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Senior Discount Dilemma: Mr. Cool vs. Master Savings

One man is convinced he's too cool to ask for senior discounts — until he realizes how much money he can save

By Peter Gerstenzang

Things get a little tricky in middle age. It's a time of life when your eyesight starts getting so bad you fear you’ll soon be fitted with huge glasses and start looking like Uncle Junior from The Sopranos. Or you worry that your waitress, instead of flirting, is going to call you "Pops."

But the biggest dilemma you have to deal with involves the senior discount.

As a guy over 50, I now find myself paying attention to ads for, say, pills that promote good prostate health — and, more important, how to save money on them! I always wonder if I’m old enough to get a coupon for such essentials.

The whole thing has become pretty unsettling. Because if I ask for the discount, then people won’t believe I’m the cool young cat I used to be. Yes, I’ve tried to counter this by rapping and throwing gang signs when I enter CVS. It doesn’t help.
Am I young or old? Depends on whether there's a discount at stake.

(MORE: Will You Take the Senior Discount at Movies?)
This quandary first hit home when I was food shopping. Taking my basket to checkout, I spied a sign that said, “15% Off Tuesdays for Anyone Over 50.” I also noticed a twentysomething blonde behind me who I wanted to impress, even if my basket held prunes, low-sodium soup and stool softener.

I wondered: Should I tell the cashier I'm 54, get the discount and lose the blonde? Or act hip and pay full price? I wanted to come off like Mr. Paul Newman. But, sweating and stammering, I think I was closer to Deputy Barney Fife.

Time stood still, like the Earth had stopped revolving or I was watching Patch Adams: The Director’s Cut. Finally, I presented my license and said I wanted the senior discount. Imagining that the young woman behind me was snickering, I paid up and walked out heartsick.
I think the blonde called to me. But, in my addled state, I didn't turn around. I didn't want to know if she said something like, "You forgot your denture cream, Pops!"
A week later, still depressed, I really needed to see a comedy. Or even something with Adam Sandler. I approached my local theater stealthily, knowing, they too, had a discount for seniors before 6 p.m. The young man in the ticket booth was listening to hip-hop. I thought I’d try and salvage my street cred. Because, clearly my dignity was gone.


So, I engaged him in a talk about Biggie and Tupac. I’m not sure, but I think I also said I used to hang out with Suge Knight. The kid was impressed. Before they put me in a straitjacket and shot me up with antipsychotics, I made my request: "One senior ticket, please."

The kid’s manner grew icy. Then he destroyed my world. That’s right, he called me “Sir.”
So, there I was, with my hollow victories. Sure, I was getting my discounts. But at what cost? I felt ghastly, having lost my youthful demographic. I thought long and hard about it. Certainly, a man with my wealth of experiences still had something to offer after all the Kerouac books I’ve read and motorcycles I’ve ridden — at least until I reached the point where I got the Uncle June glasses, started buying catheters from Liberty Medical and kids started asking me such questions as "Are those your real teeth?"
Still, most bad situations turn around, given enough time. That’s the sort of wisdom that comes with age.
Not long after my movie fiasco, I was at the pharmacy getting a flu shot. The young woman giving them was pleasant. Thankfully, she didn’t recommend a pneumonia shot, too. They usually do for guys named Pops.

Then the speakers began blasting the Rolling Stones. I told this lady I’d seen them “back in the day, with Mick Taylor on guitar.” Instead of goofing on me, she was impressed. And asked who else I’d seen.
I told her. Suddenly I wasn’t an old geezer who once wore bell bottoms. I I was a purveyor of ’60s history. I’d seen the Who at the Fillmore. Jimi Hendrix on Randall’s Island. My girlfriend once embroidered my jeans. I was cool again.
I thanked this woman for her work. And gave her the peace sign. I started strutting out with a hipster’s gait. The cashier totaled up my bill, which I could read if I squinted like Mr. Magoo. I felt just fine.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I asked for my 10 percent discount. Hey, I’m not stupid. The cool thing is great. But common sense is pretty hip, too. Why not have both these sensibilities in your life?

It has been weeks now. And, you know what? Cool and common sense are getting along just fine.

Peter Gerstenzang is a humorist, video director and journalist. Read More
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