Has my vocabulary started going gray?

I don’t know why I said it. Where it came from. What possessed me to utter such a strange and utterly absurd greeting to a co-worker.

“How you doing, sport?” I said.

Sport?!? Who says “sport?” I wondered.

I wasn’t the only one. Amused faces popped out of holes everywhere to ponder the same thing.

“Did you just say ‘sport?’” they asked. “Seriously?”

HAHAHAHA!

Yes, I’m afraid I did.

And it wasn’t the only one that day. In class later that morning I was talking to my college students about something and then blurted out for some unexplained reason, “Well, damnation!”

The class burst into laughter.

“Damnation?!?” they howled. “Is that like ‘tarnation?’ ‘Well, fiddlesticks, pa. You best take junior down to the well and fetch a pale for the vittles. Grab the pig while you’re down there.”

HAHAHAHA!

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All the terrifying numbers, says a birthday boy

Stupid numbers. Why do some matter more than others? Shake fear into us. Terrorize us. Cause us to cross streets or run screaming when we hear them called out at a deli or they pop up on the calendar. 13. 6-6-6. 1040. (Oh no, the taxman cometh!!!)

And then there is this one: 44.

Hear it? Despicable. Slimy. Terrifying.

The last one is the number of years I’m turning this week. And for some stupid reason, that stupid number is getting to me. Intimidating me. It’s like it carries weight. Baggage. More so than his cousin 43, or even some of his more advanced relatives like 46 or 47.

Why? Why is it that some numbers — and especially ages — do this to us? Bring added significance or added pressure. Or a special feeling of doom!

When I tell people the number I’m turning, I say it with disdain and contempt — a little bit of trepidation. A shiver curls up and down my spine.

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Ye olde creaky bones

What are you trying to tell me universe? I’m not understanding the mixed signals. Because a little over a week ago I went out and ran 12 miles. Twelve miles! And it felt great. Like a young man. And then yesterday, unloading groceries at the store I bent over to pick up something and pinched a nerve down near my … ahem … buttocks. Nearly doubled over from the pain. Considered calling 911. Considered calling for one of those motorized scooters. Felt NOT like a young man.

What’s the message here? I’m not getting it.

Maybe it was just a fluke. I pushed my cart into an empty cashier aisle. I hate empty aisles. You feel so rushed — panicked even — to get your food out of the cart. You don’t want the cashier to stare at you like you’re the reason she can’t go on break or win the lottery or something that doesn’t involve waiting on you.

I was throwing things on the fast-moving conveyor as fast as I could when I dropped one of my reusable shopping bags. To make matters worse, the shopping cart rolled over the bag and I had to lift it up to free it when …

SHAZAM!

A bolt of lightning bit me somewhere between my hip and the aforementioned buttock.

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What happens when you get older?

A co-worker was complaining that he had injured his foot after landing funny. He figured it happened after jumping off a short wall. A very short wall.

“Man, this is what happens when we get old, right?” he said.

He is in his late 20s. I thought about bludgeoning him, but the only thing in reach was a box of tissues.

“No, bean sprout,” I told him. “It’s not ‘what happens when we get old.’ Just when we have the coordination of flopping fish.”

Maybe it hit me hard because I’m turning 43 next week. And like most of us, I don’t like this idea of growing older. That certain things are out of our control. My philosophy on age has always been that it’s all in your head. The more you get consumed by the notion that you’re getting older, the more you start to feel it. And the more you feel it, the more you fall off of walls. That’s my theory, at least.

So I go around looking at the world the way an 8-year-old might: I see butterflies and rocket ships everywhere. I eat a lot of ice cream. I never take the garbage out until I’ve been asked 22,000 times.

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College … way back when

Wham!

It felt like a brick had been launched across the restaurant and hit me in the head. Or a sledgehammer. Or a bunker-busting bomb.

Kablooey!

That was the effect as I sat with my college students — members of the student newspaper, journalists, many soon-to-be graduates heading out into the world.

Going to dinner with college students is surreal as it is. Similar to visiting another country where you don’t speak the language or understand the unique customs. I found myself nodding, smiling and politely saying over and over things like, “Yeah, I have no idea what you’re talking about … but it sounds illegal!”

I will miss them, those who graduated this weekend. I was thinking about this at dinner — memories, their accomplishments, how they eat like ravenous dogs who have been starved for weeks — when the conversation turned to a topic that is tough to stomach when it comes to college kids.

The year they were born.

Maybe I asked it. I don’t remember how it came up. I just remember the hammer blow. How the room began to spin and everything turned blurry. The walls melted like a Dali painting. Did they put something in my water?

It was all thanks to one answer to the birth year question: 1991.

None of them knew what had just happened. It had been spoken so nonchalantly. They wondered why I was calling the waitress to ask for a defibrillator. Was he choking? Should someone give him the Heimlich?

“1991. 1991,” I mumbled over and over. “Do you realize … that was the year … I … I … started … c-c-college?”

“Wow, that’s cool,” someone said, unfazed. “My uncle, too! Want to take a selfie?”

911! 911!

No, 1991. How could this be? Some were born even later. When I was a sophomore, a junior.

When I started school, I came with a word processing typewriter. It had a narrow little screen like a ticker-tape where the words appeared while you typed. Today they write papers on their phones. And watch TV on their phones. And Facetime on their phones. And pretty much do everything but eat — although they’ve tried it! — on their phones.

It felt like some kind of time warp I had been propelled through. Who were these strange beings? I thought I had known them so well.

How could this be? It was the age divider I hadn’t been prepared for — the great enlarging gulf that exists between you and them. When you work on a college campus, it becomes more and more pronounced. More obvious. More like a brick to the head.

We hugged. We said our goodbyes. We took more selfies. I wandered off to find my car, my head still reeling. I had to write a column. Boy, I thought to myself, if only I had that word processing typewriter again.

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Goals for turning 42 years old

“So, do you have any goals for 42?” my wife asked me over dinner. She and my daughter had taken me out to celebrate the day of my birth, some 42 years ago. Forty-two is an odd, neither-here-nor-there age.

Basically, the only thing that happens when you turn 42 is boring, mundane stuff — you take up eating barbecue potato chips, you have conversa­tions about mutual fund expense ratios and you start to ponder deep, uni­versal questions like: Why do we have concrete AND asphalt roads?

It’s getting serious in my world!

So the question at dinner really kind of stuck with me.

“Goals for 42?!?” I said out loud, thinking about it for the first time. I hadn’t even considered it. Well, aside from taking up barbecue potato chips, but that’s legislated. There’s no choice in that.

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A little advice on turning 40

As my younger brother prepares to turn 40, I thought I would take a moment to hand down some sage advice that I have acquired after two years in the “Enchanted Land of Four Decades:”

? If you’re going to have a mid-life crisis, make it a cheap one. I’ve been fortunate because my indecisiveness means I’ve never settled on the ideal mid-life crisis for me. And I will probably draw it out until I’m 62, when it will seem silly, absurd and just too time-consuming. But if you’re going to choose one, don’t go the expensive route. You know, crashing Ferraris or anything like that. Just take up drinking milk straight from the carton or diagnosing other people’s illnesses. Much cheaper that way.

? If people ask your age, don’t get upset. Just politely reply that “it’s none of their (insert curse here) business” and to get away from you because you’re about to have an unmedicated episode. That should solve it pretty quickly.

? Remember that 40 is only half way to 80. And consequently, 80 is only half way to 160. And if you calculate the square root of 160, it will require going and finding your calculator. By the time you find a calculator, you will have forgotten what you were thinking about in the first place.

? Remember that turning 40 is not the hard part. No, that’s actually quite easy. The ticking clock does all the work. The hard part is actually BEING 40. You know, a whole decade older. Another year closer to 80, which is only half way to 160, which is … wait a minute. Where did I put my calculator?

? Remember that age is all in your mind. Unfortunately, gray hair, aching joints and strange moles that resemble Harry Truman are not. They’re real and scary!

? Recognize that age alone doesn’t give you wisdom. No, that comes from experience, which is usually code for what you learned from a disastrous and costly mid-life crisis (as covered above.) So go ahead and skip wisdom, too.

? Turning 40 can sometimes become a time to reflect on all that you have, or haven’t, done. It can make you mourn what you’ve lost — youth! — or grow depressed that you’ve failed to accomplish some of your major goals — like that world record for most peanut butter pretzels consumed while drunk! But never dwell on what you’ve lost, or what you haven’t done. Remember that when you were young, you were also pretty stupid. Proof of that is how you spent all your time dreaming up world records that involved peanut butter pretzels and intoxication.

? Whatever you do, no matter how much it pains you, don’t turn 40 and start giving sage advice. It’s a great way to make everyone angry. People will think you’re nothing but an old know-it-all who should learn how to wreck expensive Ferraris like responsible, less-annoying 40 year olds. So with that, I say happy birthday and good luck!

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Some brotherly advice on turning 40

As my younger brother prepares to turn 40, I thought I would take a moment to hand down some sage advice that I have acquired after two years in the “Enchanted Land of Four Decades:”

• If you’re going to have a mid-life crisis, make it a cheap one. I’ve been fortunate because my indecisiveness means I’ve never settled on the ideal mid-life crisis for me. And I will probably draw it out until I’m 62, when it will seem silly, absurd and just too time-consuming. But if you’re going to choose one, don’t go the expensive route. You know, crashing Ferraris or anything like that. Just take up drinking milk straight from the carton or diagnosing other people’s illnesses. Much cheaper that way.

• If people ask your age, don’t get upset. Just politely reply that “it’s none of their (insert curse here) business” and to get away from you because you’re about to have an un-medicated episode. That should solve it pretty quickly.

• Remember that 40 is only half way to 80. And consequently, 80 is only half way to 160. And if you calculate the square root of 160, it will require going and finding your calculator. By the time you find a calculator, you will have forgotten what you were thinking about in the first place.

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