The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

birthdaycakeYou want to make a 3 1/2-year-old laugh? Tell them you’re turning 42.

My kids are convinced I’m screwing with them.

“How old do you think I am, guys?”

They’ll think for a minute. “4?”

They’ve heard of kids who are 6 or even — gasp — 7, but they can’t imagine an age as big as 42. It wasn’t until very recently that I could imagine turning 42 myself, like in the last few weeks. When I was a kid, I used to imagine myself in high school, or in college… and that was about it. In part, it’s because I was convinced back then that there would be a nuclear war that would, at best, leave me hairlessly wandering a scorched hellscape where age had no relevance. So at least we dodged that bullet.

But today’s the day. I’ve lived 42 years on this planet. Laugh if you must.

In my head, I haven’t changed much from when I was a teenager. I still have a lot of the same insecurities and fears. I still judge myself by the aspirations I had when I was 16, even though I’m nothing like the person I was then. I want to smack that kid, seriously.

And I don’t believe that bullshit that you’re as young as you feel. I’m 42. Check my driver’s license and you’ll see.

I’ve given up on being celebrated for my youth. I was never on anybody’s list of Top 20 Under 20 or Top 30 Under 30, and nobody does a list of the Top 43 Under 43, so screw it all to Hell.

I’m not trying to say that I feel bad about getting older. What do I look like? Some kind of asshole?

Whenever I actually feel bad about getting older, I try to remember two people. One is Future Jerry. Future Jerry is a guy who means a lot to me, and he hates when I call myself “old”, because Future Jerry is always going to be older than I am. “You think you’re old now?” he says to me. “Just wait!”

I’ve been as guilty of prematurely feeling old as everyone else. I think back now on how I felt when I turned 30, with a mixture of disbelief and dread. How could I ever have thought 30 was old? I was so lucky to be 30. Then I realize that someday, I’m going to feel that way about being 42. And by then, maybe we’ll have invented time travel, so I can actually travel back in time and smack myself. 42 is a whippersnapper by many people’s standards. Why wait until it’s gone to appreciate it? I’m 42. Yeehaw!

The other person I try to think of when I fear growing older is Heather O’Rourke. You may not remember her name, but she’s the little girl who said, “They’re heeeeeeeere!” in Poltergeist. Then in Poltergeist 2, she said, “They’re baaaaaaaack!” Then, while she was filming Poltergeist 3, she died.

Bummer, huh? Heather O’Rourke lived to be 12 years old. That’s it. That’s as far as she got, and you know what she says to me from inside my television whenever I complain about turning 42?

heatherorourke“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yoooooooooou!”

Heather O’Rourke never learned to drive. Never got to waste six years of her life watching Lost. And she never got to whine about turning 42. She has my permission to complain about her age.

Then, if I’m feeling really morbid, I think about the billions of others who never made it as far as she did and never got to meet Steven Spielberg either.

There are places on this planet where the average life expectancy is 12, and here in America, people blush and insist they’re still 29 because they’re embarrassed to say how old they really are. Embarrassed? You should be wearing a freaking badge. “I made it to 50!” You’d be the envy of everyone in Zambia.

Age is a gift. That’s why we don’t count backwards from death. Well, that and the fact that we don’t know when we’re going to die, and that’s another reason to appreciate the time we get. Every birthday I make it to signifies one more year I didn’t get run over by a truck or get cancer, that I wasn’t killed by some asshole’s homemade bomb or didn’t fall victim to depression, drugs or alcohol abuse. It’s one more year I got to play XBox, waste money on sneakers endorsed by professional skateboarders and watch my kids learn to sass me with increasing cleverness.

After they’re done laughing at me, my kids will ask, “Am I going to be 42 someday?”

“Yes,” I say, and then I’ll think to myself, “… if you’re lucky.”

42 years. Happy birthday to me.

*****

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Shamelessly yours,

Jerry