So here we are.
I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I first saw black birthday balloons on someone’s mailbox during a Saturday headed-to-another-garage-sale drive, but I know I was young and/or naïve enough to wonder if that wasn’t gonna be the best funeral ever.
And as the Reagan era marched along and the boomers-turned-yuppies waved their flags extra fast due to cocaine jitters and decided that blisters and foot odor were small prices to pay for style in the form of sockless loafers, more black balloons appeared on suburban mailboxes, accompanied by matching streamers, bunting, and yard signs, all screaming the same slogan:
“LORDY LORDY, SOMEONE’S 40!”
The proliferation of Over-the-Hill birthday decorations was my introduction to gallows humor. Oh, I get it, I thought, like an alien observing some new planet’s civilization, they’re laughing about the fact that the birthday boy’s/girl’s life is over! That’s funny and sad! Like a clown! Which is appropriate for a birthday!
Of course, at that tender age, I could not fathom anything but wanting to get older. An accumulation of years was the only way I was going to get any sort of freedom and rights: driving, voting, drinking. Silly old yuppies. Balloons were supposed to be bright, not black.
But like all balloons, they shrank with each year, the air leaking out gradually until they were limp... and before I realized it, the tide had turned from wild birthday enthusiasm to being in it only for the cake.
The U-turn was probably when I hit 25. At 25, you get the last of the long-awaited rights and freedoms that come with reaching a particular age: you can finally rent a damn car. At the same time, once you turn 25, you’re officially too old to be Miss America. Granted, I’m well aware that at no point in my life did I entertain this notion. I certainly was not blessed with any natural assets that would ever point me in that direction or make me anything but a novelty candidate at best, or perhaps the target of a cruel joke involving goat’s blood. Still, when it’s age that becomes your primary disqualifying factor for being Miss America, well, it gives one pause.
Turning 35 does give natural-born citizens another benefit: we can run for President. Of course, it’s only upon reaching that age that one realizes just how thankless and futile that particular job is. If you opened up candidacy to 10 year-olds, you’d have a much more crowded and optimistic field.
Is it human nature to never be satisfied with our age? Or is that feeling created by industries desperate to keep selling face cream and black balloons?
In one week, I will turn 39. But the first wave of my friends from high school (and other Class of ‘89ers whom I adore) have started turning 40 in the past two or three months and there are more coming up. I can’t believe that the black balloons have caught up with my generation. Lordy, lordy... and I’m not even 40.
It kind of sucked to be a December baby who was the youngest in her class, especially when I was the last to get a driver’s license, but now I suppose I have an extra year on my side, and if cosmetics commercials have taught me anything, I should embrace that. I have had to correct some of my contemporaries and say no, this one isn’t my 40th... unless people think I’m trying to pull a Jack Benny and hold indefinitely at 39. (Jack might have been able to pull that off a bit better had there been Botox back in the day.) Of course, being a year behind the crowd is a little bittersweet because it’s harder to be at the very end of the gallows line than it is to be at the front. Why? Anticipation.
For most of my friends, this particular milestone seems bigger than the other birthdays ending in 5 or 0 have been, and never have I spent more time contributing to some sort of creative group effort at the request of various spouses and partners: I have taken photos for video collages, scanned old photos for scrapbooks, recorded a song with replacement lyrics, written remembrances... and then carefully edited these remembrances. It’s certainly not the harsh, boozy, black sendoff into death-via-middle-age that our parents created. It’s something different. Nostalgic. Softer, I think. It makes sense. Our suborbital wrinkles are softer too, thanks to advanced retinols.
Odd to think of Generation X as softer. Then again, our music has become the stuff of remixes and drugstore aisles. Sting is Adult Contemporary. The bulls-eye of current nostalgia is 1985 (Smurfs, anyone?).
But the black balloons aren’t coming out until my best funeral ever.
It is at this point that my husband wonders if I should be writing about my age on a website that is focused on my acting career. To this I make several points:
1 - Anyone who wants to know how old I am can easily find out, and I am not interested in hiding reality. If I were, I wouldn’t write a blog. Instead, I’d be on Twitter OMG-ing about shoes and Sephora.
2 - It’s not about how old you are, it’s about your playable age range. If someone thinks I look like I can play 30 or 32, then hooray. Likewise, if someone thinks I look like I can play 45 or 50 or *ahem* older, and is willing to pay me union rates and beyond to do so, hey, I’ll gladly take the gig.
Plus, I might be able to parlay that into a great Nora Ephron-esque essay (“My Adventures As a 39 Year-Old Septuagenarian”).
3 - If someone out there is thinking of me for a job and this particular blog entry changes his or her mind (Oh no! She has the talent and ability to do this plus she shows up on time but she’s almost 39?!? The horror!!), is that someone I would want to work with in the first place?
That said, my husband has the right to say “I told you so” if this blog entry proves fatal.
...anyone want to prove my husband wrong?
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.
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