Today is my birthday. I’ve had quite a lot of them. I hope to have more.
A few years ago, I worked on an advertising campaign for Viagra. Our insight was that the men most likely to have erectile dysfunction were the age I have just become, what we called in AdSpeak “the age of male mastery,” a time when we are have achieved competence in most aspects of our life.
We know how to do our jobs well, we are as good as we’ll probably get at understanding women, we have raised children to adulthood, we have shed the gloss of youthful fumbling and incompetence. We are mellow but still alive.
We used this insight to say to men: look, you know how to do most things well so, rather than hiding and avoiding your wiener’s unfortunate behavior, be a mensch, talk to your doctor and get a prescription for these blue pills. You know how to solve most problems and you know how to solve this one too, so get on with it and get it on.
I do know how to do a lot of things. But I’m not particularly interested in those things I have mastered, in sitting back on my laurels. Instead I am aware of how many things I still need to get better at. I want to read new books, hear new music, go to unvisited lands, embrace new ideas, technologies, and improve myself each day. Tackling new things is what keeps one young.
Not that I need to be young. In fact, when I was young, I wanted to be old. When I was ten, I read adult books. When I was thirteen, I tried to grow a mustache. When I was fourteen, I bought my first record album: “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.” In college, I wore thrift-store suits and smoked a pipe. My friends joked, “Danny’s grandfather said he’d pay his tuition if he wore his grandpa’s clothes.”
I can feel the old man in me and I don’t like a lot of things about him. I am ready for bed at ten. I wake up at five. I have three pairs of reading glasses. I drink half-caff.
I still go to the gym a few times a week, not to be rippling and bulging but to make it easier to tie my shoes and carry groceries. My body is like a car from the early ‘Eighties — still running, but a bit bulkier and noisier than necessary. It needs its oil changed more frequently, it pulls more slowly away from the light, and I have to watch for rust. Girls ignore it.
I see a tendency in myself and my old friends to want to talk about the past in a rueful way, to lament the closing of a long-time business, to bend young ‘uns ears with stories of the good old days before we were all glued to our phones and tattoos were for sailors, truckers and convicts. I assume I am boring my friends in their lush beards and man buns when I talk about seeing the Talking Heads at the Mudd Club down on White Street, about outlaw parties in burned-out buildings on the Lower East Side in the early ’80’s, of going to Studio 54 when I was in high school. Now the rebel anthems of my youth have become Muzak. Joe Strummer’s long dead and they play “Lost in the Supermarket” in my supermarket.
I have pretty good DNA. Both of my parents are alive and fine. My grandparents all lived into their eighties. My paternal grandfather died in his sleep at 98. So I live each day assuming it probably won’t be my last.
My birthday means a lot less to me each year. I often have to do a little math to remember how old I actually am. I don’t especially like the reminder. Or the attention. There’s nothing I want or need as a present besides the love of my family, the warmth of my friends, the hope that this one won’t be the last.
But today, I will be celebrating me, this older, and, in many ways, better me. I will indulge myself all day long and do some things I like. And I will look through my real presents, the many things I have to look forward to.
I am excited about my various new jobs, about my son’s adventures in Rome, and lucky to be in love with my beautiful, wise girlfriend. I have new books being printed, new ideas percolating in my head, new art I want to make. I am about to go to Basel, Prague, Doha, Hanoi, and Reykjavik to meet new people and to spread my love of drawing. I just shot a new klass for Sketchbook Skool yesterday. In so many ways, the year ahead will be the best one ever with loads to be grateful for.
So screw the wrinkles. Let’s have cake.