My old buddy from high school, Ian Anderson had the absolute best “John Candy laugh”. You know that classic Candy, part-giggle, part-chortle, where he’d tuck his chin to his chest, look into the camera with eyes that were somehow devious and warm at the same time and make a sound that we’d never heard before. Ian could do that. In fact I think he may have been able to do it better than Candy himself. And, when Ian gave you his Candy laugh he couldn’t control it. He’d lose it. It would begin as some simple, funny situation that he and I had been witness to, then we’d talk back and forth manipulating it in our heads, to a freakishly, extreme, imaginary scenario. Then, we’d lose it. Ian would do his unintentional Candy laugh and I’d have tears running down my face and stop breathing for a moment or two. I was wondering the other day what happened to those times. That unbridled laughter – where is it? When did it disappear?
Just like the well-known comedian who passed away too young, Ian did too. We lost him some years ago. He and I lost touch after high school but it was still a blow. Cancer took a cousin of mine recently too, and my father is at an age where he needs extra care from doctors and nurses. My world is changing, and I realize that it always does, but usually the changes are incremental, gradual. Yes, life-things happen. People get sick, or we get sick ourselves, jobs change, we move, homes are bought and sold, but even the big things aren’t consistent. They usually happen in between the gradual changes. I’ll be plugging along, perhaps I’ll release a book, or I’ll have a strong period of sales, or a situation with one of my kids will arise, or maybe I’ll have a Sunday morning run with my friends that’s particularly satisfying, and then BANG, the major change will come. I turn fifty on April 19, and as that ominous number approaches, I have a number of big changes all happening at once. And, I’m not sure I like it.
Maybe I’ve been sleeping. Maybe I’ve been so absorbed in trying to reach that next level of success as a writer that I’ve missed the signs. If that is the case then this is not a good thing. I’m supposed to be recording the world – its feelings and moods, and translating them into prose. Perhaps I’m observing everything and everybody except myself and what’s going on in my own life. I mean, I didn’t just wake up this morning with grey hair. I know that. It’s been turning grey for a long time. And, the chocolate bar-fuelled extra pounds that I’m currently carrying have been earned, daily. And, the really important things – my father, other family situations, they didn’t just creep up on me. I’ve been dealing with them day after day. Maybe it’s not the things that are happening that are bothering me; maybe it’s the things that are missing. Maybe it’s the things that used to be here and somehow, as the years have flown by from fifteen to twenty, and thirty, and then sped up even faster to forty and beyond, they’re not here anymore, and I don’t like that.
I don’t want to forget what it was like to be fifteen years old and pour cold tea into a bottle of scotch and sneak the bottle back in to my friend’s mother’s liquor cabinet. I don’t want to forget what it was like to kiss the girl on a deserted road at Cultus Lake. I don’t want to forget what it felt like to sit in the nosebleeds and watch the Who perform their first concert after Keith Moon died. And, I don’t want to forget what it was like to almost pass out from laughing at something that nobody else in the world except my friends and I could understand.
I have no problem turning fifty, that’s not it. I believe that fifty will look like whatever I choose it to look like. In fact I don’t think about my age very often. I do think about challenges though, and I know exactly how my mind works. I always need to have a mountain to climb. I need that challenge looming, beckoning me, daring me. I started running a few years ago and I decided to run a marathon. So, I did. In the past two years I’ve ran about a dozen half-marathons and with the aid of some patient running friends I ran a full-marathon too. Then, I wanted to write a book. So, I did. I’ve written five books in the past couple of years and today I earn the bulk of my living from writing. So, seeing that ominous number, or even saying it out loud doesn’t bother me. The world has changed after all and fifty isn’t fifty anymore.
I remember a client of mine many years ago telling me that he’d just turned fifty. He said that, for a woman, forty was the pivotal age but for a man it was fifty. To him, this was the age that meant something. Perhaps he was right, but, he said it with such a degree of finality. It was like he was limiting himself because of a number. It felt as though something was ending for him. I had another client who had just turned fifty-five and purchased a new truck. His wife told him that it would probably be his last truck. I never use exclamation marks, but get ready, here they come. His last truck! At fifty-five!
At fifty, I will not limit myself or my opportunities. My scotch-drinking days are over (and the world is a better place because of it), but that’s not going to stop me from creating my very own definition of “fifty”.
I think this weekend I’ll drive her to Cultus Lake with the freckle-faced girl. I’ll find a deserted road amongst the luxury homes that have been built there since my days of debauchery in the eighties. I’ll pull over, admire her freckles, and kiss her. Then, I’ll find somewhere that has a band playing loud and hard, the way music used to sound, and I’ll go listen to them. Live, in person. And then, I’ll call up a couple of my buddies and get into that vibe that you can only feel with friends you’re comfortable enough to fart in front of. We’ll tell some lies and forget about that whole adult world out there and we’ll giggle and laugh. If I’m lucky I’ll get a glimpse of Ian in my head, with his chin tucked towards his chest, chortling away, giving us his unintentional Candy laugh, and cracking me up. And, maybe I’ll just lose it. Maybe I’ll almost pass out from uninhibited, unregulated laughter. I’m not scared of fifty. I’m ready for it. I welcome it, and I’ll define it any way I want to.