Published on September 27th, 2014 | by Richard Black


Turning 40 and Rambling On


This is me at the age of forty with, for some reason, a cadaver’s hand on my head

I recently turned 40 and I’m not particularly thrilled by the fact. Aside from the small bits of wisdom I’ve gained over the past four decades the only upside to aging I can see is that by the time I’m in my 60s I’ll be so out of my fucking mind that I won’t be aware of how out of my fucking mind I’ve become.

As a side note apologies to my future caretakers.

Yes I realize that aging is a privilege afforded to few and much more preferable than the alternatives, death being one and aging backwards being the other. While living a life a la Benjamin Button would add a bit more interest existence I’d rather die the way God intended, in my 80’s with a liver the size and approximate functionality of a charcoal briquette.

One of my friends is always keen to point out that this is a first world problem, aging that is not being present at one’s own conception in reverse. Many people across the globe rarely make it to this advanced age and I appreciate that fact, I really do.

Unfortunately life as we know it is a subjective existence. Some survive horrors I can’t even imagine, the worst the world can hurl upon them while others stub their toe one dismal Tuesday afternoon and leave their wife and eight children to raise Alpacas in Argentina.


Plant one of these tasty morsels onto a chair leg and it’s off to Argentina I go

Suffice it to say that I’m somewhere in the middle but tend to lean more towards the stubbed toe faction and not just because I’ve heard that alpacas taste delicious. I’m less than enthusiastic about filling my remaining decades obsessing over the medication in my pill caddy and hoping for a “good” prostate exam leaves me less than excited about getting older. I haven’t booked a ticket for Argentina yet but I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t checked the rates on for a flight.

“Age is just a number” or “You’re only as old as you feel” are common and, I might add, idiotic statements I’ve often heard about aging.

Unless one happens to be a theoretical mathematician the problem with numbers is that they usually represent something. 15,000 people in the United States die every night in their sleep. That’s a number. Nazi Germany brutally executed over six million Jewish people but you never hear anyone try to dish that off as “just a number”. My triglycerides levels are also just a number but one with fairly relevant applications.

Still “one is only as young as one feels” right? Sure.

Unfortunately on most days I feel like Methuselah after being beaten in to the Latin Kings. For the most part I only have myself to blame. I usually do. My lifestyle is not one conducive to long periods of rest and reflection despite the fact that I could do well with heaps of both. Given a little of each however I’ve come to understand that I’ve probably been middle aged for some time. Possibly since birth.

A few weeks ago I heard myself say “I remember when this was all farmland,” as I drove my wife and daughter through a stretch of highway full of fast food restaurants, massage parlors and at least two Home Depots.

My father used to say the same sorts of things when I was a kid. He’d be driving us all on a family vacation to visit the largest ball of twine in Iowa or a local correctional facility and provide a running commentary on the state of the weather, the crops or really anything else as long as it possessed a few remarkably uninteresting qualities.


The scene looks innocuous and if one weren’t traveling with my father it might be.

“It’s been hot. The soybeans sure look dry this year,” I can hear him say as we plowed through miles and miles of the Midwest on our way to vacation in Malaria Lake Nebraska. My six brothers and sisters, all of us packed into a 1987 Dodge Minivan with minimal air conditioning, would give an audible sigh as he began a one sided discussion on the level of water in the creeks and rivers we crossed them and the water tables when there weren’t any rivers or creeks upon which to comment.

The man was indefatigable when it came to rural commentary, really any commentary regarding geography or roads or any aspect of existence that was remarkably dull.

“Did you know that President Eisenhower is the reason we have our current highway system?” I remember him asking as we tooled across Nebraska at 55 miles an hour to see the regions largest tire fire. We did not. Nor did we care.

“The current road we’re on was built by Ike,” my father would continue, “that’s President Eisenhower. Up until the 1950’s most roads like this were maintained and built by the state, county or a municipality. They were usually one or two lane dealies (“dealies” was one of my father’s favorite terms and is seconded only by the word “whatchamacallit”) that couldn’t support the weight of an 18 wheeler or a tank given the quality of the cement or asphalt and the underlying structure of the road. Now this was after WWII and Ike wanted to provide the military with a fast and easy way to move troops and supplies from coast to coast…”

My brothers and sister and I pretty much dozed off after the first thirty or forty minutes of my father’s History of the American Highway system only to wake up a few states later to hear him droning on about another equally interesting and unrelated topic “…and that’s how the foot came to be the unit of measure we use today.”

Now that I’ve turned 40 I’ve found myself providing a running commentary on anything and everything that manages to hop, skip and jump across the frazzled neurons of my brain.

“I used to bang a girl that lived down that street,” I found myself saying as I drove Darcy home from preschool during a brief lapse in judgment. Fortunately my daughter is about as present during these “conversations” as I was 35 years ago.

“Laurel found a quarter at school,” Darcy said a few days ago completely ignoring the past fifteen minutes of my lecture on the rise and decline of the railroad in the United States.

“Did you know that a quarter was once commonly referred to as two bits,” I heard myself drone on, noting the glassy look in my daughter’s eyes as she gazed out the window.


Boob. Cow. Boob.

“Back in the 1920’s when the phrase was coined,” I said, looked back for a laugh and continued to babble on even though I could tell that my daughter was a few minutes away from falling asleep, “two bits was a decent amount of money but as inflation rose and the value of the dollar declined the term took on a new meaning, that being one of frugality or of low quality.”

“Frugality was commonly referred to as ‘a ten dollar word’ at the time,” I ramble on “ten dollars being the amount of money it would take to buy a metric ton of butter back in the day, which was really Oleo or margarine as I came to know it. Oleo or “The Patient Man’s Butter” was used as a substitute for cooking and sun tan lotion all of which were in short supply due to the war. The shortage was exacerbated by a viral rash that affected the udders or nipples of cows. You’re probably unaware that the word “udder” has a strange history…” I continued and watched Darcy give a thousand mile stare out of the window but I still couldn’t stop myself. I suppose my old man felt the same way and for the next twenty minutes I rambled on about the etymology of the word “udder” and it’s relation to the Franco Prussian war.

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