Goldberg: 33 and life to go

By Tod Goldberg

When I started writing this column three years ago, I lamented openly about the angst I was feeling about turning 30–I believe I devoted nearly 1,000 words to things like gray hairs appearing on my scalp, my inability (and lack of desire) to drink 40s of Crazy Horse malt liquor and the general sense of depression I felt realizing my youth had departed me like a train lurching from a station. All aboard! Last train out! Next stop, inordinate taxation, thyroid disease and conversations with friends about estate planning!

Now, as I sit down this week to celebrate my 33rd coronation, it occurs to me how wrong I was: Turning 30 was easy…continuing to grow old physically while mentally remaining somewhere between 16 and 22 is the real issue.

It’s not that my decision-making process is akin to a teenager’s; rather, it boils down more to the childish ways I sometimes envision my own life, placate my vengefulness and generally act in private and, sometimes, in public. In a recent evaluation one of my students wrote about me and my teaching abilities–or inabilities as the case may be–I found that I had a certain reputation in the narrow halls of academia. The evaluation said, “I’d heard Tod was a tough and demanding teacher and that he was immature and crass, but I found that absolutely to be the opposite. He was tough and demanding, certainly, but totally mature.” Never mind that the evaluation was a positive one, all I could focus on was the negative perception that followed me.

It’s not like I was unaware heretofore that I had a propensity toward immaturity–I do write this column every week, which highlights only the events I feel worthy of mentioning while there are a host of other events in my daily life that are just too morbid to discuss, both personally and ethically–but I didn’t know there was actual scuttlebutt to boot.

“Look at this evaluation,” I said to my wife.

She read it and handed it back to me. “Yeah?”

“People think I’m immature!”

“Don’t you always tell me of the weird and inappropriate things you say in class when you forget you’re the teacher?”

“But that stuff just slips out. Kinda like institutional-learning onset Tourette’s or something.”

“Well,” she said, “there you go. Not being able to act like a professional might make some people think you’re immature.”

Short of having a nervous breakdown over my own failings, I spent some time thinking about why I act the way I do when I’m now of the age where I should be responsible and alert and more or less adult. I decided to compare my life at 33 to other people’s lives, just to see if what I had going on was endemic of a normal one-third life crisis or if I was just an annoying simp. I looked at three people as a sample.

Jesus: Between ages 30 and 33, Mr. Christ broke a lot of Jewish laws, was constantly under the thumb of his absent father and eventually said a lot of important things that people ignored until he was dead. Me: Kosher to me is a bacon cheeseburger with only one strip of bacon, my father was absent from just about day one and the psychological repercussions exist in several fine novels (some not even written!) and my words have not yet been appreciated as much as they should be, as reflected in the sales numbers of the aforementioned novels.

My friend Todd: Not quite 33, but only a few months away, he’s been instrumental in electing several Republican leaders, owns a pet rat, has all the wine he owns catalogued on an Excel spreadsheet and drives a Passat. Me: Have voted for Democrats in every election, though, it should be noted, once played craps with Sen. McCain and Todd at the Bellagio, have killed seven Norwegian roof rats this year, drink mostly water and coffee and drive an SUV the size of Belize.

Neil Diamond: Born in 1941, by the time The King’s 33rd birthday had rolled around, he was already combing his sideburns over his ears and had produced his best work, including “Solitary Man,” “I Am I Said,” “Play Me,” “Sweet Caroline” and basically every other good song before the much-vaunted Richard Bach/The Jazz Singer periods where he just wrote tunes about seagulls and America. Me: Have begun to grow my sideburns out in order to hide my increasing jowls and to garner indie cred with my subculture good looks/irreverent facial hair and have promised never to collaborate with Richard Bach on a project about wise fowl. In addition, wearing shirts bejeweled with glass during public appearances will not hamper my future work, as it has Sir Neil.

Comparatively, I appear to be just below the Savior of humankind in the immaturity index, which seems okay.



As a wise man once wrote, time can be like a buried tomb, that what’s preserved can be made wretched by memory, can curdle and change. Here’s to curdling.

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