Ruth: 63 and obsolete? Not so fast, whippersnapper

Published July 29, 2013

So there you are one day, bopping along, singing a song, thinking you are still younger than springtime only to suddenly be brought up short with a cruel reminder that not only are you older than Moses' sandals, but in the eyes of America's great marketing machinery you are more irrelevant than a telephone party line.

"Excuse me, sir," asked the young woman with a clipboard as I walked through the Westfield Citrus Park mall. "Would you be willing to take a short survey?"

This violated every principle I hold dear. Never trust anyone with a clipboard — the weapon of mass egomania found in the clutches of every homeowner association's Very Model of a Modern Major General. No good would come of this.

But in a moment of weakness I relented. Having taken a couple of research methods classes in graduate school I was curious to see how the questions might be framed. I'm easily amused.

Then again, it was also possible the survey might want to elicit my views on single malt Scotch, or perhaps Cuban cigars, or maybe the latest TaylorMade golf club technology. I'm all for advancing the interests of science. Besides, I had the time.

Of course, I would be delighted to answer some questions. Fire away.

"That's wonderful, sir," the woman said. "Now first I have to ask your age."

"Sure. I'm 63."

The woman's brow furrowed as she scanned a long list on her clipboard from hell. Then she did it again. And then, once more, before sheepishly looking up from the market research equivalent of a black spot.

"Uh, I'm very sorry sir, but we don't have any surveys for someone your age."

"Nothing? Perhaps you could ask me about dry martinis? Bogart movies? Prunes? Nothing?"

"No sir, nothing at all."

So it has finally come to this. More than 40 years in journalism. I've traveled the world. I've run in the streets with demonstrators at political conventions. Just a year ago, I rappelled 280 feet down the side of the Franklin Exchange Building. Now I was being told 63 disqualified me from taking a survey about — toasters? Instant coffee? Lingerie? Alas, I'll never know.

And thus I was dismissed, sent on my way, as the survey high priestess continued her search for someone more age-worthy to ask about weed-whackers.

It has long been axiomatic in our consumer society that the prime demographic for advertisers and marketers are those — forgive me, I'm having a senior moment here — whippersnappers in the 18 to 35 age bracket.

It's not as if folks in their 60s don't have very strong — and at times unprintable — opinions about all manner of products and services. After all, I used to be a BrightHouse patron who was on a first name basis with the customer service repair technician. It's just that the people who promote and sell stuff don't care what those opinions are.

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Had Mick Jagger, who just turned 70, been strolling through the Citrus Park mall, he, too, would be simply another marginalized old codger whose views on guitars would be considered useless. That's not very satisfying.

Simply because I come from a generation with first-hand recollections of the Kennedy/Nixon debates doesn't mean I don't still buy stuff, although I am fond of my AARP discount card. I wasn't walking around the mall because I love the smell of egg rolls wafting from the food court.

If you're thinking this is purely a rant because my feelings were hurt, you're absolutely right.

This sort of age discrimination sneaks up on you like the first noticeable liver spot on your hand. Where the heck did that come from?

You go through life believing you are still vital, still clinging to the notion you have some value. And then a stranger informs you in the middle of a shopping mall, filled with 18-year-olds whose idea of a fashion statement is to walk around with their keisters hanging out over their pants, that your attitudes about food processors are meaningless because your driver's license date of birth reads 1949.

The ageism at the mall notwithstanding, there is one survey question I wish I would have been asked. "Sir, on a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about people with clipboards?"

"You don't want to know."