Age is only a number? Birthdays: The aging process takes on new meaning when the people and things you love start to get old.

March 15, 1998|By ROB HIAASEN

Sweet Baby James turned 50 on Thursday, which reminds me of something my older sister tells me on my birthday.

"My birthdays don't bother me - yours do," she says. She started telling me this when I was 30, then 35, now 39. She's in the quicksand 40s, but she only gets depressed on my birthdays.

James Taylor's birthday is getting to me, even though there's no evidence his age is bothering him. He just won a Grammy for his record "Hourglass." And he's not exactly sitting around moping at his Martha's Vineyard spread. Taylor, in fact, performed in Ireland on his 50th birthday. So it goes, says Kurt Vonnegut, who will be 76 this year.

Want to feel old? (Of course you don't. Just play along, please). My favorite actor, Dustin Hoffman, is 60. My favorite golfer, Jack Nicklaus, is 58. My favorite movie, "The Graduate," is 31. My favorite comedy, "This is Spinal Tap," is 14.

My best childhood friend, Paul, is also 39. My favorite Bob Dylan song, "Forever Young," is 24. My favorite sitcom, "Seinfeld," is 9. My youngest daughter, Hannah, is 6. And my favorite age, 25, is 14.

It's not just me feeling my age. My nephew has been a little down lately, too. Turns out basketball star Shaquille O'Neal just turned 26 and my 26-year-old nephew is bummed. He takes Shaq's age personally. Remember that point when you suddenly realized all the college and pro athletes were younger than you? When you started talking back to the TV during college basketball games: "Look at those baby faces!"

Naturally, I tried to console my nephew. I told him that my favorite basketball player, Walt Frazier, will be 53 this month. The fact perked him right up. If nothing else, I have a talent for spreading gloomy perspective.

Here's the moment I stopped paying attention to college football: When my contemporaries at the University of Florida - Chris Collingsworth, Wilbur Marshall and Neil Anderson - became too old to play in the NFL.

My wife went to school with Michael Jordan at the University of North Carolina. For years, this was her favorite (and perhaps only really decent) anecdote. But these days, with Jordan threatening to retire again, with the lost-a-step Jordan leaning toward a golf career, my wife has dropped her "little college story." Don't blame her.

My childhood buddy Tom went to school with tennis great Chris Evert; she and I both were born and raised in Fort Lauderdale. Chris Evert's father taught my mother to play tennis. I served up that story for years. But Chrissie, as she was formerly called, is pushing 44. The fact we grew up in the same Florida town only reminds me how many years ago that was.

That reminds me: I don't want to know how old Chris' father is - much less my mother's age.

But as I discovered, my dear mother has persisted in aging while I wasn't paying attention. And she got old in a hurry. She's like 70 or something. The number seems unreal to me - especially since I had banked on modern science keeping her forever 40. I remember her standing in our Fort Lauderdale kitchen, in a green sunny dress, talking with someone on the phone, her hair frosted, her figure intact. Only 40 years old.

That was 30 years ago, when 20-year-old James Taylor recorded his first hit, "Carolina in My Mind." Was it really that long ago?

To be honest, my birthdays really don't bother me so much anymore. I've learned to accept my age with grace and towering maturity. You've heard people say, "I'm glad I'm not 25 anymore. I know so much more now!" These people are liars, of course. But I'm here to tell you I really am glad to be 39.

L Just one thing. It's my mother. Her birthdays really bug me.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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