Facing Up to Demographic Destiny

I crossed a major life threshold on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. After buying a few groceries at my neighborhood supermarket, I looked at the receipt and noticed that some items had been marked down in price.

"What happened here?" I asked the clerk.

"That's your senior discount," she replied. "The first Tuesday of every month is Senior Discount Day. I just figured--." She hesitated.

"Yes, that's fine," I said quickly. I wasn't about to turn down a 10-percent discount. But the fact that she "figured" I was eligible just by looking at me was, well, unexpected.

Full disclosure now: The senior discount at this particular market is for people aged 55 and up. So I'd like to think the clerk was figuring that I might be, oh, around 56. In fact, I'm beyond 60, but for several decades I've been passing for much younger and secretly hoped the illusion might continue indefinitely. It was a beautiful dream while it lasted.

My perceptions about the physical appearance of aging were shaped primarily by popular television shows that aired during my childhood in the early 1960s. By carefully examining the TV landscape, I could see that adult life was divided into three distinct stages. The first comprised cool, action-oriented males like George Maharis on Route 66, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. on 77 Sunset Strip and Steve McQueen on Wanted: Dead or Alive.

I figured those guys to be in their late 20s to mid 30s, but the exact age didn't matter. They looked decisive and dynamic, always ready to hit the road, have an adventure, or solve a mystery. And they could definitely handle themselves in a fistfight.

What followed the action-adventure stage was a more settled lifestyle, with fatherhood being a major factor. For my generation, the prime-time dads were Hugh Beaumont on Leave It to Beaver and Robert Young on Father Knows Best. They projected an image of calm wisdom and practicality. If a fight erupted, they'd be the ones to try to separate the hotheads. Ward Cleaver and Jim Anderson looked like the dads who showed up at my elementary school on Parents' Night. Age-wise, I would have described them as "around 50" -- mature but still active, energetic players in the game of life.

The third stage of adulthood was, to be honest, significantly alarming to my youthful sensibilities. That uppermost demographic was populated on the small screen by aging stalwarts like Walter Brennan on The Real McCoys and Sam Jaffe on Ben Casey. One look and you knew they'd been through a hundred deserts on a horse with no name. I think that's what caused my initial consternation when I received the unsolicited senior discount. My first thought was, "Oh, my God! Am I starting to look like Dr. Zorba?"

The clerk saw some telltale clue, but I'm not going to panic and plunge into a misbegotten campaign of cosmetic restoration. One of the headlines that often pops up on my preferred search engine proclaims "How Older Men Tighten Their Skin." I couldn't care less. My facial surface tension may be a bit loose these days, but it feels fine that way. I'm comfortable in my own epidermis, literally.

When I was growing up, I often heard parents admonish their kids for bad behavior by saying, "That's baby stuff. Act your age!" In fact, "act your age" is advice that never goes out of date. Now that I have officially crossed over into Senior Discount Land, I'm more than ready to take on this challenging new role. I've been rehearsing for it my whole life.