Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2003 / 28 Shevat, 5763

Jerry Della Femina

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Consumer Reports

Outed at McDonald’s | It's so cold out that I decided to reprint an old summer column just to keep warm. Here's what's good about the cold weather we're having. We won't have to listen to Al Gore talking about global warming and blaming it on George W. until the first mild day in spring.

What made me gravitate to this old column was that it happened to me again at the beloved East Hampton Cinema. I went in to buy three tickets to About Schmidt - which turned out to be the single worst movie I've seen since Magnolia - and the woman in the ticket booth asked me if I wanted a senior ticket. I'm not a violent man but she's lucky there was a pane of glass between me and her throat.

I had a birthday last Sunday.

I don't like birthdays. But I guess they're necessary because it's the Creator's way of telling you you're still alive.

I'm not going to reveal my age but a word of advice to those of you reading this - it's never too soon to start lying about your age. If you're 30, slice off 10 years right this minute. Tell people you're 20. Okay, you'll get a lot of dirty looks at first and people will mutter behind your back, but when you're 40 people will start talking about what a mature-looking 30-year-old you are. Trust me, it's a lot better to have people thinking you're a decrepit 50-year-old than a good-looking 60-year-old. And, frankly, at 70 when most men look like they have to send their necks out to be dry-cleaned and pressed (no crease, please), it is essential that you pretend you're just a 60-year-old who has done a lot of wild living.

Still, no matter how you plan and scheme, every once in a while the truth in the form of a pimply-faced 16-year-old comes up and smacks you right in the wrinkles.

Picture this: On Friday night I was in my convertible, top down, heading out to East Hampton. I was wearing a bright yellow polo shirt, cutoff jean shorts to show off my gorgeous legs, and feeling that I was looking pretty snazzy. Dark, tanned bald head, sunglasses and all. From time to time I would vainly suck in my stomach but this didn't last too long as I started to gag, hyperventilate, and almost heaved on my steering wheel.

It's surprising when you reach a certain age how your capacity to fool yourself mercifully grows with every birthday. Frankly, I thought I looked sexy as hell. Just four short hours from New York City and five Snapples later, I reached Manorville and jumped out of my car to go to McDonald's to use their McBathroom because I had to Mc…er… you know what I mean.

On my way out I stopped to get myself a cup of coffee. The skinny, pale, gawky young man behind the counter took my order for a small coffee but had a little problem with the words "…with milk." "With milk?" he asked. "Yes, with milk." I answered. "Milk?" "Milk!" He looked as though he could not understand the word milk ... which I was now shouting.

You would be surprised how many young people can understand every single word of a rap song that sounds, to my ancient ears, like the rap singer is giving the "performance" while being administered the Heimlich Maneuver, yet have trouble understanding simple words like "milk" or "clean up your room."

I immediately began to suspect that perhaps an overdose of cannabis the night before had robbed the young man of the mental power to remember the word "milk" longer than three seconds after he left the counter and picked up the coffeepot.

Now, I often buy a small coffee at McDonald's and I know a small coffee costs 90 cents, so I handed the young man a dollar and waited for my 10 cents change. Well, he handed me a fistful of change.

Being honest and not wanting to screw McDonald's out of their McMoney, I said, "You gave me too much change." "No," he said, "it's 35 cents." "35 cents?" "Yes," he said. "It's only 35 cents for seniors."

"Seniors?" I said. "Seniors!" he said. "Seniors?" Now I was having as much trouble with the word "seniors" as my young, clear skin-challenged boy was having with the word "milk." Then I looked at him and thought, "What if I lean over the counter and choke him? What if I just haul off and throttle the son-of-a-bitch? Given how slowly everyone on that McSide of the McCounter moves, I could polish him off before any of them can pry my wrinkled old senior' hands from his smooth, young scrawny neck."

Instead I pocketed the change and walked out the door.

A young, vital man had walked into McDonald's, but an old, bitter man had walked out clutching his lousy 35-cent senior coffee.

I guess, in the end, when it comes to birthdays an old Joe Louis line still holds true: "You can run but you can't hide."

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JWR contributor Jerry Della Femina was recently named by Advertising Age as one of the 100 Most Influential Advertising People of the Century. He's perhaps the most sought-after advertising expert in the country, there is no network, no publication and no organization on which, in which, or before which Mr. Della Femina has not appeared. He is also the author of two books, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor (a best-seller), and An Italian Grows in Brooklyn (a non-seller). Comment by clicking here.


01/24/03: Fresh ink
01/10/03: Will his political career go up in smoke?
11/07/02: Here's a dirty little secret: Most Italians sort of like the Mafia
10/17/02: Bloomberg for Honorary Italian of the Year

© 2002, Jerry Della Femina