I TURNED 49 the other day and I love it. Don't get me wrong, this is not age snobbery in reverse. I'm not exactly nuts about getting older. (I attended my 30th high school reunion this year, and a former classmate came up to me and said, "Who were you"?) What I do love is being an odd number again.
Even numbers make you sound stodgy. Think about it -- 48, the age I carried around on my back for the last 12 months, sounds unrelievedly dull. Can you name anybody interesting who's 48? I thought not. Forty-eight is a bankruptcy lawyer, an accountant with the Labor Department, the head of internal audit at Giant Foods.
Forty-nine, on the other hand, sends off entirely different vibnrations. Pierre Trudeau is 49. (Don't tell me he's 64; I know that and it's beside the point.) No matter how much older he gets, he will always be 49. So will John DeLorean and my two favorite Lees, Trevino and F. Bailey. And, of course, the all- time king of the 49ers, Fred Astaire. My top hat's off to you, Fred.
But 48, or 46, or 44 are for dull people. To me, some people will always be a certain, dull age. Richard Nixon, 62. Lee Iaccoca, 58. David Stockman -- now there's a really dull guy, $2 million or no $2 million -- 34. George Burns, 150. Brooke Shields, 18. And any cute kid in a television comedy series, 10. And even if you aren't by nature dull, when you reach an even-numbered year, you will become dull, and remain so for the entire year. When Burt Reynolds was 44, he remarked, "Everybody keeps telling me I'm 'middle-aged,' but I don't see too many 88-year-old guys running around." See, being 44 even had Burt Reynolds thinking dull.
I moped all last year. My weight went up, my arches went down. I got bifocals when I was 48. I started using a word processor. When I was 47 I worked in Paris and New York. Last year I made three trips to Milwaukee and thought seriously about visiting Baltimore. Because I didn't see it coming, I dulled down.
Even numbers. Even the word "even" sounds dull. If you have any spark at all, it will be quashed during an even-numbered year. Twelve years old: "What a nice young man." Sixteen: a vastly overrated year, largely taken up with zits and car accidents. Eighteen: rather better, but for too many generations too closely associated with the military draft. Twenty: good only for 52 weeks of anticipation.
But just add a single year to any one of the above ages, and look what you get!
This year my three sons turned 19, 17, and 3. For each of them it was a grand year. The oldest set a record for meeting new girls; the middle son became the tallest person in the family; and the youngest said goodbye to diapers and a crib. As for their mother, whose age is presently an odd number, she would have had a better year if she hadn't had to put up with my being 48.
Odd numbers are romantic, exciting, less predictable (even their multiplication tables are harder to remember). Men, have you ever seen a "perfect 10"? Of course not. So what's the closest? That's right. Edgar Allen Poe once wrote something to the effect of physical beauty in women being defined by a certain "strangeness in the proportions." For my money he could not have been more accurate, which is probably why Barbara Striesand knocks me out, and Bo Derek, lovely as she is, makes me feel . . . even-numbered.
Not to get morbid about it, but look what happened to Joe Theismann (and Lyle Alzado) at age 36. And look what never happens to Ronalds Reagan, whose success may well be rooted in the fact that he has a genius for ignoring any numbers he doesn't like.
The theory behind my affection for the odd is that even-numbered years make you think about how much older you are (or are not) getting, and thus you are reminded of your mortality. But being an odd- numbered age -- "for some odd reason" -- relieves you of that burden by reminding you how much fun life can be. And we could all use a little more fun.
I plan to have a hell of a good 49th year, both for myself and for those around me. And I'd better, because next year could be a real bummer.