Today I turned 50. Fifty years old. Half a century. Roman numeral L.
They say that age is just a number and mathematically they are right. Aside: Over the next 50 years, I’d like to devote my life to finding who the people are behind the mysterious “they.” Okay, so not the whole 50, maybe just a half hour.
So yeah, age is just a number and if you take that literally then I am the atomic number of tin. In binary, I am 110010. The number 50 is the smallest number that can be written in two different ways as the sum of two square numbers: 50 = 72 + 12 and 50 = 52 and 52.
But let’s leave the math out of it for a moment (or forever). When they say that age is just a number they really mean, “You’re old but we are being polite because I am at your house and you just handed me a glass of wine.” If age is just a number, then I choose pi. Personally, I don’t think I look a day over 47 unless I am in front of the self-check security camera at Target. Those things can make a baby look like Nick Nolte on a bender. Never, ever look at yourself in those things. You’ll spend the rest of the day wondering who’s been slipping the meth into your lemon water.
I don’t mind being 50. It’s actually pretty cool. I’m not one to lie about my age, I always thought that was kind of silly, like hiding your face with your hands and playing the “Where did I go?” game with adults. Tip: If they freak out and can’t find you, move very far away. 50 years old. What an achievement! Back in the 1700s, I would be quite elderly. So lifespan-wise, I am way past average expectancy for a farm worker in colonial Virginia.
The question a lot of people ask at milestone ages, like the formerly elderly 50, is how is your health? How do you feel? And I don’t think they mean are you bloated or gassy, I think they mean how healthy do you feel, i.e.. what body parts are about to fall off and how much pain do you feel when you climb stairs? What do the doctors say?
I feel awesome. I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve been since I was in Air Force basic training in 1990 (I was 20, I saved you the math). I’m getting back to Jane Fonda in-shape status since ignoring that part of my life after 2008 or so. I run about 10 miles per week, I can lift heavy things (sometimes two at once), I can see at least three of my abs, my skin is the appropriate color for a live human being, my coat is shiny and my nose is wet. Which is weird for a human, but by dog standards I am 100%. And I still don’t trust doctors.
It’s been half a frikkin’ century, man. We’ve only had iPhones a quarter of that time. How did I even survive the first 37 years without twitter in my palm? It’s a miracle. Speaking of 37, I liked that age, too, as well as 40 and 21 and 13. Wait. Maybe not 13 so much. But my 13-year old self would think it’s cool that I survived to 50 with all my limbs intact.
While we’re at it, let’s imagine we’ve traveled back in time and have an interview with 13-year old me. We’ll just call me 13 and 50. Let’s go back to 1983. This should be interesting.
50: [materializes like on Star Trek] Hey.
13: GAH!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY ROOM??!?!?
50: Sorry! Sorry! It’s me! I mean, you, I mean me, I mean —
13: [drops Duran Duran cassette] No way.
50: Way. I’m you at 50 years old. I’m from the future.
13: Really? But you’re like, really old. And you don’t look like me. Where are your glasses? And your teeth are different.
50: We get braces in a couple years. And we had LASIK in 2006.
13: What’s LASIK? Is that like Kirk’s Retinacs in Wrath of Kahn? This is too weird. Prove you’re me.
50: [picks up Duran Duran tape] I know you figured out how to tape over the holes and record on these. You just lost half of Hungry Like the Wolf and you’ve been trying to re-record it from the radio ever since.
13: Okay, you’re me. Did you come to bring me a new tape?
50: It’s 2020. We don’t listen to tapes anymore, we listen to digital music on these [shows iPhone]. Well, aren’t you impressed by the technology of your future?
13: Uh, I guess. I have one of those. But mine plays games, too. [holds up Merlin]
50: Okay, never mind. Do you want to ask me any questions? Like, what’s the future like, do we have flying cars, like that?
13: Wow! Do we have flying cars?!?
13: But they said that by 1995, we would —
50: Yeah, they still say that kind of stuff. Anything else?
13: Where do we live?
50: In a suburb of Los Angeles, with our wife, kids, dog and cat.
13: Woa! Cool! What kind of dog?
50: Wait, that’s what you want to know? What about our family?
13: Uh, I’m 13, duh.
50: Right. Sorry. Quincy is a Lab/Border Collie mix. He’s black with white spots.
13: Do we have a pool?
50: [sigh] No.
13: Oh. I wanted a pool. Okay, so who did we marry? Do I know her?
50: Sort of. You haven’t officially met her yet. Actually, I probably shouldn’t be telling you this part because it might mess up the space/time continuum.
13: What are you talking about?
50: You know, like from Back to the — oops. Never mind.
13: What? Oh – do we still like Madonna? Or will that mess up the space continent thing?
50: It’s complicated.
13: Okay, do we still draw stuff?
50: Yup. In fact, people have even paid us to do it.
13: Cool! So what’s our job? Where do we work?
50: We work from home. We run a couple of our own businesses. Printing. Computer stuff.
13: Oh. Computer stuff is cool, I guess. [yawn] Do we do anything really cool, like fly planes or hang out with celebrities?
50: We’ve known a few. We worked on a TV show and some movies. It’s really not as exciting as Entertainment Tonight makes it sound.
13: Have we been to anywhere cool, like Florida?
50: Oh yeah! Actually, we lived in Germany, New York, Chicago, Portland, D.C.. We’ve been to the Arctic Circle and Dubai. London. Paris. It’s been pretty awesome.
13: Wow, that’s cool. But have we been to Florida?
50: Wait. Didn’t you just go last year? Disney World? Kennedy Space Center?
13: Yeah, but I mean again. Did we ever go to Florida again?
50: [sigh] Yes, we went to Florida a bunch of times.
50: [sigh] I guess. Anything else you want to know?
13: [pointing to my Converse] How come you wear old basketball shoes? Is it because you’re old?
50: What? These are cool. Chucks are awesome.
13: [picks up Kangaroos] Yeah, but they don’t have zipper pockets. What else happens? Do we have a lot of money? Is our house really huge, like a mansion?
50: We make a living. Right now, we live in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. Kind of like this one.
13: I thought I might live in a mansion.
50: Well, you’re 13-year old me. Things change. I don’t get very excited about mansions and money anymore.
13: What do you get excited about now?
50: Great food, traveling, hanging with my wife, hiking with my kids, writing, running, computers, lots of stuff.
13: What’s… hanging?
50: Oh. Hanging out. We just shortened it to hanging. I don’t really know why. Do you have any other questions?
13: Mmmm, not really. I kinda want to get back to the [jerks thumb at tape deck], you know?
50: Oh, yes. Right. Sorry to disturb you. I guess I thought you would be full of questions.
13: I don’t know, I guess I don’t really want to know everything. I’d rather be surprised.
50: Well, that never changes. Okay, well, see ya. Oh! I almost forgot. WEAR YOUR RETAINER.
13: Uh. Sure? Okay. Bye. [turns back to tape deck]
Okay, so wow. 13-year old me was more difficult than I remember. It’s good to be back in the present. It’s fun to look back on the last 50, but I’d rather start looking ahead to the next half-century.
I’m excited. I mean, I did some crazy things in the last 50. I tested the boundaries in lots of ways. I also matured and moved my focus from what kind of crazy shit can I do next to taking care of my family. Maybe it was a little mixed. I think the next 50 will be a little bit of a mix, too.
I’m changing careers again. Maybe that’s not exactly accurate because I’m not closing up the screen printing business any time soon. I will always be an illustrator. So I’m adding another career onto the others. I’ve always dabbled in coding since I was in grade school and over the years have built websites using HTML and CSS. I did some ActionScript back when Flash was a thing (Google it, Millennials). Now I’m jumping full into PHP and WordPress backend development and feeling exhilarated by it. Yes, I said I get exhilarated by writing code. If I was writing code while flying in a stunt plane while eating a huge bowl of garlic tofu, I might just dematerialize again.
Other things I’m looking forward to. It’s taken me almost 50 years to come to terms with my gender and stop letting my fear of what other people think dictate how I look. That’s exciting, too. It’s no small thing. It’s easy to read motivational quotes about being yourself, but it’s another thing entirely to live it.
My father wrote to me for my birthday and said that he was surprised he made it to his 70s and is happy to see me turn 50. I’m equally surprised at both of those things, but like him, I’m excited to see what my kids will do and who they will become over the next 50 years. I hope they take lots of chances and don’t worry so much about screwing things up. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s harder to completely screw up your life than it sometimes seems.
I’m going to avoid the Target security cameras and toxic people. I’m going to focus on what I want to happen rather than what I don’t want to happen. I’m going to keep doing things that are challenging and creative rather than just spend my time collecting material objects. I’m going to stop worrying about impressing other people and impress myself. I’m going to stop spending money I don’t have. I’m going to surround myself with people who are curious about everything and want to keep evolving.
Other things: I’m going to start playing my trumpet again, just because. I might take up tennis, and not just for the clothes. I have a very long list of countries that Jenni and I still need to visit. Sail to Hawaii. Swim the English Channel – or maybe just eat an English muffin on a boat. Make more art. Exhibit my art. Meet more people, build a community that helps others. Run a marathon. I really like coconut ice cream, let’s have more of that. Drink the bourbon, paint my nails all different colors (maybe not in that order). I’m sure I’ll think of more things.
Okay. I’m going to leave you with a few quotes, because I really like them and mostly because I’m getting tired of thinking of my own material.
“I’ve enjoyed every age I’ve been and each has had its own individual merit. Every laugh line, every scar, is a badge I wear to show I’ve been present, the inner rings of my personal tree trunk that I display proudly for all to see. Nowadays, I don’t want a “perfect” face and body; I want to wear the life I’ve lived.” — Pat Benatar
“Never too late to learn some embarrassingly basic, stupidly obvious things about oneself.” — Alain de Botton
“You only live once. But if you do it right, once is enough.” – Mae West
“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.” – Coco Chanel
“You know you’re 50 when you’re in an elevator when your favorite song comes on.” – Unknown
“Be Bold.” – Eddie Izzard