This Tuesday, I turn 38.
It’s not much of a milestone, as far as birthdays go — although it does mean I’ve successfully kept myself alive for yet another rotation of the Earth around the Sun, and that’s not exactly nothing.
However, I’m not going to become a man, the way I did when I turned 13 (before returning to seventh grade two days later). I won’t qualify for any age-dependent perks, like admittance to the back section of the video store or medically indicated colorectal cancer screening. When I reached legal drinking age, George Clooney was still on “ER;” my first time voting, that infamous blue dress stain was just a gleam in Bill Clinton’s eye.
Speaking of which, I’ve been eligible to run for President of the United States for nearly three years, now. Man, I really should file that paperwork.
Anyway, come Tuesday I’ll only be 27 years away from collecting social security — coincidentally the same year I finish repaying my college loans. Ring the bell!
This Feb. 25, I move to within 39.4 years of achieving average life expectancy for an American male. This means I’m due for my midlife crisis any day now — cool, I always wanted a sports car! — although, if you ask my wife, she’d say I already hit it the day I set up a drum kit and started videotaping myself playing along to Steve Miller songs.
I’ll tell you, though: while my life may be statistically half over, I really don’t feel much older than I did in 1995, back when it was only a quarter-finished (actuarially speaking).
But as a wise man once said, “time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping… into the future.” And, indeed, it has slipped in certain ways. For instance, these days, I don’t “fly like an eagle” as much I “groan when I stand up.” This ski season alone I’ve blown through a whole bottle of ibuprofen. It’s literally become a recreational drug for me, in that I now must take at least three ibuprofens immediately following any recreational activity — antacid, too, if that activity involves eating chili-cheese fries afterward (which, invariably, it does).
Further differences: I contribute to an IRA. I bathe regularly. I admonish children to finish their vegetables, brush their teeth and “quit horsing around.”
Other than that, I’m basically just an achier, cleaner, slightly more dyspeptic, fiscally responsible version of my 19.35-year-old self, who also wields the power to take away dessert.
And that’s how the rest of my family sees me, too, I think. For instance, my grandmother (still kickin’ at 90!) sent me her usual $25 birthday check with a card instructing me to go get a haircut. Hate to break it to you, GG, but I lost the majority of my hair before the turn of the millennium. Now THAT makes me feel old.
Incidentally, while premature male pattern baldness remains one of nature’s cruelest jokes, at least it spares me a fate I’m noticing many contemporaries presently endure: the steady graying of their hair. Although I know it’s only a matter of time before my flame-red beard starts going “creamsicle” and they don’t make Just for Men for gingers, with my baseball cap on — ballcaps are the poor man’s toupee — I sometimes still get carded buying beer.
But the numbers don’t lie. They may be presented in such a way as to obscure the truth — like using Roman numerals, for instance, which confound me to this day — but they don’t lie. No matter what, subtracting my birth year, 1976, from the current year will always equal my current numerical age. On Tuesday, that number will be 38, or, should I say “XXXVIII.”
So rather than focus on what it isn’t — 38 is not “sweet,” nor will it be my Quinceañ-anything — I may as well embrace 38 for what it is.
And precisely what is 38, you ask?
Here’s what I learned:
Thirty-eight is the atomic number of strontium, an element primarily used to produce cathode ray tube TVs. Recently, the world’s strontium market has collapsed due the obsolescence of cathode ray tube TVs. I’m not sure how much I like that metaphor.
It’s also the degree latitude of the pre-war boundary between North and South Korea. Not sure how much I like that metaphor, either.
However, the number 38 figures prominently in Norse mythology, believed to represent unnatural bravery and legendary heroism. Yeah, that’s more like it. Indeed, the Norse divided most legendary sagas into 38 chapters. Makes sense, as anyone who’s ever read “Beowulf” in high school can attest — that thing goes on forever.
Thirty-eight was also significant to ancient Egyptians, as it was the characteristic number of Anubis, the jackal-headed deity of death and mummification. Awesome!
Also, there are 38 slots on an American roulette wheel (37 in European roulette, for those traveling to Monte Carlo anytime soon). And of course, you’ve got .38 Special, the revolver cartridge, and 38 Special, the band. I really can’t say I’m a fan of either, but handguns and southern-fried arena rock aren’t for everyone.
Of course, in the end, your age is just a number. You’re only as old as you feel on the inside. And most of the time I don’t feel 38 on the inside — again, unless I’ve eaten chili cheese fries.