Well, it's finally happening. I'm talking about the long-predicted Aging Process. I see many signs of it in my own life. For example, I have become tremendously concerned about my gums. There was a time when I could go for decades without thinking of my gums, but recently they have come to loom far larger in my mind than the Greenhouse Effect.

Also, young people I meet keep using the word "Mister," causing me to whirl around and look behind me, expecting to see somebody with whom I associate this title, such as the pope or Walter Cronkite, only to realize that these young people are talking to me.

Also, if I attempt to throw a softball without carefully warming up, I have to wait until approximately the next presidential administration before I can attempt to do this again.

Also I have long, animated conversations with my friends -- friends with whom I used to ingest banned substances and swim naked -- on the importance of dietary fiber.

Also I find myself asking my son, in a solemn parental voice, the same profoundly stupid old-fogy questions that my parents used to ask me, such as: "Do you want to poke somebody's eye out?"

Also -- this is most terrifying -- I sometimes catch myself humming along to elevator music.

Of course, I'm not alone. Growing older is a Major Lifestyle Trend, potentially even bigger than cable television. Millions of us, the entire legendary Baby Boom herd of Mouseketeer-watching, Hula-Hoop-spinning, Beatles-admiring, hair-growing, pot-smoking, funky-chicken-dancing, love-making, re'sume'-writing, career-pursuing, insurance-buying, fitness-obsessing, Lamaze-class-taking, breast-feeding, data-processing, mortgage-paying, Parents-Night-attending, business-card-exchanging, compact-disc-owning, tooth-flossing individuals, are lunging toward:

... Middle Age.

Yes. Say it out loud, boomers: We are MIDDLE AGED. The time has come for us to stop identifying with Wally and The Beav; we are now a lot closer to Ward and June. Somebody has to be the grown-ups, and now it's our turn.

The problem is, I'm not sure we're ready. I've been hanging around with people roughly my age for the bulk of my life, and I frankly do not feel that, as a group, we have acquired the wisdom and maturity needed to run the world, or even necessarily power tools. Many of us, I'm convinced, only look like grown-ups.

For example, I work for a newspaper Sunday magazine whose staff consists mostly of people about my age. If you happened to visit us briefly from the outside world, we'd strike you as being regular middle-aged guys with ties and desks and families and various degrees of hair loss. "Huh!" you'd say. "This is a group of adults charged with putting out a magazine under constant deadline pressure! They must be very responsible!" Then you'd leave, and we'd resume playing chairball, a game we invented one day in the conference room while attempting to hold a conference, in which the players scuttle violently around on rolling chairs, trying to throw a foam-rubber ball through a hoop up on the wall.

I don't mean to suggest that all we do, at the office, is play chairball. Sometimes we throw the Frisbee. Sometimes we practice our juggling. Sometimes we even put out the magazine, but you would never conclude, if you secretly observed us for several weeks, that this was anywhere near our highest priority.

And I don't think it's just me and my co-workers who do stuff like this. I think the entire Baby Boom generation is having trouble letting go of the idea that it represents The Nation's Youth and has an inalienable right to be wild and carefree. The whole Iran-Contra scandal, in my opinion, basically boiled down to some 40-ish guys in the White House basement playing an international Top Secret multimillion-dollar version of chairball.

But the alarming truth is, people my age are taking over the government, along with almost everything else. And what is even more terrifying, I'm seeing more and more important jobs being done by people who are even younger than I am. The scariest example is doctors. If you wake up from a terrible accident to find yourself strapped down on your back in an operating room awaiting emergency surgery, and a person walks in who is about to open you up with a sharp implement and root around among your personal organs, you want this person to look as much as possible like Robert Young, right? Well, today the odds are that you're going to look up and see: Sean Penn.

And let's talk about airline pilots. I have long felt that if I'm going to risk my life and valuable carry-on belongings in a profoundly heavy machine going absurdly fast way the hell up in the air over places such as Arkansas where I don't even know anybody, then I want whoever is operating this machine to be much older and more mature than myself. But now I routinely get on planes where the entire flight crew looks like it's raising money for its Class Trip. I am very nervous on these flights. I want the crew to leave the cockpit door open so I can make sure they're not using the navigational computer to play Death Blasters from Planet Doom.

I'm not suggesting that anything can be done about this trend. I mean, we can't pass a law requiring, for example, that airline pilots always have to be older than we are.

No, the only solution is for us to face up to the fact that we are no longer the Hope for the Future. The Hope for the Future now consists of the kids who like to shave their heads and ride skateboards off the tops of buildings. We Baby Boomers are the Hope for Right Now, and we're going to have to accept it.

Are You a Grown-Up Yet? A Scientific Quiz

This quiz is designed to help you get a handle on how far you have progressed toward becoming a grown-up, as measured by the Standardized Psychological Maturity Scale, which assesses your maturity level on a scale of zero ("Very Immature") to 10 ("Legally Dead"). Answer the questions below as honestly as you can, bearing in mind that there are no "right" or "wrong" answers. Our goal, in this exercise, is not to judge you according to someone else's arbitrary system of values. Our goal is to waste time.

1. If another driver cuts you off in traffic, you will:

a. Keep your temper firmly in check, because nobody wins when you "play games" with Traffic Safety.

b. Honk your horn in an irritated fashion and possibly even make a famous hand gesture.

c. Dedicate yourself totally to gaining automotive revenge -- no matter what the risk to property or human life -- by cutting the other driver off, even if this means drastically altering your plans and, if necessary, following him to Mexico.

2. When you participate in a friendly, informal, meaningless pickup game such as volleyball or softball, you play at an intensity level that would be appropriate for:

a. A friendly, informal, meaningless pickup game.

b. The Olympic finals.

c. Iwo Jima.

3. What do you do when the song "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones comes on your car radio?

a. You turn it off and call the office on your car phone to see if any of your business associates have tried to reach you on their car phones.

b. You change to a "mellow rock" station oriented toward sensitive songs such as "Feelin' Groovy" from Simon and Garfunkel's early years ("The Weenie Period") played by disc jockeys who are so low-key that they take Quaaludes to wake up.

c. You crank the radio volume all the way up and do the Car Dance, wherein you bounce your butt rhythmically on the seat, and you sing along with Mick Jagger using the cigarette lighter as a microphone while gradually pressing down harder and harder on the accelerator, so that when you get to the part where you and Mick sing that "Jumpin' Jack Flash is a GAS GAS GAS" you are going at least 85 miles per hour, even inside your garage.

4. If it were entirely up to you to feed yourself, your diet would consist of:

a. Fruits, vegetables and low-cholesterol protein sources.

b. Fried foods and frozen dinners.

c. Milk Duds.

5. In conversations with your co-workers, how do you refer to your boss?

a. "Mr. Druckerman."

b. "Ted."

c. "The Human Hemorrhoid."

6. Your taste in the performing arts runs toward:

a. Ballet, opera, classical music.

b. Television, movies, pop concerts.

c. Booger jokes.

How to Score

First off, you have to make the woman believe that you really care about her as a person, and then you ...

Whoops! Sorry! Wrong kind of scoring! To score yourself on the maturity quiz, give yourself one point for each "A" answer, half a point for each "B" answer and zero points for each "C" answer, then add up your points. If you actually take the trouble to do this, you are a fairly mature person. A lot of us have already stopped reading.

From "Dave Barry Turns 40" by Dave Barry (Crown Publishers Inc., 1990) All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.