The kid sealed his fate with one simple word. “M’am?”

         The hackles on my neck (who knew I had hackles?) sprang like knives ready to fend off all attackers.

“Plastic or paper, m’am?”

My head spun to the rear, hoping there was an older woman lurking behind me who could take the hit. Really old.

No one.

I snapped back and stared at the kid for a moment, still wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt.

          “Ma’m?  the bag boy repeated.

You talking to me?  You talking to me?”  I thought, mentally lifting the kid up against the store window by his collar.

            “How do you plead?” the judge asks.

          “Not guilty, Your Honor.  He called me m’am.”

          A gasp in the courtroom. The judge shakes his head in shock and pounds his gavel.

          “Case dismissed,” he says.

          And I leave the courtroom, free, but  forever scarred.

         Someone called me m’am.

          Just three little letters. Innocuous.  Some might even think the kid was being respectful.  But  I still have nightmares about that day.

          Being called “m’am” was the first barb in that briar patch of aging.  That morass of lost youth.  That abyss of decay.

          It’s the first time the world told me I was getting old.

          But it wasn’t the last salvo. First the “m’am” appellation, then my AARP card. (Another Ancient Retro Prune) when I hit 5-0. Twas the beginning of the end.

          Now, it’s not that I mind getting old.  I just don’t like other people noticing.

I began to observe how people, younger people, looked at me—or didn’t look at at all.  It was more like they just looked through me, like I was about as interesting as a potted plant (the one in the corner with the dead leaves falling off).  I used to be sorta tall, sorta cute, sorta smart, but now I’m just generic.  Generic, almost geriatric.  Hardly worth a glance.

          Ask my doctor.  Last year, I decided to reclaim my youthful reputation by learning how  to snowboard.  My grown son, still numerically acceptable, visited me in the hospital where there was some discussion as to whether or not I should be evaluated by the Psych Ward as well as the orthopedist. Delivering my prognosis, the doctor (who looked as though he should be dissecting a frog in sophomore biology) addressed my son instead of me.

          Hel-lo... I’m here and I’m lucid and I’m not even drooling.  You can talk to me doctor.  

          Not every geezer or geezette loses relevance though. Some actually seem to slip the surly bonds of irrelevance.  Cello players, astronauts,  K Street lobbyists…

          Now  there’s a job.  Lobbyists get respect.  Their years don’t matter… only the number of dollars they have to corrupt your congressman with.

          I should be so lucky.  So call me a dust-collecting relic, a rotting semblance of my former self, or even a potted plant— but do me one favor please.

Don’t call me m’am.