$19.72

The cashier, gray and bearded, did his best to make conversation by remarking of the total—which came out to $19.72—“You know, I hate to admit it, but I have some friends who graduated high school that year.” Elise found his choice of words, “some friends,” interesting. Why not just say that he graduated that year? Close enough. No need for posturing. Or, if he really didn’t himself graduate in 1972, surely it was only give or take a few years. But maybe one day, Elise, too, would understand the need to pad her age with a few extra years on the younger side, no matter how seemingly “nominal” to others. He was obviously part of that “new wave” of worker. The elderly set that had decided to get back in the game because it was true what all the articles said: Gen Z does not dream of labor. Boomers still very much did. 

That’s why this man, John (as his name tag said), was here. It wasn’t only because of the elderly need to chitchat with people instead of sitting alone in their rooms (whether in a house or a retirement home) atrophying away while society forgot about them. It was because the entire philosophy that had been instilled within boomers was that you work. The joy of working. The result of blood, sweat and tears leading to outcomes that millennials and Gen Zers could never imagine (Gen X still eked by): owning a home, having a viable retirement plan, being able to see a real future without the effects of a climate apocalypse in it. Yes, it was rather amusing that boomers were always mocking the generations after them for being “soft,” when, in fact, boomers had it the easiest. And it would be quite simple for anyone who grew up in their era to make claims of how “effortless” it is to do this or that since, well, it was generally effortless all around back then. Because, yes, a certain facility existed in the boomer heyday of zero regulations. No endless hiring processes where you had to dance the whole time up to the bitter end when it was announced you didn’t get the job anyway. There were too many other qualified candidates to choose from, proving, once more, that having a Bachelor’s is the equivalent of having “merely” a high school degree “these days.”

Elise wondered if John had to do any proverbial “dancing” to land this cashier gig. Probably not. As usual, the job market just fell into place for a boomer. Presumed to have a “natural work ethic” solely because they had never been taught to believe there could be any meaning to life outside of work—apart from that blip in their youth when everyone seemed to have a hippie phase before turning yippie. As Elise placed the final item from her basket on the conveyor belt, her friend, Claire, joined her, slapping down a box of microwave popcorn with a flourish. Claire was a naturally rude person, but she was especially rude when it came to “dealings with old people.”

Trying to humor John’s high school graduation comment since her antisocial friend wouldn’t, Elise smiled and replied to his $19.72 “joke,” “Oh well…” Wanting to assure him that just because it was forever ago didn’t mean people her age weren’t versed in events of the decade, she added, “Wasn’t that the year Nixon got impeached?” 

John seemed eager to pounce on this moment. “Well, actually, it was 1974. And he wasn’t impeached. He resigned.” And there was the mansplaining kick in the crotch. Why would have Elise expected anything otherwise? Especially from someone of John’s generation. Because, for as much as post-boomer generations hated being stereotyped themselves, they knew it was the safest assumption to make when dealing with a boomer. To give the “benefit of the doubt,” as it were, always turned out to be a huge mistake that majorly backfired. Typically in the form of an insult (whether direct or “undercutting”) that could’ve been avoided altogether were it not for the mistake of trying to “interface” at all. 

Elise, still gobsmacked by the fact that John had the gall to give her lip when all she was trying to do was help him feel like his comment wasn’t the most inane attempt at conversation ever, started to contemplate even more deeply why she herself was so concerned with making him feel okay. What is this “placation need” that women have? The strange urge to make pathetic men feel better about themselves. Realizing she hadn’t said anything in response to John’s “amendment,” he suddenly overcorrected on filling the silence with, “Anyway, thank god he did. He was the worst president ever. I don’t care what anyone says about Trump. Because there wouldn’t have been a Trump without Republicans like Nixon and Reagan setting the stage. In fact, you might say those two bastards are Trump’s political fathers.” 

Claire was completely tuned out on her phone, which, once again, put the onus on Elise to oblige him with more conversation during what was starting to feel like an interminable checkout process. Maybe there should be a truly enforced age limit to working. “Worker shortage” be damned. Sometimes nobody on duty was better than somebody slow and chatty. Elise, not wanting to veer this any further into political territory (because once Trump was mentioned, things tended to get heated regardless of party preference), smiled politely and said, “I see.” 

John, miraculously taking the hint that their “exchange” was over, then started to focus more intently on bagging the items so that she and Claire might be on their merry way. After all, who wouldn’t be merry by sheer virtue of not working? It then occurred to her that a form of generational slavery was taking shape, wherein the boomers were somehow serving those younger than themselves. It made Elise briefly shudder to think what would happen when John’s generation died out. But Claire reminded her, when Elise shared these thoughts in the car, “Don’t even worry about it, the robots are gonna take over for everything.” Somehow, that wasn’t much of a comfort to Elise either, nor was the sting of how it felt to imagine herself in the future being as derisively looked upon as a boomer when her own generation fell out of favor. But, at the very least, no one within her age bracket had ever lived during a period when it was okay to say “Negro” or “Oriental.” So there was that. 

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