A Fun Dude Looks at Fifty

50

Sunday was my fiftieth birthday. I spent it trying out my new over-fifty pickup lines:

  • “Hey, cupcake, would you like a drink? I’ll trade you for some Advil.”
  • “Hey, hot stuff, come here often? I need to know where the bathroom is—quick!”
  • “Hey, sweet thing, do you live around here? I was hoping you could recommend a podiatrist.”

Needless to say, they didn’t work. Then again, I only tried them on my fiancée and she never listens to me anyway. But, in her defense, she turns fifty in January so maybe I should just get her a hearing aid for her birthday.

The great thing about turning fifty is I can finally read AARP magazine legally. No more hiding under the covers with a flashlight, hoping my parents don’t catch me:

“Young man, is that our latest copy of AARP Magazine you’re reading?!”

“I’m not reading it—I’m just looking at the advertisements! With a magnifying glass this big I could burn ants on a cloudy day!”

“OK, just as long as you aren’t reading that in-depth cover piece about counteracting the long-term effects of Nexium with daily calcium supplements. At forty-nine, you’re way too young to be reading such salacious nonsense.”

A scary thing about turning fifty is that both my mom and dad—still together after fifty years of marriage—are in their seventies. If all three of us live another twenty years or so—likely for them thanks to their good health and unlikely for me thanks to my smart mouth—I’ll be in my seventies while they’re in their nineties. This means I could, conceivably, wind up living in the same assisted living facility as my parents. At seventy, that would be great for me, because it’s hard to feel old when your parents keep asking you when you’re finally going to grow up and get a place of your own.

A weird thing about being fifty is how your doctor can tell you that you’re in perfect health for your age and then write you a prescription for a bunch of medications:

“Here’s a script for Celebrex, Nexium, Myrbetriq, and Linzess.”

“But, Doc, I thought you said I’m perfectly healthy.”

“You are perfectly healthy. But you’re also perfectly fifty. Which means it’s perfectly natural to have arthritis, Acid Reflux Disease, Overactive Bladder Syndrome, and occasional irregularity. So buy a pill dispenser and a heating pad, avoid fatty foods, tie a rubber band around your pee-pee, take a painful poop, and welcome to fifty, Fun Geezer!”

Of all my various welcome-to-fifty ailments the most difficult one to deal with has been my chronic acid reflux problem. This past summer, my cruise line sent me home on three months’ medical leave—or as the chefs in the crew galley called it, “Mission accomplished!”

When you’re diagnosed with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, also known by the onomatopoetic acronym GERD, the doctor gives you a long list of food and beverages to avoid:

“Sorry, Jeffrey, but no orange juice, no soda, no beer, no wine, no coffee, no tea, no pizza, no lasagna, no hot wings, no gumbo, no hamburgers, no French fries, no onion rings, no tacos, no burritos, no pineapple, no grapefruit, no strawberries, no kiwis, no milk chocolate, no chocolate milk, no chocolate sauce, no mint gum, no mint candy—no mint anything, no yogurt, no ice cream, no milkshakes….”

“Doc, are you serious? I might as well just kill myself.”

“OK, if you want. But no arsenic, no chlorine, no rat poison….”

If you want more proof that I’m fifty, look no further than the following exchange between me and my gastroenterologist:

“Well, Jeffrey, seeing how your recent bought of constipation is happening during your current course of medication for GERD, I’m going to order a colonoscopy as part of your treatment.”

“Yippee! Free butt check at fifty! Free butt check at fifty! Free butt check at fifty! Yippee!”

I can’t think of a better fiftieth birthday present than learning that my first ever colonoscopy, that coveted and fun-filled rite of passage for all newly minted fifty year olds, would be covered by my cruise line’s insurance, instead of being a preventative measure that would come out of my own pocket. Sorry to sound like a cheapskate, but why pay two grand to have a camera shoved up my butt when I can get it done for free and save my cash for all the Preparation H, Ben Gay, Metamucil, Miralax, Dr. Scholl’s inserts, bifocals, Ensure, Depends and checkerboards I’m going to need over the next ten years?

When I told my fiancée I was going to have a camera stuck up my butt, she said, “Why don’t you ask them to look for your head while they’re up there?”

I said, “Hey, I’m fifty. I made it this far without it.”

Love at First Fight

Arguing

I’m engaged to a beautiful and intelligent Croatian woman with whom I argue a lot. When people ask us how we met, we tell them it was love at first fight.

And, boy, how we fight. If we lived in Israel, Israelis and Palestinians alike would be knocking on our door, shouting, “Give it a rest already!”

Our latest fight was particularly bad. But, like most of our fights, I have no idea what it was about or how it got started. All I know is Chris Brown called me the next day and said, “N****, you better apologize.”

Some people believe that constant fighting means you’re in the wrong relationship. Not me. Željka and I don’t fight because we’re in a bad relationship; we fight because we’re in a relationship. A relationship without fighting is like a Vin Diesel movie without car chases: a lot less noisy but nowhere near as fun.

Our constant fighting doesn’t say we’re wrong for each other. It says we both have poor relationship skills. It says we’re both immature, ego driven and hot-tempered. It says we have anger issues, intimacy issues and trust issues. It says we’re bad listeners, blamers and excuse makers. We’re not wrong for each other so much as we’re perfect for “Dr. Phil.”

Most people are too quick to break up with somebody just because the relationship gets a little rocky:

“I can’t believe you just buried an ax in my head! I want a divorce!”

“Oh, stop being so dramatic—we’ve got health insurance! How about a little makeup sex?!”

“Not tonight—I’ve got a headache!”

Relationships aren’t meant to make you happy; they’re meant to give you somebody to be unhappy with:

“I hate you.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, I hate you.”

“Wanna watch a movie?”

“Sure, as long as it’s not some stupid rom-com with a happy ending.”

Happiness is your own responsibility. If you can’t be happy by yourself, stop thinking you can be happy with somebody else:

“I’m fat, I’m stupid and I’m unattractive. But if I were in a relationship, then I would be happy.

“Because then the only thing missing in my life would the nagging suspicion that my significant other is cheating on me with somebody thinner, smarter and more attractive.

“So if I could replace my insecurity and self-loathing with a constant fear of betrayal and abandonment —then, I would be happy.”

Companionship is its own reward. I don’t expect Željka to make me happy; I expect her to make me a sandwich. And Željka doesn’t expect me to make her happy; she expects me to make the bed. Her cooking for me shows she loves me and my doing little chores for her shows I love her. All that the constant fighting shows is that we better not break up, because nobody else would put up with us.

Why are Željka and I still together after four years even though we drive each other crazy? Because we both realize that trying to find a partner who doesn’t drive you crazy is like trying to find a dog that doesn’t bark. If you don’t like barking, don’t get a dog. If you don’t like bitching, don’t get a you-know-what.

Many men make the mistake of thinking that if his wife or girlfriend is constantly busting his nuggets, she’s the wrong woman for him. Guys, you shouldn’t worry about your woman busting your nuggets, because busting your nuggets is the number one sign that she really loves you. What you should be worried about is the woman who never busts your nuggets, who never gets angry, who never loses her temper. Show me a woman who doesn’t do everything she can to make you miserable when you’re awake and I’ll show you a woman who’ll murder you when you’re asleep.

The only way to be in a happier relationship is to become a happier person. And the only way to become a happier person is to become a better person. And the only way to become a better person is to develop better life skills, better communication skills, better listening skills and better relationship skills. Reading books helps. Going to counseling helps. Watching “Dr. Phil” helps. Eating an entire carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream with the lights out really helps.

But one thing that doesn’t help you become a better person is bailing on a relationship just because the other person is a gigantic pain in the butt. That’s why I’ve never understood divorce. Ask any married man if he would take a bullet for his wife and he’ll say Yes without hesitation. But as soon as his wife becomes a certified nugget busting machine, he’ll start chasing anything in a skirt. So let me get this straight: You’re willing to take a bullet for your woman but you’re not willing to take forty to fifty years of incessant bickering, quarreling, squabbling, yelling, screaming and standing half-naked on the front lawn at 4:00am, putting your personal belongings out with a fire extinguisher?

Wussy!

You’re the one who bought the engagement ring. You’re the one who proposed. You’re the one who said “I do”—until death do you part. So don’t abandon the ship now just because the seas are a little stormy. It’s not love unless the neighbors call 911 and you wind up on “Cops,” being pushed into the back of a squad car in your boxer shorts and wife-beater T-shirt while she stands on the porch of the double-wide, sobbing, “He’s a good man, officer—he didn’t mean me to bury that ax in my head. Don’t arrest him–we got health insurance….”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. Željka just finished reading this horse crap and I’ve got some fighting to do.

And the only thing I love more than fighting is… her.

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The Book of Jobs

I saw this human interest story on TV about a born-again Christian in his 20’s who found a job at a copy center right after he found God. “Jesus helped me get a job,” the kid said, tearfully. (Which employment agency did he go through—Son of Manpower?)

Switching channels, I stumbled across some vapid teen comedy in which one kid was being razzed by his schoolmates for working at his father’s car dealership after school. “Daddy’s Boy,” they called him. The movie had a happy ending, though. His daddy beat up their daddies.

So why is it that when your dad helps you get a job it’s called nepotism, yet when God helps you get a job it’s called faith? Your old man may have connections, but the Lord can work miracles. That’s why “It’s a miracle you got hired” is rarely meant as a compliment.

In 2000, President-elect Bush deflected charges of nepotism by stressing his faith in God: “It weren’t my daddy that helped me become prez-ee-dent,” he said. “No way, José–it was God. G-O-D-D: ‘God’.”

I’m not saying you should brag if Pops pulls some strings for you. I’m saying you shouldn’t brag if God Almighty, Lord and Master of the Entire Freaking Universe pulls some strings for you. Bragging that God got you a job is like bragging that Wolfgang Puck poured the milk for your cereal. Impressive, sure, but why didn’t you just do it yourself?

I was taught that God helps those who help themselves. That’s why “God got me a job” doesn’t impress me. What would have impressed me is if the kid had said, “The Lord has blessed me with a strong body and a healthy mind, so I decided it was time to shut off the X-Box, get off the couch, and find a job!” That way, his parents’ prayers would have been answered instead.

But for me, asking God to take a break from answering prayers in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip just to help you not botch an interview for minimum-wage employment is silly and arrogant. And so what if God got you a job at Kinko’s? He made Justin Bieber a millionaire! (On second thought, that was more likely the work of God’s downstairs neighbor.)

And so what if you have faith in the Lord? You’re supposed to. That’s what good Christians do. Now, how about having a little faith in yourself? Instead of praying you get a certain job, how about working hard, studying hard, paying your dues, writing a knockout resume, preparing for the interview, showing up energized and looking sharp, and then earning the job by proving you’re the best person for the job. Then, after you get the job, you can pray that your boss’s dad didn’t get him his.

Faith in God brings inner peace and happiness to a lot of folks whose lives might otherwise feel empty and hopeless, so I can understand why good Christians are so prone to babbling endlessly about their faith. Whenever I have coffee and beignets at Café du Monde in the French Quarter of New Orleans, you can’t get me to shut up about it. And although I haven’t been to church in a long time, I’m guessing that a caffeine and sugar buzz has nothing on the Holy Spirit.

So although I understand it’s the responsibility of every good Christian to “testify,” what I don’t understand is why anyone with an ounce of self-respect wouldn’t feel ashamed to publicly credit the most powerful being known to man for helping him do things any normal, responsible human being should be able to accomplish on his own. Thanking God for curing your cancer? Check. Thanking God for keeping your children safe? Check. Thanking God that the utility company didn’t shut your lights off? Don’t thank God—thank the US Postal Service for delivering your check on time even though you waited until halfway through your five-day grace period to mail it in. (Then again, if the US Postal Service delivered your payment on time, then that is definitely a miracle—so go ahead and thank God after all.)

Yes, God does want you to find gainful employment so you can take care of yourself and your loved ones. But if you want God’s help finding a job, God has already given it to you: God created the person who created the person who created the person who created the person who created Linked-In. So log on, create an account, upload your résumé, and shut the hell up, for God’s sake!

Although it’s important to have a good relationship with God and have faith in the plan he has mapped out for you, it’s not going to hurt you to fight your own battles every once in a while. If God wanted to be your answer to everything he wouldn’t have created the person who created the person who created the person who created the person who created Google. To draw a comparison, although most of us need and crave the support of our parents and probably wouldn’t be where we are today without that love and support from our parents, there comes a time when we all have to stop having our parents support us, stop having our parents fight our battles for us and stop having our parents bail us out of trouble.

For me, that time will be next year on my 50th birthday.

Faith is not hard to understand. You love your Heavenly Father, your Heavenly Father loves you, and your Heavenly Father can fix anything because he is a master of space and time. That’s easy for me to relate to because I love my earthly father, my earthly father loves me, and my earthly father can fix anything because he has a Craftsman toolbox. And, if I were to get a flat tire and my earthly father offered to change it for me, I would love my earthly father even more, believe in him even more and be even more grateful that he is in my life. What I wouldn’t do is tell everyone I know that I let my 73-year-old daddy change a tire for me.

Meaning, just because I love my dad, believe in my dad and receive strength from my dad doesn’t mean I still expect him to solve my problems for me or that I’m going to run crying to him every time something goes wrong in my life.

That’s what my mommy’s for.

God help her.

Obamacare for the Soul

The last time I told a Wal-Mart cashier to “have a nice day,” she responded with “God bless you.” Although I’m not religious, I smiled and said thank-you. My debit card wasn’t declined, so I figured her blessing had worked.

Some might say it’s bad manners for a Christian to say “God bless you” to a nonbeliever. Personally, I think it’s worse manners to say “Have a nice day” to a cashier at Wal-Mart. That’s like saying, “Enjoy the Caribbean” to a detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

I have one friend who gets all worked up whenever I say “God bless you” after he sneezes:

“Achoo!”

“God bless you.”

“Dude, how many times do I have to tell you that ‘God bless you’ drives me nuts? Please use gesundheit instead.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m not a Christian, that’s why.”

“You’re not German either, yet you want me to say gesundheit?”

“Yeah, well, I’m against organized religion, not Germany.

“OK then, I won’t say ‘God bless you.’”

“Achoo!”

Hitler bless you.”

But why should a Christian consider my religious beliefs before saying “God bless you,” anyway? Do I consider a Wal-Mart cashier’s secular beliefs before saying “Have a nice day”? What if she’s a pessimist? Telling her to have a nice day could come off as arrogant or controlling. (And she gets enough of that already from “Skippy,” her 19-year-old, GED-toting supervisor.) Or what if she’s clinically depressed? Telling a depressed person to have a nice day when she’s emotionally incapable of having a nice day will not only ruin her day; it might also deepen her depression. So maybe I should say something neutral instead, such as “Thank-you for your service” or “I hope you get hired at Target.”

Although I’m no fan of organized religion, I’ve never understood why atheists get so bent out of shape when a good Christian says, “God bless you.” As a disillusioned Catholic, I don’t go to mass, I don’t pray much, and I certainly don’t read the Bible, so, please, bless me all you want. If you’re not going to bless an emotionally stunted sinner who tells dookie jokes for a living, who are you going to bless?

It doesn’t even have to be a blessing from “God” God. You can say “Allah bless you,” “Vishnu bless you,” or “Ron L. Hubbard bless you,” for all I care. I may not be a practicing Christian, but I am a practicing liberal, so I’ll take all the entitlements I can get, including blessings from your or anyone’s God, whether He exists or not. Being healthy doesn’t stop me from needing health insurance so why should being skeptical keep me from needing faith insurance? The way I look at it, every time a religious person of any faith says “God bless you” to me, it’s Obamacare for the soul.

Besides, the fact that I’m not a practicing Christian is precisely why I don’t mind “God bless you” as a greeting. Perhaps if I were a practicing Christian, maybe then I would mind:

FELLOW CHRISTIAN:

God bless you, brother.

ME:

What? You don’t think I have a good enough relationship with God myself that I need your help to attain His blessing? Me and the Lord are like are like this, pal—so go to Hell. And while you’re down there, be sure to say gesundheit when Hitler sneezes. “God bless you” drives him nuts.

So instead of getting angry when Christians say “God bless you,” I take it as the kind gesture is was meant to be and move on. Believe me, with a personality like mine, I get told “Screw you” so often that “God bless you” is a nice change of pace.

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