When I was a kid, everyone seemed old. Maybe that’s just the nature of being, say, your average nine-year-old. You’re a kid. You eat as much candy and watch as much TV as you can. And anyone at the ripe-old-age of 20 or more might as well be as ancient as the Pyramids in Egypt.
But, as you get older, and hit some of those age-related milestones that anyone who lives long enough hits, it’s almost like you do your best to not get “old” with every birthday…
For me, it was no problem staying awake so that at the exact stroke of midnight when I turned 21, I could legally waltz right into The Coug in Pullman, Washington for the first time and proceed to destroy my liver with unknown-brand cheap beer for two hours until last call.
My 30th was spent watching a performance of “Miss Saigon.” I admit I was taken in by the ladies on stage, who used their opening number to describe the temperature of the women in the South Vietnamese capital. But it was the girl I was with who later that night really showed me where the heat was on. The same girl who dumped me exactly one week later because she said I didn’t make enough money for her.
On my 40th birthday, I learned just how loud it is going 120 miles an hour when a skydiving guide strapped himself (and, fortunately) a parachute onto my back and threw us both out of an airplane flying at 14,000 feet above Byron, California.
None of the activities on these birthdays suggested anything about being “old”. Maybe that feeling comes from being a Gen X kid who grew up hating Russia, idolizing Ronald Reagan and going to high school in the 80s imagining himself as a cross between Ferris Bueller, Marty McFly and the members of the 1984 gold-medal-winning U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team. We had a lot of hubris. We grew up watching the Hostages come home from Iran and the Berlin Wall coming down. Everything was fresh and we WON stuff. We were the generation that really wasn’t going to ever get old because, well, we had MTV to keep us young.
That was all fine and good. Until we did get old.
And no matter how you try to slice it, no matter how you may think you are still that 21-year-old legally waltzing into The Coug for the first time, when you turn 50, you are officially old. And this is what happened to me on February 18.
My birthday wasn’t terrible by any stretch. In fact, it was exactly the kind of birthday that the 50-year-old me wanted. Like any self-respectng Old Guy, I got up early, and before everyone else. Those people being my wife, 7 and 9 year old daughters, and my 77 year old mom, who had come down from Tacoma, Washington for the long birthday weekend. We went to breakfast at my favorite joint (Ole’s Waffle Shop, in Alameda, California) came home, put on the Ultra 4K Blu-Ray DVD of the classic film “The Bridge On The River Kwai” (You will be hard-pressed to beat the cinematic teaming of Best Actor Oscar winner and Future Obi-wan Kenobi Alec Guinness and Fellow Best Actor Oscar winner and Legendary Hollywood Drunk Bill Holden), hung out a bit, watched some Olympics, and then went to dinner at a local Thai/Asian restaurant. We then went home and had some birthday cake my wife had made and the day was done.
Just a couple of decent meals, some great entertainment and my closest family members. I don’t need to go to Vegas for that.
“Age ain’t nothing but a number,” said the late R&B singer (and one-time-R. Kelly-underage wife) Aaliyah. That’s the kind of easy, pretentious thing that a 15-year-old who thinks they are being profound would say. But age ain’t just that number. Age is who you are, too. And when you hit 50, who you are is an Old Guy.
When I was growing up, 50 was a World War II veteran, Fifty was a guy working at an auto body shop with the name “Herm” on his grease-stained shirt. Fifty was a black and white photo of Richard Nixon and his advisers in the Oval Office. Fifty was arthritis. Fifty was a two-packs-a day salesman. Fifty was a glass or two of Scotch at the end of every day. Fifty was ancient.
Now, I am 50, and I am none of those things. But I am still 50 and I can’t deny that.
Sure, I may wear cargo shorts like any dad of little girls and I day-drink the afternoon away a couple of times a year at a weekday baseball game. But I also “feel” those $10 ballpark beers much more than I did just five years ago.
When I look at one of my wife’s trashy celebrity magazines, I recognize, at most, half of the starlets and studs that Hollywood deems worthy of public adoration.
My kids can immediately tell the difference between an Ed Sheeren song and a Justin Bieber song. When this happens, I feel an immediate need to have them hear the difference between Steve Winwood doing “Gimme Some Lovin” and Alex Chilton singing, “September Gurls.”
AARP wants me for my annual dues as much as the U.S. Army wants to sign up lower middle class recruits to fight the endless War On Terror.
I get a little excited knowing that I am just five years away from being able to order from the “Senior discount” menu at Denny’s. And then I laugh with the gallows humor one has when he realizes he is just five years away from qualifying for something that heretofore was reserved for people like his grandparents.
Let me make this clear: I don’t feel ready for the grave, yet. But, let there be no doubt, either, that I know I am not immortal by any stretch. I am 50 years old. Or, to put it another way, I am exactly half way between how old I was when I graduated college (23. I stuck around an extra semester to get a second degree) and how old my mother is now (77).
Yes, turning 50 certainly means something. And that something is that every birthday means I am another year further away from my senior year of college, and another year closer to being a senior citizen. My age is my number. My age is who I am.