A couple of decades ago, after spending much of my life moving from city to city and state to state, I finally settled into a peaceful rural existence in the Land of Ark -- a.k.a. the Natural State, a.k.a. the Land of Opportunity. The rest of the country refers to it as Arkansas, where all the beautiful people live and time stands still.
Now I bask in the glory of my placid existence, growing tomatoes, watching sunsets, frolicking with my dog, writing stuff and patiently waiting for my soul mate, whoever she may be, to show up and make my life complete.
There have been two earth-shattering birthdays in my life. One was when I turned 30 -- the other was when I turned 60.
Anyone who is born between July 23 and August 22 is a Leo. According to modern astrology, "Leos are vital, confident, proud and masterful. They love drama and luxury, and have wide creative interests. Blessed with many abilities, they are natural executives and tireless workers, generous and high-minded. Their manner will often be dramatic and full of warmth. They are tempted to show off and may at times appear self-centered."
In other words, I'm full of many things, including myself. This is probably true. That's why people think I'm self-centered. But just because I think I'm better than everyone else doesn't necessarily mean I'm self-centered -- it just means I'm full of it. And as a true Leo, I'm proud to be full of it.
Anyway, I turned 60 a few years ago.
This is the age when you start the downhill skid of life into oblivion. You're too old to show off and too young to collect Social Security. It's a state of limbo between being able to remember the good times and being wise enough not to try to repeat them.
It's also the age where you reflect on your life and try to figure out what went wrong.
In my case, nothing went wrong. It didn't exactly go as planned but I wouldn't change one minute of it. Even though my mind is slowly turning to mush, I can still remember most of it.
Turning 60 can also be a blessing. For example, you can talk out loud to yourself all day long and no one will bat an eye, especially if you have a dog or a cat lurking nearby. But you still can't talk to your goldfish until you reach 80 otherwise your relatives will be plotting to put you in a home for old codgers and dingbats.
The changes I've witnessed in my lifetime have been incredible. I remember when my grandmother in Wisconsin had a wood stove for heat and cooking. Her refrigerator was called an icebox because a guy on a horse-drawn wagon would come by on occasion to put a fresh block of ice in the "box" sitting on the back porch.
My family didn't even have a television set until I was in the fifth grade. And when you wanted to change channels, you actually had to walk across the room and turn a dial. Life was rough back then, particularly for channel-flippers.
When I was young, I rode my bike with no helmet, rode in cars with no seatbelts, climbed trees, and drank water out of a garden hose. I'm lucky to be alive.
I didn't have a computer or a cell phone. In school, I was actually required to read and write, to do math without a calculator and to pass tests.
But thanks to modern technology and a zillion regulations dictated by the government to protect me from myself, the world is now a much better place. And even if it isn't, it doesn't really matter because the government will pass another zillion regulations tomorrow and everything will continue to progress (or regress, depending on your point-of-view).
Pardon my cynicism. I tend to get a bit grumpy in my ancient years. When I hit 90, it would be wise to steer clear of me for a few days. Being cranky at that age is a badge of honor. After 90 years on this planet, you have the right to growl once in awhile.
Turning 60 is a lot like falling into a vat of raw sewage -- it stinks, but you can always take a shower and start fresh the next day.
Life is full of surprises -- some days are good and other days are downright rotten.
Ironically, one week after I turned 60, I had an extremely bad day.
I walked out to my mailbox at the end of the driveway. Just as I opened the box, one of the local teenage airheads came careening around the corner on his ATV with the throttle wide open and zero consideration for safety. He missed me by a couple of feet but that didn't slow him down. As the 20-foot dust cloud settled over me I wondered what the penalty would be for strangling an airhead.
Later that day, I went into town to get some groceries. I parked in the last spot next to the alley. When I came back out of the store, there was a small gray car parked in the alley about three inches from the driver's side of my van. Being slightly larger than three inches in width, I was unable to open the door and get in. I waited as long as I could for the driver to show up and explain to me why it was necessary to park so close to my van but I had to get to the bank before they closed, so I reluctantly went in through the passenger door, climbed over the console and into the driver's seat.
I got to the bank at 10 minutes before closing. I drove to the third lane where the tube reaches my van's window, put my check and deposit slip into the tube, and sent it on its way. Cashier #1 announced she'd be right with me and disappeared. Car #1 pulled up to the first bank window whereupon Cashier #2 stepped forward and proceeded to process the transaction. Then Car #2 pulled into the second window whereupon Cashier #1 returned and proceeded to process that transaction. Then Car #2 pulled away from the first window and Car #3 soon drove up to that window and was immediately serviced by Cashier #2. After all three cars that had arrived after I did had finally left the premises, Cashier #1 processed my transaction. I had included a note specifically asking that the cash returned to me be in the form of two $50 bills but when I received the envelope it contained five $20 bills. As I turned to correct the error, they were pulling down the curtains and closing the bank.
Next, I went to Wal-Mart, a half hour away. I entered in the south entrance but there were no hand baskets. I asked the greeter where the hand baskets were whereupon he used his walkie-talkie to communicate with the greeter at the other end of the store. Instead of having an employee bring some hand baskets to me, I had to trek all the way to the far end of the store to retrieve one even though I was not going to do any shopping at that end of the store. This was the second time in a row this had happened to me at Wal-Mart. As I left the store, I noticed there were still lots of hand baskets at the far end and none at the near end.
Later that night, I sat down to work on one of my newspaper columns when my hard disk crashed. I was already in a foul mood, which is often good for writing columns but bad for just about everything else in life. I was forced to order another computer the next day and went about 10 days without having access to the Internet, e-mail or word processing, giving me plenty of free time to wonder why the whole world had turned against me.
Note to parents of airheads with ATVs -- If you are considering moving far away, I'll help you pack.
Note to owner of gray car -- Rude behavior can sometimes lead to unpleasant consequences.
Note to bank manager -- You need to have a "customer courtesy" meeting.
Note to Wal-Mart manager -- You need to have a "hand-basket distribution" meeting.
Later that evening, I was talking to one of my adult students at the local college where I taught computer courses about all the bad luck I had earlier on the same day whereupon she told me her brother died and her daughter had been in a terrible auto accident that same week.
Another lesson in life -- no matter how bad things get, someone else always has it worse.
Quote for the Day -- "My only regret in life is that I'm not someoine else." Woody Allen
Bret Burquest is the author of 9 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and patiently waits for his soul mate to show up.