I TURNED 40 recently on a gloomy, dishwater-gray day completely at odds with my sunny, upbeat disposition.
What I don't like to hear is a lot of weepy, woe-is-me talk about how The Big Four-Oh suddenly places one squarely on the doorstep of infirmity, debilitating sickness, senility and death -- even though that's so true and you'd have to be a fool not to see it.
In many ways, though, turning 40 is not that much different from turning 39.
Really, what has changed in my case? I still awaken each morning with a start, suddenly sitting bolt upright in bed and coughing up phlegm for 20 minutes before shuffling listlessly to the shower.
My days still involve taking a lot of guff from know-it-all editors and smarmy co-workers, as well as being ignored and unappreciated at home.
Evenings are still spent in a virtual stupor in front of the TV, hypnotized by the mindless pap that doubles for entertainment until drifting off in a lumpy over-stuffed chair with my neck cocked at an uncomfortable angle, setting in motion a lifelong (at least what's left of it) problem with spine curvature.
Still, I'm not the type to complain. Which is why I don't see what the big deal is about turning 40.
Forty is merely a state of mind. You're only as old as you feel. And on those rare days when I'm not bone-tired from another fitful night of tossing and turning (not to mention these weird, unsettling dreams), I don't feel too bad.
One thing that might take some getting used to, though, is the abuse that the 40-and-older take from the medical profession -- LTC not that I'm feeling sorry for myself, I'm just pointing out a simple fact.
I had a complete physical on the day I turned 40. After the obligatory 55-minute wait in the waiting room with a 3-year-old copy of People, I was finally ushered into an examining room.
What followed was a good deal of poking and prodding, as is customary with these things, although this doctor had the same gentle touch as a blacksmith, to tell you the truth.
When it was all over, he said: "You have the body of a man twice your age."
I waited for the playful wink or the reassuring smile that would signal that the doctor was only joking. But neither the wink nor the smile ever came.
"You can get dressed now," was all he said.
Then he said: "See Denise at the front window; she needs your signature on some forms."
Well, thank you very much, Doc.
So I found out that doctors can be very cruel to men in their 40s. They love to play these little mind games with you, knowing how vulnerable you are, how you're clinging to life by your fingernails now that the long, depressing, spiraling descent into old age has begun.
Still, I'm not going to let it get me down. No, sir.
Hey, life begins at 40! At least that's what I keep telling myself over and over and over again.
A person of 40 tends to be a bit more introspective than he or she was at an earlier age, I can tell you that.
Much of my time now is spent in a rocking chair with a warm quilt around my shoulders.
I sit there rocking and rocking and staring out the window and thinking: My God, 40 years old . . . And what have I accomplished, really? Sure, I have a lovely wife and three great kids and wonderful friends and a basement that rarely fills with water when it rains.
Still. Where's the expensive sports car in the driveway? Where are the ski vacations in Aspen? Where's the hefty bank account that allows one to thumb one's nose at the rest of the world -- or at least take an occasional day off from work?
Luckily, it is not in my nature to dwell on all the things missing from my life (besides, we'd be here all day.)
Those who know me say I'm the type of person who could find something cheerful to say about a famine. It's just not in my nature to sit here and get down in the dumps.
So don't worry about me. (Yeah, right, as if you were. Ha! Fat chance of that every happening!)
I'm approaching life these days with the same vigor as always (although who knows for how long?) The key is to enjoy middle age and appreciate all the good things about turning 40.
I understand vegetables taste much better.