Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Sure Sign of Aging

So, I'm in the grocery store last night, fairly late by New England grocery-store standards, around 10 pm. I'm pushing my cart around somewhat deliberately because even after more than two years of shopping at our local Hannaford's, I still can't find anything there. (It's not the store's fault. I can never find anything in a grocery store.)

Now, Hannaford's actually plays some decent music on its PA system. Sometimes, it's downright good. And sometimes it's a little embarrassing--as it was last night. I was looking for banana bread mix when I heard the opening notes of a tune I used to really love. You know the feeling--the ears perk up, the eyes open a bit wider and you make a somewhat guttural "aahhhh" noise. Well, that's what happens to me, anyway.

We're getting to the somewhat embarrassing part now. (No, the initial reaction to the tune wasn't it.) The song gets into its first few bars, and I realize that it's Keep on Loving You, the 30-year-old rock ballad by none other than REO Speedwagon. Now, it's embarrassing enough that I used to like REO Speedwagon...and still do. Kind of a lot. But I only made things worse by, uh, participating in the song.

There was singing along, not particularly quietly, including attempts to hit the high note on "only thing I want to do..." in the chorus. There was some fairly considerable swaying and tapping of fingers on the handle of the cart. And, during the guitar break, there was...air guitar. Needless to say, a few folks (and there weren't more than a few in the store, period) gave me a look or two. They were bemused, I think. I hope. A young woman who appeared to be a college student actually seemed genuinely entertained.

The scary thing is that I really didn't realize until the song was almost done that I was singing out loud and physically interpreting the music. I was behaving as I would at home or in a crowded bar where the music's loud and everybody's acting goofy, anyway. But this was the grocery store--the quiet, dull, entirely functional grocery store. And I was enjoying--outwardly enjoying--grocery-store music.

That's why I say that this little episode was a sure sign of aging. It has nothing to do with the fact that Keep on Loving You came out in 1980 and that I was the only person in the store last night who was both alive and living in this country when the song was a radio hit. It has nothing to do with the fact that I can actually remember listening to Keep on Loving You on the 1980. No, this wasn't about time. It was about behavior.

In my younger days, I would have been way too self-conscious to sing along with a tune in the grocery store, much less rock an air guitar. I would have worried about embarrassing myself and the people around me. But last night, I rocked out without even thinking about it. And when I was done and came back to full consciousness, I wasn't mortified.

Oh, I probably blushed a bit, but I mainly just kept on shopping and didn't worry about what anybody else thought. I'm old enough now that I don't care--as much as I used to, at least--what people think of me. I don't want to be an outcast or anything, but jamming to REO Speedwagon at Hannaford's on a Wednesday night? I can handle that. In fact, I can't help but handle it because apparently I do it now without thinking about it. And I don't care how people react.

The truth is, too, that the folks who were there last night didn't react much at all. A smirk here or a glance there--who cares? There was a time when that kind of unsolicited attention would have left me mortified, maybe for days. But I'm beyond that now. There are a lot of factors at work here, I'm sure--a wonderful marriage and the comfort of feeling at home in a great town among them. But mainly I think that I'm just more mature and confident than I used to be. And those qualities come, at least in part...from being older. Just plain older.

Yup, at 36, I've crossed the barrier of grocery-store rock-outs. By the time I'm 40, I'll probably be telling the kids from Brandeis who live down the street to get off of my lawn, even though it's not really my lawn (we rent)...and we actually don't have a lawn at this house. I would say that it's all downhill from here, but it's not. Generally speaking, I'm actually liking life more as I get older. I certainly wouldn't want to go backwards. And grocery shopping is way better now than it has ever been before.

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