45

Numbers have their own personalities, and I’ve always liked 45. Somewhere back home I still have a stash of old 45-rpm singles — some Beatles an old English teacher gave me, some highly questionable musical decisions from the ’70s (more than one Captain and Tennille), some early R.E.M. from when I finally got my mind right.

Michael Jordan wore 45 when he made his first comeback. Pedro Martinez wore 45 when he threw BBs for the Red Sox. A 4-5 is a sneaky hand in Texas Hold’em — one of those hands where you can make a disguised straight or two pair and clean out the other guy.

And of course there’s Colt .45 — not only a fine revolver but an outstanding malt liquor.

(As Billy Dee Williams says, it works every time. Although not in the way he means it. Unless he means it as “works on your liver.”)

When it comes to the age of a human being, though, 45 has a whole other bunch of meanings. Which is interesting to me because I turned 45 today.

When you turn 45 you can’t fool yourself any longer — you’re halfway done. At least. We all know a few folks who beat the actuarial odds. Alix’s grandpa made it to 101. But for most of us 45 is closer to the end than the beginning — if I’m reading this table right, the life expectancy for a white American man born in 1960 is 67 years. If you were born in 1970, it increases to 68. I was born in 1964. I’m gonna choose to round up.

Of course there’s no telling where any one of us will land on the curve — I’ve lost 20 pounds just walking around Harvard, and it feels so good I might start doing Forrest Gump laps back and forth across the country for the next 50 years.

Still, 45 seems like a good rest stop — a place to pull over for a minute, take a pee, look at the map, figure out how far we’ve come.

Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Outliers” talks about how most successful people aren’t born with great natural gifts — they stumble into the right circumstances, often through dumb luck. Bill Gates is obviously a smart guy. But he also happened to go to one of the first high schools in the country to have its own computer. He put in thousands of hours of computer time when almost no other kid his age had the same chance. He caught a huge break and took full advantage.

Somehow I’ve written myself into a corner where I have to say something like “Of course, I’m not Bill Gates” and the server that tracks my checking account will laugh itself to tears in agreement. The point is, most people catch a few breaks to get to where they are. I caught two good and loving parents, a couple of teachers who cared, a recently deceased Congressman named Claiborne Pell who found the money for me to go to college, editors who helped me get better, writers I still keep trying to top, a strange and wonderful group of friends, and of course the best wife ever.

The greatest thing about life is that there are no spoilers. Nobody can go see it first and ruin the ending. You and everyone around you make up the script as you go, and if it all works out, you get to 45 and you look back at it and you say I’d do that again.

And then you turn around and look ahead and keep writing.

7 thoughts on “45”

  1. Happy Birthday, Tommy! Great post on turning 45.

    We miss your writings in the Observer, but are happy we can keep up with some of your goings on from your blog.

    Best to Alix.

    A fan you probably do not know –

    Ellen Guerrant
    Charlotte

  2. Happy 45th Birthday Tommy Tomlinson! May the second half of your life be filled with life’s lessons–gently taught. Come home soon.

  3. tommy, great column, as always. enjoy your stint up there and don’t worry about counting years, rob

  4. Gladwell’s emusions are comparable to the feeling an hour after having Chinese for dinner. Focus more narrowly in the next 45, not because it will bring you a stone monument in the Egyptian desert, but because your life contribution will deserve one.

    1. Good advice as always, Steve. Not sure I agree with you on Gladwell, but you taught me a new word — “emusion” was a new one on me.

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