Thursday, August 30, 2012

I’ve been having more and more “old moments” lately, and I’m not particularly thrilled about it. An old moment is when something happens suddenly and unexpectedly that immediately results in you thinking to yourself, “Man, I feel old.” I can clearly recall the very first old moment I ever had. It happened one day at work a few years ago. We had a college student who came to fill in as the receptionist at our office during the summer. She was a very sweet, intelligent girl, which made it difficult for me to despise her for giving me my first old moment, as I would have liked to have done. I was up at the front desk on that fateful day, chit-chatting with our temporary receptionist and another co-worker when my co-worker walked over to a machine sitting on a table in the corner of the front desk area. “What’s that?” the receptionist said in a dazed, confused voice. “It’s a typewriter,” my co-worker said. “Oh! That’s a typewriter? I’ve never seen an actual typewriter before!” the receptionist said. “What?” I asked her in disbelief. “You’ve never seen a typewriter before? Really?” When she swore that she hadn’t, I started having flashbacks to my days in middle school and first couple years in high school when I sat in my childhood home, plunking away on my mom’s old electric typewriter to complete whatever writing assignment I had for homework. It wasn’t until I was a high school sophomore or junior that we got our first computer – a dinosaur of an IBM that ran on DOS and connected to a dot matrix printer that used paper with the perforated, holey edges you had to tear off once your printing job was done. It didn’t seem all that long ago when I was using that typewriter. To hear the receptionist say in awe and wonder that she had never seen one, as if it was some ancient relic that had been dug up in one of the great pyramids in Egypt, was a little disconcerting. It was the first time I ever uttered the phrase, “Man, I feel old.” It wouldn’t be the last.

The last trip I made to the doctor for my yearly check-up left me with an old moment, too. My doctor informed me that it was time to start having my cholesterol checked. After I got over the initial panic attack at the thought of some lab technician jabbing a needle in my arm and sucking the blood out of my body, a realization sunk in. I looked at her in disbelief and said, “Isn’t that a test for old people? I’m not old, I’m only 31.” She chuckled a little and said, “I just like to start my patients out early so I can get a baseline to use later on.” I think she was really just trying to placate me, though. I’ll be 32 during this year’s check-up and I can’t help but wonder what tests she’ll make me undergo this time. Bone density? Mammogram? Colonoscopy? All words that paint a picture in my mind of an 80-year-old, hunched over, arthritic woman knocking on death’s door. I don’t want to have to start thinking about these things yet.

I’d prefer to live in ignorance and believe that my internal organs and musculoskeletal structure are still as fresh, youthful, and lively as they were 10 years ago. Unfortunately, my knees reminded me otherwise not too long ago, making me once again say, “Man, I feel old.” After begrudgingly walking on the treadmill one day, I noticed that my left knee was aching a little bit. The next day, it was aching some more and had also become quite stiff. For no reason at all. I had done my normal, routine walk the day before. Nothing different, no fancy moves or running at a level 12 incline, and yet here I was with a bum knee. “What the hell is this?” I thought to myself. After doing a little research and talking with some other people, I deduced that it was just a result of wear and tear on my 32-year-old knee joint and I needed to give it some rest, which, thankfully, worked. But, still, I was left with the realization that my body is no longer 20 years old and I might have to start dealing with aches and pains that crop up as you get older. I mentioned my achy knee to my dad, who gave this helpful, encouraging advice: “Wait until you’re 60 and everything hurts.” Thanks, Dad. I needed something to look forward to.

Old moments come in every shape and form, but something that always seems to trigger them without fail is hearing about other peoples’ kids. Not long ago, I found out that a little girl I had babysat a few times when I was a teenager was married and just had her first baby. “Wha…what?” I thought. I still pictured her as the toddler I watched when her parents needed a date night. Surely it wasn’t THAT long ago, was it? Another old moment came when one of my former co-workers at the local newspaper I worked for told me that her son just got his driver’s license. “Not possible,” I told myself. “He was just a little kid when you worked there, and that was only six years ago.” But, sure enough, she provided undeniable proof in the form of a photo of his newly minted license. “Man, I feel old,” I mumbled when I saw it.

I experienced my most recent old moment when I was driving home from work a few weeks ago. I was stopped at a red light behind a car with two adults sitting in the front and a little kid bouncing around the back seat. Literally, he was bouncing on the seat, jumping up and down and obviously not restrained in any way. “What’s wrong with those people?” I thought. “Don’t they know there are laws requiring little kids to be strapped into something when riding in a car?” That led me to think about the ridiculous laws that now mandate all kids to be buckled into a car seat and/or booster seat unless they’re over 17 years of age and at least 6’5” tall. (I can see it now: “Mom, can I take the car to football practice?” 16-year-old Timmy asks. “Sure, Timmy, but don’t forget your booster seat!” But I digress…and exaggerate.) This led me to think back to when I was a little girl and not only rode in the front seat of my mom’s car, but perched myself on the armrest in the center console so I could have a better view of everything going on through the windshield. I agree, not smart, but that’s beside the point. I started thinking to myself as I sat at that stoplight, “I didn’t have to sit in a booster seat when I was a kid. Hell, I never even wore a seatbelt when I was little. Kids these days have so many restrictions.” And there it was. That phrase: “Kids these days.” When did I start to think like a crotchety old woman talking about the way things were “back in my day?” I shuddered a little bit and made a silent vow that if the word “whippersnapper” ever escapes my lips, I will personally cut out my own tongue and render myself mute.

I don’t like to think about getting older and eventually officially becoming old, but I do realize that it’s inevitable. What I’m not sure about is where that line lies between being young and being old. Is it when you hit 40, which I hear now is the new 20? Is it when you’re 75 and you just don’t give a flip anymore about what you say and who hears it? Is it when you start getting letters from AARP? Please, someone tell me it’s not because I’ve already gotten mail from AARP inviting me to check out their life insurance plans for retired seniors. I found some consolation when I saw that I’m still 30+ years away from qualifying, but I nevertheless wanted to mark it as “Return to Sender” with a note saying, “I’m 32. You’re wasting your postage.” I also realize that getting older is better than the alternative. But that doesn’t make it any less jarring when an old moment grabs me by surprise every now and then and reminds me that, in fact, the clock is ticking away. My life hasn’t exactly turned out the way I thought it would or the way that I had planned, and there’s still a lot I’d like to do with whatever years I have left on this earth. Hopefully I’ll get everything in before I really am an old fart, complaining about whippersnappers on my way to a battery of medical tests while moaning about all my aches and pains and browsing the brochure I got in the mail from AARP.   

Friday, August 3, 2012

I love my car. Nothing flashy or fancy, my 2007 silver Honda Civic coupe is small, fuel efficient, fun to drive, and has a surprisingly good factory sound system. Its only bells and whistles are a nifty moon roof and steering wheel-mounted stereo controls.  There’s no LED monitor imbedded in the dashboard, buttons that instantly connect me to an operator somewhere who can make dinner reservations for me, or heated seats that can toast my buns during my drive to work on cold winter mornings, and that suits me just fine. When it comes to technological advances of any kind, the simpler the better for me, especially when I’m driving and something as basic as lip balm is distraction enough for me to total a vehicle. Besides, with my luck, if I had a seat warmer it would probably do its job too well and suddenly cause my pants to burst into flame.

The thing I love most about my car, though, is the fact that it’s paid for. Whatever the smell of no car payment is, it’s 100 times better than new car smell. I readily admit that I have some kind of weird hang up about spending money on my little Civic. Tightwad is not a word I would generally use to describe myself, but when it comes to my car, I morph into Ebenezer Scrooge, tightly clutching my wallet and snarling at the thought of shelling out even a few cents for anything it might need. It doesn’t matter if it’s gas, insurance, a new transmission, or windshield wiper fluid – if it costs money and falls into the “automotive” category on my credit card statement, I don’t want any part of it. Call me crazy, but something that costs so much up front shouldn’t require the constant dumping of funds into it that a car does. The oil should never need changing, the gas should never need refilling, the exterior should never need washing, the brakes should never start screeching, and the battery should never run out of juice. Someone really needs to work on inventing the maintenance-free, perpetually operating car. It would be the everlasting gobstopper of the automotive world. 

A few weeks ago I was forced to complete one of the chores I detest most in this world – taking my Civic in for maintenance. It was time for an oil change, according to the friendly little maintenance minder built into my car, and my brakes had felt a little wonky for a few months. I knew I had to do it, but it pained me to call the Honda dealership and make the appointment. I don’t always take my car to the dealership when the maintenance minder is nagging me that something needs to be flushed, changed, rotated or replaced. If the flashing orange light on my dashboard indicates that my car just needs something minor like an oil change, I’m content to stay local at one of the little chain places that can do the job in less time and usually for less money than the dealership. The downside to those kinds of places, though, is the people who work there. Correction: the scummy, greasy dirtbags who always seem to be the ones greeting me at the counter and instantly see me as a moving target of female ignorance and vulnerability. The last time I took my car to one of these places, the slime ball taking my keys informed me that my car needed “special” oil because it’s “furin” (translation: foreign) and standard grade oil will burn up my engine. Oh, and SURPRISE! That “special” oil cost twice as much as regular and required “special” filters that also cost double. Unfortunately for this moron, I’ve actually read several sections of my car’s owner’s manual, specifically for occasions like this, and was fully aware that my car doesn’t need special oil because it’s furin. I didn’t waste my breath trying to explain to him that I know my car takes standard 5W-20 oil, doesn’t need synthetic, doesn’t need special filters, and was actually assembled at a factory in Ohio. Doesn’t get much more furin than Ohio. With as much politeness as I could muster, I declined his offer of the $59.99 oil change, told him I would just go with the basic package for $24.99, and presented my coupon for $5 off a standard oil change. He tried again to give me a dire warning about the dangers of not using the more expensive products, but I cut him off mid-sentence, indicating less politely this time that I wasn’t buying his line of bull and I just wanted the standard oil change. He seemed a little flustered as he snatched the key out of my hand that he wasn’t able to pull one over on this bespectacled, na├»ve-looking chick standing in front of him, but I didn’t care. I got my oil change, I got the maintenance minder off my back, and I saved $5, so I was good to go.

A trip to the dealership is a completely different experience. I don’t usually feel like they’re going to try and dupe me, but I still hate going there. For one thing, the closest Honda dealer to my home is about 45 minutes away. It requires an appointment, usually on a Saturday morning since I work during the week, and simply put is just a pain in the ass ordeal. Because I have to go on a weekend, along with 95% of the rest of their customers, it’s always packed to the gills with people in the waiting room. You can always tell who's there for basic, routine stuff and who's there for something big and isn't sure what the cost will be. The former sit lazily in their chairs, maybe sipping coffee while reading a magazine or watching the television and aren’t shocked when the dealership employee presents them with their paperwork and whisks them away to the cashier. The latter sit in their chairs anxiously twitching their legs, shooting nervous glances at the door every time it cracks open, sometimes biting their nails, and sometimes resting their heads in their hands as a sign of automotive defeat. They know the bill is going to be big, but they don’t know just how big. They sit silently, hoping that whatever part they need is cheap and in stock, but puff out an exasperated sigh when they’re told that the part is on back order, will take three days to install, and will cost an arm, a leg, and their first born child. To me, sitting in the dealership waiting room is like observing a very interesting social and psychological experiment.

The Honda dealership where I most recently took my car has found an interesting way to combat the stress boiling over in their waiting area: junk food. When I left my car in the hands of the Honda technicians, I was surprised to walk inside and see the spread that greeted me and the other customers waiting to hear bad news. Everything was free, there for the taking, no questions asked. There was the obligatory coffee percolating on a table in the corner. Next to it was a glass container that had obviously been ravenously picked over and contained only crumbs of the donuts, muffins, and pastries it held earlier that morning. Next to that was a basket full of different bags of chips that had not been scavenged yet, seeing as it was only 10:00 a.m. There was a cooler full of bottled water and soda, a beverage free-for-all that most everyone took advantage of. There was a bowl of fruit that looked mostly untouched and was filled to the brim with apples, oranges, and bananas. But most surprising to me was the waist-high freezer that sat off to the side by itself, like it was hoping no one noticed it was there. Fat chance, freezer. Inside its frosty sliding doors sat dozens and dozens of ice cream bars in just about every variety you could think of. The Good Humor man had nothin’ on this thing.

As I made my way to a cushy chair and sat down to read my book while I waited, I started to notice a trend. I was seated directly across from the freezer and had an unobstructed view of the continuous parade of people that walked past it, stopped dead in their tracks, and turned around, delighted at their ice cream discovery. Then there were those who knew the freezer was there and made a beeline to it as soon as they walked in the door, picking out their favorite frozen treat to enjoy as they waited (again, this is at 10:00 in the morning). I sat in the dealership waiting for my car to be done for about 3 ½ hours, so I had plenty of time to watch the astounding display of gluttony put on by just about every single person in that room. During that time span, I believe that I and one other woman were the only people who didn’t indulge and snarf down an ice cream bar. Or 2, or 3, or 4, or 5. It was as if the apocalypse had begun, and this freezer contained the last food source on earth. People raided it with the ferocity you normally only see from a starving animal that has discovered an open dumpster behind a restaurant. It was quite the sight to see, let me tell you.

I sat there, trying to mind my own business and pass the time reading, but I just couldn’t help looking up every time someone passed in front of me for their turn at the ice cream. I didn’t get much reading done that morning. At one point, a man who looked to be in his late 40s or early 50s entered the waiting room and sat down in the chair next to me. It didn’t take long before he spotted it – the holy grail of frozen goodness. He immediately jumped up and browsed through the cold offerings until he found what he wanted, came back to his seat, and proceeded to eat his ice cream of choice. When he was down to the stick, he made his way over to the trash can to throw the refuse away, and on his way back he paused just slightly in front of the freezer. He sat back down, but it only took a few minutes before his mind was made up and he was back standing in front of the freezer, rummaging through the novelties and finding something different to try. It didn’t take long before this became like a loop set on replay for the approximately 90 minutes the man sat next to me in the waiting area. I stopped counting after he ate his fourth ice cream bar, marveling at how one person could consume so many frozen dairy products in such a short amount of time with neither a single hint of brain freeze nor several trips to the bathroom. It was as if he had never tasted ice cream before, and once he did, he had to taste it all. There was no end to his madness until he was finally told his car was ready. I think his walking slowed down just a bit as he made his way out of the waiting area and approached the freezer. I could see the internal battle raging in his mind: “Do I take just one more for the road? What if I never see ice cream like this again? This could be my last chance. And it’s FREE! ALL FREE! Just one more. Maybe two. Ooooohhhhhh, they’re waiting for me! What do I do?!?” Apparently common sense finally took hold and he sulkily made his way out the door sans ice cream.

The longer I sat and watched the ice cream parade, the more amazed I became. At least half of the people I observed got an ice cream bar and then went back for seconds. There were some families who wisely limited their kids’ intake to one bar per person, but most adults couldn’t seem to help themselves. I got the most amusement from a trio of kids who ran giddily up to the freezer and looked wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the array of dairy delights in front of them. As they sorted through all the available options, carefully making their selections, one of the little girls who looked to be about 5 or 6 snatched up two bars – one in each hand – and squealed loudly, “I want these!” The little boy beside her, who looked to be around the same age, enthusiastically agreed with a loud, echoing “YEAH!” The voice of reason came from the third girl, around 10 years old or so, who matter-of-factly stated, “You can’t have more than one. That’s rude!” After that instruction, the younger girl put one of her bars back and the kids all sat down to enjoy their selections. I wish this kid would have stood by the freezer and given her words of wisdom to the all the adults who snatched up endless ice cream bars like they were piles of frozen cash.

There was one woman in particular who put on such an uninhibited, gutsy display of excess that I couldn’t help but watch, my mouth agape with horror, confusion, and amazement all at the same time. When the Honda technician greeted her in the waiting room and informed her that her car was ready to go, she stood up quickly, heaving her tote bag-sized purse onto her shoulder. It soon became quite obvious why she was hauling around a bag big enough to fit a small child inside. As she followed the technician to the door, she stopped at the freezer. “One last treat before she leaves,” I thought to myself. Wrong. More like a few dozen last treats before she leaves. The woman proceeded to fling open her giant bag and toss ice cream bars by the handful inside. It was hard to keep track, but I’m pretty sure she scored at least 20 bars before finally deciding that was enough and she was ready to go. The technician just stood off to the side, obviously not sure if he should intervene and stop her pilfering or stay quiet and just wait for it to be over. He chose silence until she was done filling her bag and merely said, “All set?” with a weak smile as she walked away from the freezer. I mean, what else could he do? There was no sign that said “Limit 1 ice cream per person” or “Please don’t take enough ice cream for yourself to feed a small African nation.” I’m sure it wasn’t worth it to him to potentially piss off a customer and risk getting himself in trouble over some ice cream.

Sitting in that waiting area that day and watching the ice cream madness was a somewhat unreal, but when I got the news I was dreading about the brakes on my car, I understood a little better why some of these people were gorging themselves on the sugary treats. Maybe it would have been slightly easier to hear that my wonky brakes were beyond repair and required a whopping $625 worth of new parts and labor if I had been riding a sugar high. “It’s going to cost how much?” I might ask in thick, ice cream-coated words. “No biggie! I’m so hopped up right now from all this ice cream that $625 sounds like a bargain! I think I’ll go get myself another one. What would I do-oo-oo for a Klondike bar? I think the question is what wouldn’t I do!”

I’ve seen first-hand the power of the ice cream. Maybe next time I’m forced to spend a small fortune on my car, I should give in. Soften the blow. Force the button on my pants to pop off like a champagne cork from eating the number of ice cream bars that’s the monetary equivalent of whatever amount I’m shelling out for vehicle repairs. I’m catching on to the lady with the giant purse. Watch out, Honda dealer! I’ll be back and next time I’ll be hungry and prepared, pulling an empty rolling cooler behind me as I walk into your waiting room. You’ve been warned.