Birthday boy: an open letter to my friend who’s turning 40

Dear Brian,

What a difference a year makes, huh? As you may or may not recall—depending on the number of cocktails you enjoyed at my 40th last year, and the brain cells you’ve obliterated since—you gave me a boundless ration of grief over my official entré into middle age. You laughed and ribbed and smirked your way through the evening at my expense, and you were quite funny.

It’s why I like you. Mostly though, I had to laugh to keep from crying.

You might be expecting me to get even, now that it’s your turn to stuff the cake with candles until it begins to implode from the weight of melting wax, leaving your guests with heaps of molten cake lump, given your weed-charred lungs haven’t the capacity to blow out three flames, let alone 40. I do hope yours is a sheet cake from Costco so your wife doesn’t have to watch all her hard baking work undone by your physical failings. Oh, the disappointment. Though, in time, she will come to be very familiar with such limitations and will lower her expectations accordingly. Who’s laughing now, my friend?

Well. I’ll tell you: It’s not me.

You see, I won’t laugh at you or make snarky remarks about the slow process of decline that is about to engulf you like a novice snowboarder caught unawares and goofy-foot in an avalanche. Because, truth be told, there is little to laugh about at this juncture.

If you don’t believe me, take a picture of yourself naked the night before your 40th birthday and compare it to one taken the day after. (And remember: Only one Weinergate per year, please. No tweeting these images.)

If you look at the belly region, Bri, you will be able to see evidence of your slowing metabolism, which will have officially gone on strike about three minutes before midnight on the day of your birth. Even if it comes back to work, it will have a crappy attitude and only do half as much as it used to.

There is very little that’s funny about the disappearance of the fat pockets located around the eye sockets. What? You didn’t know about these? Well, once those go, your eyeballs recede, making peripheral vision a thing of the past, like the second glance of college girls or having sex three times in the same night. You may have given very little thought to those fat pads. But just wait until Fern at Window 19 at the DMV revokes your driver’s license. You will lament those fat pads. Mark my words.

Here is the thing. Or, as e.e. cummings might say, “Here is the deepest secret nobody knows / (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) / and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart”:

Forty blows.

I’m telling you this as your friend, Brian. Your true friend. And as such, I implore you not to believe any of that other bullshit the optimists in the world tell you. They are liars. They will swear to you that this is the best time of your life and encourage you to embrace all the positives of aging. “Forty is liberating,” they’ll say. Then they’ll offer the over-played, almost-convincing example that—unlike in their self-conscious 20s and settling-in-to-their-skin 30s—they no longer care what other people think of them. Which is compelling, indeed.

My father-in-law—a wonderful man—couldn’t care less what people think of him. He also drops ass in public. Equally compelling, don’t you think?

The truth is more that you simply won’t care what people think of you when you bitch about your ailments. And just you wait. You will have more joint pain, more back aches, more random bumps and rashes, more gastrointestinal discomfort, a possible hemorrhoid or maybe colon cancer. At least, you’ll think it’s colon cancer until some nurse laughs at you on the phone, tells you to eat more bran, pick up some Tucks Medicated Pads and some Preparation H—off brand, though; it’s way cheaper, and not suppositories, unless the hemmy’s internal, then suppositories. Not that this has happened to me. I’m just saying. I know people.

You’ll get toothaches, headaches and hangnails (on your toes, Brian, on your damned toes!); you’ll suffer random, intense skin pain that you’ll believe to be shingles (fight the urge to Google it and just wait for it to go away while imagining the rest of your downhill spiral lived with blistering sores).

You will have more gray hair than you ever wanted, in places that you never wanted it. Though, you’re a guy, so you probably don’t care about the eyebrows or pewbs the way a woman might. And someone is bound to reaffirm your belief that you look distinguished with silver at your temples.

“You’re getting better with age,” a friend might tell you. And go with it. Because, while your bilateral rotator cuff tendonitis might be keeping you awake at night, and turning you into the grumpy guy in his underwear, baby-blue terrycloth bathrobe and Ugg boots who yells at speeding drivers to “Slow down, goddamnit!” while picking up the morning paper, it sure will be nice to fall back on that beautifully perceived exterior. See? Post-40 and you do still care what other people think.

But other than that—and some other stuff I have no space to get into—it’s simply peachy over here on this side of four decades.

Happy birthday.