Next Tuesday, June 1, I will observe my 58th birthday.

All right, all together now: “BIIIIIIIIIIIGGG DEAL!”

Well, yeah, for me it actually kind of is a big deal. On a couple of levels.

For one thing, it further puts the lie to a couple of teachers I had back in high school who, for whatever reason, fully expected me to have joined the Choir Invisible long before now. To this day I’m not really sure just why they had me, of all people, pegged for an early demise. But they did.

Maybe it has something to do with that whole “only the good die young” mindset. In a class with seemingly more than it’s share of “dopeheads, troublemakers, lowlifes and agitators” (to use a phrase popular with another of my high school teachers - and yeah, it was not an entirely fair label but it did have some truth to it), I was the kid who followed the rules, listened to my parents, wasn’t experimenting wih drugs, and never understood the attraction of going out Friday nights and getting drunk and getting so drunk that all day Saturday was spent throwing up.

In other words, I was the BORING kid. The one who rebelled against the status quo not by getting into trouble, but by staying out of it. The one made fun of by even some members of the Chess Club for not being “with it.” 

Whatever that meant.

In four years of high school, the only time I was ever sent to the principal’s office was the time one of the other teachers caught Melissa and me giving one another a quick peck of a kiss in front of my locker before heading off to our respective next classes.

There was naughtier stuff than that going on in the afternoon reruns of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family that aired on one of our local UHF stations at the time. Heck, there was naughtier stuff than that going on under the stairwell at the other end of the hallway.

But Mrs. May was... well, Mrs. May. She was known to punish couples for simply holding hands while walking down the hallway; by comparison, that quick smooch at my locker must have looked like the annual Saturnalia Festival at Hugh Hefner’s mansion. 

So after giving us one of her trademark fire-and-brimstone lectures about the evils in a harmless peck between high school sweethearts, she ordered us to the principal’s office for what I’m sure she thought would be a further sermon on the evils of public lip-locking and the much-deserved consignment of our souls to Perdition if we didn’t beg forgiveness for our sin.

Instead, the principal just laughed and rolled his eyes when he heard why we’d showed up unannounced. 

“Oh, that Mrs. May really needs to find herself a new hobby,” he said. “Next time just go hide under the stairwell like all the other kids.” 

Then he sent us back to class. And Melissa and I kept right on giving one another quick kisses before going to class - but never before looking around to make sure Mrs. May wasn’t making like Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched, waiting to catch us in the act.  

And THAT, Gentle Reader, was the extent of my teenage rebellion. 

Like I said: boring.

Another reason that turning 58 is significant for me is the realization it brings that, in just two years, I will be the same age that my maternal grandfather was when he passed away the November after I graduated from high school in 1981. When I pointed out this little item of trivia to Melissa the other day, she poked me in the ribs and told me to stop talking like that.

“Well, it’s not like I’m planning on going anywhere anytime soon,” I told her. “I don’t want you thinking you’re going to be getting rid of me quite that easily.” I thought it was the properly consoling thing to say, but all it got me was another poke in the ribs...

Even so, it is something I find myself feeling like I need to think about sometimes. While in general I like to think of myself as a reasonably happy guy, there are times when my mood becomes a little dark and I am confronted with the all-too-realistic awareness that I’ve reached that stage in life where my yesterdays outnumber my tomorrows.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Of all the great cosmic injustices I have encountered in this life, I think perhaps the greatest injustice of all is the fact that growing up takes so long - while growing old takes so little time at all.

And yet...

Because I attended college at an older age than most of my classmates at the time, I often saw myself even in my mid-20s as something of an old man. So much so that once, while taking part in a conversation with some of those classmates in which they shared some of their favorite memories from childhood, I made the casual observation that there were times I couldn’t remember ever having been a kid.

To which my buddy James Tew quickly responded, “Funny, I have a hard time thinking of you as anything other than a kid.”

To this day it remains one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. And the memory of it always seems to help bring me up whenever those dark moods threaten to get the better of me. Because it reminds me of the importance of keeping one’s inner child alive.

For me that means continuing to enjoy some of the things that brought me joy when I was a kid. Which is why my desk at the office is adorned with a toy Batmobile and an Uncle Scrooge action figure and a miniature statue of the Lawgiver from the original Planet of the Apes movies.  


It is why I still play with Legos, still enjoy pulling out my old View-Master reels, still pull those boxes of my old comic books out of the garage and re-read them for the umpteenth hundredth time and wish they still made 'em like they used to. (I'm sorry, kids, but today’s comic books just plain SUCK. Wait, no, I'm sorry, that was rude; what I meant to say is that they inhale with great enthusiasm.)

From time to time, when I think I can get away with it, I'll even have a bowl of Cap'n Crunch cereal for breakfast. On a really good day I find time to eat my cereal while watching my cartoon DVDs and reliving those glorious Saturdays of my youth. 

Who says there's no such thing as time travel?

So yeah, I like acting like a big kid - but I also try to keep a positive attitude about this business of growing older. Granted, some days it's easier than others. Especially when I find myself fighting with some new piece of technology that young kids are handling like old pros.

Or when some of those young kids start in with their damnable “Okay, Boomer” tommyrot.

Or when I'm walking past the candy aisle at the grocery store and I hear those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups start singing their siren song...

Oh, yeah, there’s something else that I nearly forgot to mention. On the same day I turn 58, my oldest son Josh turns 30. He’s two years older than I was when we had him. Suddenly I’m the father of a middle-aged man; I’ll admit, I’m having a little trouble wrapping my head around that.

Still, it could be worse. After all, by the time Mozart was my age he’d been dead for 23 years. 

All things considered, then, I must admit that there’s a certain sense of satisfaction in having made it this far being just the “boring guy.”

(Copyright © 2021 by John A. Small)