Last week I was in line at the grocery store, minding my biz as I leaned over the conveyor belt to pile a big bag of broccoli atop a big bag of Captain Crunch (aka: Berry Colossal Crunch–we’re broke, okay?) So engrossing was this task that I failed to notice the woman standing in line a few feet behind me until she cheerily called out, “So, are you a coach?” I looked up; was she talking to me? Never in my life have I been accused of being a coach. (I kind of liked it.) I then looked down and remembered that I was still in my sweatpants and tennies, having just finished my morning run. What I really looked like was a retired P.E. teacher, but the title of “coach” was so much more appealing that I decided this woman was my friend.
“Actually, I’m not a coach, I just finished exercising,” I answered, smiling hard to mask the pain of not being a Real Coach.
“Oh…good for you! You look very…healthy.” Did she just say healthy? Everyone knows that’s code for chubs. Cows and fat babies are healthy. But I decided not to dwell.
“Thanks,” I said, demonstrating my magnanimity. She held my gaze, smiling expectantly. Obviously a return compliment was in order, so I ponied up. “And um, you look very…healthy, too.”
“Really? You think?” Her eyes lit up and I could see she wanted more. Noting her dimply, generous frame in a less-than-generous (tight and tiny) sundress, I felt a bit sheepish; my breezy small talk had evidently borne weight. She smiled and waited.
“Um, yeah…totally! You look like…you’ve been outside a lot, enjoying your summer.” She did have a tan beneath the myriad of tattoos that stretched across her aging shoulders. Gray frizzy hair framed the wrinkled, make-up less face that now broke into a wide grin. I liked this woman. She seemed like the Harley-Davidson grandma that everyone wishes they had.
“Thanks!” she replied, “I’ve playing outside a lot with my grandkids–”
“Oh, you have grandkids? You look so young.”
My faithfuls, I must pause here and confess that this was a shameful, bald-faced, ninth-commandment breaking lie. She did not look all that young. She looked, in fact, like a grandmother–albeit a Harley Davidson one, which is nothing to hang your head about. Of course nothing is wrong with looking like a grandmother if you are a grandmother, except that no grandmother wants to look like one. No woman–of any age, era or disposition–wants to be told she looks like a grandmother or a Weight Watchers counselor, noble and necessary as both positions are. But ever the people pleaser, the words tumbled from my mouth unfiltered by a fact check. And now this grandmother’s wrinkled and friendly face was beaming.
“Really, you mean it? You are my new best friend!” she gushed. “Thank you! Okay, okay. So how old do you think I am?”
Oh no. She’d popped The Question.
“Um…what?” I glanced up at the clerk, still waiting on the customer before me. What was taking her so long? My New Best Friend grabbed my arm in a friendly, albeit firm, Harley-Davidson like grasp.
“Guess my age, honey. Go on, guess. Tell me how old you think I am.” If her smile was wide before, it was mammoth now. Mammoth and hopeful.
“You know, that’s okay–I’ve always been terrible at guessing people’s ages.” This much was true. If you are my best friend and your child is three or thirteen, I’ll guess nine. (I’ve done this before and I’ve lost best friends over it.) My New Best Friend, however, wasn’t backing down.
“Oh, come on…you can do it! Just give it a guess. How old do you think I am?”
Trapped between this pleading woman and that snail of a clerk, I soon understood what the situation would require. See, when a woman–any woman–over the age of eighteen asks you to guess her age, you can only do one of two things:
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