Wednesday, January 13, 2010

La La La La La La, You Say It's My Birthday

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.
-- "Birthday" by the Beatles, from the White Album

The Beatles' song "Birthday" has been echoing in my head all morning, and how appropriate. Because today really is my birthday, number 58 and still counting.

How I ever got to be 58 years old is beyond me, given everything that I've done in the past half-century. For some reason "half-century" sounds like a longer time than "58 years," but whatever. When you're in your twenties, being in your fifties is incomprehensible, so far off in the future. Everyone you knew who were in their fifties seemed older than God's underwear, and it was almost like they were from some other planet. Now, being fifty-plus years old doesn't seem that awful at all.

I look back at my life and I have to say I'm pretty happy with the way things have turned out. I've been extremely fortunate in that I've been able to live my life exactly as I wanted to live it, as opposed to conforming to someone else's idea of what my life should have been like. And like most people I was subjected to a lot of pressure in my early years to conform to a certain societal role. I have been blessed with extremely good health and the skills and talent to make a very comfortable living for myself. I have had the opportunity to live and work in some of the most interesting places in the country, most notably Washington DC in the eighties and the San Francisco Bay Area in the early nineties. I have also been able to visit some of the most fascinating and wonderful places in the world, such as Rio de Janeiro, the United Kingdom, Australia, Iceland, and the Netherlands. There are still many other places I want to visit, but these places are dreams fulfilled for me and they have left their indelible marks on me.

Here are some of my impressions and memories of the decades I have managed to live through, either through sheer luck or by the grace of the Big Dude in the Sky:

The Fifties were all about growing up in a small town, with picture-perfect white Christmases, beautiful Pennsylvania autumns, warm, seemingly-endless summer nights, starting grade school and beginning to explore a huge, wonderful world.

The Sixties were a coming-of-age time, when my life expanded beyond my family and I started to get some idea of my place in the world. I remember the Sixties primarily through music, with the Beatles and Motown in the first half, and the psychedelic music of the hippie era in the second half. The late Sixties were an incredible blast of color, light and excitement, a joyous liberation from the stifling conformity of the previous decade. It was a time when everything was new and exciting and colorful, a time when the world fairly exploded with new possibilities and ideas everywhere, in music, art, literature, entertainment, society. Everything was changing and everything was possible, and it is still probably the most exciting and wonderful time of my life.

The Seventies were a time when reality set in and I had to come to terms with the real world. Like a massive hangover after the wild party that the Sixties were, the Seventies were a time for me to get a grip and get serious about my life and my career. College turned out disastrously for me, and unlike those very fortunate people who have a crystal-clear idea of what they want to do with their lives, I had to flounder around for a while exploring a lot of different things. I did have some very interesting jobs that taught me a lot about the world and about myself, most notably working in the Social Services counseling area of the Allegheny County jail in Pittsburgh. That was probably the most berserk, interesting, frightening and enjoyable job I have ever had in my life. Much of that had to do with my boss at the time, who was one of the funniest people I have ever met. He had an incredible talent for mimicking people, and did uncannily perfect, spot-on impressions of the people we had to deal with in the jail. I remember many afternoons when we laughed ourselves silly for hours. I would laugh so hard and so long my entire body hurt. It was the most ridiculously insane job ever, but also the most fun. The Seventies were like that, completely crazy-scary and interesting all at once.

The Eighties were a huge amount of fun. I was living in Washington DC for the decade, probably the epicenter of everything that was happening in the world at the time. My career was really taking off at the time, being hired by IBM in 1981. I found a lot of wonderful friends who became my chosen family, and we spent the decade in a dizzying haze of dance, dance, dance, drugs, drugs, drugs. DC had its own special kind of R&B/dance music (now known as "old skool") that was exciting, melodic and extremely danceable. We wouldn't get to the dance clubs until 1 A.M. and stayed until well past dawn, stumbling out of the club dripping with sweat into the blindingly brilliant Sunday morning sunlight. And we did that nearly every single weekend! We would travel all over seeking the ultimate in entertainment, and regularly went to New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other places on the party circuit. Now, even thinking about something like that gets me tired. Given the tremendous tsunami of recreational pharmaceuticals with which we were inundated, I truly don't understand how I survived that decade.

The Nineties were the time when I finally grew up and became an adult. Literally, I had been living a very extended adolescence up to that time. You can't do that forever because even the biggest party has to end at some point, and for me that was the nineties. I had a major farewell when I went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1990, and it was five days of the most insane, non-stop partying I had ever done. After that, everything changed. I passed some sort of milestone or had some kind of epiphany, because I left all that craziness behind and somehow, became an adult. My career took me to California in the early nineties and while it didn't turn out to be the utopia I always imagined it to be, I still loved it out there and miss living in California. It was close to being a paradise, but even paradise doesn't last forever. I moved to Phoenix in 1993 and have been here ever since, having finally found a place I can call home. The last half of the Nineties were a time of settling down and stability, and building the basis for the rest of my life.

The Double-Aughts (a really awful name for the first decade of the new millennium) have been a time of transition for me, of really understanding what my life is about and what is important to me. I came to realize that my true calling in life is to work with animals and I came to realize that rabbits are the animals I want to help the most. I discovered Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue and the wonderful people there have become my family, the people that I choose to share my life with, and they bring meaning, structure, purpose and best of all joy to my life. As I moved out of the working world into retirement, I've learned to be open and flexible and adaptable to rapidly changing times. Politically and culturally, it has been a scary, violent and at times horrifying ride, fraught with really ignorant and insane people who wear their racism and intolerance like a badge of honor. The past couple of years have been the Ascendancy of Stupidity in America, but I've managed to get through it and I have cautious hope and optimism that this new decade will bring more of the peace, prosperity and happiness I have been so very lucky to have at every point in my life.

No comments:

Post a Comment