a. curled up in a fetal ball on my darkened apartment floor listening to Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself”
b. shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die
c. badgering everyone I know to show up at a bar so I can act like my life is like this all the time
d. like a pedestrian stepping over a homeless person on the sidewalk, pretending this shit just isn’t happening.
The correct answer, of course, is E, all of the above. Actually, I’ll go to work and catch a bus late afternoon to go back to PA for a few days on a long summer weekend. Why? Because there’s only one person my birthday matters to, and it aint me. It’s my mom, who’s getting on in years, and I know she’d love to see me on that day. I’m due for a few days off anyway, so what the hell, it’s always good to get back to the country in the summer.
I already gave myself a present of sorts, which I’ll feel a lot better about once I get my “economic stimulus” check which should have arrived last week: a new laptop, which I’m typing on now, a great present, as the old Compaq I bought in 2002 was getting long in the tooth, and it felt like “goodbye old paint” putting that thing down, a great computer that served me well. I now have the quandary of trying to find an American flag decal to put on the new one – the one I got for the Compaq came in the mail from the bank on 9/11/02 (in memory), and it just doesn’t feel right to work on a laptop without an American flag decal on it. Where do you buy these things?
This thing has a webcam. You will never see a picture of me posted from this webcam. Why? Because I gave the thing a test run, and based on this and other webcam photos I’ve seen, it’s virtually impossible not to look like a web-surfing pedophile and/or serial killer in a webcam picture. I looked like a fucking maniac. It’s something about the positioning of the head, the downcast eyes, the lighting – none of it works. I looked like I was obviously masturbating as you couldn’t see my hands, and the look on my face I can only describe as disturbing.
No joke, every birthday since 20, I’m convinced, is designed to make people feel like assholes. Think about it. 21, you’re already being cast in that “getting older” light as compared to a fixed point in your teenage past. You can legally drink now, ergo, the thrill is gone. Mid 20s, you’re freaked out over having a real job for a few years and realizing your life has radically changed form the carefree teen days of yore. Late 20s, you’re fretting over turning 30, that big, foreboding bridge with a number you no longer associate with wild youth. Early 30s, if you’re a woman, you’re thinking about slinging a pup, if you’re a man, thinking that you should be on schedule to get hitched and grow up and have kids, etc, the whole package. Mid-30s, that first experience of being considered irrelevant and invisible by society (which is actually liberating …). Late 30s, staring down 40, even though you did the same stupid dance 10 years earlier. 40, you’re “middle aged” now and on a whole new level of responsibility and maturity (my ass). Early 40s, you start realizing guys who run companies and states or countries are roughly your age, so what the fuck have you done, etc.
I should point out that in my 20s, the great barometer I used to judge age and passing time was Playboy centerfolds: how old I was in comparison to them. At first, you're either the same age or slightly younger, and feel great about this. By your late 20s, you're seeing girls with musical and cultural tastes glaringly a few years behind yours, and you think, as you hold the magazine with one hand, "Man, what would I talk about with this young girl?" In your 30s, you cast yourself as the slightly older man who would guide Bambi through the rapids of her late 20s, as she realizes Mondays and cigar smoke really are a turn-off. In your 40s, dude, give it up, you're spanking it to girls who could be your daughter. At some point, you recognize the insanity of it all, how these women don't even look like that normally, and even if they did, their minds are so geared to being eye candy, you recognize that unless you're speeding through life on a jet ski with hundred dollar bills fluttering in your wake, you may as well let go and read the highly informative articles.
Man, it goes on. The point being, you’re always supposed to feel like you’re not doing something right, or if you are, why are you doing it, for whom, for what reasons, do they matter, etc. I don’t think I have to tell you I delight in jettisoning every possible mind-fuck thrown my way. Age is no different. All this psychological bullshit we attach to it is purely artificial, like so many of the worthless judgments we attach to our lives to give them false (generally more important than they really are) meaning and weight.
I’m all for growing up – what I’ve learned is it just happens. You age, and if you’re smart, you simply mature as you go along. I look at it as there being two types of people in the world: people who like to break beer bottles on a sidewalk, and people who will clean up that glass so other people don’t have to deal with the bullshit of broken glass. I’ve never been the bottle-breaker type, which would have pained me to acknowledge well into my 30s, but you know what, when I’m out there, say, cleaning up a smashed wine bottle on my landlord’s sidewalk, like I did Saturday, I feel a lot better doing something like that than I ever possibly could doing something as assholic as smashing a bottle like that in the first place.
What I’m trying to say is there’s nothing romantic about being an asshole. Being an asshole is just being an asshole. And you’re either busy being an asshole, or you’re busy caring about other people in some sense.
These are the things I’ve learned living next to schoolyards. Watching the unfettered 15-year-old male mind go through the motions, and knowing that it’s not an age thing, you’re either geared to be an asshole or you’re not. “Maybe he’ll grow out of it!” No, he won’t. It will just shift shapes and come out in other more acceptable ways. I’ve learned the same thing working in offices. And living in New York. Watching people base their entire lives on a value system that makes no sense and is nothing but a grind.
I sometimes feel stunted living around here, surrounded by so many people who are “on fire with ambition” or some such crap. Ambitious for what? That’s a question I find myself asking a lot these days, because I honestly don’t understand what people are ambitious for. The answer always seems to be the same to me when you strip away the layers: power. In whatever form it’s perceived. Usually in very base, easy-to-digest, visible ways: money, sex, social standing, etc. Strip away all the layers, and it’s self respect. Which you either have, or you don’t, no matter how much shit you pile on your life in hopes of impressing other people.
One of the message boards I read got into a discussion the other day about women “settling on schlubs.” Usually fat schlubs – apparently no such thing as thin schlubs. Or young schlubs. Guys who smoke dope and play video games past their adolescence. Or middle-management types who will never be rich. Etcetera. You know the drill. My advice to women is don’t "settle" on anything. Actually, my best advice is masturbate the rest of your days. But the whole discussion was another of those mind fucks. Like there’s some ideal: a thin man, always handsome and well-dressed at any age, think David Bowie, wealthy, at the top of his profession, etc.
If there’s one thing women should learn about “ambitious” men, it’s that their ambitions are more important to them than women are. Women are secondary, at best, to that above-noted glamorous image. And chances are, that image aint all it’s cracked up to be. We’re all just people, and you’re more than likely to find more insufferable, arrogant pricks supporting that image, with women being just another accessory to the lifestyle – not the loves of their life, and they sure as hell aren’t Prince Charming. You don’t “complete” them – and fuck that lantern-jawed pussy Cameron Crowe for putting forth such a misleading Lifetime Network-friendly concept.
None of this shit accounts for working-class people, guys working in factories, or on farms, just going about their lives, never getting rich, that’s out of the question, just guys working, maybe with a wife and kids, not overly concerned with appearances, just getting on in life. There are millions of people like this out there – hell, I’m one of them and willing to bet you the reader might be, too – as opposed to people who see themselves as shining stars around which the world revolves. Jesus Christ, where I’m working now, the guys running the place look like The Three Stooges and act like four year olds. These are guys making over half a mil a year, living in mansions and supposedly tapped into “that life” we’re all geared to be yearning for. The one thing they have in common: if not miserable, they always seem under extreme pressure and not very happy. I don’t envy or look up to them. (Don’t pity them either. I don’t pity anyone.)
I’m supposed to want that? I guess if I could trick my mind into believing all that shit mattered, it would work, but I just can’t. Wish I could! It’s always made more sense to me to go through life asking questions, mainly why you do the things you do, with little regard to how this appears to anyone else. Granted, you can get caught in a vacuum with that kind of mindset, but you also need to look around, see how other people are living, learn from them, see good things worth working towards, bad things to avoid. Move forward, with time, which doesn’t give a shit what age you are. Age is meaningless to time. It’s a social construct we’ve created to clarify passing time. You just go to move. That’s all. I took a boxing class today that would put your average person down like a dog. It would make a professional boxer laugh. On a scale of 1 to 10 of physical fitness, it would require about 6.5, 1 being someone who does nothing, 10 being a professional athlete. 6.5 is nothing to scoff at!
And I note that, because when my parents were in their 40s, back in the 1970s, I don’t recall them ever working out. You get in a time machine, grab my Dad from 1974, put him that boxing class with me, his only response, from the hospital gurney, would be: “Bill, what the hell are you doing? Training for the olympics?”
Because in his world, in your 40s, you worked all day at the factory, came home to the wife and kids, did work around the house, kept the cars in running order, and basically relaxed when you weren’t punching a clock. I’ve just placed a different value on exercise, which I think is a damn good thing to do at any age. Shit, there’s a lady in our class who told me she’s 72, and looks every minute of it. I asked her why she was there, not insultingly, and she said, this stuff makes me feel alive. Granted, she doesn’t do the full work out, she basically moves as fast as she can, skips the heavy calisthenics, and goes light on the bag. But there she is. At first, I couldn’t stand the sight of her. Jesus Christ, what’s that old bitch doing here again? But after awhile, I realized, that’s an amazing thing this woman is doing, not only to be there, but to have the mindset that this still matters to her, and she wants to do it to the best of her abilities.
And that old bitch simply reinforces how I see the world, how I want to live. I’m not an “age is just a number” person – you get older, you feel it. Christ, two years ago, I got these two little things in my left armpit, I don’t even know what they are – nowhere big as warts, these two minute bits of skin. The next year, I got two more, symmetrically positioned in my right armpit. Seeing these things freaked me out, I still don’t know what they are, but noting the symmetry, all I can figure is it must have something to do with age and the body, things that just happen. After the right armpit, I started checking my neck for gills every morning. I don’t want any more crazy shit growing on my body.
And here’s my birthday present to you. My favorite band, The Gourds, blasting through a strange, disjointed medley of The Beatles songs “Birthday” and “Yer Blues” from a recent show they played. Pull it down and play it in my honor. That’s a good enough present for me.