer to 60 than 50. A whole new demographic opened up in front of me.
I realise I have greying, almost non-existent hair and a face that’s been lived in by squatters, but did I look over 55? Perhaps it was down to jet lag or the shock of fresh air… something other than the truth? I was stunned. I must have looked like an angry Gordon Brown.
Gathering myself, I fixed Mr Happy with a stare and intoned, as calmly as I could: “Are you suggesting that I’m over 55? Over 55?”
“Well, over-55s do benefit from a ten per cent discount across the entire range, sir.”
“Brilliant. I’ll be 60 next month, can you double-bag everything? My arthritic hands can’t carry the way they used to. Plus if my back is any guide, there’s a storm a-comin’.”