A Certain Level of Aplomb

Remember when sixteen, eighteen, and twenty-one were the “big” birthdays? Random numbers, if you think about it. Once you get past those three, all the big, marquee birthdays end in zeroes or fives. Thirty. Forty-five. Fifty. Numbers with a nice, mature symmetry. Numbers that reflect knowledge and wisdom. Sixteen. Eighteen. Twenty-one. Whatta they know? Those numbers even sound frivolous. So yeah, by now you’ve figured it out, it’s my birthday this week. Not one of those marquee numbers, but one ending in a boring, non-eventful “two.” Halfway between becoming eligible for AARP and a colonoscopy. Ah, but the wisdom that supposedly comes with age also comes with a price. One would think that price could be paid with dignity, a certain level of aplomb, a quiet confidence, perhaps, but no. Bend over, buddy, we’re gonna snake this video camera attached to the end of about thirty feet of rubber tubing through your intestines, see how things look up there, you know, because you’ve reached that age.

That age? Well, after reaching that age, I can tell you how it looks up there. Dark, that’s how. And shedding light on any subject found up there cannot and will not be pleasant. I’m from the generation that remembers when phones hung on the wall. With a cord between the receiver and handset, the way the Universe intended. The first mobile phone I saw came in a bag…with a shoulder strap. Proportionately, the first video camera I used required two hands to balance it and came with a tripod as standard equipment, so when Doc mentions a video camera, basic semiotics demands that first image of a video cam is still what comes to mind. And if we learned nothing else from the OJ Simpson trial, it’s that “if it doesn’t fit, you must” quit. Yes, when we were children, we acted as children, and our moms told us not to put the quarter up our nose…

So, seriously, Doc? At those other birthdays, sixteen for instance, everyone’s interested in exploring those little understood and previously unseen body parts. At sixteen, strange urgings abound, dimming rational thought. Urgings responsible for page after page of really, really bad poetry. Urgings responsible for fictions far greater than Hemingway’s, Faulkner’s, or Nabokov’s. But while those urgings may have been base, vile, and unspeakable, they rarely digressed to the point of even considering duct-taping the family Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera to one end of the garden hose and snaking it anywhere for a picture. Well, maybe the bedroom of your friend’s slightly older sister, but through the window, not the dryer vent.

At sixteen (and let’s be honest—it’s still the same at eighteen and twenty-one), at least for guys, every tweak, twitch, or tingle anywhere in the body leads the male mind to one thing. After that AARP card arrives, the mind’s destination changes. That tweak near the navel? Was it a cell that just went rogue, dividing in some unnatural way, ready to devour my pancreas, my kidneys, or was it something I ate? The twitch in your temple—an allergic reaction to the booming bass emanating from that kid’s car next to you at the light, or foreshadowing of some beastly nurse changing your Depends after the stroke? Your sciatica now makes your thighs tingle the way a cheerleader walking by your table in the high school cafeteria once did.

At twenty-one, I played music until one or two in the morning, once or twice a week, and still made it to work at eight every morning. Then, I’d play both Friday and Saturday night with no problems. Oh, I still play, but a Saturday night gig requires a Saturday afternoon nap. Forget about mid-week unless it’s a dinner set (and by dinner, I mean 5 – 7). And I don’t do anything two nights in a row anymore.

At twenty-one, I kept a pen and notebook on the nightstand next to the bed. If I woke during the night with a song or story idea, I could jot it down and get right back to sleep. I leave the pen and paper in the bathroom, now, because if—no, when I wake up in the middle of the night, that’s where I’m headed first. At twenty-one, George Carlin told us we needed a “place for our stuff.” Now, I have a place for my stuff, right down to the plastic, seven-compartment container with the days of the week printed in large letters on the top of each section.

It’s not all bad, though. Putting on a few years does have advantages. Buying clothes is much easier. Relaxed fit, pre-washed or a nice soft fabric that doesn’t chafe. Walk right past every rack with the words custom-fit, tapered, or European cut. Shoes that slip on, boots if it’s a business casual event. It’s much easier to get dinner reservations at 5:00 or 5:30 than it is 7:30 or 8:00. We can now (occasionally) afford to eat at restaurants that require reservations.

Other parts are better than “not bad,” they’re actually pretty great. I don’t have to listen to Justin Beiber or pretend to like any of the latest “cool” bands. Granted, one reason is that I saw most of the truly cool bands in person…and with their original line-ups during original tours, none of this reunion tour or tribute band stuff. Another, reason is that I’ve heard enough revolutions of “new” music to realize there’s only eight notes (okay twelve) and they’ve always been pretty much the same, so I can be impressed solely by how artists put those eight notes together without being phased by their hype or packaging.

But the most important reason I think aging is pretty great? Knowing you have less time left than you’ve already spent has a way of slowing things down, making you appreciate everything more. Good friends. Time whiled away on the deck, enjoying a cold beer and warm conversation as the sun melts. The companionship of a good, honest dog. Long rides on good road. Sharing an extra pot of coffee on Sunday mornings. Sunshine. Rain. Another day above ground. So, I won’t do anything special to celebrate this birthday. I don’t need to, every day’s a celebration.

Until next time, Peace!

Kevin Winchester