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COLUMN: 44

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“When I was 21, it was a very good year. It was a very good year for city girls who lived up the stairs, with perfumed hair…that came undone, when I was 21.”

—From the song, “It Was a Very Good Year”, by Frank Sinatra

Although I try to suggest the contrary, I am prone to nostalgia and rank sentimentality. I mark bizarre anniversaries. I remember inane commemorations that have no practical business skulking about in my head.

Like most of us, I remember things past more profoundly when their anniversaries are reckoned in denominations of 5 and 10. It is simpler that way. Especially with birthdays.

And as such, this birthday of mine—which is today, June 19th—should be just another ho-hum celebration. Today is my 44th birthday. We really do not mark occasions divisible by 4 or 11 with much fanfare. And I tend to treat my birthday more as a day of melancholic indifference than a real celebration. I do not like getting older. I loath it. I am still a kid looking for fun and seeing the world ahead of me as mine to take or leave as I please. Time slaps me in the face every June 19th, and I hate it.

If you would allow me the indulgence, I would like to travel back in time to my previous “double digit” birthdays. Maybe it will help you understand a little bit more about Your Humble Columnist as a person. Or maybe it is just an exercise in vanity. You decide.

When I was 11 years old…

I always say that every 10 year old boy should watch their team win the World Series. The Philadelphia Phillies did that for me in 1980. In 1981, they were doing a damn good job of defending that title. I lived fairly close to The Vet, a cement monstrosity that was home to the champs; and it cost 50 cents to get into games. But on my 11th birthday, Major League Baseball was in the middle of a strike. With only a dozen cable TV channels at my disposal, I had little to do with my nights.

I spent most of my those lazy days playing Atari. ”Adventure” was my unquestioned favorite game. The album that would change my life, Escape by “Journey” would come out that summer. It is weird seeing all these kids today going nuts for Don’t Stop Believin’ when I remember going nuts for it when it still had that “new car smell” to it.

MTV was born. We got it on our cable box in December of ‘81. 24 hours of nonstop music videos. What a concept! Someone should retry it one day. I watched it for hours on end—much like I do with MLB Network now. I could use an entire column talking about the great songs that came out that summer. It was the dawn of a five year “Golden Age” of pop music.

Everyone in America watched General Hospital. Before TiVO and in the infancy of VCRs, if you were not in front of a TV at 3 PM, you just missed it. You had to earn TV’s love back then.

I was a lonely kid without many friends and a tendency to be by myself. But I lived in the greatest city in the world. My grandparents, who raised me, made sure I did not want for anything. I had my whole life ahead of me.

When I was 22, it was a very good year…

At least I think it was a very good year. I spent most of 1992 drunk. Between working in a hotel and nightclubs, I usually had a large wad of $1 bills in my pocket—such is the strange life of someone who worked for gratuities.

With the few hours I had to myself, I usually could be found with my friends at the recreation center near my house. Playing sports, going out for late lunches and generally doing nothing of substance.

I watched “Saved By the Bell” and refused to apologize for it. Every Italian guy in South Philly thought they were the sixth member of New Kids On The Block. Nirvana and the rest of the “grunge” bands were at the height of their popularity. I liked some of those bands; but overall I grieved the death of “hair” bands that ruled the Earth for the previous seven years. Rock and Roll should be fun…and Motley Crue was more fun than Pearl Jam.

“Batman Returns” came out on my 22nd birthday. I still think this is the best superhero film ever made. Michelle Pfeiffer in high heels and holding a whip did it for me.

The one thing I did not do when I was 22? I did not graduate from college. I was working and enjoying life…what did I need college for?

Moron.

When I was 33, it was sucky year…

I have very little to write about when I was 33. My health was horrible. I was not working. I seriously doubted my place in the world. I was a stay-at-home father with three very young kids who I raised well, but not without paralyzing fear of doing wrong by them.

If I had any animosity towards my parents deep in my heart for not raising me, it dissipated during the years I was home with my kids. Parenthood taught me an empirical lesson:

It is incredibly easy to screw up your kids.

It was under this premise that I sat on my couch, wide awake at 3 AM on a cold January night, staring at a dark wall, asking myself what a 33 year old man with three young children was going to do to make things better.

And then a strange question popped in my head that changed everything.

“What if I moved us all to Utah?”

And now I am 44…

My life is not where I want it to be. But I am generally a happy person. I have my children. I have friends whom I love and depend on dearly. I am smarter. I embrace the aesthetic pleasures that are in front of me and deal with getting older with a sneer and a wink. 44 is a great number. I get to use it for a year. Might as well enjoy it.

I plan to die at the age of 99 (another double digit), in my bed, with pizza and beer in my stomach. My children will pretty much have divided the world up into thirds—hopefully they will treat me better than King Lear’s three treated him. I will tell stories of days gone by, the simplicity of my youth and how great my life was.

Only half of the stories I will tell on my 99th birthday will be lies. But the best of those stories will be of things I did after I turned 44.