There’s the time a young woman in the weight room of my gym calls out, “Looking good! Keep it up.”
A compliment, except that I’m working with the lat pulldown — one of the easiest pieces of equipment in the gym, the one you’re taught first when you take a weight training class. I don’t even pile on much weight. She was really saying, “Not bad for an old broad.”
Or the day I’m happily hip-swiveling in a Zumba class, when the young woman next to me says condescendingly, “You look like you’re having fun.” It’s the tone someone might use with a child who needs encouragement.
One day I attend an alumni book discussion at the University of Pennsylvania, just across town. I mention that I’ve reviewed the book we’re talking about. Afterward, a woman who seems close to my age says, “How nice that you’re still writing book reviews.”
What do I say? “Honey, I don’t just write book reviews. I write books.”
Or the time I am taking an improv class. We are congratulating ourselves after our class show, which went very well. A male classmate, who might be in his thirties or forties, says to me, “It’s so nice that you come out and play with the kids.”
Kids? At least seven of us have graduate degrees (at least 3 doctorates, including mine). We’re managers and professionals. He’s really saying, “I don’t see beyond your age.”
Or the time I’m helping myself to the buffet at a networking event when an earnest young man approaches to ask, “Are you retired?”
“Would I be here if I were?” I ask.
Would he ask a gay man, “Are you in the fashion industry?” Or point a Black attendee to the watermelon?
You never read about these subtly cruel encounters in those chirpy books that proclaim, “Age is just a number.” Or, “You’re only as old as you feel.” Or, as John Leland’s book title says, “Happiness is a choice.”
But these are the reasons I wrote my book, When I Get Old I Plan To Be A Bitch. It’s not about getting older. It’s about fighting stereotypes with swearing and bad manners.
So last time this happened, I was ready.
We’ve just finished yoga class when a lady of a certain age comes up to me.
“I’m so glad to see you in the class,” she says. “You’re amazing.”
Lady, I’m not amazing. I suck at yoga. I don’t even like yoga. I like what it does for my body. I’d much rather lift weights, and most of my adult life I did, which is why I suck at yoga.
In yoga class, I hide in the back and do my thing. I don’t think about age. I’d rather not think about my knee which was never the same after an injury.
But this time I have the perfect response.
I have a card made up with. a QR code to make it easy to buy my book. I hand her one of my cards and say, “Here, go buy my book. I hope you don’t mind bad language, reference to sex toys and snarky comments about doctors.”
And then I take off for my favorite coffee shop, where I like to counter the effects of my exercise class with their one-of-a-kind cinnamon buns.
Most of this article comes from that book. You can click here to buy it.