According to the Collins English Dictionary, not to mention the American Psychiatric Association’s standard diagnostic manual, “middle age” is the period of your life from 40 to 60 years old.
Which fucking sucks, given that I am now 41 years old and therefore officially, irrefutably and irreversibly someone in said middle-age bracket.
Some of my likewise recently middle-aged friends have tried to put a nice spin on it, with platitudes like “forty is the new thirty”, and “you’re only as old as the girl you feel”. Or that ever-popular hoary chestnut: “fine wine only gets better with age”. Don’t they know that too much wine – even if it is a fine one – will make you throw up, and eventually turns to vinegar?
No, the truth is I am not handling this whole middle-aged thing well.
Which brings me to the last few days, where I have been in Florida, USA, attending the wedding of my youngest cousin (a sprightly 31-year-old, damn her). It was a lovely event, full of family and laughter and emotion and good food, in a glorious waterfront setting on the Florida Keys.
Yet lurking in the background were constant reminders of my new-found status as a man of “advancing” years. Fitting, perhaps, given that Florida is home of so many aging and wrinkled Americans, who flock to its warmth and sunshine for their retirements (or, as those slightly less charitable might say, are put out to pasture in the State…).
So here they are, courtesy of my cousin’s recent nuptuals: my Top Nine Signs That You Really Are Now Middle Aged.
Sign One: No-One Even Asks Anymore
I flew into Miami Airport, and I had a car pre-booked for the drive down to the Keys. After navigating my way through customs, collecting my luggage, and figuring out how to make use of the Miami Airport Transporter to get to the Car Rental Centre (it is not as simple as it sounds) I presented myself at the Hertz counter. The lady who served me tapped away on her computer, and handed over a printed form for me to sign. In rapid-fire Spanish-accented patter she explained the hiring terms and conditions, circled various parts of the form, told me to initial here, here and here, and then pointed to a box I needed to tick to confirm that I would not allow anyone under 25 years old to drive the car. To which I asked, a bit tongue in cheek: “does that include me?” And to which the lady replied, quick as a flash: “No, you’re definitely not under 25, so you don’t have to worry about it”. Humorless cow – I am switching to Avis from now on.
Sign Two: The Tables Are Turned
The wedding spanned a whole weekend, with most guests arriving on Friday, and staying until Sunday. People had come from all over the world – from both sides of the US, from Europe and South Africa and Israel, and of course from Australia – and many of the two extended families were meeting for the first time. So on the first night the groom’s parents threw a welcome barbecue for all the assembled guests. A buffet spread was laid out and tables set up under the stars, and the idea was for everyone to mix and mingle. I arrived at the BBQ a few minutes late, and noticed that my aunt and uncle, my mother, and several of their friends were sitting together at a large table, yakking away. And at another table just besides them were my brother and sister-in-law, a group of my cousin’s friends, and several younger relatives. Almost simultaneously my aunt and brother both saw me, and both waved for me to join them. And there you have it – my dilemma, and a clear indicator if ever there was one of me now being middle-aged. For the first time I can recall it was not naturally assumed I would be seated at the young people’s table. Now, I was also being invited to sit with the alter-kakers (old people – literally “old shits” – in Yiddish. Sorry mom). Clinging to my youth I hurriedly found a seat next to my brother, but I couldn’t help wondering how many more years before I no longer even have the choice….
Sign Three: You have Your Own Allocation
This one didn’t happen at the wedding, but I was recounting the story to a group of the younger folks there, who despite my obvious dismay found it to be incredibly funny, the ageist bastards. You see, about eight months ago, in one of my periodic bouts of dissatisfaction with the world at large, I decided I was going to quit my day job and fulfill a lifelong dream to study painting. So I took myself off to the Open Day at the National Art School in Sydney, Australia. I had a great time wandering around the campus, seeing the facilities, and day-dreaming about the prospect of being a full-time student again. At the end of the tour, I had a sit-down session with one of the admissions officers. She took me through the course requirements for the three-year degree, explained the fees, and then came to the basic admissions criteria. She explained to me that I would need to submit a portfolio of work, and that admission was competitive, with limited spots available for this prestigious school. And then she leaned towards me, and in a semi-conspiratorial whisper said: “but don’t worry, sweetie, we have a special allocation for mature-age students”. I must have looked both horrified and confused, because she immediately felt the need to clarify: “most of the students here are 19 year olds, so less than half your age – that’s not going to be a problem for you, is it?” Talk about crushing a guy’s dreams in an instant. Thanks for nothing, bitch.
Sign Four: You’re Not Going to the Olympics
One of my cousins is legally blind and partially deaf. This disability has never stopped her, however, and she has led a complete and full life so far, including representing Australia at the Athens Paralympic Games, for a time holding the Australian record in the 400 meters. At one point over the weekend she and I spent some time chatting about her Olympic experience. During the course of which it dawned on me that at age 41, it is now official: I will never, ever, ever be competing in the Olympics. Of course, anyone familiar with my athletic abilities probably came to this same conclusion about 40 years ago. But you get the point: when you know with absolute certainty that a career as an Olympic athlete is not just biologically, but also chronologically out of reach, you’re in your middle years.
Sign Five: You Talk to the Rabbi
The wedding was officiated by a fantastic Rabbi. He was short, round, had a full head of white hair and a matching white beard, and was dressed head-to-toe in white, a Florida palm tree printed on the back of his shirt, an embroidered kippah (skullcap) on his head and a talit (prayer shawl) wrapped around his shoulders. Basically he looked a lot like a Jewish-Hawaiian Papa Smurf. Anyway, after the ceremony we were all in a little garden at the water’s edge having drinks and eating canapés, watching the sun slowly set. As we were standing there, I noticed the Rabbi reaching for one of the delectable coconut shrimps being offered around. Which was pretty surprising, given that last I checked shrimp is generally not on the list of foods you’d expect a Rabbi to be hoeing into, Florida sunshine or not. So I went up to the Rabbi and made a joke to that effect. To which he replied in a heavy New York accent: “What did Moshe Rabaynu (Moses our Great Rabbi) know from shrimp? Pigs, yes, but back then in the desert, they knew nothing of shrimps and lobster and the joy of shellfish”. And before any of my more purist Jewish readers take umbrage at this interpretation of Jewish dietary laws, let me state clearly: this is not the point of the story. What is the point is that this rather unorthodox intro parlayed into a thirty minute chat with the Rabbi, where we discussed all sorts of things. During which it occurred to me that I was, in fact, chatting at length with the Rabbi after the wedding ceremony. Something that hitherto had always been a task assigned exclusively to “the grown-ups” present. Now, it seems, the grown-up was me.
Sign Six: The Eighties is Your Era
When I was a wee lad, attending the bar-mitzvahs and then later the weddings of my friends, the music played at the after-party fell into two general categories (not counting the obligatory Jewish music for manic bouts of wild dancing). First, there was music from this century, for the enjoyment of the young ones. And then there was music from an ancient time, long, long ago, specifically included to keep the oldies entertained. In this second category you’d typically find antiquities like Chubby Checkers (let’s do the twist), Gloria Gaynor (it’s raining men), and anything ever done by Elvis, the Beatles or the Stones. This wedding was no different. Except for one smallish detail: in the category of ancient music specifically included to entertain the oldies was Michael Jackson (Billie Jean), Whitney Houston (how will I know), and a bunch of other tunes from Madonna, Duran Duran, and Guns’n’Roses. Hang on a minute, people – that’s my music! These are the songs I grew up with, and that I know all the words to, but my parents don’t. Aha – welcome to the Middle Age. (At least, thank God, the DJ didn’t play anything by A-ha, my love of this Eighties Norwegian pop group being a whole other matter for which I will one day probably need therapy….)
Sign Seven: Hernias, Fistulas and Other Delights
Once upon a time, when seeing family and friends I hadn’t seen for a long time, we’d catch up on gossip. I’d hear about how so-and-so was doing at school; how this one was getting married soon and how this one was pregnant with her first child. In more recent years, this conversation has expanded slightly, to also include updates on who is doing well at work and who isn’t, who has recently got divorced or remarried, and how everyone’s young kids are getting on. But this past weekend at the wedding a new and frankly quite disturbing element was added to these catch-up conversations. Suddenly, I was being told how one relative has recently had surgery for a hernia, how another distant relative is battling with diabetes, and how another long-forgotten relative has developed a fistula that might require him to use a colostomy bag in the future. Please, stop. Did I ask? Do I look like someone who actually wants to know this gruesome shit (if you’ll pardon the pun)? Maybe when you hit middle-age you look different, or smell different, or start emitting a special pheromone, but whatever it is, people suddenly feel entitled to tell you all about the horrible medical ailments that have befallen those you barely know. It is really quite scary.
Sign Eight: You Do Odd Stuff With Your Parents
I had never met my cousin’s new husband before, and on my arrival at the wedding venue we were introduced for the first time. It turns out that the night before, in a half-hearted attempt to throw him a belated stag party, some of his friends had taken him up the road to Woody’s, a girlie bar that services this part of the Florida Keys. Only that in addition to his friends, a few of the older wedding guests tagged along too. Including some parents. In the words of one of the guests (identity withheld to protect the innocent): “So there I am, getting a lap-dance, a pair of boobs dangling in my face, and I look underneath them to my left, and I see my mom, cheering her on”. Did I mention that the person in question was 38, so not quite yet 40 although fast approaching this milestone? And it occurred to me that when you start going to lap dances with not only your dad but your mom as well (!) you’ve got to be at least close to crossing over into middle age. If not middle earth as well.
Sign Nine: It’s Written in the Statins
My cousin had booked out a resort for the wedding, with all the guests staying together. At the centre of the resort was a large tropical-style swimming pool and hot-tub, which formed a natural hub for activities. At all hours of the day and night people congregated around and in the pool. One afternoon I went for a dip, and after cooling off in the pool jumped into the hot-tub for a soak, where I introduced myself to several other wedding guests doing likewise. They were all roughly about my age, friends of the groom I had never met before, each coming from a different spot in the USA. We swapped names and made the usual introductory chit-chat – where are you from?; what do you do?; that sort of stuff. And then, two of my fellow hot-tubbers started discussing cholesterol. At which point one turned to me and asked me, rather unexpectedly: “do you take statins?” I mean, come on – are the words “I am a recently middle-aged guy with possible health issues” tattooed on my forehead? But that’s not the worst of it. No, the really sad bit is that rather than getting up and storming off in a huff, I found myself replying: “Yes, actually I do. My doctor prescribed me Lipitor not that long ago, and my LDL level is now down around 110 again”. And then everyone in the tub smiled at me lovingly, like I had just passed a rite of passage, and would be allowed to stay, after all.
Of all the wonderful experiences at this wonderful wedding, for me this was the absolute middle-age clincher – a moment of which even Jerry Seinfeld would have been immensely proud. Seriously, you know for sure that middle-age has well and truly descended upon you when you are able to sweat it out in a hot-tub full of Jews, discussing your cholesterol medication with the best of them.