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Column: Old age makes even the simple things complicated

“You know,” said the young lady sweeping my groceries across the bar code reader, “these strawberries? You buy one, you get one free.”

Oh, um, what? My mind was busy, contemplating how young she was, wondering what it was like to be that young, and short. She wasn’t much over five feet tall. Wasn’t there a law about 10-year-olds working? What is it that, as you get old, everyone else gets so young?

She looked at me, still busy with her hands. I was somewhat hypnotized by her hands. They weren’t any bigger than she was. How would she ever get through life with hands that small, on top of how small she was already. Life sometimes needed big hands.

I remembered looking at my dad’s hands when I wasn’t very old, worrying that my hands might never get that large and durable-looking. All my hands seemed to want to do was grow fingernails, which I wanted long because they made my fingers longer. Hands are big deals.

All this is freely flowing around in what’s left of my brain at this point in my life. Did she just say something to me? I looked up from her hands deftly moving my groceries from left to right, to her face. Did she just speak?

She looked up from what she was doing, and said: “Do you want another free container of strawberries?” She was done with everything. She was just standing there, expectantly, life just really starting up and getting rolling for her, tomorrow something fun to expect.

Well, she could expect all she wanted to, because I seemed to be caught on a decision that had just ever so many complicated twists and turns to it that all I could do was look at her.

Do I want another container of these big, red, luscious strawberries? I didn’t know, honestly. Nothing is quite that simple. See, the problem is, like most men, I don’t shop for groceries, I go, I cart, I throw in what I want, I check out, I fume at persons ahead of me with coupons, wasting what there is left of my life waiting for them. I leave. I even resent the time I lose putting stuff where it belongs when I get home.

One-third of your life is spent sleeping. Five years of your life is spent eating. How many years to get to the grocery store, tear through it, find what you want, and get it home? Then even more time to put it where it resides, until you waste more time eating it.

And now I need to think about it? I need to talk about it? I need to make a decision about it? I looked blankly at the young woman. Time was elapsing. Time never stands still. While I’m balancing the cognitive aspects of this strawberry decision, time is fleeing away from me. Not good. One of these days, I’ll run completely out.

These big strawberries, you know the ones? How many of them can one person eat before the rest of them grow white crowns of mold and you have to throw them away? The young clerk perhaps doesn’t understand all this, all this being a problem that she expects me to solve almost instantly. They’re free, she’s thinking. What’s wrong with this guy?

Nothing’s free, I want to tell her, except maybe the mold that will grow on these. Wait, maybe if I eat two boxes of strawberries quickly enough that they don’t spoil, I’ll overdose on them and get hives. What about the real problem here, which may be that I’ll spend even more of those five years eating because I got extra strawberries? Now it’s five years and more minutes.

Life at this age is way more complicated than I thought it would be. I looked at her. No, it wouldn’t do to explain all this to her. I nodded my head at her, someone brought more berries. I paid. As I grabbed the groceries, I looked at her and said, “That should have been a simple decision, shouldn’t it?”

But it wasn’t.