So I turned 50 the other day, and I've never felt better, though I seem to be driving over street curbs more and more, and once in a while I forget the turn signal is still on.
"Dad, your turn signal," the little girl will say.
"YOUR TURN SIGNAL!!!"
"Thank you for your patience," I say.
Yeah, I'm 50 in a town full of people notorious for fibbing about their ages. Actually, I'm 54, but when you hit 50, it's all pretty much the same. Age 4 is way different from age 8. Sixteen may be significantly different from 20. But the glorious 50s are sort of the same sitcom over and over.
At 54, you're not young and you're not old — well, you are kind of old. I spend significant parts of my days swearing at software upgrades or at teenage drivers who are too busy texting to bother steering.
Me, I once tried texting behind the wheel and wound up attempting a left turn from a very tall bridge in Long Beach. My final words were almost bubbles.
So, yeah, I'll confess: I'm 54.
"Dad, you're Urlacher," my older son says, referring to the uniform number of a famous linebacker. "You're Kobe plus 30."
You know you're getting up there when they quit putting the appropriate number of candles on your cake. Do you have any idea what 54 candles would look like? A welding torch. A solar flare. In minutes, the Earth would crisp and the three remaining polar bears would shed their coats and retire to Miami.
What I'm saying is that nine candles are fine when you're 54, in some sort of representational, marching band configuration — five on one side and four on the other. Or one of those big wax numerals that shouts 54. Or a single sparkler.
I'm 54, and my favorite actor is still Huckleberry Hound; my favorite vegetable is still ketchup. Remember when you were young and you thought you'd have things mastered by middle age? Well, I'm here to tell you that you mostly won't, though you will learn what's worth worrying about and what's not. You'll learn that true love turns you into the other person. You'll learn that a good work ethic is the second most valuable gift in the world — right behind kids, which are the No. 1 most valuable gifts in the world, or at least the most expensive.
"If you have kids, you have everything," my old man used to say, and now I know what he was talking about — migraines, bills, bad dreams, bankruptcies. ...
I'm 54, and I honor my late father by roaming from room to room turning off unnecessary lights. Depression-era babies, both my parents, proud of their fretful ways. Now I'm raising Depression-era babies. I've been bookended by Depressions.
Wanna buy an apple? No? What about a bank?
On Facebook the other day, I got a big dose of birthday wishes, often from people nearly as old as I am, the remaining few who are still with us.
"Happy birthday, Grandpa," Kelly wrote.
"Good luck, you dinosaur," joked my wife.
Judging by this outpouring of kindness, there should probably be a birthday website completely devoted to sarcasm and snark, and there probably is, though I'm too old to know about it.
But listen up, you punks: My generation invented that technology, OK? Jobs and Gates were both born in 1955, which means they're even older than I am. The generational difference between you and us? My generation looks at gadgets as work appliances; yours looks at gadgets as playthings.
So, yeah, I miss the clack-clack-clack of typewriters and phones that actually ring and TVs where the only issue was the vertical hold.
I miss corner bookstores and drive-in theaters. Where do kids learn about sex anymore without drive-in theaters? Somehow they manage. I fear not for the quantity of humankind, just the octane.
I'm 54 and I miss car radios with five buttons (and way better music). Know what a car radio looks like now? It looks like the soundboard at a Pink Floyd concert. My own car radio has a hundred settings, and I can't get it to lock onto a station from one day to the next. Embedded deep within — unfixable — is a super chip that zigs when it should zag.
Know how I handle stuff like that? I just laugh. Hey, at 54, I've earned it.
At lunch the other day, my buddy Tom — also in his 50s — tells me he looks forward to the day when a doctor says to a patient: "You have cancer. Let me write you a prescription."
Fine thought, that. At 54, this is what your hopes and dreams become: sensible, selfless, profound.
So maybe the world shouldn't dread middle age quite so much. Maybe it should embrace it: Honor thy father, switch off a light.
Thank you for your patience.