Saturday, February 11, 2006

It's My Birthday And I'll Cry If I Want To

Here it is. A day that, back when I was young and wild, I never thought I'd see, has arrived. Of course, I thought that about ages 30 and 40, too. What is it about being young and wild that we never picture ourselves growing old -- we imagine that we will die young and wild, or somehow just magically stay that way forever? Well, much as I tried to resist it, I got old. I hit the half-a-hundred mark today. But you know what? I don't feel any different than I did yesterday, or the day before that. So I'm not traumatized or feeling like I need to buy a red sports car and get a young, blonde girlfriend; I'm just happy that it's a beautiful Saturday in San Francisco, the city I love and never want to leave.

One friend wrote to me recently saying that there is your chronological age, and then there is your "real age." (This idea is also expressed in the adage, "You're only young once, but you can stay immature forever.") So my chronological age is now 50; my real age is... well, I'm about old enough to drive, I guess. Another friend, someone who was one of my best friends in high school but that I hear from only about once every two or three years now (he apparently has an email system that receives, but only allows him to send on special occasions, and a telephone that doesn't dial out), wrote me a couple days ago saying, "Is it just me, or have you noticed that at 50 we're still the same as we were in school? (It's not just you, Bill.) Maybe [fewer] insecurities and more wisdom, but pretty much the same likes/dislikes (if less energy to carry them out) as then. I always thought that when I 'grew up' things would be so different. Is it kind of funny/scary to think our parents were just grown up big kids like we are now?"

Yes, I guess it is. Funny and scary. And I would absolutely agree that I still -- and probably always will -- feel like a "grown up big kid."

I suppose it really hit me on Thursday. I went through my normal lunch time routine -- get the Bay Area section of the Chronicle, walk up the hill to the cafeteria, make myself a salad, sit down and read the letters to the editor and the op-eds, get amused or outraged, as appropriate, then take the paper back to my office, exchange it for my iPod and go for a long, meandering walk along the bay to the Oyster Point marina and back. Listening to the iPod, I imagined what I would think of the device, and the songs being played, if I were to somehow have possession of it when I was 16 years old. (Of course, quite a few of the songs on it would have already been familiar to me back then.) That year was rather seminal in my life -- it was 1972, "the year the '60s ended." Current music at the time included David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street, the Allman Brothers' Eat A Peach and Stevie Wonder's Talking Book. (My pal Jay Dresner gave me Exile for my 16th birthday, and that remains to this day one of the best birthday gifts I ever received. I played it so much I had to buy a replacement copy a few years later, and have since owned two CD copies of it as well.) The world seemed magical and full of promise then. That summer, I traveled around the country with my family, seeing New York City and Boston and Washington DC for the first time. I, uh, "experimented" with various substances (a lot, actually) and found out a few things about the opposite sex. For some reason, I always think of that year as being light blue in color, like a perfect afternoon sky; 1973, in contrast, is a deep red. I'm not sure why certain years have colors associated with them in my mind, but those years certainly do. I guess that's when I first felt like I was no longer a child, and that I might someday become a grown-up.

Of course, that didn't really happen, did it? But I got close.

So I walked along the winding path that skirts the bay, watching the people out jogging or eating lunch, observing all the various birds (one of my favorite things to do on my walk) -- the gulls and ducks and coots and geese; the cormorants and sandpipers and pelicans; the snowy egrets (egrets... I've had a few...) and the occasional great heron -- and reflected on what I've done in my 50 years. As that 16 year old looking ahead, would I have approved of the life choices I've made? I certainly never could have predicted the path my life has taken, but I suppose I'm pretty comfortable with it now. I've got a good job and a successful marriage. I've been able to travel quite a bit in the past few years. I have family that loves me and many close friends about whom I care very much. So while I may not be rich or famous (I never wanted to be famous anyway, and still wouldn't), I'm essentially happy.

As I neared the end of the walk, which is about 3.5 miles and typically takes me an hour to complete, I figured I'm more than halfway now on my walk through this life; maybe even two-thirds of the way there. Of course, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, or I could live to be a centenarian and then some; who knows? But odds are, given the typical life expectancy in these United States, that I'm on the downhill slope at this point. And that's okay.

What got me, though, was when I got home and looked at the mail. In years past, by the time my birthday rolls around, I've usually already received a few cards in the mail, from my mother or my sister or friends. I hadn't seen a birthday card in the mail all week (not that I'm complaining, mind you, I just found it a bit curious), and when I opened the mail box that Thursday evening, again saw no cards. There was, however, a personalized offer from the AARP to purchase their life insurance at a discount.

The AARP has already found me! Fuck it, I'm officially old now.

As many of you already know, I'll be celebrating tonight by holding court at my favorite local watering hole, the HiDive. A number of my friends, including some of my fellow BARBARians will all be there with me; stop on by and have a cocktail and a piece of cake with me if you're in the area and so inclined. Or not. What the hell, I'll probably never remember one way or the other by tomorrow. You know how old folks' memory slips away.

"Put another candle on my birthday cake, I'm another year old today." -- Sheriff John's Birthday Polka
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