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Nina In New York: You're Only As Old As You Look To Other People

A young professional's take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak

I will turn 29 next Sunday.

I've never been one to fear growing older. I feel each year just gives me more legitimacy as a human being who can act like she knows more than someone younger than her.

Anyway, I digress. I do not reveal this as an invitation to receive birthday wishes and sassy e-cards or balloons or cupcakes or any other celebratory flotsam. Or jetsam, for that matter.

No, I tell you this to give you important contextual information behind two stories I am about to relate.

Scene 1. Saturday, 10:00 AM, a 5th Avenue department store

I am waiting to meet my mother to do a little shopping and decide to kill time at my favorite makeup counter.  The salesman/makeup artist is applying various products to my face by way of example. As he pats on some powder or another, his face inches from mine, he suddenly stops and takes a step back.

"How old are you?"

"I'm 29," I said.

He looked at me sternly, as a doctor would a badly behaved patient. "Do you use an eye cream?"

"Well, no, not really . . . "

"Do you have one?"

"I do at home, I think."

"Okay, well, you really need to use it. You are way too young to have those lines."

"I have lines?" I asked in alarm.

"Oh yes, honey. Take a look."

He handed me a small mirror and I examined my eyes closely to see, sure enough, some creases I'd never much minded. Overall, I always thought I had a pretty youthful complexion. I use sunscreen religiously and I moisturize and hydrate. I'm not even 30! Now I need eye cream?

"I, um. I'm sleep-deprived," I said feebly.

"Who isn't?" he tossed back blithely, and continued tending to my evidently distressed and rapidly aging skin.

End scene.

Scene 2. Monday, 8:30 PM, a well-known seafood restaurant on the Upper West Side

See Also: The 5 Best Seafood Restaurants In NYC

I am seated at a table with my father and my husband. It has been a long day, and we're meeting for a late-ish dinner. We are hungry and just want to relax and have a glass of wine and enjoy a meal together. Our 23-year-old waitress approaches our table, and when I order a drink she asks to see my ID. Surprised, as this rarely happens to me, let alone at a fairly nice restaurant, I reach into my pocket and remember that I'd rushed out of the apartment with only my phone and my keys. At this table, nobody needed my credit card. I told her that I'd left it at home, and she gave me a very unfortunate look.

"I'm afraid I can't serve you."

"But I'm 29. Look at my husband's ID, he's 29 also. We're married. I'm not a child bride. It didn't even occur to me to bring my ID, because I don't think I've been asked to show it in a restaurant in years."

"I know, I'm sorry, but it's our policy. I can see if the manager can help."

"I mean, I'm her father," said my father (obviously). "She's 29."

"I'll go ask my manager if there's something we can do."


A few moments later, the manager came over. The conversation went something like this: It's the policy. But, I don't look under 21, and I'm not. But it's the policy. Are you serious? I'm with my husband and father. This is ridiculous. Sorry, policy. But. Policy. But! Policy. But . . . but . . . there were a million things we could have said. We're a table of adults having a quiet dinner on a Monday night in an old people restaurant on the Upper West Side. Can't you make a judgment call? I don't see any prohibition agents hanging about. I don't look that young! Listen, talk to the makeup guy! Do you see the lines? DO YOU EVEN SEE THESE LINES?

I sat there glowering at him, my father and husband both surprised and dismayed. And then he said something which set me off on a downward rage spiral that didn't dissipate until we got the dessert menus.

"I could offer you something else, like a soft drink."

I could feel the fury and bile boiling up inside me. My face got hot and I had to look down at my menu to avoid leaping across the table. Do I want a soft drink? Do I want a soft drink? If I wanted a soft drink, I wouldn't have ordered a glass of wine. Do you want to remove my butter knife from my place setting too, and bring me a box of crayons? How about some nice juicey juice? I do not want a soft drink. I DO NOT WANT A SOFT DRINK!

"Water. Is. Fine," I said very quietly, through gritted teeth.

He offered a hasty "sorry" over his shoulder as he whisked off, back to the hostess desk.

When the waitress returned, my father pushed aside his Manhattan, smiled and said, "you know what, I would also like a glass of wine."

"I can't do that," she said firmly. He tried to reason with her, but there was no wink my father could toss her that she would receive.

Now I was feeling genuinely humiliated. It was as though as a result of this conversation, I had actually been transformed from an obviously grown person into an underage kid who was, indeed, illegally attempting to procure booze from a law-abiding establishment. And she had gone from understanding that this was an annoying situation to acting as though she was doing the ethical thing, and we were corrupt, terrible people who would be so irresponsible as to condone teenage drinking.

In my strange, Benjamin-Button-if-he'd-gotten-stuck-in-the-middle state, I am apparently both haggard beyond my years and look so young that an even younger waitress felt it right to treat me like a child. I felt at a loss. Do I push my glasses to the end of my nose and give her a stern lecture? Or do I throw a temper tantrum and kick and scream until I get my way?

In the end, I did neither. Instead, I spent the rest of the evening sulking, glaring, and guzzling water like a psychopath, partly out of frustration and oddly channeled anger, and partly because I wanted our highly principled waitress to be sorrier than she was and therefore naturally more attentive in her regret. And since she wasn't, then I simply wanted her to spend the rest of our time together constantly refilling my glass. I drank so much, in fact, that I had to take four trips to the bathroom, was unable to eat most of my food and left the restaurant feeling nauseous and bloated. I proved a point in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

End scene.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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