by Harry Parmenter
“Call me Damien,” I thought I heard him say. Young, lanky cheeks that looked like they had felt the rough caress of the wind exploring the watery part of the world; a toiler on the sea, perhaps, chasing the elusive white whale.
“May I take your order, sir?”
Of course he wasn’t a sailor, you Barnacle Boob, I told myself. Somehow thoughts of Melville’s “Moby Dick” had momentarily clouded my sinking ship of a brain. He tugged at the bill of his Abel’s Bagels cap. “Sir?”
I mumbled something about how much cheese the parmesan mayo on the Breakfast BLT contained. He leaned forward, trying to catch my drift. His supervisor, an older guy at the next register, mercifully intervened. “Just hit ‘light mayo,’ Damien.”
I paid cash, took my receipt and backed away into the thick Saturday morning crowd. What kind of a stupid question was that, Parmenter? Clearly I was about to lapse into a coma, senility or both. Maybe I’d been thrown off my game after parking in an empty corner of the parking lot only to be accosted as soon as I got out of my car by a Hispanic guy asking for money for some L.A. homeless church.
I mean, I JUST GOT OUT OF THE CAR. Is there no escape? For instance, I seldom go to Whole Foods but every time there’s that same guy in the red and white Sgt. Pepper outfit offering a warm greeting, laser guilt eye contact and the inevitable solicitation. People with money go to Whole Foods ergo they will feel bad and cough up coin on the way in or out. Given that I think I’m the only guy who pays cash in there Billy Shears can’t be having a lot of luck unless it’s Christmas time and people are contractually obligated to be in a charitable mood.
Come to think of it I hadn’t actually GOTTEN out of my car, having just swung my feet onto the concrete and this guy’s on me like brown on rice. Look, I’m a nice guy. Forty years ago my buddy and I rolled out of the Vista Theatre at Sunset & Hollywood one midnight summer eve and were approached by a man with his wife and family, three or four kids, penniless but dignified, not begging, clearly Latin American refugees, probably illegal in retrospect. We crammed them into my car and took them deep into the 1981 Valley where, after an odyssey of wrong turns and dead ends, we dropped them off at their shadowy destination.
Now, however, I have my own dependents, my own problem child and have learned a lot about the homeless addict epidemic which is more about drug treatment than a free place to crash. I gave church man a succinct summary of my situation and proceeded to destination bagel.
So I’m standing there waiting for Abel to raise cane with the parmesan mayo and I glance at the receipt Damien handed me and there…it…is: “Senior Discount -0.66.”
Despite possessing the same teenage wasteland attitude I’ve had since I was 15, I am 60 years old. But I take care of myself. I go to the boring gym. I do hot yoga. I eat healthy. I avoid fried food since it “angries up the blood” as sage Satchel Paige put it. Still, I was a punk before you were a punk. I am NOT a senior discount.
I eyed Damien from across the restaurant. Couldn’t be more than 22. Has never heard of “Moby Dick” let alone read it, is unfamiliar with the quest for the white whale nor its metaphor; hell, he probably doesn’t even know what a metaphor is if he went to California schools (no offense, Damien), but he sure knows an old man when he sees one: ME! A senior citizen getting a senior discount with his sagging senior face and inane senior question about parmesan senior mayo!
I ducked into the men’s room to see what he had seen. Ok, my (full!) head of hair had yet to field a brush that morning, thus inheriting a trapezoidal slant from the night’s sleep, the bags under my eyes could potentially exceed the airline weight limit while my general visage was in the same zip code as Nick Nolte’s mug shot but hardly identical. Looking in the mirror I personally saw more Dorian Gray than senior discount.
So what’s the big deal? You’re 60, what do you expect? AND you saved 66 cents.
The issue, my fellow Americans, is this: I have no problem asking for a senior discount at Denny’s (although I always forget to, another sign the end is near, let alone the check) or the movies (Ooh, fifty cents off!), if it is ME doing the asking, ME admitting I am officially old, ME, Senor Senior. And when I do I secretly want Denny’s/Regal cashier person to look at me kindly and say, “Oh, Mr. Parmenter, you don’t look a day over 50.” This bagel debacle was the first time some one had looked at me and thought: old person slash senior discount. The young whippersnapper probably hadn’t read The Great Gatsby or The Last of the Mohicans either but who cares? What matters is he sized me up at a glance and thought, what, 55? 60? 65???!!! I bet Cain actually killed Abel over a senior discount.
Returning to my car with, thankfully, no sign of Mr. Help the Homeless, I immediately drove to a batting cage and hit a hundred fastballs at 60 mph (I got the senior discount from 65 mph). I hit one line drive after another (well, I whiffed a few) and it felt good, darn good.
“The Beginning of the End” by Eddie and the Hot Rods has taken on a whole new meaning now. A clean cut, hard working kid named Damien has broken the seal on my old manhood. Damien. The name of the satanic child in “The Omen,” who, among other playful acts, guillotines the great David Warner with a flying sheath of glass. Decapitated like the Headless Horseman who, despite being vanquished by Ichabod Crane, never suffered the unkindest cut of all: the senior discount.