Most of the people my age is dead. You could look it up.
~ CASEY STENGEL, as related by ROGER ANGELL
Today is my birthday, an occasion that I have tried to ignore since I was a youngster and my mother would prepare my favorite dinner of hot dogs and French fries with ice cream cake roll for dessert. But this birthday is different because I find myself two thirds of the way to the century mark and, despite sundry debilitations and the loss of friends, all of which I will bore you with shortly, I am a happy guy.
This state of mind comes as somewhat of a surprise as old age, at least in the chronological sense, has crept up on me.
It seems like only yesterday -- or perhaps it was the day before yesterday -- that I had a crush on my 6th grade teacher (a hottie who was already old at the age of 25 in my young eyes). That I celebrated my 21st birthday in five states (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Total Inebriation). That I turned an untrustworthy 30 (at a Grateful Dead concert), my 40th and 50th birthdays (I don't remember the exact circumstances because I was headed for and then working through a lengthy bout depression), and my 60th birthday (in the company of a Tall Blonde who had blasted me out of my emotional doldrums).
Having spent the last half of 2013 looking at hospital room ceilings and painfully graduating from wheelchair to walker to cane after bone fractures suffered under the most mundane of circumstances, as opposed to a hard landing while skydiving or chasing Jennifer Lawrence, I should be pretty bummed out.
There indeed have been moments when I felt blue, but I have had some very effective therapy in the form of completing a book, some three years in the writing, that celebrates the lives of some of my dearest friends -- with whom I lived on a farm during the 1970s -- "a kidney stone of a decade," as a character in the Doonesbury comic strip once characterized that time, but was a joyous odyssey for our little tribe.
* * * * *Aside from, or perhaps because of its therapeutic aspects, writing for me has become "a feat of self-preservation," to quote the preeminent novelist Philip Roth. Over a 45-year career that included thousands of newspaper bylines, writing put food on the table, gas in the car, and nappies on my children's bums.
I stopped writing when I first quit the newspaper business after 35 largely rewarding years and some three weeks before the 9/11 attacks, which felt kind of like being a fireman without a pole to slide down, let alone a truck to speed to the blaze in. (Roth did the same thing a couple of years ago insofar as novels are concerned after a two dozen books and several decades on the New York Times bestseller list.) I eventually came to realize that writing was my lifeblood. Hence a second career as a blogger and penning a true-crime murder mystery book that has sold well enough to keep me in single-malt Scotch, if not on the Times bestseller list.
And now There's A House In The Land (Where A Band Can Take A Stand), my rather cumbersomely titled tome about that little tribe.
Eight of the 22 members of the tribe are dead. So I suppose I should be grieving over this rather hefty toll. Or at least feeling its emotional weight. But I have shed more tears over Bart, the farm's Irish Setter, than these friends, who come through in my memories -- and my 60,000-word memoir, now delivered to the publisher -- as a wonderfully spirited bunch who surely would disapprove if they know I was mourning their passing instead of celebrating their lives.
* * * * *
At the age of 93, Roger Angell, the legendary baseball writer and longtime New Yorker editor, has a bit more than a half century on me, but I could relate and then some to what he wrote in a recent essay: "Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. . . . I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again."
Good luck (okay, mostly) over seven decades certainly has something to do with the fact I'm still vertical. But I hasten to note that I first got together with that doldrum-blasting Tall Blonde at the funeral for one of those eight friends, and that was nearly 17 years ago. The fact we're still going strong (talk about bare expanses of shoulder!) goes a long way to explaining why, along with celebrating and not mourning the dear departed members of that tribe, I am a happy guy two thirds of the way to the Big One-Oh-Oh.