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Comedy of Errors

Residents May 16, 2012
Have you ever been involved in a comedy of errors? Like the Shakespeare play that coined the phrase, my own comedy of errors involved a mistaken identity (however, unlike the play, it didn’t feature two sets of identical twins in Ancient Greece). Instead—and arguably more absurdly—it took place in a retirement home. I was visiting an elderly friend of the family for a few days and had decided to take advantage of the exercise facilities located in the community.  It was a holiday weekend with a number of families visiting, and to celebrate my day off work, I had just undergone my bi-monthly routine of trimming and thinning out my already short hair so that it was cropped very close to my head. I was enjoying this freshly-cut-hair feel as I headed down to the exercise room, wearing athletic shorts and an old t-shirt that hung loosely on my petite frame. The only other person in the exercise room was an elderly lady leisurely using the recumbent cycle—one of those bicycles that you pedal a laid-back, reclining position. After a swift, but intense, mental battle over whether to go for the treadmill or the exercise bike, I headed towards the latter (it won over the treadmill by a narrow margin of less effort required). I started pedalling, and moments in I heard her saying somewhat imperiously, “Excuse me, young man” The “young man” did not reply, and her tone became more insistent. “Young man…young man…excuse me, young man, I am talking to you!” I smiled to myself, wondering what this “young man” had done to earn her displeasure. It took me a further ten seconds of this scolding to realise, “Oh my gosh…she’s talking to me!” I slowed to a stop, and turned towards her. From across the room, still leisurely reclining and peddling away, she addressed me: “Young man, you should know that only persons of eighteen years of age or older may use these exercise machines.” She pointed to a sign next to her. With no idea how to respond, all I could manage was, “Er…” She peered at me (still pedalling). “Oh. You’re not a young man at all…but the age requirement still stands, I’m afraid.” Sometimes people have an amazing way of being completely unabashed. So she had realised that I was not, in fact, a “young man”, but was still under the impression that I was younger than eighteen. To be fair, age can be a tricky thing to estimate, and when you are wearing shapeless workout clothes it can further muddy the matter. But her complete lack of embarrassment about the gender misperception, and conviction that she had accurately assessed my age was, nevertheless, rather impressive. I couldn’t decide whether I was offended, embarrassed, highly amused, or just taken aback by her brazenness. Highly amused won out, and fighting the impulse to laugh, I adopted the time-tested strategy of using politeness to dispel awkward situations. I smiled and joked that my grandmother was always telling me my haircut makes me look like a boy, and that now she had proof. Then I told her I was actually in my twenties, but I thanked her for pointing out the sign because I had not seen it, and would now make sure to tell any teenagers who showed up that they should not be using the equipment. She was unfazed, and her legs continued to work steadily away at the recumbent bike. I resumed my pedalling, and all I could think was, “Yup. That really just happened.” By Elise Nuding