“This product comes with a 15-year warranty,” the garage door repair man told me as he clipped a crewcut of wires from the top of my new automatic door opener. “That means,” he said gleefully, clearly expecting me to be thrilled, “you’ll never need another one.”
I felt like a package of stale buns about to be pulled from the shelves. And the rest of me felt none too fresh either.
“Young man,” I said rather severely, “let me give you some helpful advice for dealing with your slightly more seasoned customers. My warranty may be going to expire on a certain date, but I don’t plan to.”
There seems to be a sort of reverse trend in customer service that imagines it’s a selling point to be assured that your TV, garage door, car or joint replacement will outlive you. That might work when the customer is 30. It’s not so good at 70.
I asked the wizard who performed my hip surgery when I might need a replacement for my newly installed plastic joint.
“Plastic!” I exclaimed, deeply offended. It should have been titanium at least in my view. “How long will that last?”
“How old are you?” he asked. “You’ll never need another one,” he assured me.
It’s not that I’m feeling persecuted. It happens to everyone. A friend and her husband decided to buy a car. “This will probably be the last car you ever buy,” the salesman said earnestly. “So choose carefully.”
As the years accumulate, it’s impossible not to realize that other people’s perception of me no longer matches my own. I see myself as youthful, focused, energetic; a 25-year-old in orthopedic shoes, so to speak. But the prevailing tone was set by a young grandchild, years ago, running into the bedroom while I was dressing with a horrified, “Oh, Grandma, how did you get all ruined like that?” and the terrible irony is that I was nowhere near as ruined then as I am now.
I can’t deny there have been changes. In church last week, the worshiper sitting next to me stood up and struggled to raise the kneeler as if I weren’t there. She tugged and wiggled it. It was sort of like being on the stuck end of a teeter totter. “Wait just a darn minute,” I finally exploded. This is not exactly the expected response to “Peace Be With You.” Heads swung around in unison as if there were an aerobics class in session.
It is true that I can’t leap lithely to my feet any more. I sort of struggle up, like an overloaded freight elevator, with several hitches on the ascent. When I reach the top, I stand still, looking around with what I hope is a pleasant expression while I wait for the knees to start working. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t.
Preparing for a party last week, I shopped for beverages. The sign at the checkout stand proclaimed “We ID everyone,” and I dutifully got out my driver’s license. I watched the clerk check the three people in front of me, all in their 50s, but he rang up my purchase without a word.
“You know,” I said, “I would have felt better if you’d at least checked my identification.” He gave me a long look and then said, levelly, “You know, sometimes it’s best to let go of the dream.”
There are still plenty of dreams left. I’m trying to learn serenity. It’s not easy. Only this morning, our tai chi instructor leading the Yang Style Short Form exhorted our class to “Bring your hand out of that secret place.” I’ll try, but my mother used to get really upset about that.
I’ve been widowed for 30 years, practically a biblical number, but a date certain for my departure is still a most unwelcome idea. I believe you have to live as if your warranty will never expire. That’s what I plan to do.
Up the road, Woodland Park Zoo has opened their new exhibit of dinosaurs that move, growl and spit. I think I know just how they feel.
Dorothy Wilhelm can be reached by email at Dorothy@itsnevertoolate.com. Find her on the Web at itsnevertoolate.com