If you would have asked me twenty-five years ago what I’d be doing on my 40th birthday, I would have suggested that, most likely, I’d be careering across the Nevada desert in a red Cadillac convertible, an endless loop of Sympathy For The Devil playing at ear-numbing decibels while my Pennsylvania Dutch-ified best friend, Dr. Gonzo, handed me whipped cream canisters in between firing shots at black tailed jack rabbits with a pistol she stole from a locker in her parents’ garage.
Of course, if you would have asked me fifteen years ago, I’d have waxed a poetic rendition of my Oscar acceptance speech - not for winning Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress or Most Likely to Succeed Without Taking Her Top Off - but the speech I would give after Meryl Streep and Dame Judi Dench (there was a big fist fight backstage over who would have the honors) handed me the Mid-Lifetime Achievement Award for Exceptional Artistic Expression, an award the Academy instituted just for me after it became obvious that by the time I was ready to semi-retire at age 97, the amassed body of my exceptional work would have become so ginormous that to properly fete me would take a weeklong mini series. And so they’d do half now, half later.
Now, if you’d asked me five years ago how I planned to celebrate my 40th birthday, well, I’d have scaled down a bit, to be sure. But the scenario would still include something like ten cases of champagne, hordes of my adoring and adorable friends and family and Mick Jagger all gathered round, with me in the middle jumping up and down waving (with much humility) the first copy of my recently published book.
And, of course, there’d be a dancing gorilla.
As it turns out, I began the first morning of my 41st year at my mother’s house on my hands and knees, in the dark, groping through the green shag carpeting trying to find the eyeglasses that I had just knocked off the end table. It was 5 AM and for some reason now unknown to me, I thought it might be a grand idea to up and change the sleeping baby's diaper. I then had the genuinely grander idea to retrieve and put on my glasses and actually see the diaper, since I am hopelessly myopic and still not at the “change a diaper in the dark” level of diaper-changing proficiency. However, in sleepily flailing my arm a la Frankenstein’s monster in the general vicinity of the end table trying to nab my eyewear, I managed only to catch the arm of my glasses and thusly propel them rocket-style through the room toward some far, indeterminate direction. Actually, it sounded as if they hit the mirror, bounced into the fan, and then ricocheted under the bed. However, since it seemed entirely too effortful to walk across the room, turn on a light, and take a look-see under the bed (or cut to the chase altogether and just put in my contact lenses), I instead decided to crawl over every other inch of the floor feeling for my glasses in the dark. Even though I thought that they were most likely under the bed. Which they were.
I am happy to say that the day did improve as the hours ticked on. Even though it rained. Even though I drove 50 miles in the rain and fog and needed to make a pit stop at the McDonald’s Playland so that I could nurse the baby while my daughters played on the Petri gym.
After all, my husband did gave me a sweet, funny card which made me smile and tear-up. He also bought me a brand new, way-huge computer monitor and then prepared a fantabulous dinner while I took a loverly and much needed nap. Then, we all ate cake and ice cream and a wonderful time was had by all.
And now I’m 40.
And I’m okay with it.
I haven’t had a whole lot of time to obsess or break down over what marks the beginning of my slide into middle-agedom. As you know, I’m just coming off of nine month’s obsessing and breaking down over being uncomfortably pregnant. And now I’m just too exhausted to break down over much of anything, so it all has worked out quite well.
That’s a lot.
When I was born, the Beatles were still together.
Gas was 32 cents a gallon.
Petticoat Junction was in its fourth season.
Ah, Petticoat Junction. They just don’t write ‘em like that anymore. If you ask me, the The Sopranos is sadly lacking in characters like Fred Ziffel, the pig farmer. Also, not enough girls in petticoats.
Anyway, my birthday…
Yes, I’m 40, and no, I am not that gonzo journalist screaming across the desert in search of the American Dream. Nor have I won any acting awards let alone set my foot on the boards or my visage upon celluloid for over five years. And although I have a spanking cool blog with an uber-hip and darn good looking readership, well, a book deal and ten cases of champagne would have been nice…even though I’d have to wait until I was done breastfeeding to drink the champagne. And I’d probably need to actually have an idea for a book before someone offered me money to write one. I had been thinking to pen something along the lines of a humorous account of my impoverished childhood growing up in Limerick, but Frank McCourt beat me to it.
I’m not bitter.
And I refuse to babble on morosely about woulda, coulda, shouldas.
Bah, I say.
And Bah again.
Because, you know, even though I haven’t had my picture on the cover of Rolling Stone or discovered a cure for anything or been invited to the White House; even though I’ve never held some prestigious job title or earned a Ph.D. or had my own secretary; even though I will most likely never have star on Hollywood Boulevard or a Wikipedia entry in my name or a sandwich named after me…
Okay, now I’m getting depressed.
But stuff it. Just stuff it all.
Because so far and so good, it’s been an absolutely, wonderfully fabulous life anyway.
See here! Here’s forty absolutely, wonderfully fabulous things I’ve done so far. Ain’t life grand?
1. I was born. Listen, the odds of any one individual existing - taking into account the likely number of eggs for any one woman and the chances that a particular sperm would, er-uhm, “court” any one particular egg - well, those odds are something like 1 in 3,200,000,000,000,000,000. Of course, some people would say that I had little or nothing to do with determining whether a specific sperm and egg met up, and that being conceived and born were no great accomplishment on my part. Whatever. Tell that to the 799,998 other eggs (egg number 799,999 being my sister). As far as I’m concerned, it’s a resume line.
2. I crawled out of my crib at age 9 months. See? I was a go getter.
3. I learned all the words to Hey Jude before I started Kindergarten. And not just the “nah-nah-nah” part.
4. At 4 years old, I clinched the role of Lead Dancing Doll in the “Hey, You Beautiful Doll” routine at Miss Jean Dixon’s Spring Recital and all because I knew my right from my left. This was very important as only stage left had exit stairs as opposed to stage right which had a five foot sheer drop-off. It was up to me to lead all the Dancing Dolls safely offstage before they plummeted to their demise like so many pink tulle lemmings. I can proudly attest that I never lost a dancer.
5. I successfully completed my first year of school at age five, majoring in Sliding Board and Using The Scary Smelly Lavatory All By Myself.
6. I survived 12 years of Catholic school taught by nuns. Some of them still wore wimples. Enough said.
7. I graduated from Boston University with a degree in English despite the fact that I grew up calling the thing that heats your house a RAD-ee-ay-tor instead of a RAY-dee-ay-tor. I also frequently said things like “Have yous guys seen da new Rocky movie? Da matinee starts at tree o clock!” It's a good thing that English wasn't the American National Language back then. I'd have been evicted.
8. I learned how to drive on a car with manual transmission. Not a big deal until I tell you that I lived in a mountain town chock full of 45 degree angle hills. There was a special section of the neighborhood junkyard for burned out clutches.
9. I lettered in high school softball even though my behind only left the bench during two games.
10. Joey Ramone signed my leg.
11. I spent a semester abroad in Grenoble, France and traveled through Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France and Spain all by my big girl self without being abducted and/or becoming hooked on Gauloise cigarettes in a an attempt at self-conscious Euro-swankiness. I did, however, allow a mad French hairdresser to chop my hair into frightening angles and dye it a winey sort of purple color. I’m convinced he only did it because he had a hate on for Americans. You never saw the Canadian students being victimized into looking like Cure fans.
12. I got a personal tour of Canterbury Cathedral from a hunchbacked old man who, I am pretty sure, was actually a ghost.
13. I saw the Northern Lights.
14. I saw Frank Sinatra in concert.
15. An Elvis impersonator sang at my wedding. After the reception, my husband and I drove to Graceland for our honeymoon.
16. I can cook a great béchamel.
17. I worked for a summer at the front desk of a resort hotel in the Poconos. It was very much like Dirty Dancing, except I brought a cantaloupe and not a watermelon.
18. I've flown in a helicopter and a hot air balloon.
19. I worked for ten years for a giant pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia. I did a bit of desktop publishing this-and-that for them. Most other times, I ate a lot of fancy lunches and stayed at a few chi-chi hotels on their bill, all of which I used to feel very bad about. However, now that my health insurance stinks and my pharmacy plan stinks even worse, I don’t feel quite so bad.
20. Sean Astin rubbed my pregnant belly. This was long before he was a Hobbit.
21. I was a writer and actor for a sketch comedy group in Philadelphia. People paid real money (as opposed to shiny beads or miner’s scrip) to see us, and I do believe that we elicited a few hoots and even a half a holler. (The half a holler was all mine.)
22. I've acted Shakespeare and sounded like I knew what I was doing, i.e. I didn't mispronounce "thou".
23. I was also a member of an improv comedy troupe (as opposed to a group) and got up on stage in front of paying customers and was funny without a script. Or so says my mother.
24. I've read my poetry in public and wasn’t tarred and feathered.
25. I am a Girl Scout leader.
26. I convinced some incredibly handsome and intelligent guy to marry me.
27. And then have babies with me.
28. And I didn’t have to pay him.
29. I've jumped from a rocky cliff into a cold river.
30. I rode a galloping horse across a mountain field. And then I landed on my duff on the mountain field and watched the horse gallop away from me.
31. I was courted by an Algerian innkeeper in Nice.
32. I hitchhiked solo around the San Juan islands.
33. I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Okay, just kidding. But I could have. Anyway, I was once kicked off a city bus in Philadelphia for fighting with the bus driver, so close enough.
34. I danced with gypsies in a moonlit piazza in Florence. Give me a break, huh? I was drunk on tequila trying to forget my purple hair-do and the fact that I'd never look cool with a cigarette.
35. I fell asleep on the cliffs at Land’s End. Land’s End being the rocky coast of Southwest England, not the yuppie clothing store that was taken over by Sears. Although, I fell asleep in Sears once, too. Curled right up next to the dishwashers and fell asleep.
36. I’ve managed to stay excellent friends with my most excellent sister, whom I adore. Who I aodre? Either way, I adore her. (Don’t tell my English professors. About the who/whom thing, not my sister. Although, she’s on the lam, wanted for split infinitives, so best not to mention her, either.)
37. In fourth grade I befriended a girl who was new to our school and who had the deadly bad luck of wearing the exact same dress as another girl in our school, one who was infamous for eating crayons and then spitting colored wax when she talked. Happily, I was able to see beyond the unfortunate fashion coincidence, and the new girl and I went on to become thick as thieves through nine more years of school and beyond. She just visited me yesterday, jiggled my baby for a few hours so I could run errands, treated me to a lovely Thai meal, and then gave me a hug that felt like a good session with a chiropractor. Then she handed me a cannister of whipped cream and shot some rabbits in my back yard. I’m forever grateful that I didn’t judge her on that one monstrous fashion faux pas. Although, black Chuck Taylors in summer, Amy? Hello? I suppose you wear white footwear after Labor Day, too.
38. I have no fear of commas.
39. I’m managing to raise some incredibly delightful, witty and loveable children. Nature, nurture…either way, I’m taking credit.
40. I can hula hoop.
So, there you have it.
Forty years well spent.
I plan on being around for at least forty more, knock on wood. Forty at least. I have things I want to do.
I’d like to visit India, stow away on a tramp steamer, ride in a steeplechase, learn to play the fiddle, dine with royalty, and write a screenplay. For starters.
In the meantime, I’m going to write a rough draft of the Wikipedia entry for "Halushki". I need to be ready should my forty-plus years turn into fifteen or so minutes of fame.
Pass the tequila.