In mid-March, my husband and I, both septuagenarians and “high-risk” because of our age, hastily left New York City and encamped full-time to the Hamptons, where we have owned a house for over 40 years. As Baby Boomers, we had never felt old but all of a sudden were considered elderly and vulnerable. An encounter in Citarella in early May rubbed salt into that wound.
During the early months of the pandemic, we heeded all warnings. Many necessities were delivered, and each package was sanitized. Since outings were rare, strategic and fraught with anxiety, I had stopped visiting the beauty parlor, and my hair roots had become silvery gray.
When we first purchased a residence on the East End, houses were small, people polite and the businesses mainly local. In the intervening years, these markers were replaced by McMansions, entitlement, and fancy Manhattan shops and restaurants. It became “The Hamptons,” a destination with cachet.
As things around us changed, we tried not to. We kept our old friends and tried to continue as we always had. But when the locally owned IGA became a Citarella, the New York City fancy food emporium, convenience trumped principle.
The Citarella in Bridgehampton was one of the first stores I visited when COVID-19 began. I felt safe shopping there. It had a meticulous system in terms of cleanliness, number of customers and social distancing.
On May 7, I went into Citarella during a mid-afternoon lull. My first stop was the meat counter, where I was the only customer. As the butcher wrapped my meat, a male in his early 40s, in a baseball cap and mask, came from behind me and positioned his cart so that it blocked mine. I was stunned but said nothing and stepped away.
Once my order was complete, I asked him to move. I don’t remember my exact tone of voice, but since I was feeling both anxious and annoyed, I am sure that it was tinged with elements of both emotions.
As he moved the shopping cart, he remarked, “You can at least say please,” and added, “Just because you are old, you do not have the right to be rude.”
I gasped. “You called me old!” The statement took me completely off guard. All the insecurities about being old that I had felt during the past few months — my age, my fragility and my hair — flooded my brain.
As I maneuvered my cart out of the way, I muttered, “Your mother obviously never taught you good manners!”
He mumbled something about his saintly mother. I smiled to myself, so grateful that I was not his mother.
Wendy Raich Biderman, Ph.D.
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