Reflections on turning 34

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Last week, I turned 34. As birthdays go, it wasn't much of a milestone. I didn't become a man, for instance. It was not "sweet," nor was it my Quincean-anything. I could not procure previously unobtainable age-dependent items, e.g. pornography, rental cars or AARP membership. I reached legal drinking age when Will Smith was still the Fresh Prince. I've been voting since that infamous blue dress stain was just a gleam in Bill Clinton's eye.

Speaking of which, I'm still one year too young to be president of the United States. Just as well. People would eventually discover I was really born in Kenya.

There's more. I've still got 31 years until I can collect social security and 30 years to learn all the guitar chords to that Beatles song. You know, the one about whether or not someone will need (and feed) Paul McCartney when he's 64? I think it's called "Yellow Submarine."

Anyway, as of Feb. 25, I am within 40.1 years of achieving average life expectancy for an American male. Silver lining: that extra .1 of a year means I can squeeze in one final Academy Awards before I go.

But I'll tell you, I didn't feel any older this past birthday than I did in 1993. Well, that's not entirely true. I mean, during softball season now, I'll go through a whole bottle of Motrin, and I mean a Coscto Motrin, the tall-boy. I contribute to an IRA. I bathe. Basically, I'm like an achier, more hygienic, fiscally responsible version of my 17-year-old self.

And I'm pretty sure the rest of my family sees me that way, too. For instance, my grandmother sent me her usual $25 birthday check with a memo directing me to use it for a haircut. Hate to break it to you grandma, but I lost most of my hair before the turn of the millennium. See, now that makes me feel old.

Incidentally, while premature baldness is a terrible joke to play on any human being, nature was especially cruel to me, considering I used to boast a head of flame-red shoulder-length curls that would make Shaun White McTwist 1260 in his pants.

Turning 34 did, however, mark one signpost - my driver's license expired. With no state income tax, Alaska resorts to other revenue streams. Chief among these: strict registration rules accompanied by stiff fines for not following them.

And so, while all kids dream of celebrating their birthdays at the DMV, this year, for me, the wish came true.

A remnant of my old New York life - where one minute can mean the difference between a seat on the subway or standing mashed up against some hairy sweaty dude in a tank top - I always plan around crowds. So I waited until mid-afternoon, the doldrums of the working day. I did not take into account that this is when high school lets out.

So there I was, surrounded by kids literally half my age, lining up to take the written portion of the driver's test. Alaska's written test is really hard for some reason, and mandatory for all first-time applicants, even valid license holders from other states. Seriously, when we first moved here, I had to cheat off my wife. I got away with it precisely because no one expects a thirtysomething married guy to cheat on his driver's test.

These kids, on the other hand, were under tight surveillance. Needless to say, I watched more than several fail. I think some passed, too, but it was tough to tell, because either way they all sulked off, texting.

Obviously, sulking is nothing new to the teen experience. But texting? Oh, man, if we'd had texting when I was 17, it vastly would've simplified finding each other in the tie-dyed chaos of a Grateful Dead show. At the very lest, we could've coordinated the search for everyone's lost Birkenstocks, which, despite their orthopedic design, are absolutely the worst shoes for running from concert security.

And then it started to dawn on me. Today's 17-year-olds don't listen to the Dead. Hell, they probably don't even listen to Phish. And they certainly don't wear Birkenstocks, much like how I would never, ever wear a flat-brimmed fitted baseball cap. Let's not even talk about skinny jeans.

So, turns out I'm not like a 17-year-old at all - I'm like a 17-year-old was when I was 17, 17 years ago. And that makes me every bit as much a 34-year-old as taking a daily multivitamin or watching "Lost."

Does this realization bum me out? Honestly, a little. But I can grow a full beard, and I have my license. Any 17-year-old at any point in history would kill for both.

• Geoff Kirsch's column appears biweekly in the Juneau Empire. He lives in Juneau.

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