I just turned forty.
Thank you, thank you.
Polite golf applause.
And boy, are my arms tired.
Dammit, that’s not the punchline.
Maybe sense of humor is the first thing to go.
Or the ability to write paragraphs longer than one sentence.
Quite a few people have congratulated me on turning forty. They do realize I didn’t actually do anything to get here, right? This wasn’t Cal Ripken taking the mantle from Lou Gehrig. All I did was keep breathing. And this wasn’t even in the age of cholera or “the consumption.”
But I guess I bucked the odds and made it over the hill. Or is forty the top of the hill? When I was younger, forty seemed so much older. Yes, I know that sounds stupid. Wow, your parents were older than you? Welcome to the generation gap.
But I think it goes beyond that. When my parents turned forty, their youngest child was in eighth grade. Five years later, they were divorced and empty nesters. Hence, forty meant they were on top of the hill and ready to coast down the other side.
By contrast, I am still a relatively newlywed with an infant who will graduate high school when I am fifty-seven. No time to put that cardboard under my butt and let gravity do its work. I’ve still got some climbing to do.
Which is not to say that I am not aging as nature intended. Things like gout and pre-diabetes were as distant as nuptials a decade ago. But I’m about to have a toddler running circles around me, so aging body be damned.
But I’m not here to write about aging with my whopping one week of forty-something wisdom. Instead I am here to talk of parties. Specifically birthday parties, because I’ve had some good ones and some not so good ones. Plus, the next few will likely feature bouncy houses, so indulge me.
A couple of the parties from my youth, twenty-eight and thirty, stick out.
Whoa, grandpa, did you just call thirty your youth?
Watch it, whippersnapper, patience is the first thing to go.
The only time I’ve had that “Holy shit, I’m getting old” feeling was at twenty-eight. For most people, the round numbers hit them, but not me. I think there were a few things going on with twenty-eight. From a generic number standpoint, at twenty-eight, you go from “mid-twenties” to “late twenties.” It also marked the ten-year anniversary of turning eighteen, hence a decade of adulthood. Up to that point, in my mind, I was still in “college aged,” even if I had been out of college for six years.
A more personal issue I had with twenty-eight concerned where I was in my life. I had received my teaching credential earlier that year after a failed first career, but I had not been hired as a teacher yet. With an October birthday, that meant I was still a good eight months away from the teacher hiring process. So I was waiting tables and occasionally subbing in an elongated “lost weekend.”
I’m sure waiting tables while failing to get hired for my second career had nothing to do with my focusing on the whole “late twenties, six years out of college” thing. It wasn’t so much a “mid-life” as a “pre-life” crisis.
So what did I do for said party? Got drunk, got stoned, went to karaoke with a bunch of the drunk potheads that I worked with, hit on and struck out with the cute girl from work, hit on and struck out with her friend, got frustrated, drank and smoked some more, finally learned the words to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (minor accomplishment!), then showed up very hung over for the lunch shift the next day and resolved that I wouldn’t go through the same thing when the Big Three-Oh hit in two years.
I also figured that, two years later and still striking out with pretty much any woman I faced in the batter’s box, my thirtieth birthday could replace my bachelor’s party. Who knew if or when I’d finally have a successful date, much less a full courtship and engagement. If it was forty or fifty, would I be able to have the big blow-out that every guy wants? Strip clubs frown upon men using walkers, right? “Here, missy, a dollar for your G-String. Don’t go spending that all in one place. Now where’d I put my teeth?”
Two years later, I was in a slightly better place. Still waiting tables, but now only to augment the measly second-year teacher salary. Even better, the school district that hired me featured a break between quarters that conveniently landed on my birthday.
So more money, job stability, time off, bachelor party atmosphere, and two years to think about it? New Orleans, baby! Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Those good times might be the first things to go. Better let ‘em roll while we can.
I had been to New Orleans before – once for Mardi Gras, once for New Years. People were tired of me talking about it so much without experiencing it themselves, so I invited everyone to come along for an extended weekend. To ease the burden, I paid for two hotel rooms. Anyone willing to cram themselves in with three other people could stay for free. I even booked a couple flights for co-workers, because restaurant workers can’t be bothered with complicated stuff like that Inter-webs thingy.
Ten people ended up joining me. It was a mish-mash of people from different aspects of my life. That first, failed career donated a friend or two, the teaching credential program another handful. My cousin and her friend who I had already traveled with to England and Australia, and my mom. Yes, my mom. I mean, she was the only one that had been there thirty years earlier, right?
There have only been two or three times in my life I’ve seen my mom drunk, and my thirtieth birthday was one of them. That by itself would’ve made it a memorable trip. At one point, as I sat looking up Bourbon Street from the balcony of the Tropical Isle, the girls all decided to go to the male strip club and asked my mom if she wanted to come. Her quick response was “Oh,yeah,” before sheepishly turning to me and saying “I mean… if it’s okay with you… it’s your birthday…”
Continuing on the subject of inviting my mohter, one year later, when Huricane Katrina hit six weeks before my thirty-first birthday, the role she played in my thirtieth became more apt. Had she waited a year to have me, we would’ve had a whole bunch of non-refundable deposits to an inaccessible city.
Timing is the first thing to go. No, hold on. That doesn’t even make sense in this context.
We drank plenty (The liver is the first- oh, who am I kidding), but we also did some of the other touristy shit around town, like trudging out to the swamps for a boat tour and following the tourbook walk through the garden district.
We ate at Emeril’s restaurant the night of birthday, and that might have been one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. Not to be confused with Brennan’s the next morning, which is one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. It was painful, though, on only two hours of sleep and still stuffed from Emeril’s (and a few drinks) from the night before. But oh, how I had to stuff myself. “No, I’m going to pass on the Bananas Foster. Oh, they cook it right in front of you? It smells so good…”
The Angels were even nice enough to clinch the division on my birthday that year, even if the highlights of that game got me in trouble from one of the girls in the group. After the male revue, she wanted to compare it to female strippers, so she found the boys and took us to a strip club. It had a big screen TV that occupied much more of my attention than the topless girls. Fewer scars and cottage cheese.
Simply put, we had a blast. It more than made up for the twenty-eight debacle.
Since thirty I’ve still had some fun birthdays. My quarter break still sometimes lands on my birthday, so I still travel, albeit with a smaller entourage. I’ve spent one birthday in Ireland, and one checking out the Smurf Turf at a Boise State game. I even lost one birthday entirely by boarding a plane in Los Angeles the day before, crossing the International Date Line, and landing the day after in Fiji for my Honeymoon. My wife refused to accept that she was now married to a younger man.
Speaking of honeymoon, that bachelor party that my thirtieth was supposed to replace? It ended up happening at the age of thirty-six. It was great, but I was right with my earlier assessment. It was way more low-key than it would have been in my twenties. Sure, we went to Vegas, but we opted for a minor league baseball game over the strip clubs and woke up both mornings more tired than hung over. Nobody was arrested, which is something that happened on a Vegas bachelor party I had been to ten years earlier. The worst shenanigan of the whole weekend was a little short-sheeting.
My wife tried very hard to arrange a big blow-out for my fortieth birthday. She had some very grandiose ideas. One involved a trip to Kentucky for the Bourbon Trail and the South Carolina at Kentucky football game. Ora trip to Tennessee for a Jack Daniels distillery tour and a Titans game. I’m sure there were some other ideas that included whiskey and football. Or beer and baseball. Or wine and hockey. Really, I’m easy.
The problem this time was getting other people to go. Money wasn’t an issue, as we are all making more money than ten years ago. But getting time off is more difficult at forty than at thirty. At thirty, most of us had jobs that wouldn’t suffer from a few days away. At forty, we have careers that are more difficult to take frivolous days off from. We also have families now. Spouses and children not only complicate travel plans, but also change the priorities for the days we do get off work.
So instead of big travel plans, we had everyone over to our place for a barbecue. Nothing extravagant, just burgers, but not the fast-food inspired burgers that a thirty year old would like. No, we’re gourmeting this shit up! We wanted to stuff the burgers, but couldn’t decide with what. Bacon, blue cheese, grilled onions, Tabasco, Worcestershire? So we made it “Build Your Own” and put about thirty ingredients out with the raw meat. It went over great, and even better, I didn’t have to spend the whole time cooking. Everyone actually grilled up their own concoctions after putting it together.
Had I attempted this at age thirty, I am sure half the guests would have ended up with salmonella. But at forty we all properly washed hands, cooked burgers to a nice medium, and survived. And half of every couple limited their alcohol intake , so that everyone could get home safely and at a reasonable hour. Back to our families. Back to our careers.
Because irresponsibility, it turns out, is the first thing to go.