The awkward years, right on time
If there’s a consumer anthropologist out there, lurking in the aisles of the grocery stores I frequent, studying how people shop, I’m probably an outlier, someone to exclude or consign to footnote status.
First, I don’t “shop.” I don’t care for the verb, although the noun is fine unless you spell it “shoppe,” in which case it makes me nervous. I’ll admit to wandering the aisles at hardware or electronics stores, daydreaming a little, but when it comes to groceries I know what I want and it’s almost always the same items.
Secondly, sometimes I’m not in a good mood. This happens when I have to go back to the store for the second or third time in the same day, just because certain people keep forgetting that we’re out of milk. Just certain people. They know who they are.
Finally, I’m a little wary of the social pitfalls. This is why I love those self-check kiosks most of the stores have now. They’re not for everyone, but I was happy to see them arrive. They’re quick, they’re easy, they’re efficient, and they keep me from acting my age.
I’m not going to pretend to understand it, but I’ve observed it too many times to assume it’s aberrant behavior.
Men of a certain age – and that would be an age I’m beginning to recognize in the mirror – seem to reach a point when some bizarre genetic imperative kicks in, and after possibly decades of stoicism and emotional distancing we suddenly want to talk to people behind the counter.
Specifically female people. Usually younger female people, too, but then almost everyone is younger.
If you fit into that category (female) and you work in retail, I’m not telling you anything new. You probably spot us walking in the door, men all too willing to run some errands so they can share their life stories and opinions about the current weather with the nearest cashier.
I’ve watched this behavior for a long time. I once actually physically pulled my father away from a woman who’d finished checking our groceries about an hour before, just as he was starting to tell her about how he grew up in California but now lived in Arizona, and how those two states are different in many ways, including spelling.
But now I’ve become my father. Give me a cart filled with groceries and a nice woman behind the counter, and before she scans the first banana I’m already telling her how I used to drive a Mustang. It’s like a disease.
I’ll tell you something else: There’s a little fantasy playing out here, too. If I could draw a cartoon of this scenario, this poor woman and this chatty man, I’d put little thought bubbles over their heads as so:
WOMAN: I have six more hours of this.
MAN: She thinks I’m charming and handsome!
So I tend to use the self-check stations. It saves us all embarrassment.
This is the stage of the Awkwardly Aging Man, and it’s not as fun as it sounds. Your typical AA Man hasn’t given up on life, although life left him years ago.
He fights a battle that he can’t win. He buys cars he shouldn’t drive, says things he shouldn’t even think, and combs what hair he has left in very strange ways.
And he tries on pants.
I’m just trying to be honest here. I’m aware of the problem. Admitting that I’m powerless over the awkward aging process sounds like the first step, although I’m pretty sure there are no more steps.
So pants are now an issue. My wife bought me this nice pair of slacks for Christmas three years ago. They were beautiful, sleek and comfortable, and they didn’t fit. Not even close.
It happens; pants have different styles, and even though the waist size was a familiar one this particular pair of pants wasn’t happening. Not even close.
A normal person would allow his wife to take these pants back and exchange them for a larger size, but now I’m just making the same point over and over again.
So the Awkwardly Aging man, in this case me, says, “No, I’ll fit into them. I could stand to drop a few pounds anyway. I need a goal.” Seriously. That’s what I said. Like I was reading from a script for men only.
And so for three years this pair of pants has hung there, unworn, still with tags, still not fitting. The store where they were bought has probably closed. They’ve surely gone in and out of style a couple of times. They may actually be a collectible by now.
But recently I refused to let her give them away, because I need a goal, you understand. And a story to tell the nearest female cashier, assuming she doesn’t spot me first.