I was standing on the corner of Harbord and Spadina — the gateway to that lofty world of Academia and youth, The University of Toronto — when I heard it. “Hey, Old Person! Don’t you even know how to cross the street? Why are you just standing there?” I looked around to see who needed defending. I was ready to lash out, protecting the dignity of an octagenarian or an even older citizen. I was incensed. Then I realized…this guy was yelling at me! ME! I immediately teared up. How dare he scream that at — me? Before I recovered a tad of my outrage, he was gone.
Mentally challenged, I decided. Probably on his way to get his meds. (All of which could very well be true since the mental outpatient clinic was just down the street.) But it didn’t matter. I still felt bad — older than five minutes before. I mean, he didn’t yell “Hey, young person…” and there were a lot more of them around. No, he chose to put the bull’s eye target of old age on me. I shuffled across the street.
Interestingly, I was on my way to participate in a research project at the Psychology Department examining how young people and OLD people remembered things. Of course, they didn’t say old — they didn’t dare. Political correctness and all that. But after my street corner encounter — my bruised ego was sure that this twenty-something, svelte blond research assistant was thinking the same thing about me as that other guy. After all, she had seen me tic the last box — Over 65.
I wanted to tell her that I didn’t always dress like this (except for the layer of cat hair, of course.) These baggy, elastic-banded pants, wrinkled, extra large shirt and velcro shoes were a temporary necessity. Surely she had seen the red cast when I struggled out of my coat? Or maybe she didn’t? Invisibility does come with age.
For a minute, I wanted to wave my red-casted arm in the air and rant at someone. Since she was the only one around — she was it.
Ever tried to do a zip with one hand? I cried. Put on a bra? Forget it. So on top of everything else — having someone come in to give a me shower, not being able to sleep on my favorite side and even having to beg to have someone open my wine bottles for me — I had to live with these sagging breasts for six weeks that made me look like that cartoon character, Maxine. AND NOW … and now, suffer verbal abuse from total strangers on the street. It was too, too much.
The young woman was deep in her forms — not paying any attention to me which totally deflated my silent rant. She was in researcher mode. I, the subject, was directed to sit across from her. I perched the red cast squarely in front of us.
I probably should have cancelled. I’d done these tests before and always came out feeling less intelligent than when I walked in the door — and that was with a good right arm and a decent wardrobe. But she already had my strange looking left-handed signature on the consent form. So why not, I told myself. I just hoped I didn’t let my senior cohort down.
First test: Connect the dots. No problem — even left-handed. She smiled.
Word meanings — piece of cake.
Then the blocks! Four — red-and-white stripes on two sides…solid red or white on the others. She flipped open one of her books. A red-and-white design for me to copy. First. Ok. Second longer to do, the third even longer — BUT I DID THEM.
“Awesome.” she said. I smiled. I should have quit then.
Six blocks. More intricate design. I gave up after five tries.
“Not to worry,” she lied. Not looking at me she scribbled on my form. I imagined she wrote: SUBJECT FAILED! (I like drama.)
We weren’t finished. There was still “Fill in the Missing Square”, “Remember the Story”, “Identify the Animals in these Silhouettes”, and “How many Clues do You Need to Identify This Object?” — and, thankfully, no more blocks.
“Awesome,” she repeated.
When she handed me my $24 for my hour-and-a-half participation, she smiled and said, “Thanks. Good job!” My confidence in my velcroed-elasticized-senior self had been restored.
…I decided to walk home a different way…