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Turning 39 Gives a Guy Plenty to Chew On

March 24, 1994|Jim Washburn | Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition. T. Jefferson Parker's column resumes in this spot in two weeks. and

I have lived to see the self-adhesive postage stamp.

Progress like that I can understand, as opposed to grasping whether the computer I'm buying has "Pentium upgradability." But it is all of this progress that is starting to make me feel really old.

"Say, Sonny, we used to lick them stamps."

"Yeah, sure, Gramps."

I just had a birthday and turned the Jack Benny age, and I really don't care. So I'm old. Give me a discount coupon and shut up.

I think mine might be the first generation to go straight to being old without bothering to stop first at adulthood. I look back at parents like mine and all previous generations and wonder: How the hell did they ever get so responsible ? They actually got pleasure out of getting a new patio laid or understanding their finances. They knew which fork to use and how to compose a business letter.

I'm 39, and my chief expenditures are still breakfast cereal and electric guitars. I don't have a checking account and only got a credit card so I could rent videos, which I wind up not doing anyway because I become genuinely furious every time I'm handed a rental form loaded with needless prying questions.

I determined not to do certain things until I was 40. Hence, at 39, I still don't know how to tie a tie.

This leads to occasions like one time some years back when I happened to be getting sued by Bruce Springsteen and CBS for $1.5 million, which sounds a whole lot more interesting than it actually was, not that I won't write about it in some future column when I'm desperate.

At any rate, I had to be at a deposition hearing upon which my future, or at least $1.5 mil of it, hinged, and found myself standing in CBS's prestigious Century City law firm's prestigious parking garage, putting my tie on. But since I couldn't put it on myself, it was accomplished by a friend, who had to stand behind me awkwardly pretending my neck was his in order to figure out how to do it.

At best, we looked like Ray Milland and Rosie Grier in "The Thing With Two Heads." Several high-powered lawyers walked by looking at us, their ties knotted perfectly. There's really not much you can say in situations like that, except "Hi."


So I forgot to grow up. Given that we now have a President who likes to amble around the White House blatting out "Night Train" on a tenor sax, I'm not going to apologize for clinging to my adolescence. There's lots of us.

Just the other day I was talking on the phone to my guitar repairman friend Steve Soest. Steve is in his 40s and about as respected as one can be in a profession where they use terms like "Stratocaster jack-plate." Yet, right when we were in the middle of some important guy-chat about old amplifiers, he suddenly exclaimed "Ow!!! That really hurt!"

It turns out that concurrent with talking to me, he and his wife were trying out a vintage BB gun, and she shot him. Not intentionally; it was a ricochet, she claimed. Whatever the circumstance, I can't tell you what a warm feeling it was to find that someone I look up to is still catching BBs.

I should make a distinction here: I'm not especially in favor of the party-hardy kegger consciousness that some adults sustain their whole lives through. Rather, I just don't want to become grown-up in the manner that so many adults presume grown-up means they have no more growing to do. I want to stay open to things, and that often requires a willingness to land on your ass.

Maintaining a sense of play is serious business. I think the crucial inner battle in life is the choice between living fully or letting your world be proscribed by fear. It's scary to let go of life's handrails and see what happens next. For all the years--between water-balloon fights--that I spent studying philosophy and religion, my personal credo has finally been pared down to this: Let's see what happens next.

That means facing life without so many presumptions; letting things happen; making things happen, and paying attention when they do. That should all be the easiest stuff in the world, and it was back when we were all 5 years old.

As I age, though, I have to admit that worry places a widening gap between knowing something and living it.

When playing music, for example, I can get so uptight worrying what the audience thinks that it's guaranteed the only thing they are going to think is "Hey, does this stuff ever sound uptight!" Knowing that music is supposed to be fun, flowing, adventurous and all that good stuff doesn't always help you make it so.

My girlfriend recently got me out on a pair of cross-country skis, and I wound up having a blast, but not before I worried about it in every direction. You know the way skis point up in the front? I was convinced that if I fell those points were precisely positioned to be right where my eyes would land.

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