a birthday epiphany
Birthdays are funny things. I know, because I’ve had fifty-one of them. Frankly, I’m not sure I plan to have any others. Don’t panic–I still intend to get older, I’m just done counting birthdays.
Certain ‘big deal’ birthdays were less than ‘big deals’ for me. Eighteen—woohoo, I can vote and go to war!—yeah, even when I was eighteen I realized that tradeoff sucked.
Twenty-one—Yes! I finally can have some of that ‘alcohol’ I’ve heard so much about but never had the chance to try! True story: for my 21st birthday, mom and dad took me to LasVegas, because nothing says ‘You’re a man, now’ like standing in line at the breakfast buffet with your parents…it was like going to the prom with my Aunt Joan.
In theory, turning thirty is a big deal, because by thirty, you’ve become established in your career. Unfortunately, I had the distinct lack of foresight to choose standup comedy as a career, and never got the memo that the standup comedy boom would end in about 1992. Actually, turning thirty-four seemed more significant, because it meant I had outlived Jesus.
I think around birthday number forty, birthdays stopped being a big deal for me. Look, a good chunk of my adult like was spent creating crises for myself, yanking myself out of one crisis, moving across the country (‘cause that fixes shit), and…manufacturing new crises. You make enough bad choices in life, you start to feel like EVERY birthday is bonus time—“Really—I made it to forty-five? Yeah, that’s cool—but keep it down! I don’t wanna jinx anything!”
For this reason, turning fifty was a big deal, celebrated with all the requisite “I love you, man”s and “You look great”s. I was embarking on the second half of my life (yeah—half—like I’m gonna see a hundred…) with renewed vigor and a passionate lust for seizing the proverbial day.
Or, some days, I’d just be kinda tired. Sometimes, ‘seizing’ the day just sounds exhausting, and I’d rather…sneak up on the day. Herein lies the beauty of being post-fifty. I’ve given myself permission to NOT do anything. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve been non-productive before, non-productive on an Olympian scale–but it always looked like I was busy doing shit. It was always in the guise of “Things are really crazy right now, so that’s why I haven’t been able to do any of those things I should have been doing.”
Then I figured, “What if I just stopped being a crazy person? Might that possibly make my life, in fact, easier?” Turns out, now that I’m not trying so hard to ‘get my life together,’ I’m actually getting my life together. I’ve actually come to the conclusion that I may not have enough time to finish every project, avenge every injustice, and fix all my broken pieces, and I’m cool with that.
It’s like with anger. I’ve been righteously indignant about one thing or another since high school, when I refused to smile for any of my yearbook pictures because I felt smiling ‘on cue’ made it fake and I wanted to have integrity and blah blah blah. I think, looking back on it, I may have been pretty tedious as a teenager. And my mom wasn’t happy that the yearbook she paid for included at least ten pictures of me looking like I’d won The Most Miserably Unhappy Student trophy.
But though I still feel strongly about what I believe, what used to be a rolling boil is now down to a simmer on the burner of life. I still Rage against the Machine sometimes, but I’m just as likely now to try to understand the machine or, more likely still, ignore the machine entirely and focus on my little corner of the world. Besides, getting existentially peeved at the world has not, apparently, changed the world.
Anger, like youth, is wasted on the young. The girlfriend and I were watching some video by some band of angry twenty-somethings, screaming their angry lyrics about how angry…something made them. I think the song was called “Paid My Dues.” You’re in your twenties! What dues, exactly, have you had to pay! You’ve had to endure…sitting quietly in a classroom? Oh, the inherent cruelty of it all!
Look, you PBR-drinking, soul-patch-sporting, doc marten-wearing whiners–the world could not possibly have fucked you enough yet to warrant this much bile. Why don’t you guys take your girlfriend to a movie at the mall, play a little pick up basketball to blow off steam, and then write some songs about how, at your age, life is pretty fucking cool if only because you haven’t had enough time yet to piss away any opportunities or burn any bridges!!!
Now at my age, I’ve seen enough of the cosmic crapstorm to feel justifiably angry—I can now emipirically prove that some shit ain’t fair. But here’s the bitch about aging—by the time you have enough evidence to make a case for how evil people can be, how unfair the government is, how wrong the system is… you’re just too damned tired.
But I am not by nature a cynic. I believe there are younger folk out there willing to fight the good fight (and young enough that they don’t use the word ‘folk’—jeez!). Kids who are all hormones and hyperbole, who will take up the banner of protest. And that’s as it should be. But as I keep adding numbers to my age, I think I’ll find a comfortable chair and watch some of the fighting from the sidelines.
As you get older, you realize that your body should have come with some sort of extended warranty. At least for the factory parts. Beyond the obvious design flaws (the knee? Hello? Little extra padding would have been nice…) there’s the planned obsolescence—every part of me that moves now is either stiff, or it aches. If I can move it or bend it, it probably hurts. But in the spirit of making nice with Old Man Aging, I’ve have found some perks to being ‘of a certain age.’
I no longer feel obliged to try new foods, or new ways of cooking foods I hate because it will broaden my horizons. I hate brussel sprouts, and I don’t care if you dip them in chocolate, deep fry them, coat them with maple syrup and serve them on a golden plate, underneath, they are brussel sprouts, and I believe they were not meant to be eaten.
I am OK with wearing pajamas during the day, and if I have to leave the house, I’m OK with just pulling my sweats over my pajamas. When you’re older, it’s all about easy-on, easy-off.
I can now convincingly pull off the ‘shaking your fist at the heavens’ gesture if I get pissed.
When I process the pros and cons of aging (CON: things don’t work like they used to; PRO: you’re alive to bitch about things not working), I realize the number itself is the problem. Hence, I will acknowledge no future birthdays. I’m done counting. I made it to fifty. I’m in bonus time. But I’m not gonna say I’m fifty-one, or fifty-seven, or sixty-eight. From now on, when asked my age, I will simply respond, “I’m at least fifty.” It’s accurate, but it avoids all those negative connotations associated with being ‘over fifty.’
You kids out there—keep on yelling. Just remember the old adage—What doesn’t kill you, weakens you so it’s easier to be killed the next time. L’chaim!