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Jewish World Review May 11, 2001 / 18 Iyar, 5761

Mark Lane

Mark Lane
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Consumer Reports

Subseniors get testy at discounts -- WHEN vanity and miserliness duke it out, which one wins? Easy: vanity every time.

A kid is standing behind a cash register. Her hand is poised above a programmed key in a motion that could easily save me tens of cents.

"You do get the seniors' discount, don't you?" she says.

Now there's a dilemma. I am a good decade away from Senior Discount Land. To this kid, however, I already own a house there . . . with a rocking chair on the porch.

I could say "yes," and then spend my ill-gotten gains on dot-com stock and a stick of gum. But I just can't make myself do it.

This has nothing to do with honesty. I have found that not only has my vanity overtaken my cheapness, it is in the process of holding it head-downward in an atomic pile driver.

"No, I don't and you're not really blond," I open my mouth to say. But something holds me back.

This little slice of life is occurring at the checkout counter of a health food store. Some background here. These are not establishments I had ever visited much in the past. But in a sick little twist of fate, I, a person who has devoted his life to upholding the economic health of the barbecue-industrial complex, have vegetarian offspring.

Not just vegetarians, but vegetarians who eat things fashioned from soybeans, bean curds and some kind of spongy algae harvested from the sea bottom by specially trained divers off the coast of Peru.

So that's why I'm in line deciding what to say to this pretty young woman who thinks I'm a senior citizen.

Perhaps I'm misjudging the situation. Maybe this is really no more than a particularly effective way to move vitamin E and ginseng powders. You smilingly offer a senior discount to subseniors and then stand back and watch them fly around the store picking up herbal elixirs of youth, vitamin brews, face creams, anti-stress teas and soy-based, fat-burning rejuvenating organic protein powder based on the arcane health secrets of the Aztecs.

Honest mistake or shrewd marketing strategy? Don't know.

More likely this is yet another pernicious result of the demographic bulge known as the baby boom.

People talk of those born between 1946 and1964 as though they are one big club. In fact, this group divides neatly in half: those born between 1946 and 1955 and those born between 1956 and 1964.

The first half made trouble for the group immediately following. They acted up and schools, adults and even governments clamped down on their younger brothers and sisters.

This left those tailing that great demographic comet feeling a little persecuted. Feeling as though they were always arriving just after a party was breaking up. After the beer ran out and about the time the cops began knocking on the door.

Those older cousins and brothers and sisters, having made their younger associates' lives miserable with endless stories of how cool everything was just before they got here, now live in Senior Discount Land.

Characteristically, they are demanding customers who want their perks. At least 10 percent off, dammit, and the discount tickets. These people have sales staff spooked. As a result, people my age are getting senior discounted long, long before we are ready.

"No, you're mistaking me for someone else," I say coolly. "A freak allergic reaction to Siberian ginseng tea turned my hair gray practically overnight."

She puckers her mouth into a half-frown, and narrows her eyes to find the void key.

Old people, she's thinking. You can just never tell with them.

Comment on JWR contributor Mark Lane's column by clicking here.

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© 2000, M. R. Lane