When I started buying groceries for myself more than 50 years ago, my neighborhood grocer knew me well enough to remember my preferences – good meat and fish, pasta and fresh fruit and vegetables.
“We have T-bones from the prize-winning steer at the fair, and the peaches are fabulous,” he’d say. Helpful and flattering for an 18-year-old.
Now computer records encapsulate my life. The big-box stores track my age, my past purchase history and probably a whole lot more. Each time I shop, the register spews out coupons offering bargains the computer thinks I need. Every few weeks more coupons arrive in the mail.
The coupons create ongoing micro-aggressions against the senior citizen in their assumptions about what a 70-year-old most needs. I have received frequent money-saving offers on adult undergarments, assuming that I must leak if I’ve reached my eighth decade. Another frequent product offering is for various brands of fiber. I could fill my cabinets with cut-rate Metamucil if I chose, assuring a smooth-running digestive system.
Finally, when the coupons pertain to my carnivorous habits, they promise savings on things that don’t require much chewing, such as ground beef, ground turkey or sausage. I assume they believe that my teeth must be weak or missing. One soft food I do enjoy, tofu, never generates a coupon – probably too New Age-y.
It’s not only the big boxes that foster stereotypes of people my age. My junk mail, smartphone, tablet and computer constantly offer products for old, rapidly dimming fogies. Few days pass without my receiving offers for cremation services, hair coloring, assisted living facilities, funeral arrangements, planned giving opportunities, walk-in bathtubs, medical alert devices, or combination recliners and sleep-chairs.
They paint a dismal picture of how I’m perceived by retailers and e-tailers and offer a disconcerting horizon for the future. This image they hold of me as an incontinent, constipated and toothless person sliding toward eternity does little either for my ego or for their bottom line.
If they wanted to lure me and my fellow septuagenarians into impulse buying, several products emerge as more enticing.
First comes gin. It combines the effects of an analgesic, a soporific and a tranquilizer, while tasting a lot better than the products it replaces. With a little ice and vermouth, it creates a chilled cocktail that elevates moods, relaxes the imbiber and enhances self-image. For a few hours, we dotards can pretend to be James Bond rather than elderly semi-invalids.
The second product they might consider offering us are those little magic pills that drop us into a cast-iron tub with our sweetie-pies in identical ones a few feet away, knowingly smiling and looking out over a beautiful meadow. We clearly anticipate bliss facilitated by chemical means, and the projected persona is much more macho than that of doddering codgers reduced to gumming soft food while awaiting imminent death, probably by slipping in the shower.
The third coupon they might consider would allow us to buy a Kobe beef fillet at a steep discount. It would foster dreams of sinking well-maintained teeth into tender but toothsome hunks of meat cooked to perfection. Combined with the other two coupons, we could purchase an evening of sybaritic indulgence that would bring happiness to both our true loves and ourselves.
When I was 18, my grocer would wink at me when I bought a steak and some Lambrusco. With an envious gleam in his eye, he’d ask, “Big date tonight? Lucky girl.” And he’d throw in some mushrooms and admonish me to “take precautions.”
He had no need for a computer to know what it would take for me to reach a state of happiness and satisfaction. My big box store might follow his example and take a more optimistic view of my generation’s needs and desires. We may be old, but we’re not dead.
Stuart Grover is a retired fundraising consultant who works out obsessively and enjoys life’s pleasures. He and his life partner travel frequently and enjoy hiking in beautiful places. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.