|Taken one week before my fiftieth birthday. Not much|
has changed since then.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is not the year I imagined having.
I mean, who starts their year, literally the first day of the year, in recovery from surgery? And who gets dangerously sick because the recovery time is freakishly, abnormally long, and winds up spending nearly a week in the hospital? Who does that?
Well, I do. At least, when I’m not looking after Cathy and her second round of chemotherapy, which is an even more treacherous and unpredictable ride than the first round, which we only barely began to recover from when it was revealed to us that nope, she needs to go back on again.
Nuts. Nuts to all of it. Including (but not limited to) my much-decreased but still tumescent scrotum. Turning fifty has royally suuuuuuucked. Not for the usual reasons, though. But it’s been a shit-show, pretty much, all year.
Let me ‘splain. No, there is no time; I sum up.
My parents are Baby Boomers. They were raised by World War II veterans. That means this: they were told somewhere between the ages of 15 and 18 that they had to be ‘an adult’ now. And they did that. My mother put her energy into cooking and cleaning and providing for her siblings. My father went into the Navy, presumably to give him some seasoning and life experience. Fun fact: it didn’t take. My dad spent all of his adult life being told to grow up, a role he played reluctantly. It wasn’t until I was older that he suddenly clicked into the mold of “grownup.”
My mother and my stepfather gave me very specific messages. I didn’t have to “grow up,” per se, but I did have to have a JOB, by God, and WORK, and MAKE a LIVING, and SUPPORT MYSELF and aside from that, their only advice was to “be happy.” Even before my mother got all of the training necessary to be a psychologist, she advocated for making yourself be happy, because it sure beat the alternative.
|Cathy at the Highlander Public House.|
I mostly conflated these two bits of advice and turned them into “pick a job that you will have fun at,” which isn’t quite the same as “love what you do,” or “find work you love doing.” It’s a more passive version of the old chestnut. But I took it to heart, and embarked on an early and ambitious world tour wherein I’d never make a lot of money, but would have memorable, storied jobs doing the things that bank tellers and phone-bank minions only dream about. Comic Book Stores, RPG Game Design, Movie Rental Stores, Book Stores, Movie Theaters, and so on and so forth. Oh, and that’s not counting Comic Book Scripting and Production, Book Writing, and Acting and Directing.
When people meet me for the first time, that’s usually what they want to talk about. I, on the other hand, am always trying to find out what the hell a portfolio is, and how in the hell I diversify it. “You were in a movie?” they ask, and I reply, “You have life insurance?” Thus, the grass is always greener, even when you’re sitting in the middle of a field of really green grass.
I don’t feel fifty. Oh, sure, I feel fifty in my knees, and in my neck, and there’s no way I’d run unless I was being chased by a grizzly, and let’s face it, I’m bear-lunch, because just look at my doughy ass. The realities of my physical condition, the loss of acute vision in the last few years, the slowing down (okay, the full stop) of my metabolism, etc. etc. are all within the standard textbook of conventional medical wisdom that says this is what happens to you physically in your forties, and fifties, and beyond. We know the playbook, this “getting old” thing. It’s pretty cut and dried.
I don’t look fifty, either. Not to others, and certainly not in my head. I got the gray hairs, and I’m starting to get those sexy wrinkles around the eyes, like Robert Redford, about forty years ago. But in my head, everyone who is fifty has an ash-white head of hair and is a raging alcoholic, a chain-smoker, and trying to outrun a second heart attack. That, in my head, is what fifty looks like. But it’s clearly not me. I don’t smoke; I socially drink (as opposed to nightly, or to become comatose); I’m out of shape, but I’m not hopeless—no heart disease, no diabeetus, none of that.
What I really mean is, I don’t feel fifty psychically. I don’t feel fifty in my head space. I’m still reading comic books. This whole month, we’ve been watching a minimum of one horror movie a night. I have an Xbox with a new game on it that I’m just itching to play. I have a stack of D&D books beside me with notes shoved into the pages for the campaign I’m currently running. Looking that over, there’s zero difference between Mark at fifty and Mark at 15.
For a long time, I’ve felt like there was a defect in my character; a lack of manliness borne out of my infantile and arrested behavior and interests. I wasn’t a man. Not really. Not by the arbitrary definitions I’ve placed on myself. I don’t know how to change the oil in my car. I don’t hunt. I don’t have kids. I don’t belong to the Kiwanis Club.
It’s stupid. Not the activities themselves, but the idea that I have a checklist for what makes a man and it’s not even my checklist. I don’t do any of those things because I’ve never learned, don’t want to, don’t like to, or I’m completely uninterested. Does that make me less of a man?
|These are not donuts. They are onion rings. Yeah, I know.|
I own a business. I have employees. I perform public service. I have a wife. Don’t these count for something? Of course they do. I’ve got the new video game, but I haven’t played it yet, because my schedule hasn’t opened up. That’s about as grown-up as I can be, but I’ll take it.
Still…I think next year, I’ll start counting backwards from 50. In the next ten years, I’ll be sixty, but I’ll be telling people I’m forty. And that will make sense to them. They will see me and go, “Yeah, he looks forty. A hard-won forty.” And when I’m seventy, I’ll come clean and say, Okay, I’m not really thirty. I’m actually fifty. And people will say, “Well, sure, it makes sense, I mean, he LOOKS fifty…” and then I’ll start the forward march of time again. I’ll be ready for it at 70, I think.
Then on my deathbed, whenever that is, I’ll reveal the ultimate secret: I’m actually 100. Even if I’m not, I’m going to say that. I’ll make them print it in my obituary, so that on the day of my funeral, everyone walking by the casket will look down and think, “100? That sonofabitch, how did he manage to look that good? What was his secret?”
Clean living, my friends. Clean living.