Smile Politely

Sexagenarian, at last!

My parents raised me in a one-room tarpaper house in the country. For five years, I grew up familiar with rural surroundings: cornfields, dirt roads, hollyhocks and an outhouse. On my first birthday, I had already fulfilled one complete year of living. That’s how they say it in Spanish. You don’t “turn” into your age like an enchanted pumpkin, you fulfill time. (Cumplir, to fulfill; cumpleaños, fulfilled years, or birthday.)

As of last Thursday, I had fulfilled sixty such years. (They’ve gone fast.) That this accomplishment actually happened came as a surprise to many people, not the least myself. I really gave the universe more than enough cause and opportunity to cut the experiment short a long time ago, many times. But here I am.

I have now spent more years trodding the planet than Abraham Lincoln ever got the chance to do. Martin Luther Jr. did great work in his 39 years. George Gershwin wrote wonderful music in only 38. Of course, I’ve lived twice as long as a gamut of rock stars and now I have even outlived Rock Hudson, who died at 59.

“It’s funny,” I told a college classmate. “But turning 60 seems exciting, like it is something cool.”

“You have no idea how cool it is,” she replied. She got her first tattoo this year, a set of lovely floating weeds, and has been egging me on in the same direction.

According to my cousin, 60 is the new 40. I’m going to go her one better. I feel closer to 10. It is like the built-up pressure of achievement has been relieved. The steam whistle is sounding out an exuberant exclamation. The kids are bred, born, raised, and grown. I have been there. I have done that. I’m going to work harder than ever at my creative preoccupations and I’m also going to enjoy the hammock in the back yard just as much as I did at Grandma’s house when I was 10. I haven’t written Rhapsody in Blue yet exactly, but I’ve scrawled out a thing or two over the years I’m not entirely ashamed of. 

So what’s next? Maybe the best is yet to come. Frank McCourt, who died last week having fulfilled 79 years, didn’t publish his first book, his memoir Angela’s Ashes, until his late 60s. 

The dentist called on the day before my birthday to let me know there had been a cancellation and I could come in the next day. My wife, Lee, was appalled. To her, birthdays are sacred and the dentist is the devil anyway. Yet I biked over happily, got a filling, and was told I could probably use a root canal on molar #18.

Later that day, I got a call informing me that my work was being cut by about 20 percent because of the economy.

I know what you’re thinking. Bummer. But, now that I was 60, I received both bits of news as though they were ribbon-wrapped gifts. As some may remember from last fall, I take my dental work to Mexico, where medical costs are such that I can take off work, buy a plane ticket, sing along with mariachis, and have my teeth well attended for the same price as staying here. (For the record, the crown that a Guatemalan dentist in a small town made for me eight years ago is still going strong and received praise by my American dentist last week.)

As for the work reduction, I’d been asking to be relieved of this particular work schedule for years. Sure, there would be less money, but there would be more freedom in many ways, including time to do some other tasks that I never seemed to get around to doing.

At age 60, I’m neither a cup half empty or cup half full kind of guy, because I consider that my cup already overflowed years ago. I’m still alive and sometimes I can hardly contain myself.

Here’s the good part. When you are 60, you are officially allowed to be grumpy to your heart’s content. You can write brilliant letters to the editor. There is no need to suffer fools gladly. You get senior discounts. People will call you sir, even if you are not wearing a tie. Not that I ever wore a tie. I can wear cargo shorts and a t-shirt and they still call me sir.

Believe me, you will be glad not to be the young clerk behind the cash register with all that transparently painful angst and hormonal insecurity going on. You have no idea how cool it is to be past that.

A couple of words about Twitter. I’m following Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight Schrute in The Office, and who writes some of the wackiest tweets around. Last week he called for favorite “people-watching songs” and got a reply from none other than Sen. John McCain, who apparently also follows Rainn Wilson. McCain’s favorite song for people-watching: ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” 

Wilson taunted him, “You old codger.” 

I’m not sure what the significance of that true story is, but here’s another one.

Filmmaker David Lynch (“Blue Velvet”) tweeted last week, “When the heart is satisfied w/the experience of happiness & the inquiries & doubts of the intellect have been satisfied, fulfillment results.” 

Lynch is 63, so the two of us are sexagenarians. Little compares with being able to call yourself a sexagenarian. Life now is something like that of Benjamin Button, who grew younger instead of older and said that life only makes sense looking backwards. It’s not downhill from here. It’s still and always going to be uphill, but you’re just getting that much closer to the top.

And if tomorrow I’m hit by a bus, I’m ready to see what’s beyond the curtain. I’m going to use a contemporary cliche now, but since Bob Dylan, who was born in 1941 and is ageless, used it on his most recent album, I feel it is justified: It’s all good.


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