by Julia Sneden
There's a hot new phrase being bandied around these days: "Road Rage". It has been defined as a reaction to the bad drivers or the overcrowding on our superhighways. I grant you it's catchy, but does anyone really think it's new? What's new about fury at those parking lot hot-shots who zip around the corner and cut you off just as you're about to pull into the spot for which you've waited patiently? (If you saw Kathy Bates's classic reactive moment in the film, Fried Green Tomatoes, you know that there's nothing new about "Road Rage").
Does no one remember the yo-yos who bumbled along the old two-lane highways at 48-52 mph when the speed limit was 55? They're the ones who sped up to 60 just as you finally reached the dotted center line passing zone, so that when you angrily decided to go ahead and pass anyway, and got up to 65, you flew by the cop hidden behind the bush...well, you get the picture. Naming it 'Road Rage' is the only thing about it that's new. In the spirit of catchy names, I've decided to latch on to a term for something else that isn't new.
In fact, it's probably as old as the human species: that moment when someone younger brings you hard up against the fact that the inner you is no longer what others see in the outer you. In other words, when you discover that you look older than you feel, and are being treated accordingly. I call it Age Rage. Unlike 'Road Rage', you don't have to do anything to express it. Just feeling it is enough to mark you for life.
Here's the kind of thing that brings it on: A car salesman greets me unctuously with: "Can I show you something, young lady? (You can, but you may not!) A patronizing young clerk asks my white-haired cousin: "How can I help you, young fella?"
A 40-year-old friend who teaches school reports that as she walked hand-in-hand with a charming six-year-old on a lovely spring morning, the child observed: "Your hands are just like my Grandma's." "Really?" she asked, thinking to herself: 'loving hands, helping hands...' "Yeah," said the little girl. "Rough an' scratchy.
Sometimes you just have to strike back: When my adorable 86-year-old grandmother carefully wrapped her dark blue Wedgwood sugar bowl in a linen napkin and carried it into Gump's china department intending to replace the matching broken cream pitcher, the salesclerk said: "Oh, Madam, you won't find that here. That's an antique!" Drawing herself up to her full 4' ll", Grandmother fixed him with The Look. "Young man," she said, "those were my wedding presents!"
Sometimes striking back can be expensive:
I was in the checkout line at the supermarket a few years ago. The checker, who was possibly 16 at most and didn't appear to have a pore in her skin, muttered something unintelligible around her bubble gum and looked at me for a response.
"Excuse me?" I asked, leaning forward to catch whatever she would say.
"D'YOU-QUALIFY-FOR-TH' -SENIOR-DISCOUNT" she shrieked, every syllable carefully enunciated. Never mind that I had been in the store three times a week for almost twenty years. I had even been through this child's line often during the past three months; no one had ever mentioned a discount before.
"How old do you have to be?" I asked, looking around to see how many of my neighbors were hearing this exchange, but anxious not to miss a bargain.
"SIXTY-FIVE," she called out
"No," I said firmly. "Not for quite awhile yet."
"Jeez," she said, snapping a bubble under my nose, "you don't have to yell at me!"
Age rage can be costly. I went straight to the mall and bought myself a ridiculous number of skin creams. I had to clean out a cupboard to find storage space, but by the time the jars and tubes were stowed away, my equanimity had returned. They lie there untouched, and my wrinkles deepen. I'm working on turning them into smile lines.