I just celebrated—if that’s the word— my forty-fourth birthday. The guy with the scythe left early, but I still feel like I’ve blocked the plate in baseball with my head. And it has nothing to do with the refreshments.
Double-digit birthdays (DDBs) hit harder than others, especially as you get older. Forty-four is definitely the fulcrum, the one where being conscious of age becomes being aware of the drawbacks of aging.
The others can be charted as follows:
11: Conscious of dampness in pajama pants.
22: Conscious of being called ‘sir’ by woman serving bagel chip samples in supermarket.
33: Conscious of being surveyed by Club Med about favorite no-tell hotels.
55: Conscious of double hernia on golf backswing.
66: Conscious of receiving mail order remedies for enlarged prostate.
77: Conscious of dampness in pajama and all other pants.
Obviously, we’re talking about men. Women become conscious of the downside of aging sooner, when they leave the hospital after birth. Theirs. Female infants generally walk first because they’re so anxious to get to the phone to order exfoliant and moisturizer from the Shopping Channel to keep their skin soft and wrinkle-free. Double-digit birthdays to them are just another headstone for dead cells.
Because guys hoof it more slowly toward oblivion awareness, when the DDBs do hit home they hit like a tornado, whirling you clean out of the Kansas of complacency. You start noticing what you’re missing (or think you’re missing), wondering if it’s worth the strain to attain or if it’s now beyond reach. Depending on how opportunistically you’ve lived, this can be like getting tattoed with a bottlecap.
The categories of perceived deprivation that normally strike men my age are sex, toys (sex toys?), career, and image. The first three I’ve made peace with, at least until I start passing kidney stones like a Gatling gun. I’m not planning to pursue the French-cutoffed teen down the block with legs that start where her coppery tresses end and the father who could bench press my armoire. I had enough of doing other people’s homework in high school. I also can’t afford tickets to see Cheetah Girls.
I’m reconciled for now to not owning the only car I ever lusted after, a Chevelle Super Sport. I used to wash one every day in tenth grade: I’d drool on it, and the kid who owned it would wipe it off with my face. Until my mechanical expertise runs to more than bungee cords and duct tape, I’m content to do donuts with coffee.
As for career change— middle-aged men can make the most bizarre leaps of faith. Schooled in rocket science, they suddenly leave NASA to play blues harp in a drag show. Not me. Not only do strapless gowns hit me in the chest wrong, the older you get, the less privation appeals. Sometimes I still think it’d be a gas to be a folksinger. Then I picture sleeping in the back of a beater with my arms around a twelve-string for months on end, beer for breakfast, shaving in a hubcap, and I flip to VH-1 to catch Indigo Girls.
Which leaves image. This one’s the killer. By the time you’re fifty, they say, you have the face you deserve. I’m almost there. So what did I do to deserve glacial grooves around my eyes? ‘You must smile a lot.’ Yeah, right. More likely they’re from all the squinting I’m doing as my eyes go bad.
But what’s really bugging me about my self these days is my voice. It’s gotten progressively more nasal and hoarse. I used to sound like a sheep. Now I sound like a sheep gargling inside a trash can. I long for mellifluous golden tones, and all I get is a barnyard. Forget about a facelift; I want a voice lift.
Of course, that might mean I’d be tempted to acquire an SS 396 and hit the trail with a Fender and Goldilocks up the street.