A 65th birthday can prove a mixed blessing. You get to officially kick off your golden years, apply for early Social Security and spend more time with the grandchildren, yet the sheer magnitude of the number will give even the most determined of revelers pause. And because my own birthday is rapidly approaching, I'm already experiencing some decidedly ambivalent emotions. Anxiety, dismay, gratitude and optimism are just a few of the stops on my dizzying roller coaster ride to the big 6-5.
I do, however, have one consolation; I'm in some pretty famous company. I share the very same birthday with arguably the biggest icon of the baby boom generation. Yes, he was a bit strung out, but he was my first love -- and the first TV luminary worthy of the term, "megastar." Yet, despite his early fame, no one has acknowledged our birthday for years.
When he turned 40, the auspicious occasion made the news. But when he turned 60, there was not a peep from any quarter. I, of course, was appalled by this lack of recognition. And, as I downed my own 60th birthday toast, I thought about him and hoped he didn't feel like some ancient relic destined for display in the Smithsonian.
For our 65th, however, we'll both undoubtedly receive our share of cards with the all-too-familiar hook-and-ladder truck on the front -- a not-so-subtle reference to the blaze of candlelight that will sit atop our cake. And, given the vast sea of wick and tallow marking the occasion, we'll each likely need to fake our attempts at frivolity. Will the megastar and I both act a bit wooden at times? Will we wear identical frozen grins set off by deeply-etched laugh lines? Will we sport the same glassy-eyed expression? After all, turning sixty-five isn't for the faint of heart.
But to borrow Jimmy Olsen's favorite word: Jeepers! Do I remember my guy's glory days! How well I recall faithfully turning on the tube (back when TVs actually had tubes) and sitting transfixed before our Motorola, eagerly awaiting Howdy Doody's ready smile. There was no doubt about my loyalty. I never considered turning the dial (back when TVs actually had dials) because this time of day belonged solely to him.
This ebullient young star treated us children of the Eisenhower years to hours of viewing pleasure. He nourished our imaginations with a range of topics especially selected to appeal to the booming prepubescent set. In fact, he proved an industry innovator and was an early proponent of diversity. His show included two Native Americans, a representative from civic government, a cowboy (whom some accused of being the real power behind the throne) and several other quirky characters. Indeed, this celebrity was so well known that his face was selected to grace the network's test pattern and his show was one of the first ever to appear in color.
Still more impressive, our accomplished hero even ran for President. His platform became the initial rallying cry for an outspoken and willful generation. He promised, if elected, to solely represent us -- the "kids of America." In fact, with that pledge, he likely instilled the earliest feelings of entitlement and hubris for which we boomers are known. However, lo these many years past the pinnacle of his success, it's almost as if this promising young star never existed.
And he himself has remained strangely silent. Did the years take their toll on my idol? Did his fall into relative anonymity cause him to feel isolated and tossed aside, like some dusty old toy? Does he still have a jaunty bounce to his step or has age made him unsteadied on his feet? Has Father Time unduly ravaged our hero and removed much of his manly stuffing?
Whatever the circumstances, I wish him well. Our birthday, December 27th, falls in middle of the holidays -- but what I'd give to accompany him and submit our applications to Social Security together. Even though we each might feel like shaking in our boots, I can just envision us, Howdy and me, working the crowd in some governmental Peanut Gallery. The bureaucrats we'd meet in that office could prove some pretty tough nuts to crack; but with Howdy's down-home Doodyville charm, he'd surely break through their shells and soon have them pulling a few strings in our favor.
In fact, I might take our birthday festivities one step further -- marking our mutual big day by loudly shouting to every governmental nut ensconced in his or her cubicle, "Say kids, what time is it?" And once the birthday boy flashes his famously toothy grin, I bet they'd all shout back that renowned refrain known to every boomer boy and girl: "IT'S HOWDY DOODY TIME!"
Kowabonga -- that would make our sixty-fifth birthday a celebration indeed!