OLD

by E.C. Fish on March 10, 2011

“Life is sad, life is a bust
All you can do is do what you must…”
–Bob Dylan

 

“We do, doodily do, doodily do, doodily do
What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must,
Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do,
Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust.”
— Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

 

“I have learned from my mistakes, and I am sure I can repeat them exactly.”
–Peter Cook

 

I have somehow maintained after all these years the mental habit of, on birthdays, becoming “almost” the age I will actually be on the birthday following, the “and a half” canard found wanting for taking six whole months to kick in. This made a bit of sense when I was much younger, and was keen to grow up, and a bit more when I was a late adolescent, and my ability to convincingly leave the “almost” off could mean the difference between beverage and no beverage. Today, it makes no sense at all.

As of yesterday, I am almost fifty.

This comes as something of a surprise. Folks my age thought we had the whole “live fast, die young” thing in the bag. Our main question at this point concerning the version of the future we now find ourselves living in is not so much “Hey, where’s my jet pack?” but “Hey, whatever happened to our global thermonuclear war?” Back at One Minute to Midnight, we were all half convinced we’d be a pile of irradiated ashes by now. Rod Serling promised. Ronald Reagan threatened. All we were was dust in the wind. No future for us. Party on.

But whoops! No apocalypse. It should have been expected that life would switch things up on us– that’s what life does– and those of us born into Camelot in the early ‘60‘s have been the butt of quite a few punch lines. We were, we were told, Baby Boomers, part of that massive, decades-spanning post World War Two generational cohort that turned out to be just so much demographic laziness. The real Boomers got the ’60’s and the hippies and the sexual revolution. We late Boomer afterthoughts got the ’70’s and the yuppies and the STD and AIDS epidemics. The Class of ’80, who came of age in a milieu of mellow decadence, would before the year was out see the election of Ronald Reagan and the assassination of John Lennon. Whoops– wrong planet.

In the end, all our apocalyptic background noise got us was a predisposition towards hysteria and fear that the Powers That Be started using to lead us by the nose through one “unprecedented state of crisis” after another shortly after the aforementioned 1980 election. What was truly unprecedented were the increasing liberties taken with the rules, the truth, and the common good, liberties that have escalated for my entire political life. Even Richard Nixon, to paraphrase Neil Young, had soul. George W Bush, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell? Not so much.

But enough of that– this is starting to sound a bit like cane-waving “back in my day” nostalgia, and I’m not quite there yet. And as depressing as a working birthday in the late Minnesota winter can be, there are blessings to be counted. I am not, for example, dead, certainly not from apocalypse, nor from the self-destruction, misadventure, or biological bad luck that have already taken friends and acquaintances of mine. I have people, friends and family and friends who might as well be family, who love and care about me, a few of whom are largely responsible for my being able to count the blessing I counted in the last sentence. I have other people for whom I will wake up and face another day just for the possibility that it will spite them– bless you folks for keeping up my cussedness. And by sheer dumb luck I was born into a place and time wherein on the worst day I could ever possibly have, I would still be considerably better off than the vast majority of people on the planet, both currently and historically.

All told, it is probably more than I deserve, but I’ll take it, and I want some more. Many happy returns, y’all.

(This piece originally appeared on the web site The Pubhouse Dialogues)

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