900poundgorilla is turning fifty. Not the blog, but the monkey pounding the keys…no pun intended. Some would say that’s a milestone, others might wonder who’s to be held accountable for that? I think a couple of the later read the blog.
But god, if I hear another person ask me, ‘how’s it feel to turn the big five-oh,’ or ‘this is the big one,’ well then, Houston, we might have a problem. And I know it causes the wife a bit of heartache. Not because I’ve become any more insufferable than normal, but because she’s really excited about this birthday. I think she’s more excited by it than I am. Ana keeps asking what I would like to do for my ‘special day.’ The answer is, really nothing special.
Truth of it is, I’ve never really been preoccupied with numbers for birthdays. Eighteen came and went with little fanfare. Twenty-one, which in Illinois was the age to drink legally, was a yawn. I’d been drinking for a number of years, which my parents would acknowledge from a few notable moments during my high school years. Thirty? Thirty was an awakening, as I was off to Bosnia and Europe for the first time and studying sculpture under the late master, Milton Horn-while learning some truly salacious things about Horn’s long-time friend Frank Lloyd Wright. And fifty? Well, I’ll admit it’s something, but not what most might think.
Truly, is it a milestone that I managed to survive these 50 years, mostly despite myself? 2 wars, dozens of protests and social causes, bullet fragment in the shin, more car accidents than I care to relate here (most as a kid, and none in the last dozen years or so), breaking damn near every bone in my body, a harrowing drive home back in ’82 in which I was way too drunk to drive, but even drunker to walk, stitches, concussions, fights, frostbite, a near drowning, getting too close to a gang shooting and women. Women, I have to say, were probably the potentially deadliest of all those adventures. The odds were plainly against my surviving any one of those, or at the least ending up in jail at some point. But I did, by the grace of whatever, survive, and managed to keep out of jail to boot.
If anything, my parents deserve the lion’s share of credit. Whatever common sense, reason and powers of negotiation that allowed me to escape all manner of tragedies and alternate fates I got from them. They also, out of benevolent mercy, supreme patience, or a healthy respect for the law, failed to murder me when I was a smart-ass punk all those early years. So for that, I say all due credit goes to them.
Not that there isn’t merit to going out in some dramatic way. Secretly, I’ve always been a bit jealous of people who get eaten by, say, a bear, or that guy in California that got munched a couple years ago by an escaped tiger. An escaped tiger! Can you hear it…?
“Say, what happened to Joe?”
“Oh, he wasted away slowly, bitter and angry at the end, feeling that life never quite realized all its full promise, his dreams crushed and broken. Too sad really.”
…as opposed to…
“So what happened to Joe?”
“Joe was eaten by a freakin’ lion!”
The other credit for my having survived this long, or at the very least not living on a park bench somewhere, goes to my wife-who also surprisingly has not murdered me yet. And just for the record, or a future jury, if she does, I had it coming. She should walk, and maybe get a reward. A girl can just take so much! No doubt this whole deal with the birthday thing is stressing her out because she so wants it to be special, and I could really care less. Well, not exactly. There are a few things I would like for my fiftieth birthday?
I can tell you what I don’t want. I don’t want any of those #&$%$ing “over the Hill” shirts, hats, boxer shorts, depends, bumper stickers, cups, napkins, or cakes. Don’t send me any cards with old people, bikini clad grandma’s with quippy sayings. Don’t gift me any campy chattering false teeth, break in case of an emergency Viagra gags. I don’t wear slipper or robes, and I am not looking to settle down with that book I been meaning to read now that I have this time gifts. I am not itching for a fling, a sports car, wanting flashy jewelry to assert my station in life, darkening my hair or combing it over, clinging to guns or becoming more conservative. Please don’t refer to me as an old man, or any of that. I still bench 250 pounds, cover an average of a hundred miles a week on the bike(a hard ride, not a wobbly middle-aged guy awkwardly guilt-ridden and concerned over his mushrooming blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and feel pretty damned healthy (this will be the line everyone quotes on the off chance I drop like a rock in the next couple months).
What I do want is what I have tried to champion the last 22 years. I would like to know that at the end of that, my contribution to a better world meant something. In my memoir of the Bosnian Genocide, “Everything for Love,” I illustrated that we are the agents of evil done to one another and to the planet by our own selfish nature, and that it is in rising to our communal nature that we begin to overcome that self-serving weakness. It was the reason I stood before thousands of Chinese students demonstrating for peace after Tiananmen, climbed an embattled mountain above besieged Sarajevo, organized relief to Rwanda, and stood arm in arm with Occupy. I stand for human dignity and against war as a relic of our primitive past, not the justifiable and inevitable evil promoted and pretended by the vindictive, the ignorant and greedy. War is only-only emotion co-opting intellect, or worse, parading at intellect.
In “Broken,” I tried to describe the intimate nature of Post Traumatic Stress, and the power each of us holds for redemption. Danny, the main character in the book, an Iraq War veteran, wants some accounting, some purpose for the trials that spun his life in a direction he had not planned; like each of us. And at the end of 50 years I can attest fully, and confess to each of you now that I did not in fact become an astronaut/alien slaying soldier/dinosaur hunter. But I did stand, and I did stand for something, even if I stood alone. Why I didn’t actually become that astronaut/dinosaur hunter, well, that’s just how life goes.