I will (the mountain or Allah willing) have turned 58 years old by the time this appears, assuming it does at all. Anything I might be ready to carve in stone looks increasingly like folly at this age. I feel I must carve this at least on a plasma screen, a contemporary equivalent of stone, ergo, whatever it is is folly.
I almost wrote “68 years old” because I honestly, for a moment, did not know the difference. I’m told I’ve always had the morbid (ambitious? — certainly moribund) tendency to rehearse my age ten years in advance. I have found this to help me in dealing with matters of age while avoiding actual maturity.
The last time I officially wrote about a birthday (as best I recall, which means nothing) was when I turned 51. I don’t have it any longer to refer to, but I recall the tone was an attempt at light-heartedness complete with references to Depends and Just for Men hair coloring. Seven years later (a dog’s 49) and every cell in the human body has replaced itself somehow with an older and more wrinkled one, a truly awe-inspiring miracle of nature.
Birthdays — thousands of feet past the base camp of, say, 35 — are an increasing temptation to throw oneself or (like Aleister Crowley on his way up the Himalayas) one’s fellow climbers into an ice chasm if only to relieve the monotony, with the eventual transcendent Om-like sound of a Sherpa’s screams winding gracefully with the indifferent wind. Or call it a blood sacrifice to the mountain. Just read Crowley’s Confessions. until you drop it on your foot and the pain snaps you back to civilization. But for a moment there, it’s a gas. I may try gumming something at Denny’s this year, if they still do that free birthday thing. The timing is right. I bought some trail mix from a machine in the lobby of the Senior Assisted Arms and Adult Daycare where I live, and the little bag of shrapnel went off against remaining teeth into the soft tissue of my mouth like raking gunfire into raw liver. When I came to on the bathroom floor, I saw, among my bathroom reading, "Silver Fox: Investments for the Silver and Savvy with Eye Appeal for the Mature Lover." It had an argent-wigged 14-year-old on the cover, with a 44 bust, peering over the kind of granny glasses we haven’t seen since Roger McGuinn of the Byrds was still Jim McGuinn. I had neglected to invest in anything suggested in the magazine (I had received it free when I cashed in my 401(k) at $1200 after six months), and I looked up toward the scale where an ad for Denny’s touted birthday dinners free: all ages with ID or parents! The magazine was dated November 1983. I was 32, my son’s age.
At the cusp of 58, or the ledge, the lip, one may think, “Ah, a kid. What’s to worry? There’s still so much ahead,” all of which I’m quick to embrace until I catch the odor of “58 years young,” or “growing better not older.” You can smell this a hearse’s length away.
I have found that 58 is not what you think. And that’s my stab at being original, I suppose. I can hear someone out there, some trooper who has hung this long into my birthday card to myself, “For Crysakkes! Give us something, anything!” All right. It is not flabbergasting. A word I reserve, like “marvelous,” for the style Willie Mays displayed while catching fly balls up against the wall. I still do not know, precisely, how the can opener works.
My 58th birthday this December will have little to do with what anyone envisaged, least of whom are my parents, but this can hardly be seen as an anomaly, if one asks around. It is the rule rather than the exception when it comes to how we “wind up.” I was, as a toddler, a fine bet for a football player, a Chicago Bear; and when the family priest at Sunday dinners administered sips of Carling’s Black Label beer, and I gratifyingly fell to my diapered butt, smiling, and rose to ask for “Mah? Mah?,” the prediction was often revised to “entertainer” or “comedian.” Later, I would be convinced that the family’s last name meant, in Italian, those same two words.
Losing friends to death.
The onset of genuine madness now revealed as hereditary.
This tapestry of caprice we were taught as “right and wrong.”
The end of the box of Lexapro spelling panic.
An informal literary review from an acclaimed friend describing a novel in progress as “a mess.”
The absolute inscrutability of the simple phrase “happy birthday.”
These are a few of the things.
Oh, yeah. An increasing need to apologize for no apparent reason other than you know damned well you’d better.
These are the things for which denial is essential. Dodge these babies and you’ll be the cheerful doddering geezer the world wants you to be.