I was wearing my bat mitzvah skirt.
The woman next to me gave me a once-over.
“How old are you?” she asked. “You look like you’re in high school!”
It would have been a compliment if it had been around 1999, The Year of the Bat Mitzvah.
But it was three days ago. I was a reporter at a press conference about birth outcomes. The woman was a nurse who deals mostly with infants.
Yes, some of my middle school clothes still fit me. Most are outdated, but the gray and black pencil skirt I wore to the Friday night service I led looked good on me then and looks good on me now.
“High school”? Isn’t it rather impolite to speculate on a person’s age? And, come on, I’m the reporter — I should be asking the questions!
But even when I do ask the questions, I get unhappy responses when I bring up the question of age.
It’s accepted practice in most newspapers to mention home towns and ages when quoting people without official titles.
So I muster up all my courage and ask my sources the dreaded question: How old are you?
Men don’t seem to mind telling me that they’re 15 or 43 or 89. And children younger than 10 love declaring their age (making sure I note that they are, in fact, “7 and three-quarters”).
But when you ask a woman how old she is, you’re in trouble.
“Why would you need to know my age?”
“I’m 77, but write that I’m 34.”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Just say that I’m 60-something.”
“I’m old enough to be your grandmother.”
“I need to first clear that by my lawyer.”
These people live in South Florida — chances are they’re receiving Medicare. So what are they trying to hide?
It’s not like I can’t categorize them into an age group on my own. Even in phone interviews, when I can’t see a woman’s gray hair or fanny pack or smell her perfume, her attempt to set me up with her grandson gives me a clue.
In a world laden with identity theft, we give out our credit card numbers and Social Security numbers like evangelists give out bibles. Yet we buy laptop screen protectors and we shred our documents to keep our ages hidden.
Unless the local residents are like me, and they’re younger than 55 and are secretly living in 55+ communities (it’s a long story…), it’s time that people of all ages embrace their numbers.
Youth comes with beauty and age comes with wisdom; so unless they’re middle-aged and must compromise on both accounts, they’ve got nothing to lose.
I proudly declared to the woman at the press conference that I was 21 years old, I’m working as an intern for the newspaper and I can normally be found at Northwestern University in Chicago.
But maybe next time I’ll find a different skirt to wear.