RUEFUL BRIEFING
Forty

Mar. 15 - I don't know if you remember the show thirtysomething (the pretentious lower-case, compound title was their own)—although in the states its reruns are probably syndicated on some cable network or other by now. If you do, surely you remember Michael's boss, the brilliantly reptilian Miles Drentell, played by David Clennon, almost certainly the best and most original character on the show. (In looking up the actor's name to give credit where it was due, I found that his character survived into the ABC drama Once and Again only to be felled by pancreatic cancer.)

In an episode that required the show's writers to underscore Drentell's New Age weirdness as a dramatic counterpoint to Michael's forthright common sense, there was a scene with Drentell and Michael and some clients having awkward conversation in a very expensive restaurant. Someone—Michael or one of the clients—said something about a ten-year anniversary of this, or the twentieth anniversary of that, and Drentell cocked his head in that cockatoo manner of his and said, "The decimilization of time is so arbitrary, isn't it?"

Everyone stared at him as though a toad had plopped out of his mouth.

The line, for whatever reason, has stayed with me—along with Clennon's ethereal delivery.

(This is one of the reasons I'm having such a hard time rewriting my novel—I'm a terrible overwriter. All I had to say to open this Almanac up was, "As a character on thirtysomething once observed, the decimilization of time is arbitrary." And yet, if I had done that, I never would have known about the continued life, and subsequent death, of Miles Drentell on an entirely different program. Nor would I have known the name of the actor who played him. Nor would you have had the opportunity to follow that link to the hagiographical page on Clennon's character.)

All of this procrastination and digression obviously has something to do with the fact that today is my fortieth birthy—but only if you're using base-ten. In base-six, for example, I'd be 104. (In base-six, "40" means the same thing as "24" in base-ten. Four sixes with no remainder. Get it?) And there I go again, off another tangent. This is going to take some discipline.

Molli is taking her morning nap and I shouldn't be using this time to wonder about old television characters and numerical bases as part of the vast exercise in denial that is my coming-of-forty celebration. I have plenty of work to be doing and I still haven't showered.

I saw some of the Academy Awards in the states: I wanted to see how Chris Rock would make out (I was disappointed by how awful he was). He said turning forty meant no one would ever call him young again—unless he died or married Cher.

So let's just tackle this thing head-on. I'm forty. So what? My wife is in her very early thirties—I can go through them again vicariously if I need to, but why should I need to? Each decade of my life has been more exciting, more ridiculous, and more rewarding than the preceding one.

But who am I kidding? This isn't a time for sappy optimism. Set the rose-tinted glasses down and grind them into powder with your heel. A fortieth birthday is a time for bitter despair. If you won't take my word for out, take a trip to your local stationery store. Observe the funereal tint of all those 40th-birthday cards. "Over the hill," say most of them.

But wait—don't just take that expression in. Think about it. It's probably not a farming metaphor. ("Where's ole Jeb?" "Over the hill." "Prob'ly the last we'll see of him, then." "Aa-yep.") No, I'm guessing it's actually one of those rare instances of mathematical language entering popular idiom. I'm guessing "the hill" that we forty-plus folk are "over" is the central bulge of a Bell curve. The Bell curve itself probably represents the average age of everyone alive today, meaning the peak of the "hill" should actually be somewhere be in the low-to-middle thirties. Being "over" that hill means one is older than the median human being. (Or the mean—I can never get those straight and I'm not in the mood for another digression.) Well, it's certainly not flattering, in our youth-o-phile culture, to be older than average, but is it bad?

It sure as hell beats the only alternative we've got, which is not making it over that peak. A childhood friend of mine died about ten years ago. He was in his early thirties. Am I supposed to think he was lucky for not having made it over the hill? On the contrary, I was full of rage and grief and all the other attractive emotions that attend that kind of tragedy. I still get angry thinking about it.

I remember feeling very old when I was thirty. Not because I was thirty, but because I simply felt old. I was unhappy, overweight, drinking and eating too much, and on the brink of divorce. I didn't like my job, I was frustrated with the state of my writing, and I hadn't yet learned to take all that bitterness and disappointment and turn it into comedy.

Today, being forty, I feel very young. I've still got all my hair, very little of it gives any indication of graying (Molli notwithstanding), and I'm still a pretty healthy son-of-a-bitch (knock wood). They say the study of new languages "later in life" (grr) can help one stay mentally young, so that may be helping. "Bilingualism May Counter Effects of Aging," they proclaim. Det håber jeg! Plus I'm working in a youthful industry (writing dialog for video games) and I'm living in a beautiful foreign city with two beautiful blondes who love me. If someone had come up to me when I was seventeen years old and said, "How would you like to live in a European capital with a younger foreign babe and earn your money writing dialog for one of the most popular video game franchises in the world?" — well, I don't rightly reckon I'd have rued my future.

Life isn't anything. You can't measure it or weight it or add it up in tidy little columns. While you're alive you're alive and when you're dead it's over. That's it. Life isn't even a state of mind. It's just the time we pass between oblivions.

My whole life has been one long preparation for being a grumpy old curmudgeon, and each passing day takes me one day closer to being able to wave my fist at my grandchildren and tell them how things were in my day! With that to look forward to, who wants to look back? Why regret turning forty when the alternative is never to have reached it? Why waste all this time writing all this nonsense when if I believed a word of it I'd be doing something thrilling right now?

Besides... the decimalization of time is so arbitrary, you know?

* * *

No other birthdays or holidays warrant mention today. It's international Greg Nagan's Fortieth Birthday Day today—so let 'em all go to Hell!

Except cave 76.

© 2005, The Moron's Almanac™

[close window]
[Discuss]
[Daily Briefing Archive]