As a culture we are inclined to turn certain demarcations into rituals. Centennials for countries. Millennials are those coming of age at the change of the millennia from the teens to the aughts.
With birthdays it’s the “ages of man,” in the biographical rather than the historical sense: 40, 65, and 70.
The 40th because it’s the doorway to middle-age, which is why Jack Benny never got beyond his 39th, a shtick that became one of comedy’s longest running and best-known gags:
“How old are you, Mr. Benny?”
Best known if you aren’t a Millenial, a group that hasn’t lived long enough to know anything that must be learned over time.
Sixty-five is the “age of retirement,” even though almost no one does, and most of us who
…think we’d like to
…can’t afford to,
… even if we wanted to.
The government even pays us not to, giving us more money a month if we put off collecting money a month on Social Security until we’re 70.
Ah, 70: the age I recently discovered to be the age at which people celebrate being able to stop anticipating how soon you will die.
“How old is he?”
“Jeez, is he gonna live forever?”
For those of us whose health has not inspired enthusiasm or who have suffered more than our share of calamity or who have been telling people for a very long while how soon we are likely to shuffle off this mortal coil (a form of bullying designed to get ones children to come to dinner every once in a while!) 70 may as well be a hundred: Inspiring awe! Remarkable! Perhaps even a bit regrettable. Especially if we have an insurance policy that matures without an annuitywhen we turn 70.
(Just as life insurance becomes a good investment, we no longer are permitted to invest.)
So, I’ve hit all the milestones—with less grace than most have managed—and now I’m 70, an event for which Avigail prepared as though she weren’t disappointed by me continuing to be alive.
In fact, she took on the role of producer—of a birthday I’d as soon as Jack Benny prefer to ignore—with a joie de vivre that utterly ignored the fact that to fulfill my own prophecy of mortality, all I needed to do was wait!
So, I vowed to distance myself from any involvement more than saying when asked a question, “Yes, my darlingest.” That and providing a list of family, friends, and layabouts I want invited. And kibitzing and kvetching, both of which Avigail insists I am relentless in pursuing…while I am certain I continue not to be involved. At lease, not very much.
(I’ll admit to the occasional insertion of a more reasonable point of view. (But only to avert disaster. As when Avigail entertained the idea of a vegetarian menu, and I—wisely, and with as much forbearance as an omnivore can muster—suggested all my brothers and most of my friends would be wondering how soon the main course would be following the salad.)
Pursuing a course of what Reagan called benign neglect has proven to be a wise decision…except on the rare occasion when she has replied to my agreement with a startled, “What?!” In which case I amend: “I mean, no, my dearest darling.”
Even when she specified the dress code to be, “semi-formal,” I was modest in my apprehension, although I knew (I’m not sure how, since she is the keeper of culture in our home) that for men of a certain age (mine) “formal attire” is taken to mean white tie and tails, whereas semi-formal is a tuxedo, which still is way too formal for the evening she has planned (although it promises to be quite a do) and not at all what she intended.
When she replied, “Surely no one thinks….,” I reminded her of the character and lack of breeding of my friends, many of whom would show up in top hats were they to think it would whistle up her skirt. “Then, what should the dress code have been?” she asked, not really wanting my opinion.
For a moment I thought to suggest that confusion was caused by assuming there needed to be a dress code, but then I remembered my brothers…and a few of my sisters…and all our children. So, I said, “Yes, Dear One.” And she replied, “What?!” And I replied, “No, Your Most Wonderful.” And as she reached for something with which to strike me, I corrected: “Dressy dress,” knowing she wouldn’t go for, “No shoes, no service.”
When the next rotation of invitation emendations came to my attention, the instruction was, “Coat and Tie.” Not what I had recommended (of course) and not taking into account that—since before the dot-com revolution in haberdashery—I don’t know anyone who still wears a tie (with the possible exception of Oliver and Reggie, her terriers, who each have an unbelievable—literally beyond belief— Halloween costume that includes a hat and, yes….)
Knowing that any comment at this point would result in physical abuse and a stentorious notation something like, “If Olliver and Reggie can dress for dinner, the scoundrels you call friends…” So, I said nothing. Until the questions began to roll in and she again corrected the dress code to: “party attire.”
Good people: I know there is a broad range of activities and dress at the parties you attend; but with the slightest exertion of imagination, Vernon will know he is not to wear the stained sweat pants he wears to the Losers Celebrations following his road races. (Nor does he need to wear the Morning Coat he wears to violin recitals where he confronts his nemesis: a 10-year-old virtuoso who lives to play Mozart Vernon cannot.) Our friends from California will know that anything one might wear to an event following the words “Party On!” is out of sorts with the aesthetics required by the hostess.
And everyone should now know that any form of attire in which you show up will now be regarded as either appropriate…or entertainment. And also know that when Avigail asks: “Can you believe what so-and-so is wearing?” I will agree, “Yes, Oh My Beloved.” And when she says, “You know it never mattered to me, don’t you? You know I only wanted it to be nice for you, don’t you?” I’ll reply, “Yes, She Who Makes the Sun to Rise and Rain to Fall, the Crops to Grow and the Seasons to Change.” She without whom … everyone would have known how to dress.