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Inattentive coffee boy made many perk up

Cheryl-Anne Millsap The Spokesman-Review

You never know where your words will land.

Last week, when I wrote about feeling frumpy and over-the-hill as I watched a pretty young woman flirt with the handsome young barista behind the counter at Starbucks, and how the whole experience made me feel clumsy and foolish, and even worse, invisible, I knew I would hear from a few women. After all, the lament of the unappreciated and overlooked middle-aged woman is a familiar tune.

I was right. Throughout the week, after the column appeared on Monday, I got calls and e-mails from women who read the piece and identified with it.

But, what I never expected was to hear from so many men. By the time it all died down, I had heard from more men than women, and that was a surprise.

Most of the men who contacted me described themselves as average. They are teachers and coaches and brokers. Some said they are balding and middle-aged; others laughed about being your run-of-the-mill husband and father; totally un-hip and out of date. But just like the women who called, they have been in situations similar to the one I described.

They, too, have had moments when they felt awkward and ancient when compared to someone younger. Like me, they saw the humor in the experience, but there was a bittersweet undertone to their comments.

Interestingly, a few called because they wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to tell someone that in spite of the stereotype of the middle-aged man who only has eyes for pretty young things, they actually appreciate women their own age more; women with intelligence and hard-won experience; women who may have lost the hard body of their youth, but still have a soft heart and a quick wit.

One call was from a young man who said his co-workers were teasing him because they suspected he might be the barista mentioned in the original column. He asked which Starbucks I had written about, and even though I wouldn’t divulge that information he became convinced it was his.

“Oh, man, it might have been me,” he said in a voice that, although embarrassed, was tinged with just a little excitement. “Listen, the next time you come in, we’ll treat you with respect.”

Well … respect is good …

As I listened to the calls and read the cards and e-mails, it became clear that I had hit a nerve. A sensitive spot shared by both men and women.

Sadly, our society is obsessed with youth and beauty and overt sexuality. Unfortunately, these are all qualities that fade with time. That’s natural. What is unfair is that as they fade, we disappear from view, as well.

But, through the landslide of responses, I was reminded that most of us, as we age, come to value – more than superficial attractiveness – the strong traits and qualities that can only be gained with a lifetime of experience.

You have to blow out more than a few candles before you learn what life and love are really all about.

What began as a silly story — dropping my purse, looking foolish in a coffee shop that was charged with the electric attraction between a young man and woman — grew into a lesson that, so often, what we think we alone experience, is in fact, something that is shared by many others.

I joked in last week’s column that being a woman who is over 40 meant that I am holding my own somewhere between looking hot and having hot flashes.

“I guess at the end of the day what’s important is that the coffee is hot,” I wrote. “Not me.”

But a sympathetic caller, who identified himself only as Rick, disagreed. And he made an excellent point:

“Hey, you need to remember, we’re still hot,” he said, referring to those of us who have been around the block a few times. “It just takes us longer to perk.”

Wise words.

Now if you’ll excuse me. I’ve got to get away from this desk. I’ve got to see a hunky barista about an iced cappuccino.

And, forgive me, but I can’t wait to see the looks on the faces of all those pretty young girls.

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