“You’re old!” sneered the youngest daughter.
The car was 20 years old and had duct tape holding on the mirrors, and the driver was about to turn 30 years older than that. The ancient radio with no CD player wheezed. Her friends all got picked up by fathers driving huge SUVs and sleek coupes. Her dad drove so slow, old ladies gave the finger to get past.
“Kool and the Gang went out 25 years ago,” she said. “Lame!”
“It was 30 years,” wailed the father. “Did I ever tell you about how I saw Journey in 1982?”
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Only about 50 times, the kid said.
In the mailbox next to the jalopy was the proof. Nothing good ever comes in the mail, and this was no exception. No return address. But a stiff envelope that clearly held a card. Maybe it was credit. The envelope was torn open.
“Welcome to AARP!” the words screamed.
AARP membership. Official declaration in America that someone is old. Like being called “sir” by the cashier – another sign of aging.
I called a lawyer I know Friday as my birthday loomed. He handles killers sometimes and never even sweats. He wears tailored suits and drives a Mercedes. He has been on calendars for handsome men. His great handling of clients and my stories about them in The Herald put him on Larry King Live, and he got to meet President Obama. I was not invited.
“Am I old?” I beg.
“Past old,” says the lawyer. “50 hurts. Draw up the papers. Downhill slide.”
My mind dropped back to a fast car and road trips and being able to drink cold beer all night and work the next day. A look at the wrinkles and the gray hair confirmed the mind remembered what was and no longer is.
So what did I learn in 50 years?
Beer is good. Cold. Not craft beers that cost the rent that tattoo-covered bearded vagabonds now sell for shocking prices. Beer is for drinking, and forgetting.
Don’t make fun of the mother-in-law in front of the wife. If you don’t want to sleep in the car, that is.
You don’t know love until you become a parent. Then after three daughters, them smart and you not, you try to give them away to the cashier at Food Lion. Then you wonder why the kids sneer.
Old people always used to be the boss, the teacher, the neighbors old as dirt, the smelly codgers who took all the joy out of your life. Your parents. Judges and prosecutors and cops and firemen.
Now you find out they were smart. You are them. You wear glasses to read. Worse, you have a granny cord to hang them on your neck so you don’t break them like the last ones that were held together with duct tape, embarrassing your kids. Your pants are pulled up so high the belt loops wrap the sternum.
Days used to last forever, nights even longer. You rushed from work to some place where the lights shone and the world spun. Hangovers hurt but they did not last.
What mattered about your car was how fast it went, and if a pretty girl would sit in it with you, and nobody but a wimp wore a seat belt.
Then you wake up one day and the mortgage is due and the light bill is overdue and there is no hot water because you are too stupid to pay the gas bill. You are on direct deposit for decades because you used to cash the check and blow it.
“Did you check your benefits at work?” the wife asks. “You never learn anything.”
“Of course I did,” says the husband, who certainly did not.
The wife always pays the bills, anyway. The wife raises the kids and does all the work for 25 years and the husband cheers loud and tries to show how great a parent he is.
Maybe I didn’t learn much, but I learned something for any man to get through 50 years.
I sure did.