Recently I've heard public figures make all kinds of excuses, either to get an advantage or to absolve their behavior. There's the race card, the gender card, the "I was bullied so I have to be a bully" card, the "I am an alcoholic so I didn't know what I was doing" card, the "I thought I was taking vitamins" card, the "I love my country so much and I worked so hard for it that I had an affair" card and many others. I laughed at all those people and their pathetic excuses — until I found myself playing the senior card.
The other evening my wife and I were watching TV when our remote control just stopped working, and unfortunately our cable box wasn't set up for changing the channels manually. My wife and I looked at each other with desperation and panic — we would have to talk to each other.
I read somewhere that the average married couple talks to each other about six minutes a day. I think they may have been overestimating. After a couple of minutes of "How was your day?" "Okay, how was yours?" "Okay, how was yours?" "You just asked me that." "I was double-checking." I ran to the telephone, called the cable company and told them we had an emergency situation.
The service rep informed me that they no longer bring out remotes, and I would have to pick it up at its local supply store (and local meant 12 miles away). And then I would have to call the cable company for instructions on how to program it.
I don't know what was worse, the inconvenience of driving to the warehouse or the fear of having to program the remote myself. And so in a moment of desperation, I, for the first time, played the senior card! Greatly exaggerating, I said it was hard for me to travel and I would have difficulty programming the remote with my bad senior eyesight.
You have to understand that I really don't like declaring myself a senior and I hate when, unasked, I'm given a senior discount (of course I take it). However, here I was, playing the senior card.
It occurred to me that on a smaller scale I was doing what those public figures have been doing. I was cornered in a bad situation and was looking for some kind of an edge. I was looking for some way out, even if it involved stretching the truth. I was ashamed, embarrassed — and delighted that it worked.
The repairman was scheduled for the next day, and I asked my wife if I should dress a little differently to make sure I looked like a senior. She said I didn't need to change a thing and I "thanked" her for her help.
When the cable guy, an annoyingly confident young man, arrived, I took him into the family room, handed him the remote and told him it didn't work. And then … it did work. It worked perfectly. I guess the problem had corrected itself. However, the cable guy assumed there never was a problem.
At first he looked at me sadly, like I was an incompetent old fool, and then the creep decided to have some fun. He started changing channels like a maniac — left-handed, right-handed; for a second I thought he was going to use his toes.
He then spoke very loudly and slowly, "Remember … you … always … have … to … point … the … remote … at … the … TV."
"Yes," I sarcastically answered, "if I point it toward the kitchen it might shut off the refrigerator."
He didn't get my sarcasm and continued even louder. "And the red button turns it on."
"So pushing that button doesn't start a nuclear war?" I asked.
As he left, he asked if I remembered everything. "Do you want me to write it down?"
I told him it wouldn't be necessary as I closed the door behind him. I felt really depressed. The senior card had become the "old man is losing it" card.
I guess that's the danger of playing the card game. Like many before me, my card had backfired. I wanted to get an advantage but I didn't want to be perceived as incompetent.
Oh, well, I said to myself, I'm only human and my big crime was that I was just trying to get away with something.
And then I realized I could play the "I'm only human and so it's not really my fault" card.
Sy Rosen, who has written for "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Wonder Years," "Frasier" and other television shows, is a playwright in Los Angeles.
© 2011 Los Angeles Times