In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 was the answer to the meaning of life. The problem was that the characters in the book didn’t know what the question was.
I’m feeling a bit the same way.
I just turned 42 and I’m not sure what to make of it. Birthdays that have a 0 and a 5 in them, really don’t faze me. They are lionized as major events, clicking into a new decade or its halfway mark, heralded by the things people say; “You’re as young as you think you are”, “40 is the new 20”, and my personal favorite, “You don’t look your age at all.” That last one, I secretly love/loathe and find myself fishing for it around blow-out-the-candles time to make myself feel better.
Truth is, I’ve always struggled with birthdays, especially the in-betweenies. The 3’s and the 2’s, the 7’s and 8’s.
I feel like the role is set for you on the 0’s and 5’s. There’s a feeling of shucking off one uniform and putting on a new one. The decade feels abundant and all ahead of you, a cornucopia of possibilities promisingly laid out as you sit with a glass of wine, looking at the last slices of cake left to eat, surrounded by friends and contemplating the decade ahead.
It’s only compounded by the next government form you fill out, when you change the box you tick for age. It feels like a triumph to be in a fresh one, the grass is greener here and waiting to be walked on.
The things you didn’t like about your previous decade you can finally let lay. And the stuff you didn’t get done in the first half of a new decade feel possible all over again at the five year point.
But these in-betweenies… they get me every time.
I know when they started too. I can pin point the moment. In truth I’ve been like this my whole life, but there was a moment where the sound of the ticking clock got Spinal Tapped up to 11.
It was ten years ago and I had just moved back to Australia on my second failed attempt to repatriate. But I jumped in with gusto and had been back maybe three days when I was out at a bar with a friend.
It was my round, so I went to order, when a little 19 year old sidles up next to me and starts getting all flirty. Everyone loves to be adored, so wherever it comes from, it’s a compliment in my books. But then he puts the hard word on me. 19, with the hard word. What do they teach these kids these days?
Kid: So, how bout you finish that drink with your friend, pick me up on the way out and you and I get naked before the sun goes down?
Me: Uh, wow. OK. Listen you’re adorable and all, but you aren’t really my type.
This comes as a genuine shock to him. I doubt I’m the first guy to say no, but when you’re 19, thin as a whippet and have nothing to do but go to the gym all day, it probably doesn’t happen a lot.
Kid: Oh, really? That’s a shame. Because I’m really into older guys like you.
The universe literally begins to unspool, stars crash all around us, the earth rips open. I choke out my next sentence.
Me: Older guys? Mate, I’m 32.
The child was completely bewildered by my inability to understand the math. Holy Shit. To a 19 year old, I am the older guy. This was literally the moment when time became the tricky fucker I feel it to be. I always knew it was passing, but this was the first time I felt it passing.
I was him, when he was 6. I think I’ll down both these drinks myself.
So that was then and this is now. Ten years later and I’m on a series of record breaking moments for me. I’ve been working in the same job for 2 years with no anticipation of leaving it any time soon. On my old time clock, I’d be changing countries by now.
I’ve been with Paul longer than anyone else in my life. 4 1/2 years. And I’m anticipating many more. As long as Paul doesn’t kill me. But you know, who could blame him? I can be a lot of work.
I’ve lived in the one city for 8 years. I haven’t pulled this off since Sydney days. Before I left for the first time.
So all is going very well. I’m settled. Yet, I have this inescapable feeling of being quite unsettled at the age of 42.
I moved here to become a screenwriter and did just that. Yet, I still haven’t seen anything I’ve written make it to the big screen. I’m currently on my third close encounter with a film set up at Paramount, but anything could happen and has a couple of times before.
I never thought that I’d be back in full time advertising. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had a Scarlett O’Hara moment where I thrust a fistful of Sharpies at the sky and yelled, “With God as my witness, I will never work in advertising again!” Then I did. And now I dig it.
So even though everything is going well, I have no idea what the fuck is going on. There’s just… this feeling.
I can’t be alone here. It’s this feeling of, I don’t know, just, is this it? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Is this where I’m meant to be?
And I know in the Sylvia Plath/Buddhist sense of the universe that we are all exactly where we need to be. But I handle it with smiling unease.
This is the point I think where I’m supposed to buy a sportscar and start having an affair with someone from the office. Except that’s not really going to work either. I’ve been trying to buy a sportscar for 20 years. When you’re 6’3” and have size 14 feet, you quickly discover that the legroom, head heights and the footwells of convertible cars are not designed for the likes of you. There’s nothing funnier than the face of a car salesman as he realizes you’re pushing the brake and the accelerator at the same time.
So it looks like I’ll be getting a second LEAF.
And as far as the affair at the office… well, that’s where I have to have a word with HR. I mean there’s a lot of good looking people in their 20‘s at work. And that’s really nice for them. But when your taste swings to Grizzly Adams, Tom Selleck and James Gandolfini, my office is as dry as the Joshua Tree in August.
And to be honest, I have no idea how people mange affairs. I don’t have the time. Seriously? How do you schedule all that nookie on the side? I have a full time job and write screenplays and can’t manage to see my man who I really love and my friends enough, let alone have some clandestine rendezvous under the lamplights.
So that’s that mid-life crisis behavior kiboshed.
As I look around, all my straight friends are having kids. And I wonder, with the amount of time that a miracle like that takes, do they have the same thoughts as I do? Do they have any time to think at all? Is that a good thing? I wonder if all these nagging, time-rattled doubts that circle around my head like goldfish on speed are just some massive form of middle class, self obsessed, me-ness. If I actually had another living creature that was reliant on me for survival, I wouldn’t have all this time to think.
But when I asked the new fathers that I know about what that’s like, they all came back with the same resounding answer; kids amplify all these thoughts. And when they say amplify, they mean Marshall speaker stack. You have a child, then you have to work out what kind of a man you are, and who you are going to be for them.
Once again, hats off to all of my friends with upchuck on their t-shirts.
Speaking of kids, I believe it’s the job of every generation to complain about the one that’s following it. Especially when they’re 19 and hold up mirrors to you in bars when you’re just trying to have a quiet drink. But the fact that I even have a generation to complain about still shocks me. And with what seems to be the early maturity of the truly young today, I feel sometimes that I have two generations below me. I can discern the cultural differences between people born in the 80’s and the 90’s.
And yet, I know that there are things that I’m brilliant at that they won’t be able to do till they’re around my age. Like not panicking about, well, everything. So I don’t feel any kind of an obsoleteness. There’s a big future as the voice of calm and reason.
If this reads like one of the more schitzophrenic stories that I’ve written, well it should. There is this high speed sushi train of random and often conflicting thoughts of late that career through my brain every time I’m not distracting myself.
I should be an actor, I don’t want to live an actor’s life, I should try painting, I should save more, I want to move to Europe, I’m too old to wear that, this is kids music, I was the oldest person at that concert, I should have been an art director instead, I want to write a novel, I still haven’t climbed a mountain, I have never read buzzfeed, I have no idea what’s going on the world, I know tons, I’m a success, I’m a failure, I want to run away, I don’t have anywhere to run, I’ll be miserable when I get there, my knees are getting creaky, I should do crossfit, I look like my parents taking all my vitamins in the morning, I’m halfway through my life and I think it’s good but I don’t know what it means.
That’s an average morning.
None of this is productive, none of this is helpful, yet I find all of the above floating around in my world and coloring my days like an endless loop.
So I’m on my way to Nashville again for a work trip and I’ve dressed up all my unease in a traveling outfit. At least I can dress well, that’s one thing I know I do right.
I’m waiting to hand in my boarding pass to the security agent when he looks up at me and breaks into a massive smile.
Security Agent: Hello buddy, how are you this fine day?
His goodness is so genuine, it takes me off guard, you don’t see a lot of smiles at LAX. Then I think he thinks that I’m Hugh Jackman.
SA: Karl with a “K”. That’s cool.
Oh, right. He has my driver’s license in his hand.
SA: What is that, German?
Me: Yeah, my Mum always liked the name.
SA: Right on.
He’s not a stoner. He’s not a space cadet. He’s just… happy. Then a work colleague of his comes walking up and she gives him a huge hug.
Colleague: Happy Birthday Raymond! I love you boy! You are my little bit of sunshine everyday.
He hugs her back enthusiastically. There is real affection between them. Wow, who is this guy?
Raymond: Hey sister, I always got a smile for you.
Colleague: You got a smile for everyone.
God, he’s infectious. I’m beaming in his presence. Now the guy behind me in the line is smiling and talking to Raymond.
Guy: Whatever you’re using, you should bottle it and sell it.
Raymond: I just wake up everyday and decide, this is going to be a good day. And then it is.
Me: Don’t you ever get down?
Raymond: What’s the point? It never changes anything. And it all works out. So, why be down?
The logic was kind of irrefutable. But hokey at the same time. When I see the unflappably happy, I often think that they might be a bit simple. Although it’s the state that everyone strives for, when I encounter it I class it as a mental problem.
Me: Raymond, how old are you?
If he says 42 I’m literally going to vomit.
Raymond: It’s not a race, Karl.
I just stood there looking at him, drenched by a waterfall of surprise. I don’t know exactly what he meant by that, but he was right. And then, of course, Raymond smiled. And he turned back and started attending to the other people in line.
As I stood there, loading my bags and shoes through the security check, I had a small revelation.
I spend so much of my time in competition with myself; I beat myself up about what should have happened by now, where I should be, things I should have done, whether I should have chosen a different path, where I went wrong.
And maybe it’s a guy thing, but I think a lot about where I am compared to everyone else around me. And birthdays are the ticking clock that I’m sprinting against.
But it’s not a race. It’s a life.
Thanks Raymond. If it wasn’t for you and homeless people and drag queens, I’d be lost.