Today I am 55 years, 265 days old. (Hold the renditions of “Happy Birthday,” please). If I live to be what is generally considered the maximum human age of 113 years, my life is not even half over. If instead I live to reach the typical American white male life expectancy of 74 years, I’m about three-quarters done.
To look at it even more pessimistically, of all the good times I’ve lived – my wedding, the birth of my son, a cruise to Alaska, that time I got a free cookie – probably 90% of these are in the past. Of all the bad times still to be endured, a similarly high percentage is yet to come.
For someone who was never that interested in mathematics during my formal education, I sure can obsess about numbers. My wife used to get on me when I’d make a casual comment during the eleventh day of our two-week vacation that our holiday together was already 78.5% over. “Why can’t you just enjoy it instead of trying to quantify how much of it is left?” she’d ask, and I’d think “but calculating is half the fun.” Even though she had her undergraduate degree in math, she failed to appreciate how my observation was at least as joyous to me as the Napa Valley winery tour was to her.
The farthest I advanced in high school math was a course in intermediate algebra. I never had calculus nor trigonometry nor pertussis nor trychinosis nor any of those higher arithmetics. My love of numbers was more innate than anything that could be taught in a classroom. In the days before calculators, video games and cable television, I would be entertained for hours with self-invented dice games, keeping reams of paper records on how seven was a slightly more likely roll than six or eight. I even made up a baseball game that took as much as an hour to play, then another hour to calculate each imaginary player’s hitting and earned run averages. And I did this in the days before performance-enhancing steroids.
By the time I went off to college, I was finally beginning to entertain some other interests, particularly in individuals who had twice as many X chromosomes as I did. I wasn’t especially successful with the ladies in these days, though I did attempt to numerically prove the opposite. I kept a log of my dates with one woman I was pursuing in the belief that when I reached a certain quantity of hours-per-week that we’d officially be a couple. We hit something like 4.72 before it dawned on me that I had a car and she didn’t, that most of our “dates” were trips to the grocery store, and that the guy on the Bounty paper towel package had a better chance of getting to second base than I. (A double, by the way, is equivalent to rolling a ten in the baseball dice game).
The mathing of my life now continued into adulthood. I kept track on a daily basis of how many hours I logged at my first two part-time jobs, celebrating my entrance into the middle class when I finally broke through to $300 a week. When I took up jogging for health and relaxation in my thirties, I’d measure the route on my car’s odometer before running it, then record each day’s distance and translate that into a graph of weekly averages (fortunately, I had learned Excel by now). When I took my first business trip to India and saw that what I’d thought would be three weeks of adventure were instead going to be 516 hours of hellish heat and overcrowding, I’d figure updates each morning of how much time was left before my return home.
Reducing my life experience to so many digits might seem like a hollow exercise to some, though I’d actually consider my personal circumstances to be quite happy. I recognize that I’ve had my chance to “have fun,” and now it’s time for more mature satisfactions like contentment, a sense of accomplishment, and the continued ability to pee. Like anyone who’s facing down his late fifties while watching the transition of power and fortune pass to a new generation, I do have some regrets about what I didn’t get to do. I can count three things in particular.
One, I’ve never gotten to ride a motorcycle. I’ve enjoyed a lot of cycling in my time but the power generated by my admittedly well-toned thighs can’t approach what a Harley could produce. Perhaps it was the low-rent culture I associated with bikers that kept me away, or maybe it was the odds that I’d end up splattered against a tree that bothered me. In any case, I don’t own a black t-shirt anyway so it’s not going to happen at this late date.
Second, I regret that I’ve never been to Paris. I once spent a week in London and later enjoyed a beautiful morning in Frankfurt, yet these two European destinations can’t compare with romantic France. I was reminded of this once again Sunday as I watched the final stage of the Tour de France, marveling at the tree-lined beauty of the wide boulevards and realizing I could’ve blown the silly helmet off of every one of those guys if I only had a motorcycle.
Finally, I’m really sorry I never got a chance to take heroin. I know this is probably more self-destructive than it is recreational, but it seems like such a great way to relax. And think of the opportunities for charting weight loss! I’m a little queasy about the whole injection prospect, and snorting or smoking don’t strike me as especially sane alternatives. Maybe there are other ingestion options that would appeal to someone trying to keep up a professional appearance: applying black tar as a hair gel, or brushing my teeth with powdered moonrocks. I think I can handle the stupor, as it would fit right in with the glazed looks of others near my cubicle.
I know my odds of reaching these last three life goals are pretty long, and it’s probably best that they are. I had my chances as a younger man to live life on the edge, and it’s because I did such a poor job of it that I’m still here today, relatively enjoying what just became my twenty-eight million, nine hundred and twenty-seven thousand, eight hundred and fifth minute. When my number is finally up, I believe I’ll be able to count myself among the lucky.