I hate my birthdays and I honestly hate it when people say to me, ‘Hey…congratulations. You made it!” It varies from person to person, but that’s the gist of it: recent birthday “greetings” from friends as well as strangers, older and youngsters. You see…I just turned 65.
Yep, I recently turned the big 6 – 5. The Golden Years have just begun for me…or something like that.
Remember a few of those “important” age “passings”? Probably the first and foremost that comes to my mind is 16. It was and will remain my favorite birthday, for that was the actual day I passed my driver’s test, received my (temporary) license, and drove a car for the first time by myself. It was January 26th, 1966. My Dad and I came back from the DMV, he threw me the keys over the roof of our Teal 1962 Pontiac Bonneville, and I was gone! Of course, I think he tossed a few choice words in my direction as well as a slid behind the steering wheel like, “Be careful”…or ‘Put a dent in it and I’ll kick your ass!”…or some such utterance – I really wasn’t paying much attention at that point. I was driving’! What a feeling it was. An exuberant high point in my life. Of course, everything else in my life went to shit from that day forward, as life tends to get more cruel after this rite of passage – but that’s neither here nor there right now.
I can’t think of any other birthday that rivals 16, at least for me. For instance turning 18 in 1968. Not a good time to “come of age”. Remember that little thing called Vietnam…the draft…the Tet offensive, etc. Yeah, turning that age at that time in history was a bit scary.
How about 21? I get to go OUT and drink…legally! Well, yes and no. I had been embibing for a few years by then anyway. Besides, in the Navy I got stationed in Hawaii, which at that time had a drinking age of 20. So when I landed there (at the age of 20) it was legal for me to drink in public. No 21st birthday drinking debaucery night for me trying to do 21 shots of God knows what followed by the worst hangover of my life. Nope, I kind of missed out on that B-day celebration. Besides, I think I had already had the worst hangover in my life when I was 19.
Backing up a year, my actual 20th birthday was spent in Millington, Tennessee (just outside Memphis) at a huge Naval training base where I smoked hashish for the first time then sitting in front of stereo speakers listening over and over to the first Crosby, Still, and Nash album, “Wow, man. Is ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ really about Judy Collins…man?”
Turning 30? So what? Although I wasn’t too excited about how my life had gone through the 20’s, I supposed it was some sort of metamorphisizing moment. Now I get to be an adult! And, I now had a child.
My wife at the time tried to have a surprise 40th birthday for me that, despite her good intentions it was one of most frustrating and embarrassing nights of my life…and not because of something stupid I did. It just didn’t come off as planned, let’s put it that way.
My 50th birthday: current wife set up a surprise party that fizzled, i.e., of the dozen or so “surprise guests” (old friends) who had committed to showing up, only one did. It was me, Loretta, my friend and his wife, a black mylar balloon with a silver ’50’ on it, and lots of appetizers we saved and ate for days afterward.
I don’t remember what if anything I did for my 60th. With my lifelong aversion to my own birthdays (save for that 16th), I most likely did nothing special. I probably cooked something for Loretta and I and maybe one dinner guest…one of my preferred things to do on that “special” day.
By the way, my disdain for my birthdays is simple to explain. When my parents stopped making a big deal of it, i.e., throwing me a big party, with lots of friends and presents, birthday hats and decorations, a cake and other goodies, and (in at least one instance) Sheriff John reading my name on his friggin’TV show…fahgedaboutit! For me, that last big birthday party was probably my 10th. After that, I mostly likely went out to dinner with my family to a restaurant of my choice, got one ‘nice’ present, and a card. That’s OK. By that age, I was too painfully aware of my pre-pubescent shyness, and having anyone pay attention to me or make a big deal of something was not my idea of fun. Remember the scene in The Graduate when Benjamin’s parents made him parade around in his full dress scuba outfit birthday present for the neighbors? Well, my Dad loved to force me into things like that as well. Damn right short of child cruelty if you ask me!
So, when someone says to me of late, “Congratulations. You made it (to 65)”…perhaps my response should be, “Thanks for reminding me. Now I can die with the confidence of knowing that YOU have given me permission. YOU have acknowledged that I have ‘made it‘. YOU have decided that 65 is the bees knees, the age of enlightenment, a time to celebrate the fact that I am officially an old geezer, an old bird, an old fart primed and ready to notch up my curmudgeonly behavior. Or, I could just say, “Thanks”.