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Crazy Old Persons (COPs)
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Across the street from the housing project was a small grocery store. What we would call nowadays a mom-and-pop operation. I was so short I had to stand on tippytoes to see over the counter. You told the clerk what you wanted and he searched it out and brought it to you. Or that was the way he was with me, when my mother would send me with a dollar clutched in my fist to get bread and milk.

On one of those trips I remember an old woman came into the store, jabbering nonsense. Her hair was lank and greasy, the front of her blouse stained and spotted with food. I remember thinking that she just *looked* crazy, with her strange appearance and all.

I may have been too young to go to school, but I was not too young to absorb the lesson that people who look dirty and sound crazy are treated very poorly by our society and are judged on their appearance.

In recent years, when my 80-year-old mother got to the point where she was shaky and had trouble eating without spilling food on herself, I always made sure she had a clean top to change into. And I advised her to watch what she said--either make sense to the illerati or keep quiet. Her caregivers had limited education and her off-the-wall, erudite sense of humor just seemed like dementia to them.

It was ironic that in her old age she had to become quieter and more conservative, lest she be labelled as crazy and incompetent and a candidate for institutionalization. When in reality, it was her caregivers' lack of education and poor care (they never helped her change into clean clothes) that left her seemingly "crazy".

I have a lifelong aversion to having spill stains or spots on the front of my clothes. If I find I'm wearing my lunch, I take a clean top from my desk drawer and go to the restroom to change.

Neurotic? Or just self-protective?

And why the difference in attitude toward an old woman versus an old man? Can you feel the difference when you say the two phrases? Being an old woman is a proverbial put-down. I'm never going to be an old woman; I'll be an old person.

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