It started with a notice from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), announcing that he would soon be eligible for membership.

Then a Statement of Earnings arrived from the Social Security Administration. “Because you may be thinking about retirement,” the attached letter said, “we are enclosing this statement for your information.”

Damn. He couldn’t avoid it.

His 50th birthday.

Fifty. Five-oh. God. Had been 50 years since he emerged from his mother’s womb at a hospital in Tampa, Florida?

Oh, yeah. Fifty years. Or 600 months. Or 18,262 days (including leap years). That added up to 438,288 hours or 26,297,280 minutes or more than one trillion, five-hundred seventy-seven million, eight-hundred, twenty thousand seconds.

And counting.

No wonder he was so Goddamned tired.

He thought back about each preceding decade of his life. At 10, he got his first bicycle, which led to a paper route, which led to the first money he ever earned.

Twenty came in a far-off land and brought back memories he’d just as soon forget.

Thirty? Ah, thirty. He spent his 30th birthday in bed with a girlfriend who promised to make him “feel like you will live forever.” She damn near killed him.

He nursed through a quart of Jose Cuervo gold at 40, downing shot after shot, along with all that lemon and most of a shaker of salt. Not a lot to remember about that day. Probably just as well.

This time around, he’d forgo the both sweet young thing who wanted to ball his brains out and the bottle of Tequila. Instead, he’d nurse an artificial hip that hurts whenever it gets cold or wet and a shoulder that needs rotator cuff surgery.

He’d wonder at just what point he stopped being someone who was always “awfully young to be where you are” to being the oldest one in the office. His last four bosses had been younger than he. He’d felt old when his daughter asked if it was true that Paul McCartney had been in another band before Wings (and that was 15 years ago).

He felt older now when a fellow worker walked into his office while a 60s folk group was playing was on his stereo and asked, “Who’s that?”

“The Kingston Trio.”

“Who?”

Oh well. That was the same kid who talked about somebody called The Spice Girls the other day and he didn’t have the foggiest notion who she was talking about either.

At 40, he could rationalize that maybe, just maybe, his life was not yet half over. A lot of people live past 80. At 50, he knew the crest of the hill was behind him. In fact, he wasn’t even sure he remembered the hump.

His friends tried spin. You are, they told him, only as old as you feel. Great. From that perspective, he didn’t feel 50. He felt much older.

Why was this depressing him so much? Wasn’t 40 supposed to the real problem age? Yet 40 wasn’t any big deal. Maybe it was because he was drunk and missed most of it.

Facing 50 was bad enough. Facing it sober was frightening as hell. But hangovers last a lot longer at 50, so he’d have to be content with the sugar high from the cake that comes with the traditional surprise office birthday party that really isn’t a surprise.

Then he would fill out the AARP form and send it in. At least it would bring discounts at movie theaters.

Hell. Who knows? He might live to be 100.

Or at least 51.

–Doug Thompson
Washington, DC

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