The Truth, Mainly - 01/17/1994

Hitting 60: An anti-celebration
by Leon Satterfield

Let me say right now that, no matter what my wife says, my 60th birthday this week is no big deal.

She says "Don't think of it as your 60th birthday; think of it as the first day of your seventh decade."

She says "Timothy Leary claims he gets high on senility; you'll have lots of fun."

She says "You poor old booger, you."

When she talks to the grandbabies on the phone, she asks them how many teeth they have now, then tells them that grandpa's teeth are going bad because he's nearly sixty, the poor old booger.

"Can you say 'poor old booger'?" she asks them. It knocks her out.

I know what she's up to. She's trying to jolly me out of what she thinks is the trauma of my 60th birthday.

"I'm not traumatized," I keep telling her. "It's just another birthday. The number happens to end in zero. It's no big deal."

"Funny you should say that," she says, "because when you turned 30 you wrote a pastoral elegy called 'Farewell my Youth, Alas, O!' When you turned 40, you went into midlife crisis by buying two old rustbucket Mercedes that didn't run, and when you turned 50 you stayed in bed all day with a pillow over your head."

She exaggerates. I didn't buy the second Mercedes until six weeks after I turned 40. The pillow wasn't over my head the whole day.

And let me also say right now that backing through the garage door last week to get to my dentist had nothing to do with my 60th birthday.

It wasn't my fault. First, I couldn't find the little appointment card to see what time I was supposed to be there, then I couldn't find my glasses to read it, then I couldn't find the car keys to get there on time.

And it certainly wasn't my fault the electric garage door opener didn't work right. It raised the door three feet, then stopped. It's not my electric garage door anyway. It's my wife's. I've never liked it.

She tells me I should always look in the rearview mirror when I back out of the garage. Even when I use our electric garage door opener.

"It's your electric garage door opener," I say. "I don't trust electric garage doors."

She also tells me I should never take the little gizmo that makes the electric garage door open and put it on top of the car. If I do that, she says, I might drive off with it still up there.

That's hard to remember when you're clearing away pieces of splintered garage door and broken taillights and the little whatchamacallit that squirts water on the car's back window. Besides, I'm in a big hurry to pay the dentist a lot of money to put another gold crown on my bad teeth. Gold crowns cost even more than electric garage door openers. That's what I'm thinking about when I drive off with the gizmo that opens the garage door—or used to before I backed through it—still on top of the car.

None of this has anything to do with my 60th birthday.

About three blocks later I hear a clattering sound on the car roof and I look in the rearview mirror—where my wife tells me I should have looked before I backed through the electric garage door—and I see something bouncing down the middle of 56th Street.

Five blocks further and it occurs to me that it might have been the gizmo my wife tells me never to put on the top of the car, so I turn around to pick it up. But by the time I get there, a guy is just getting back in his car with something in his hand.

"That's my gizmo!" I yell as he drives off in the direction of my dentist. By the time I get the car turned around, he's disappeared.

They're nice to me at the dentist's office when I explain why I'm late. They smile and whisper something to one another, but I'm pretty sure they aren't whispering that my 60th birthday is coming up. Still, they do have my date of birth in their files.

When I finally get home, I get tangled in the seat belt trying to get out of the car and throw my back out again. My wife watches out the window.

"What happened to the garage door?" she asks. "Where's the gizmo?"

"I'm still 59 years old," I say, trying to straighten up, "and I don't want to talk about it."

"There, there," she says. "We'll get you a new electric garage door for your birthday next week. And we'll go out to this nice restaurant where they cut up meat for old-timers. After that, we can go see 'Grumpy Old Men.' We'll have fun. You poor old booger, you."

I give up then.

"Just put me in the sun in my deck chair," I say, "and don't forget my laprobe."


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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