Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Apr 26 2014 09:00 AM

HERB BENHAM: Celebrating these birthdays is getting old

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

I repainted the glider, which had peeled and was showing more brown wood than green paint.

I also brushed two coats of white paint on the back door, where the dogs had scratched, nestled and rubbed off much of the finish.

The flurry of activity started with an email Sue sent to family and friends:

"The man is turning 60 and we're having a party."

What man? Not this man? This man and 60 don't belong in the same sentence, just like this man and skydiving don't.

I wanted to cry, but any shoulders I could cry on were occupied with heavier burdens, so sadness became melodrama and melodrama, metaphor. It's as if I'm on a boat pulling away from the shore and the land of the young. I'm waving goodbye to my 20s, 30s, 40s and even my 50s, which at one point seemed older than sharks' teeth.

Greeting me on the other side were crowds of old people stretched on gurneys, slumped in wheelchairs; those who were mobile, were riding recumbents. My God, it looks like the Battle of Antietam.

I don't want to come to your side. I'm happy here. I have friends. They think I'm one of them although they may have been pulling my rather youthful leg.

I saw one of those friends a couple of days ago at the Westchester Barber Shop. We had always been on the same team but he could have heard about my May birthday and have wanted to cut the ties early.

"Why do you come to the barbershop?" he said, as Charlie snipped his thick brown locks. "You're like my dad. It has to be habit rather than necessity."

I looked at him and hoped for two things, the first being an encounter with dengue fever, causing his beautiful brown locks to fall out in great chunks. Then, when it was his turn to cross the bar, I wanted to greet him in my yoga sandals and Naval whites.

"Why are you sad about turning 60?" Sue said. "Do you know how many people would like to be in your position?"

Who says this calls for a mature response? Can't I fall apart? I don't mind birthdays, but I prefer ones that don't involve a boat ride and the wind whipping through my flattop-in-name-only.

I'm a boy. You can see that, right? Do I have to stop being a boy and exalting in my boyhood because I am approaching a more dignified age?

Running out of time

Six months ago, I was counting every day. I would say to myself, "Today I am 59 and 142 days." Appreciating each day was an investment in the present, but it became a bookkeeping problem. I'd forget -- was I 59 and 163 days or 59 and 165?

Counting abandoned, birthday coming like a bullet train, we are planning the party, which I am viewing as a warm-up for my wake.

Deviled eggs -- check.

Fried chicken -- check.

Chocolate cake with chocolate icing -- check.

The kids will be there. That's something to be happy about, although I wish they'd keep me company on the boat and stay a few days until I get comfortable instead of waving to me from across the spit and then returning to their young and exciting lives so full of promise -- promise I once knew myself but apparently squandered.

I have retreated to the backyard, where the party is to take place. Last weekend, I painted the glider and then, to match, the four-foot-high block wall planter.

The deck could use a coat of varnish, the fence a new coat of paint, but I'm running out of time before the party. Running out of time. That's an appropriate metaphor.

Goodbye, old friends

Before we took Katie to college nearly 14 years ago, I spent hours readying her bike -- pumping up the tires, oiling the chain, cleaning it, putting on reflecting lights, buying a chain and a lock and extra tubes. I did this knowing the bike would be stolen by Thanksgiving or abandoned in a bike rack and that she would never appreciate the work I'd put into it.

I did it for myself and now I'm painting, weeding, varnishing and power-washing the backyard for the same reasons. My guests probably won't notice that I've almost herniated myself to make it attractive for them.

However, this is how some people say goodbye. Goodbye, old friends. Please write; if not, post photos on Instagram.

One door whacks you on the backside, but the winds of time rattle open another.

Hello, new friends. You look good. Young. Really young. My guess is you're not a day over 60.

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