"Why don't you try wearing a long-sleeved shirt?" my girlfriend asked as we sifted through casual wear at The Gap. "Older women don't show off their arms so much."
Now, I've been cutting the sleeves off my T-shirts since I was 15. The renegade rocker spirit in me refused to be dulled even by turning 40, but a few months shy of my 50th birthday, I may have to change a few things.
I was a bodybuilder in the '80s. I worked out six days a week in a hard-core gym on 19th Street called Better Bodies that was filled with professional athletes and porn stars. You haven't lived till you have seen Robin Byrd do squats. Anyway, I was into it like a madwoman. I took amino acids, lived on tuna and poached chicken and turned myself into a V-shaped Amazon.
Then I fell in love.
Romantic weekends on Fire Island quickly took the place of bench pressing. My chiseled biceps began to look like firm sausages. Nevertheless, for the next two decades, I proudly showed off my sausage arms.
Then one day, I looked in the mirror and noticed to my horror that the cottage cheese on my salad plate had relocated over my triceps.
I joined a better gym and stopped eating carbs after sundown, but the skin on the bottoms of my arms still waved like a flag in a good breeze.
"Your skin is losing its elasticity," a nurse pal of mine softly explained. "It's a natural part of aging."
"Shut the F up!!" I responded, demurely.
And it's not just the arms. I used to cook for a thousand people and go out dancing the next day. Now I spend the day after catering large events propped up with pillows, staring at "Twilight Zone" re-runs.
"We have entered a place where cottage cheese can be worn like a bad suit... the Twilight Zone!"
I spend a lot of time visiting my nearly 88-year-old dad in his assisted living center. He needs a wheelchair and seems to care only about what he is eating and when he is using the bathroom. The lawyer, teacher, father and aggressive racquetball player has been reduced to "When do we have hot dogs again! I want hot dogs!"
So, I smuggled him in a hot dog, and my heart sang while I watched how happily he downed it. Later, I turned to my niece and said, "Honey, I think I'll pull a Thelma and Louise before winding up in diapers.
"Who are Thelma and Louise?" she asks.
That happens a lot these days. My sense of humor, which sailed me through a lifetime of making folks laugh so hard they cried, now brings questions like, "Who is Karen Carpenter?" For that matter, most of you are probably wondering, who is Robin Byrd?
And I have started to like PRUNES!!!!
I suppose there are some good things about pushing 50. I have been catering for 25 years now. I'm pretty darn good at it. The reward for doing anything for 20-plus years is that one would hope you'd be pretty darn good at it.
And there is a sense of freedom. Fifty years can wear on the restraint cord. Biting my tongue has been replaced with, "Honey, you look like you've been swallowed by a walrus in that dress!"
There is also this thing called respect that seems to flow my way these days.
"How can you stay in business serving trailer park cooking?" has been replaced with "You blazed the trail in this industry for comfort food."
The biggest reward for pushing 50 is the comfort in just being me. Yes, I travel with extra-soft toilet paper in my luggage. One-ply toilet paper is an abomination. I am sure that someone carries two-ply for the queen of England when she travels, as well.
I love that I am a loud, neurotic, New York Jew with a passion for mixing gourmet fare with white trash cooking. Who doesn't like mac and cheese with a filet mignon chaser?
And just so you know, I have a BLONDIE T-shirt in front of me, and I'm cutting the sleeves off as soon as I finish writing this.
Screw you, world! You're never too old to rock and roll!