How I Lived To Be Fifty

Edith BunkerI, to whom much compassion has been shown, am concerned about you. You’re asking, “If Marty Barrett is fifty, what does that mean for me?”

Let me walk you through some of the stages people encounter when dealing with my age, as reported by the American Psychiatric Association and UNICEF.

Cognitive Resonance: Roman Numerals v. Tracksuit Sizes


When I turned 40, my Roman Numeral was XL, as was the size of the overstock wardrobe items I’d buy, like New England Patriots’ “Squish the Fish” t-shirts and swag sweatpants from the HD-DVD release of “The Bourne Identity.” Now that I am a slightly more svelte 50, I’m reminded that Marcus Aurelius (The Stoic) might throw me an L party, to which I’d wear a size L toga. So things are as they should be, at least for this decade. I’m not worried about what I’ll wear when I turn 60 (LX) because I imagine we’ll all just be wearing body paint and/or barrels by then.

Accepting My Doom


While I fully intend to live at least twice as long as I have already, it isn’t lost on me that if I had lived during the time of Marcus Aurelius, I’d probably have been dead for nearly 1800 years by now. That is a sobering thought. But it also helps me to live in the moment. While I might like to have been around in Shakespeare’s England, do you know how many types of poxes they had back then? A lot. The number of poxes they had was not nearly compensated for by the number of things they could name a nog after. While we may have lost the nog technology bestowed on us by the ancient astronauts, I’m still happy to live during this time, and you should be happy that you are alive during my time, too.


Jim Jones

I further admit that this birthday is the first one I’ve ever worried about. It has been a tough year, despite some successes. But with each setback my self-defeating refrain would be the same: “[X] happened and I’m about to be fifty?” when it should have been, “[X] happened despite the presence of organized religion? Ha ha! Glad I don’t tithe!

If I ever embark on a side hustle of giving weekend-long motivational intensives at the Marriott, one of the things I’ll remind my devotees (in addition to telling them that “the Chinese symbol for change is also the one for murdering your whole family with dragons”) is that, Yes, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. But the second best time to plant a tree is 19 years and 364 days ago, and so on, until we’re all just standing unprotected in the sun wearing nothing but body paint and/or barrels.

The point is that it’s OK to be sad.

Historical Perspective


It is said that, on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of the document’s architects and both former presidents, spent part of that day dying in their homes in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively. Not knowing that Jefferson had died earlier in the day, Adams is alleged to have said, “Well, at least Jefferson still lives!” before succumbing.

I have heard this story for several years. The point of the anecdote is that these two great men died on the same significant anniversary. Overlooked is the more important fact that, even on our deathbeds, we aren’t gifted with any special insight. Had Adams said that “on balance, the Red Sox will be a disappointing team” then, maybe, we’d accord more respect to the elderly.

It’s not reported that, in his final hours, Jefferson made any mention of Adams at all. But let’s say he did, and what he said was filthy, like “Well, at least [John] f****** Adams can **** my Montecellan *** ******, that Dunkin Donuts-adjacent m***********.”

All the relationship books say that we should find a partner who looks at us the way Damien Thorne’s nanny looked at him before she hanged herself at his birthday party, or who mentions our name when dying on the same day but several states away. I haven’t given up hope that I will some day find that person.

(I was as surprised and delighted by this as you’ll be.)

The Persistence of Memory

As I get older, I pile up experiences and memories. Then those memories, the more I think of them, grow in significance and become cherished, poignant, cautionary, or all three. In 1991 my roommate, Navin, and I drove from Boston to Freeport, Maine, on a whim one Sunday to visit the LL Bean store. Then we decided we’d drive to Canada. It was a huge mistake.

You know how, when you drive to Las Vegas from Los Angeles, the state of California just kind of gives up about 75 miles from the border, essentially saying, “Yes, we know you’re leaving and we’re not going to try very hard to keep you, so here’s nearly a hundred miles of sand, ugly trees, and garbage” until you get to Primm, Nevada and it’s as if the state welcomes you like a prodigal child with the Velveeta and Wonder Bread feast that is Whiskey Pete’s Casino? Well, if Northern Maine was the state version of what it’s like to be concussed, then the Canadian border province of New Brunswick reminded me of a sock that slides to the bottom of your foot when you’ve still got three miles to walk in the snow. Including being detained at the border, our quick trip to Maine took about 18 hours.

As I remember it, we’d only brought Sisters of Mercy CDs so, whenever I hear “This Corrosion,” I smile, thinking both about the adventure my friend and I survived and the likelihood that no one in the Sisters of Mercy front office had considered “smiling” as a byproduct of their music.

(Note to self: When I am on my deathbed, must remember to say, “Hey now, hey now, now, Thomas Jefferson.”)

All Things Being Equal

When I was 11, I traveled with my mother and godmother to Florida, where those two ladies had booked us a tour package that included Disney World, Kennedy Space Center, and Sisters of Mercy Land (not sure about the last one, but it had a Denny’s). In the gift shop of the Space Center, I remarked that some shiny aluminum foil space jacket looked cool, to which my godmother replied that I couldn’t have it. While my commenting on it was not an underhanded request for it to be bought for me, I remember my mother telling me at some point during the trip that my godmother was sad that I didn’t seem to be talking to her much. Maybe she thought that the only reason I talked to her was because I wanted something. In any case, that wasn’t my intention. It just looked cool; I didn’t want to wear it. I feel the same way about sporty cars that are too small for me and corsets.

I respect that to be alive sometimes means to be misunderstood. In my next half-century I will ease back from those who misunderstand me on purpose or who, when I tell them I like that one Echo And The Bunnymen album without Ian McCullough, “Reverberation,” don’t ask me if I’m fucking high.

Once God Moves the Hand


Jack Kerouac wrote “On the Road” on a continuous scroll of paper, gacked on Benzedrine, in three weeks. Truman Capote, when asked to comment on Kerouac’s literary merit, said, “That’s not writing, it’s typing.” Kerouac scoffed at the idea of editing, saying, “Once God moves the hand, you go back and revise? It’s a sin!”

I think of divine inspiration what Sir Mix-a-Lot thought of Cosmopolitan: “When it comes to females,” Mix-a-Lot said in “Baby Got Back,” “Cosmo ain’t got nothing to do with my selection.”

I think most things can be done better. When I wrote the previous section, I originally had a lot of words about the type of people I’d avoid, specific instances of wrong being done to me, and no matter how much I walked away from it, walked the dog around the block, it still sounded whiny, passive-aggressive, and (worse) boring. After the riveting story about the aluminum foil space coat, I wrote about how that early experience of being misunderstood has reverberated. I ditched about five paragraphs and replaced them with the one about Echo And the Bunnymen’s “Reverberation.”

Sometimes the solution is hidden inside the mistake.

Counting Blessings


My friend Simone told me that AARP doesn’t provide one any more benefits than AAA does, but I wondered if, now that I’m 50, I can combine my AAA and AARP cards into one megasaving AAAAARP card. Then maybe, if I took up drinking for my birthday but then regretted it, I could join AA and get a special 7-vowel discount.

Then I could get a tee time at my local course for, like, 35 cents as long as I showed my “Let Go And Let Golf” AAAAAAARP chip. Yeah, I’m gonna be that guy.

I’m telling you right now: it will be a special kind of woman who will date me after this.

Expressions To Avoid


When I hear these constructions, I know to run:

“To be honest, I –”

This calls into question the veracity of everything you’ve said up to this point. Try: “To be candid, I –”

“I’m only speaking my truth.”

“My truth” is, in itself, an untruthful and evasive way of saying “my opinion.”

“I’m a very honest/sexual/thorough/professional person.”

If someone says that to you, run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.

Choosing My Battles with Punctuation


Here in California there are two supermarket chains named Vons and Ralphs. Not Von’s and Ralph’s, but Vons and Ralphs. As if one does not go to these places to buy eggs, onion soup mix, and lettuce, but instead to buy handfuls of vons or ralves.

I’d say “I can’t even” but Barack Obama would tell me that Yes You Can, Even.

Someone at Kroger/Sisters of Mercy headquarters determined that those apostrophes were superfluous and I need to focus on other things than what a slippery slope that represents. I can only control what I do, right?

That is why, if I open a supermarket, it will be called Your Mom’s.

Representation Matters

Edith Bunker

For the longest time, Edith Bunker’s was, for me, the Face of Fifty. I was not allowed to watch the “Edith’s 50th Birthday” episode of “All in the Family” because of its subject matter, but I remembered the title and made sure to watch the episode later. In addition to the other traumatizing events in the episode, Edith is made to bake her own birthday cake. The closest I came to this indignity was having to eat a few years of birthday cakes made especially for me by someone who loved me, and whose cakes I didn’t enjoy at all. I imagine the cake for my 50th birthday would have been one of special magnificence, and it would have killed me.

Dodged a cake there, I guess.

This year I had cherry pie; the same color as my AARP card.

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