Last night I took a major tumble in the parking lot of one of my favorite grocery stores. I’ll set the stage: First of all, it was a winter’s dark, around 5:30 p.m., and the parking lot was poorly lit. This last fact is ironic, since the lot is owned by the high-brow lighting store next to the grocery store. Secondly, the pavement in the lot is uneven, something I had noticed in the past, but not quite in the same visceral way as I did last night. So what happened? Pretty simple. My cart, full of bags of groceries, got caught in a depression in the pavement – basically a two inch hole that is one foot wide – and keeled over. Since I was pushing the cart, I went with it. Now here’s where my mind gets obsessive, as I try to envision the physics of a shopping cart falling over. Where does it land? And which contact points on my body are evidence of its motion? In that split second or seconds, as I went forward, my mind registered an “oh no”, until the final hit when my nose slammed into a metal bar on the cart. I still cannot figure out which bar came into contact with my nose, although I also realize that there truly is no point in knowing.
Alone in the parking lot, I stood up and disentangled from the various metal pieces of the cart and walked away, searching for some help. For anyone who has been in an accident, you know that our bodies go into shock, adrenaline creating the capacity to function, to seek out safety or help. I yelled to a woman who looked at me in horror and she asked me if I wanted her to call an ambulance. Sure, I said. Then I ambled back towards the store and was met by another woman, who said she was a nurse and sat me down by the side of the road. Other people began to gather, and I realized that I was bleeding a lot. I was oblivious to how I looked, but judging by their responses, it looked bad. Someone got me tissues, and within five or so minutes, the fire department was there, and I was surrounded by around six burly guys, until a moment later, when a policeman broke through the line of firefighters and began asking me questions. “What’s your name, your address, your phone number? Did you lose consciousness at any time? Did you hit your head on the ground, or just the shopping cart? Is there anyone you need to call?” I was mighty pleased that I could answer his questions and that my mind was functioning.
Meanwhile, the fire truck and police car lights were swirling, as I sat quietly with my new friend, this anonymous nurse who sat by my side, a constant source of support. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, a couple of employees from the store joined us, and left. Another shopper came up to me to say he had the very same accident a few moments before. I can’t remember if I asked him if he was okay. Oddly enough, I appreciated that I wasn’t alone. The ambulance arrived, and two EMT workers began to question me. “Did I want to get in the ambulance or drive myself to the hospital?” I couldn’t fathom driving at that point. “Was I sure?” YES, I was sure. I kept trying to reach my husband, whose phone was out-of-reach, but finally got hold of my daughter as I was getting into the ambulance, and she joined the action from afar. After I hung up with her, the EMT worker, the only dour person I encountered through this “adventure”, told me that I shouldn’t swear when I get into the emergency room, or they wouldn’t treat me as quickly. What? I wasn’t even aware I was swearing, but then I can imagine that I said a few choice words when I talked to my daughter, and then my husband. Isn’t swearing the norm when someone has been in an accident? What odd advice…
At the emergency room, things moved quickly, then slowly, then quickly. A practitioner examined me, my husband arrived, I got x-rays for various body parts, and the conclusion was that I possibly broke my nose. Not surprisingly, a few people at the hospital asked me if I “feel safe”; code for, “are you a victim of domestic violence?” I’m glad that the awareness of these issues has translated to policy and hospital practice. And truthfully, I do look like someone punched me in the face. One day later, and the grocery store personnel are being kind and responsible. They have reported both accidents to their corporate office, and expressed tremendous regret to me. Apparently some workers arrived later last night to fill the hole where two of us tripped and fell. I am grateful that there are so many people who rise to the occasion and share their kindness in an emergency. And I wish I knew how to contact the nurse, for example, just to say thanks again, although I discovered that we live in the same neighborhood so maybe we’ll run into each other. She may not recognize me though. I’d also like to know how the other guy who fell is doing. Neither of us are spring chickens…
Which brings me to my final point… Falls for older people can be the beginning of the end. Falls are one of the precipitating factors that land older people in nursing homes. I’ve seen the impact of a fall on my own father, and the mother of a friend just died after a nasty fall. Luckily, I’m not in that category of “old” yet, but it does make you think. As an aging woman, I’m still strong and healthy, working full-time, engaged in life and ready for more. I don’t feel like slowing down, as I hear from some of my friends who are inching up to “older”. But how DO you juxtapose moving fast through the world, which I am wont to do, while having an eye towardsbalancing risk and caution? I still haven’t figured it out. Meanwhile, I will nurse my swollen face and black eye, and reassure anyone who asks that I haven’t been abused, other than by a nasty shopping cart.
Like many people, I have scaled back on my holiday shopping, instead knitting colorful hats, amidst the usual onslaught of commercialism. On some level, it feels like the relief I’ve always wanted from the burden of the season’s overkill of happy Christmas cheer and frenzied buying. As a Jewish child in a household of quiet tension and heavy depression, I spent many hours escaping into the joy of Christmas on TV. My mother, who struggled with many demons, lit up during the Christmas season.
Our house was filled with little elves and toy sleighs, and we had a pink – need I say, fake? – Christmas tree, which sat on the mantle next to the Chanukah Menorah. This was to the dismay of my father, an avowed atheist who had been brought up in a strict Orthodox Jewish home. I loved Christmas, and I liked Chanukah. It’s one of the plights many Jews endure. How can Chanukah – a relatively minor holiday for Jews – possibly compete with the glamour and excitement of Christmas?! So perhaps it’s no surprise that the season conjures up a complicated mélange of feelings for me.
This year, as I neared the end of my knitting projects and gift buying, I ventured out to an upscale mall to buy that final present. I timed the visit so I would arrive the moment the mall opened on a Saturday morning, in hopes I could be in and out within a half hour, max. To my delight, the place was empty. I briskly walked by Gucci, Ann Taylor, Coach and Dolce & Gabanna, feeling somewhat smug about being a 99%-er in a 1% mall. I had only two stops to make. At the first, I purchased an item from a weary salesman who was bracing for yet another long day and seemed to appreciate my kindness and empathy. At the second store, I was greeted by a smiling saleswoman who said, ‘wow, you’re movin’ fast!’, helping me to maintain my pace, as she quickly processed my order.
As I was about to step onto the escalator to exit the mall, victorious in my rapid sweep, I heard a woman call out to me. Was it possible that someone knew me in this phalanx of the upper-class? No, it wasn’t anyone I knew; it was a well-heeled salesperson calling out to me from a small cosmetics stand. I turned around a second time, and we made eye contact, and she gestured for me to come over to her. Normally, I resist being roped into buying anything, much less a beauty product, and much less at a mall. But I had managed to not spend much money, and something about her friendly call amidst feeling stressed out in this upscale environment lowered my resistance.
The woman offered me a “simple treatment”. And I thought, why not take a moment for myself, a free moment with no obligations, and then I could sashay out of the mall feeling more relaxed and pampered… She took a calculated and up-close look at me, all the while, spewing a waterfall of words to both compliment me and convince me that I needed to buy a special “eye serum”. She bathed me in what you might call “back-handed compliments” – “you must have been very pretty when you were young, ah yes, you have lovely high cheek bones, and look at your gorgeous eyes! I’d love to see more of them!” I knew it was time to leave, but exhaustion and curiosity kept me there. When she blithely transitioned into the final hook, saying, “I have the product that will make you look much younger”, Mindy #1 said “leave immediately”, and Mindy #2 didn’t budge.
I allowed her to apply an “eye serum” around my eyes – clearly named to imply its scientific nature – while the saleswoman claimed it would reduce my wrinkles, dark circles and puffy eyes. Why didn’t I scream out “NO! I am fine the way I am!”, circles, puffy eyes and all? Mindy #1 knew she was falling for societal messages that glorify youth, and seduce middle-age and older women into spending millions of dollars to appear “young”. But Mindy #2 said that there was no harm in getting a freeby, and wouldn’t it be interesting to see the results of this magic application? Sensing my resistance, the saleswoman assured me that the product was safe and included only “organic ingredients” and “natural herbs”, all the while massaging my face (which felt good!) and telling me I was already looking younger. She worked only on one side of my face, promising me that I would see the difference when she was done.
And then she handed me a mirror and asked me to self-evaluate. Didn’t I see how much less puffy my ONE eye was? Couldn’t I see how the wrinkles had disappeared? Wasn’t my ONE eye looking brighter? Mindy #1 looked very closely and she agreed that one half of her face looked, for the lack of a better word, better… Then the saleswoman pulled out her calculator, as if we were close friends sharing a secret, and sidled up close to me, wordlessly holding it in front of my face to show me the price. You can guess that it wasn’t cheap. Mindy #2 took over, and got incensed. Seeing this reaction, the saleswoman appealed to Mindy #1 and counter-offered, whispering that she would use her special discount card, but no one else could find out. Do you think that the red flags shot up and sirens went off in my head? Yes, but, sadly only in the distance…
Even though I balked at the price, I had momentarily sipped the kool-aid, thinking that I could – or should – look younger through the application of this mysterious eye serum. The next price tag offered was still outrageously high, and the saleswoman got flustered (or should I say, “acted” flustered), moving about in her work area as if she were actually looking for something. Perhaps she was biding time as she thought of her next move, or maybe hoping her behavior would wear me down more. Finally, she stopped fidgeting and offered me an even “more special” discount, and, hooked into the bait, Mindy #1 said “yes”.
When I got home, I googled the product and confirmed that I was one of many, many women who have been bamboozled. The serum could be purchased on-line for about one-tenth the original asking price at the mall, and this so-called natural product was producing an allergic reaction for many of the angry women who “bought” into the youth serum argument… It was only after I realized I had been taken that I reminded myself that I’m fine with who I am, wrinkles and all.
What is aging well? It’s not about botox, eye serums and face lifts, although our consumerist economy would like us to believe that. It’s about eating well, exercising, staying intellectually engaged, and open to new people and ideas. We live in a youth-oriented culture where even young women are getting botox as a preventative measure! It’s time to reclaim our graying hair, our wrinkles and our sagging body parts! To love ourselves as we are…
At the time of this writing, the eye serum saga continues. I have returned to the mall twice to get a refund, but with this so-called “independent” business, only the owner has the “authority” to credit my account, and the owner is avoiding me. Should I camp out at the mall and demand my money back? Should I bring a group of 99%-ers to protest our culture that commodifies youth? Or should I not waste any more time on this foolishness and just accept that I lost some money? If nothing else, this experience has reminded me that I am not impervious to our youth-obsessed culture and am vulnerable to persuasion. Good information for the next time…
** When I first posted this piece, I said “stay tuned and check back at this site. I’ll let you know how the situation resolves (e.g., get my money back, have a raging argument with the owner, start an anti-anti-wrinkle campaign for older women!)…”
After two days of not getting a promised call-back from the owner, he finally called me this morning and said to come back to the mall for my refund. And lo and behold, I got it! THE END! P.S. This was only part of the battle won. I still may start an anti-anti-wrinkle campaign!