June 23, 2013

Maine Observer: Comments sting, even if they're not meant to

You're only young once, but you can be annoyed your whole life by the quips of patronizing people.


It was not a moment too soon when I slid into my stylist's chair for my first-ever half-foil (we'll get to that later) treatment.

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"How've you been?" It was a simple enough question, but it sent me right over the edge.

Today, I explained to her, on the way to her salon, and in the space of perhaps five minutes, three adult individuals addressed me as "young lady." As in, "Let me get that for you, young lady" and "Your purchase comes to $20.05, young lady" and "Good thing I came along to grab that door for you, young lady."

Give me a break! I am 67 years old, hold a master's degree from Harvard, am not horribly wrinkled and was wearing a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame T-shirt, fashionable sweats and sneakers. Seriously, don't we all know that the only time anyone uses the phrase "young lady" on an adult is when they're no longer young?

This has been going on a good two years or even more. I don't actually remember. It gets all fuzzy when I try to think back whether it started before the scooter or after.

Because my knees can no longer shop because they are likely to drop, I own my very own handicapped scooter with its own van. I refer to them as "Big Blue" and "Little Blue." Together, the three of us have made six trips over ice and snow to Florida in the dead of winter, and one horrendous summer road trip to Portland, Ore. 

In that six years (or was it longer?), I have had many such thoughtless comments directed at Little Blue. "Wow, quite a rig you've got there?" (Really, does this look like an 18-wheeler?) "Watch her fly!" (Do not step in front of Little Blue in the mall.) And the best one of all: "Golly, I wish I had one of those."

Hearing that last one while sailing through a major department store, I backed up Little Blue and looked the sales associate in the eye.

"So, what you're saying is that you wish you did not have use of your knees to allow you to walk the length of this store, and instead be required to purchase, by cash or credit card, this hunk of computerized plastic, which often does not fit into bathroom stalls?"

So, there I was, after swearing for years that I would not ever color my gray hair, and having been told by only a gazillion people how "nicely" my hair was graying, ready for a big experiment.

My stylist began the half-foils, a process of adding brown to my hair to make me look more like I was graying, rather than, well ... gray. 

Lo and behold, less than 24 hours later, it appeared to have worked. I was shopping at my local health food store (astride Little Blue), and the clerk put my purchases in a brown bag. I asked her if she minded putting them, instead, into a bag with handles. She looked at me for a moment and said, "Well, I wasn't sure." 

"Young lady" -- indeed!

Cheryl Klein is a licensed pastoral counselor in Windham and an instructor at York County Community College.


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