By Ned Hickson
As I've mentioned, I'm turning 40 this year. The good news is I have a friend who just turned 60. Relative to him, I am a young man (Of which I will keep reminding him until that sad day when, unexpectedly, he knocks out my front teeth with his walker). My point is, when it comes to age, what seems relative can quickly change.
Yesterday, for example, I was eating at a fast-food place when I noticed a pair of college-aged girls taking glances at me from another table. This has happened before, which is why I instinctively went through a series of mental checkpoints drawn from previous experience:
1) Is there condiment blowback in my hair, on my chin or around my nostril(s)?
2) What am I wearing today, and is there any part I forgot to snap closed, zip up or buckle down?
3) Did I unknowingly allow any part of my body's internal gastro process to be heard externally?
4) Am I slouching, hunched or otherwise postured in a manner that makes it appear I'm protecting my $3.99 Value Meal, possibly to the death?
5) Is there someone much younger and better looking sitting directly behind me?
After determining none of these factors was responsible for the attention I was getting from the two co-eds, I continued my meal feeling like I was back in my late 20s, back when metabolism kept things like a small order of fries and an 8-ounce shake from turning into an extra chin roughly the size of a cow udder; back when "harmless flirtation" meant something other than spending an hour on roller-skates without breaking a hip.
As I sat there eating, the two co-eds got up from their table and approached me, smiling nervously.
This was something I hadn't anticipated.
I know this because my throat, which had been in mid-swallow, suddenly forgot where my esophagus was. I took a sip of soda thinking it would jump-start the swallowing process. Instead, the soda backed up in my throat before exiting through my nasal cavity -- which, thankfully, was too small to accommodate my all-beef patty. Catching a glance at my reflection in the napkin dispenser, I saw what looked like a giant carp hacking up a fistful of Powerbait onto a plastic tray. Relatively speaking, I felt 15 again, back when nerves routinely seized my stomach into a walnut whenever I was around Sarah Getlost.
"Excuse me, are you OK?"
I looked up to see both girls standing at my table.
"Yes," I wheezed, then patted my chest. "Something went down the wrong pipe. I think it might have been my esophagus."
After some nervous laughter, one of the girls said, "I'm sure you saw us looking at you. We didn't want you to think we were stalkers or something." I nodded and took a sip of soda, trying to act cool; praying it wouldn't come out my nose.
"It's just that, from over there, you looked exactly like my Dad," she explained, "and I'm not supposed to be here. If he knew I skipped classes today for a concert he'd kill me."
And just like that, I was in my mid-50s, racing to catch up with my friend and his walker.
As they started to leave, her friend turned back to me and said, "Just so you know, I told her you looked too young to be her Dad."
In that moment, I don't think I've ever been happier being 39.
Well -- relatively speaking, anyway.
You can write to Ned Hickson at:
The Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR 97439.