Artificial Milestones

Ever since I turned 21 (the age of majority back then), I’ve not bothered with any more birthday milestones, except where others (e.g. wives / girlfriends / buddies) have turned it into one.  I remember my fortieth (I think) because we threw a party which I turned into a costume (Eng. “fancy dress”) party — and I used it as an excuse to invite longtime friends I hadn’t seen for a while.  As I recall, the theme was “Vanished Civilizations” so that People With No Imagination could arrive in togas — and nobody did, which shows the imaginative nature of my friends back then.  (Hippies, Fifties-era bobbysoxers, 1930s gangsters and so on… I dressed myself as a Viking, complete with battle-axe.)  So popular was the party that my friends implored me to make it an annual event, with different themes;  thereafter we dressed as Pirates, Priests ‘n Prostitutes, My Worst Nightmare, Bad Taste (for that, one woman came dressed as her husband’s ex-wife, complete with 1980s shoulder-pads and massive hair).

The actual anniversary (my birthday) was quite forgotten, as it should be — I refused offers of presents and all that shit from the very start — and the parties, for the next half-dozen or so years, became a fixture in our social calendars.  And when I moved from Chicago to New Jersey (and got divorced in the process), those parties ended, never to be replaced.   They were an occasion to celebrate friendship, and after the first one, the dates varied wildly, dependent to a large degree on how many of us would be in town at the same time.

I do have one birthday coming up which is of no consequence at all other than it marks the date I’ll be eligible for MediCare.  But otherwise… fach, as they say in Scottishland.

This all came to me while I was reading this little tale of self-absorption:

Why I cancelled my 50th birthday bash
There’s a bigger problem when you are trying to put together a party of tricky 50-year-old egos. That’s the recently sober, the ones who are still looking down — nay, levitating in holier-than-thou, po-faced judgment — upon the rest of us.
Recently cleaned-up types are so readily upset by even the most jovial party animal, it’s hell working out who sits next to them.
Eventually, though, I did the table-planning algebra and I drew up my list and sent out the invites to 40 good friends and family. And then a whole new horror reared its ugly head. The ‘polite decliners’.
They can’t come to my 50th because they’re off counting their gold in another country for the entirety of the summer, or they have encircled Sundays as special family days that they can’t possibly sacrifice. There needs to be a barren spinster sad face emoji.

That’s all well and good.  But what’s the magic in a number divided by 10?  Simple answer:  there is none, other than that created by lazy journalists (e.g. 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, as though that’s relevant to anything) and Hallmark Cards (“Happy Half-Century, Yo!”).

The idea of celebrating these artificial milestones of one’s life irritates me for some reason.  I’d rather celebrate meaningful anniversaries  — this year marks my twenty-first anniversary as a U.S. citizen, for example, and the only reason I didn’t celebrate the twentieth  thereof was that I never noticed it.  (It was triggered a couple weeks ago by someone asking me how long I’d been a citizen, and I had to go and check my naturalization certificate.)

And don’t give me that guff about “it’s an excuse to have a party” or similar:  no adult needs an excuse to have a party, FFS.  (It’s almost as bad as those fools who say they never drink until 5pm;  what bullshit, if you feel like a drink, have a fucking drink.  Life’s too short to let your life be determined by some arbitrary position of the hands on a clock or, for that matter, the page of a calendar.)

Speaking of calendars, here’s Esquire Magazine’s November 1954 page, with the relevant birthday circled: 


…and just so y’all know:  the only reason I celebrate November 19th at all is to remind you lazy bastards to buy ammo.


  1. I think the value of the milestones is that they’re a way of making sure things happen. For instance, my wife always wanted to go to Italy. We had opportunities, but one thing or another kept us from planning the trip. Finally, we decided (about two years before the event) that we’d go for her (mumble)th birthday. Planning and budgeting ensued, and the ten days we spent in Italy included her birthday (complete with cake and everyone on the tour with us singing Happy Birthday). It was a way of turning “someday” into “this date”.

    True story: Three years later, for the same birthday for me, we were going to go to Ireland but life intervened, so instead we took a weekend trip to Steamtown (National Parks Service site preserving the US Railroad History, me being a train buff) in Scranton, PA (now only about 20 minutes away). So I joke that we spent her birthday in Italy and mine in Scranton.

    As far as the “excuse to have a party”, waiting until 5:00 for the first drink, etc: I suspect that’s an American thing. One of the reasons we were, and still are, the economic powerhouse we are is that we WORK, we expect to work, and we often believe if we’re NOT working there needs to be a good reason. Like a birthday party. Contrast to the aforementioned Italy, where we woke up in the morning in our (very nice) hotel in Venice and found there was no hot water. After a call to the front desk I learned that the hot water heater had broken the evening before, and they were “waiting for a plumber”. Here in the US the hotel manager would’ve been dragging a plumber out of bed, by his genitals if need be, to get hot water for his patrons.

    Regarding the not drinking until 5:00, there’s still a STRONG Temperance strain in the US. You’re allowed to have a couple AFTER you finish work for the day (see above and work), but if you’re drinking before 5:00 it means you’re drinking when you ought to be working. Yeah, I recall your essay about drinking and work (one I personally think you should re-publish). I used to go out for lunch on Friday and have a couple beers with lunch, but I was the exception and if anyone DID join me they usually had soda.

    Mark D

  2. I no longer care to observe birthdays myself. I endure the obligatory office birthday observance and social media best wishes each year but, frankly, I could do without the perfunctory rituals. My Mom sent me a card when I hit forty that I still consider the best I ever received. Outside, the card said “Forty is not the end of the world” Inside it continued “but you can see it from there.” In a month, I hit seventy and I am looking forward to this particular milestone because I will be able to decline jury duty if I so desire.

  3. The prettiest point(s) of an Esquire lady is that she didn’t have the udders of an average-sized Ayrshire. 1954, BTW, was, if I remember correctly, the first year for a comparison: Esquire had better writers.

  4. Just passed the 75 milestone (millstone?) Celebrated after several hours at my local range killing targets, clanging steel and breathing in gunsmoke by cooking for my self and wife of 49 years a beautiful thick steak. Fresh Asparagus and Tater Tots. (ok, my plebian background shows).
    I do not shoot pistols as well as I used to. (Well, I use-ta could), but am a bit better with rifles. Still can hold 100 yd groups with my Anschutz & .223 match rifle of about an inch. No rest, no bags, sling, jacket and glove.
    As my dad use-ta say, “I’m as good once as I once use-ta be”
    Kim, ignore the years, look at each day as a gift and kick ass when and where you can.

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