Staring down the barrel of 30

Most of the men in my family die at or around age 57. Heart attacks. Suicide. Liver cirrhosis. Throat cancer. The usual suspects.

This means I have roughly 27 years (see correction note below) in which to write my novel, climb Mount Everest and see the Chicago Cubs celebrate a World Series victory. (Sometimes it seems the first two items are far more attainable than the last on my bucket list.)

By the time this column hits your porch this morning, I will be around 48 hours from turning 30 years of age.

And I'm actually fine with it. In fact, those in my orbit seem more disturbed by climbing up the mortality ladder than I.

I'm celebrating the occasion by heading to Bend for the weekend to catch the Wilco show at the Les Schwab Amphitheater. I'm looking forward to the trip, as Wilco is one of my favorite bands and the Bend area is quite nice this time of year.

I sent out an officewide e-mail here at the Trib asking if someone could fill in while I'm away. The e-mail read, "Please help me survive a dark day by working for me this coming Saturday. I had not planned to celebrate my 30th birthday, but my nice friend bought me tickets to my fave band playing in Bend, so I would like to remove the black arm band and rock out this weekend. Takers? Please don't make me stab myself in the leg to get the time off..."

The first to react was health and science reporter Bill Kettler. He shuffled by my desk shaking his head.

"It's all downhill from here, Conrad," he said, cackling.

It's funny how smug the elderly become when they realize you've managed to gain a step on them on the way to the grave.

Next to give his take was copy editor Steve Dieffenbacher, a wise man and fine poet.

"Oh man," he said. "Thirty is a rough one. But 40 is worse."

Can't wait.

Here's the thing. I am happier now than I ever was at, say, 24. And it's not only a material thing, though disposable income, health insurance, discounted car insurance and a rapidly improving credit score are mighty nice.

I not so fondly remember sitting in my studio apartment freshly graduated from college wondering what I should choose to buy with the meager scraps of my Wal-Mart paycheck. Should I go with new contact lenses? The ones I'm wearing are Medieval torture and barely stay in my eyes. Or should it be food? Sight is of little use if I've starved to death. Perhaps I should buy gasoline for my truck? Maybe I can bum food off my co-workers and manage to save enough in the coming months to pay for the contacts.

Thankfully, I no longer need to make such choices. It still amazes me when I arrive at the eye doctor's office and he gives me free stuff when I hand him a plastic card with my insurance information printed on the front.

The material thing is comforting, though it's the ease of mind I've developed while living with myself these past three decades I enjoy most.

As a younger man I was full of restlessness and wanted nothing more than to ride hell-bent for the sunset with my six guns blazing and the law on my tail. It was hard to be alone at times. I felt I always had to be moving. Before work I had to run to my friend's house to fit in a few games of Madden NFL on PlayStation. After work it was to another buddy's pad to play more Madden before heading to the watering hole. After the watering hole it was off to another ol' boy's cave for more Madden, etc.

Those days are over. I don't miss them.

I'm still energetic enough for adventure when it presents itself, but silence becomes more golden as the days drift by. Mornings are for reading and a cup of coffee, evenings are for watching a flick and decompressing. If getting older means coming to terms with my inner geek, so be it. This past two months have found me plowing through the entire Woody Allen oeuvre. ("Crimes and Misdemeanors" is his best, by the way.)

If there's company around, fine. If not, even more fine.

For me, turning 30 represents turning some sort of corner. To where, I'm not sure. I haven't come to terms with it quite yet, but I'm sure hindsight will put it all in perspective soon enough.

The Trib's editorial page editor, Gary Nelson, said 35 was his worst birthday. When I asked him to clarify, he cringed and said, "I don't know, it just was."

Why isn't turning 30 affecting me more than it is? I don't know, it just isn't.

Forty on the other hand ... well, I'll worry about that one in 10 years.

(I love reader feedback, and am interested if anyone would like to share bizarre, sad, amazing and otherwise memorable birthdays past. Let's hear it, guys. Oh, and gifts addressed to Chris Conrad can be left at the Mail Tribune's reception desk between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

Correction: The original version of this column included an incorrect number. This version has been corrected.

Share This Story