Here are some of the things that happened in the summer of 1961:
- Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris of the New York Yankees were in hot pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record of 60. By July 25, Maris was at 40, having hit six homers in four games played in two days.
- The second American manned space flight, Mercury 4, lifted off and splashed down on July 21 with Virgil “Gus” Grissom aboard.
- On July 19, TWA became the first airline to show a movie in-flight.
- On July 25, the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, spoke on national television about the crisis in Berlin. He urged Americans to build fallout shelters.
- On August 13, the government of East Germany began erecting a wall between the eastern and western sectors of Berlin.
- The number one song in the U.S. for most of July and August was Tossin’ and Turnin’ by Bobby Lewis
- Ernest Hemingway died on July 2.
- Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea and Francis of Assisi were playing in movie theaters, few of which were located in shopping malls.
- On July 1, The Beatles wrapped up a 92-night stretch of shows at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, West Germany.
- On July 12, I made my entrance on the world stage.
Yes, folks, I am 50 years old today, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m in deep denial about it. When you’re 40, people who are 50 are “older.” When you’re 30, people who are 50 are “getting up there.” When you’re 20 or younger, people who are 50 are just plain old. So here I am at the half-century mark and I can report to you that I, for one, do not feel old. In fact, some would say that I’m trying to recapture my youth:
- Last fall, I joined a gym and got myself in decent enough shape that I ran in a 5K race in June with a respectable time.
- Having completely missed the Dungeons & Dragons craze when I was in college, I’ve taken up the game this year, getting together twice a month with a great group of guys and a lovable black lab named Night.
- Five years ago, I fulfilled a dream I’d had since literally the age of eight, when I completed a first draft of a novel. The book, which has characters I really like but which also had the unfortunate effect of putting people to sleep in the first half, rests comfortably and anonymously in a closet in my bedroom. I went on to release novels number two and three as free serialized podcasts. They’ve achieved decent download numbers on Podiobooks.com, though I have yet to interest publishers or literary agents in them.
- I started listening to podcasts in 2006 and became hooked on the medium. It didn’t take long for me to start listening to podcast novels, which led me to take an interest in the people who create them, which led me to start attending science fiction conventions (though costuming is not and never will be one of my strong points.) At these events, I’ve made some terrific friendships and met some of the most creative and talented people I could ever hope to meet.
- A summer reunion with two of my college roommates, two of the greatest guys I’ve ever known, has become a tradition stretching all the way back to…2009. Okay, so it’s not that long a tradition, but it’s a great time that I look forward to all year.
So yeah, I’m resisting getting old. There are some aspects of age that one cannot avoid. My eyes are worse than they used to be (and they weren’t that great to start with — I’ve had to wear glasses since age nine.) My knees get sore if I run too much without a brace on. An AARP membership offer showed up in the mail last week and just as quickly journeyed to my recycling bin. On the other hand, God blessed me with blonde hair that does a splendid job of hiding incipient gray. Also, I still have plenty of said hair. So I can’t complain.
Looking back on what I’ve accomplished so far, in a three-way tie for the top spot are the three greatest kids a guy could hope for. They have been ridiculously easy to bring up, far easier than I deserved. You know how parents have to fight, cajole and threaten to make their kids do their schoolwork? I don’t know what that’s like. All three boys are ambitious self-starters. The oldest spent every freaking night last summer studying for the Law School Admission Test. Because of that work and a high GPA as an undergraduate, he’ll enroll this fall in a law school ranked number 22 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. My middle son takes a ridiculous course load at Syracuse University; last semester, Philosophy was his “easy” class. His semesters have been filled with courses like physics, computer science, calculus, etc. He also works weekends and has had a knack for fixing things around the house since he was a child (no lie — he helped me fix a CD player with a balky tray when he was six or seven.) My youngest? Aside from the fact that he can pitch a baseball in ways that I’ve only dreamed of being able to do, let me tell you a story about him. We live in Syracuse, New York. In the winter, there are two topics of conversation: The snow and the Syracuse University men’s basketball team. My youngest has recognized Otto the Orange (the SU mascot) since he was a toddler. So imagine my surprise when I came home after work and the gym one night last winter, having listened to the start of an SU basketball game on the car radio, to find the TV off. I called up the stairs to let my son know that the game was on. He replied that he knew that, but he was doing his homework. I considered that: My 15 year-old son was not watching his favorite basketball team play on TV because he was doing his homework. It occurred to me right then and there that my kids have spoiled me rotten.
On top of that, all three of them are wonderful young men who are just plain fun to be around. I can’t wait to see what their futures hold.
I’ve had professional achievements and setbacks. I’ve celebrated promotions and new responsibilities, and I’ve endured two very long bouts of unemployment. I’ve built a small but satisfying freelance writing practice in my spare time, and I’ve made many business contacts and some very good friendships. I don’t expect to be able to retire until age 70, so I believe that many, many more opportunities and friendships lie before me.
People who knew me as a child and teenager in Afton, New York would still recognize some things about me. I’m still a bookworm, I’m still irrationally devoted to the Boston Red Sox, I still delight in telling stupid jokes and one-liners, I still play my guitar once in a while, and I still listen to Bob Dylan CDs. Some things don’t change. Other things do, and some things absolutely should. I have personality flaws that I’m actively trying to fix, fears I’m trying to conquer, bad habits I’m trying to break, selfishness I’m trying to banish, and self-absorption I need to stop. I guess that’s what will make the next 50 years interesting (did you catch the subtle way I worked optimism in there?). I’m not perfect and I never will be, but hopefully I’ll never stop trying to be better. Please give my ass a hard kick if I ever do.
“Yesterday it was my birthday
I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My life’s a mess
But I’m having a good time.”
No one says it better than Paul. Have a good time, everybody.