The other day I went into the Goodwill in Menlo Park, where I found a shirt and a sweater. When I took them up to the register, the woman behind the counter said, "Senior?"
I said, "What do you mean?"
She said, "Senior discount?"
I said, "How old do you have to be?"
She said, "Fifty-five."
I said, "Well, I am fifty-five."
But she must have noticed the look on my face, because she said, "You look young," and then gave me the ten per cent discount.
I know that the store clerk was looking at me casually, and she was, after all, offering to do me a favor, but I have to admit I walked back out onto the sidewalk feeling weak in the knees, as if she had, with no warning, punched me. Had I just crossed some threshold? Nobody ever asked me if I was a senior citizen before.
Being older is one thing; the character and dignity and depth of "older" doesn't bother me a bit. I'm attracted to older men, and I like being one, and a number of the most vital and interesting people I know are older than me.
But being "senior" is something else entirely. Golf carts, planned communities, irrelevance, cuteness, triviality, retirement, hobbies: I refuse senior, I hate senior.
One friend in his seventies is a strapping and energetic weightlifter with a boyfriend a third his age. Another is a beautiful and vibrant single parent in her sixties. I know marvelous poets in their seventies and eighties, deepening their work, following where their practice leads. I wish that this knowledge weren't shoved aside, at least temporarily, by the ridiculous category into which I tumbled while buying some secondhand clothes. So that I suddenly felt thoroughly used and ready for the Goodwill bin myself, which seems to be in some insidious way what that category is intended to do: separate one from real life.