This particular time, I walked in, grabbed a cart and started working on the list. Before long, I'd picked up what we needed and hopped into the express line. No worries, I had fewer than twelve items. The cashier was a teenaged girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old. You have to understand, once I passed thirty, I lost the ability to distinguish ages below about twenty-two or twenty-three, so my estimate could be off by a few years in either direction. She was friendly. She rang out my purchase, and I left.
Of course, halfway to the car, I realized that I had forgotten to buy toilet paper. There are two important points here:
1) I was on my way home from a full day at work. In other words, once I get home, I don't plan on leaving again. I'll restate this for friends who, in the past, may or may not have been offended that I've turned them down for weeknight activities. Without significant notice (say, at least a few days), I don't do anything outside the house after I get home from work. Even with notice, I'm likely to turn you down. Unless you have tickets to a Dave Matthews Band show, or there's a midnight showing for something hobbity, I'm not interested in late night activities when all I can think about is the alarm that will go off in just a few hours. Nothing against you. I'm just done.
2) Nobody wants to live in a house with no toilet paper.
Fortunately, I remembered the toilet paper before I had gotten into the car and driven home, so I put the groceries in the trunk and walked back into the store, seeking toilet paper.
As luck would have it, the only checkout lane without a long line was the line I had just used. I stepped up to the register, put the toilet paper on the belt, and the girl said, "Hey, weren't you just in here?" I explained, that, yes, I had just gone through her line a few minutes before, but I forgot one of my items. I also briefly mentioned that I was on my way home from work, and I was glad that I had remembered the toilet paper before I drove home, because once I get home from work, I don't like leaving the house again.
She said, "Yeah, my dad's just like that."
I want to clarify something here. I did not have any desire or need for this girl to see me as a sexual or romantic option. If she's seventeen or eighteen years old, she's young enough to be my daughter. But I had never, up to that point, interacted with an adult (or near adult) who was really young enough to be my child. Sure, considering the age at which a male is sexually mature enough to reproduce, I could technically have a child in his or her 20's at this point, but I'm talking about an adult who I could conceivably have helped to create AFTER I became an adult. So this story is really more about the slow (but shockingly fast) march of time and not at all about how it's gotten harder over the years to score with eighteen-year-olds.
The tale doesn't really end here, though. Just this week, as I was telling my grocery story to someone at work, a coworker from a different department happened to be listening in. Now, as a thirty-six-year-old, I comprehend that I am in my mid-thirties. On some level, I realize that I'm approaching forty, and this is supposed to be a big deal. So as I tell the story about how this girl at the store thought that I was old enough to be her father, a coworker from another department leaned in. I suppose I could also be this coworker's father, but I'd have to have been a high-school dad for her to be my daughter.
She says, "No way, man! You'd have to be pushing FORTY to be that girl's dad!"
On the one hand, my coworker told me that she thought I was probably in my late twenties to early thirties, so I'm apparently younger looking to some people than my actual age would suggest. On the other hand, I'm apparently one or two years away from forty (which is, by her tone of shock, only a couple of years away from adult diapers and a dirt nap).
Before you get too worried about my self image or my feelings about my slowly advancing age, I need to reiterate that I feel good. I don't feel old (and I shouldn't, since I'm not old), and I don't have any desire to return to my teens or twenties. I'm going to say that again, for good measure. I don't have ANY desire to return to my teens or twenties. I'm simply interested in how it felt to get absolute confirmation that I've apparently moved into a new phase of my life, a phase where the twenty-somethings with whom I've long identified myself start to see me as "older".
I saw a post on Facebook by a friend who has a few years on me. By the way, "few years" is not code for pushing sixty. He's got a few years on me. He recently started a new job and commented on his first Christmas party at the new job. He noticed that he spent his time with the senior management and executives instead of the twenty-somethings downstairs who invariably end up drunk and spreading all kinds of workplace gossip. Rightly, he enjoyed his new position. We all like to have a few drinks, and getting a little soused from time to time doesn't mean you're immature or that you have a drinking problem. But it's nice to feel like you're making some progress.
So, yes, my beard has some grey. My temples are starting to pick up a few grey hairs, too. But I feel like I'm exactly where I need to be. I graduated from college a couple years back. They like me at work. There are opportunities in front of me. I've got great kids and a wonderful wife who listens patiently to all my stories, even the ones she's heard before. It's pretty good to be me right now.
And in fifteen years or so, I'll get to be mistaken for someone's grandfather.