The joys of being a middle-aged man

Showers are not for lingering anymore, rogue hairs are forming their own colonies and I've developed the cleavage I've always admired.


Stephen J. Lyons
July 18, 2000 10:45PM (UTC)

I've arrived at that life-changing confluence of middle age where one-third of my index finger easily fits inside my bellybutton. This deepening body cavity can now accommodate more than a knuckle's worth of digit, confirming my worst fears: I am gaining weight and it's not a pretty sight. How many years remain before I can shove my entire hand into that hole? What microscopic mites reside in there now, and what will fill the added space? Lint the size of an afghan?

Showers are not for lingering anymore, nor can I comfortably flex and strut in front of a mirror. Instead, when I sneak a peek at my reflection, I notice, in addition to the aforementioned belly cavern, a disturbing jiggling motion around the chest area. Breasts! When I bend over, cleavage!

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Although most men adore breasts, they do not want their own pair. Fondling one's own shapely mounds doesn't give one much sexual pleasure. Mine are just plain disturbing, like an extra set of one-eyed heads. Underneath them is a new roll of fat, and when I sit at the computer, slumped in my usual bad posture, my breasts almost touch my waist.

Today I noticed I could no longer wear thin white shirts without the support of a tight undergarment. If I don't batten down those evil twins my nipples will be visible. Believe me, you don't want them visible. Never again will I go out in public bare-chested (or bare-breasted).

Even a locker room shower is risky, although recently I've spotted some portly older men at my gym who actually make me feel a bit lighter. I see these men in the showers, usually in the corner stalls, far away from the young gazelles who brazenly use what I call the "display nozzles," located front and center. My comrades do not linger. They soap up, rinse quickly, wrap themselves in a mountain of towels and scurry back to their lockers, to the safety of untucked, dark XXL-size polo shirts and creative layering. So much shame exists among the participants in those steamy sessions that we rarely make eye contact. It seems like only yesterday that we snapped towels and whistled. And now? Silence and Ben-Gay.

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I do not look like a fat man simply because I am tall. I can support a lot of weight before bullies will begin to shake me down for latte money. I'm not getting fat in the traditional spare-tire fashion, either. It's more of a thickening of the entire body, like an injection of yeast.

But the worst is yet to come. I am now 44 years old. My grandfather lived to be in his late 80s; my grandmother lived to 91. Say I continue to gain 2 pounds every year until the age of 88 -- that will put me at about 300 pounds.

I am not a vain man. Obscurity has always been my goal. Many a time I have walked into a room and haven't been noticed. People have handed me their hats and coats on the way to another, more exciting room that contains noticeable people, those who are able to talk about themselves in an entertaining fashion.

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I'm like Muzak, a bit annoying but after a while a part of the off-white wallpaper of everyday life. This is a good attribute, to possess absolutely no presence. I'm sure I have avoided countless beatings by neighborhood toughs because of my ability to resemble cloud cover. But with increased poundage, how long will this last? "Excuse me, I didn't see you standing there" may soon be replaced by "Watch where you're going, doughboy!"

Rogue hairs are also a new obsession. Eyebrows that I once never gave a second thought to have turned against me. If I am lax with the razor for even a day, a rapid-response rebel hair will break off from the more conservative eyebrow community and strike out north on its own. I know where it's headed: to a burgeoning colony inside my left ear. Once united, these hairy suburbs will do what all suburbs do: They will form cul-de-sacs and sprawl to the point of overcrowding. In the meantime, my normal eyebrow hairs are trying to secretly meet together in the middle of my face, forming an upper facial mustache.

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Equally upsetting is a single, persistent coarse jet-black hair (my hair is light brown) that grows from the bridge of my nose -- straight out, with a mind of its own. This spirited pioneer is as hard to cut as a green-limbed willow. I've noticed too many men with the same hair who have given up trying to tame it. I may soon join them.

You supposedly get wiser with age. Younger people will sit at your knee and ask you important and earnest questions that only an experienced and worldly man of age can answer: Is there an afterlife? What were the '60s like? How do you program a VCR? Who was Ken Starr? What's a "corded" phone? What's the best Internet stock? Can I borrow $75?

But I'm halfway through my 40s and no such protigi has come forward to seek out my wisdom. No one has asked me to serve on a council of elders. There has been no grass-roots campaign to propel me into the political arena. But I do have old-growth toenails the color and texture of soggy raisins, and I derive great pleasure from scratching.

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Halfway through this life, the snap in my step is the dull sound of bone on bone, like bass castanets. I have expanding back hairs with Manifest Destiny tendencies that are unreachable with conventional hair removal techniques. Everyone on the street looks vaguely familiar, but I can't remember their names.

Still, I'm not complaining too loudly. After all, this man is basically intact and healthy. Considering the nasty alternatives, I have no choice but to suck in my gut and soldier forward, razor and tweezers in hand, lurching toward the fabulous 50s and that unknown territory beyond.


Stephen J. Lyons

Stephen J. Lyons is the author of "Landscape of the Heart," a memoir of single fatherhood. He lives in Washington state.This week he received a rejection letter that described his writing as "unfocused and full of broken glass." It actually made him feel good.

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