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by Brian Clarey

The day began early, even though it was a Saturday — a short burst from my alarm, a pot of coffee set to brew, an early-morning gathering with some old friends. From there I had no expectations, no agenda, no plan.

It’s not every day that a man turns 43, advancing deeper into that province of middle age, further away from his beginnings and one step closer to the end of the line. But this year, for me, it felt like just another Saturday.

There was a time when it took me a week to celebrate my birthday: a frenzied build-up loaded with discussions and plans, a preparty galvanizing the potential for the Big Night, which could roll on for another two days if the money and the celebrants held out. The memories of those days are hazy and smudged, but I still have a few scars to remind me of the folly of youth.

That’s when my birthday was just a celebration of self, a tribute to the mere fact of my existence, all entitlement and revelry. It was wonderful.

Then, for a time, my birthday used to really spook me out. Another year gone, I’d think to myself, and what have I done with it?

And what will I do with this one? And how many do I have left?

That began around the time I turned 30, which was a harsh blow to my sense of the way things ought to be. I thought 30 was old — still I was unprepared for the shock of turning 31. This, I realized then, was going to keep happening.

The anxiety topped out when I turned 40, firmly entrenched in family life, working a job I love, with an immediate future about as predictable as these things can get. People started taking me a lot more seriously after I turned 40, and by “people,” I include myself.

And now I’m 43 — not a “milestone” birthday by any stretch, with no real significance in my human timeline. The birthdays keep happening; I just figured I’d stack this one with all the rest. Once you’ve done something 43 times, the luster kind of wears off.

But like the birthdays of yore, this one stretched out over an entire weekend.

On Friday night, my wife and I went to dinner and then Triad Stage to see My Fair Lady. I noted that Eliza Doolittle was just 21 when Henry Higgins pulled her off the streets and began harnessing her harsh cockney accent and coarse, urchin ways into something more… refined.

People started taking her a lot more seriously after that, including Higgins, who, as you well should already know, falls for his creation at some point during Act II.

The trip to the theater was but one of the gifts I received in recognition of my special day. The gifts, too, have changed over the years, as has my attitude towards them.

As a child, my birthday was an occasion to plumb my list of wants: toys, sporting equipment and, later, trips and cash. Some time after the third decade had passed, my gift list transitioned into needs like eyeglasses, car repairs, clothing and the like.

This year, there’s nothing I need, and nothing I particularly want except maybe for a new iPhone, which is expensive enough that I knew no one would be getting me one.

Scratch that. I should say, when I brought up the possibility of buying a new iPhone for my birthday, my wife argued so vehemently against the purchase that for a few days I actually thought she might have gotten me one. She did not.

She did something even more thoughtful: She granted me use of the best bath towel in the house after my shower, empowered me to spend the day doing as I pleased and, because of her… frugality… concerning the iPhone, I did a little digging and was able to secure a new phone — perfectly serviceable and a couple of clicks better than the phone I was currently using — for the low, low price of 97 cents.

This is what it takes to make a man happy on the first day of his 43rd year.

On Saturday morning I brought home some Danish and a pound of country bacon. I hit the greenway with my wife, coaxing three more miles out of this aging vessel. I hooked up my sister’s speakers and cut my lawn.

It was just like any other Saturday, including the afternoon nap in front of the TV. The only difference was that we had ice-cream cake. I think I was in bed before 10 p.m., a full three hours before things out in the world start to get interesting.

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