Suddenly, out of nowhere, there it was again, the issue that seems to be following me around like a lost puppy these days: the issue of aging.

 

Like most of my younger friends in San Francisco, Erin seemed so young to the (then) twenty-one year old (and “so grown up”) me. Now that they are all reaching forty, well, somehow the difference in age doesn’t seem all that great.

 

Maybe this explains why the majority of my close friends in St. Louis are in their thirties, or about to turn thirty. Could it be that the evil incubus inside of me latches onto younger people in some sick attempt to magically steal their youth in order to preserve my own?

 

If that’s the plan (and I’ll deny it in court), I gotta say it ain’t workin’.

 

Every day it seems like I wake up to more gray hairs, (which, if you look at it one way, is good that I have any hair at this point) and hairs that once seemed content to hide in my nostrils now want to come out for a look around, joined by their cousins, the ear hairs. My body, historically so thin and subtly toned, has begun to rebel here and there, too. My stomach, for instance, suddenly seems to think it’s a good idea to add an inch. And I might as well forget about my old stand-by, abdominal crunches; what used to be a quick fix now seems to require double work on my part.

 

“You think that’s going to get rid of me?” laughs my stomach as I force my sweaty way through crunches. “I’ll be back by the time you stand up!”

 

In my mind my stomach has a weird eastern European accent, hard to place like most movie villains. I ignore his taunts, however, and push myself to the limit. Unfortunately, lying there on the floor, out of breath and sweaty, I know he’s right. As for my arms, well, let’s just say that standard curls no longer cut it to give me the nice toned look that once came so easily. These days, if I wave goodbye to anyone, the skin under my arms keeps waving long after the fact.

 

Yeah, the subtle beginnings of the infamous arm flab.

 

Deciding to ramp up my work out routine and to pay extra attention to rogue nostril hairs isn’t enough, however.  No, lack of muscle tone and a proliferation of unsightly hairs aren’t enough; these days the number of lines on my face can be counted to determine my age, much like the lines inside a felled tree.

 

“You know that smoking is bad for your skin,” says my partner, Tim.

 

“I know, I know,” I reply, exhaling a puff of smoke.

 

After three failed attempts to quit last year alone, I can tell that Tim’s patience with my addiction is growing thin. Questions like how many cigarettes I’ve smoked that day and how much a pack currently costs are becoming more and more frequent. I decide to stop complaining about my skin to Tim and confide to a co-worker, instead. Susan, two years my junior, starts off by lecturing me not only about cigarettes but also sun exposure. I was about to slink back to my office across the hall when she lightened up.

 

“You know what I use for fine lines?” she asks.

 

I smirk at the term ‘fine lines,’ thinking it funny how we get rid of the word ‘wrinkles’ just to feel better about getting older. I keep this thought to myself, however, and just shake my head.

 

“Stretch mark cream,” she says. “It’s cheaper than the anti-aging stuff on the market and it works.”

 

Stretch mark cream?” I ask. “Like pregnant women use?”

 

“Yep,” Susan replies, smiling. “Try it.”

 

Now, I suffer from vanity as much as the next person and the thought of an inexpensive cream getting rid of ‘fine lines’ sounded great, but the thought of marching into Walgreen’s and buying it filled me with trepidation. Nevertheless, on my next day off, I marched into the Walgreen’s near our house and headed to the aisle that contained baby-related merchandise. There were the usual items, like diapers and pacifiers; there were items that made the twelve-year old inside me blush, like breast pumps and vaginal creams, but no stretch mark cream, no matter how hard I tried to make it materialize in front of me. I was beginning to feel like a real pervert, lurking in the maternity aisle, when I decided to go to the pharmacy window. I didn’t want to, but decided I could make up a story if I had to. Fortunately, there was nobody else at the window when I approached the lone pharmacist, a woman I guessed to be in her early to mid-forties.

 

“May I help you?” she asked, not unkindly but very business-like.

 

“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I was sent here to pick up stretch mark cream and I forgot what she called it.”

 

I’m not sure who the “she” I referred to was…my imaginary wife? My sister? My sister’s had kids and lived with me before and after the pregnancy…sure, I could tell her it was for my sister.

 

“Is it for scarring?” she asked.

 

“No,” I replied, beginning to sweat a little. “It’s for stretch marks.”

 

“Well,” she replied, frowning, “technically stretch marks are scars.”

 

The tone of her voice made it clear what a stupid man I was. At least she hadn’t asked who I was buying it for.

 

“I’ll have to defer to your knowledge,” I replied, sheepishly.

 

“Aisle two,” she said, pointing with her pen, “in the skin care aisle.”

 

Skin care! Why the hell hadn’t I thought of that? I limped to the skin care aisle with my tail between my legs and, after a bit of searching, located what I was looking for. I groaned when I saw that it was thirty dollars.

 

“This is the cheap alternative?” I said to nobody in particular.

 

Grudgingly, I took the cream to the checkout counter and bought a pack of cigarettes as well.

 

My friend, Amy, said recently that we’re in our second puberty. I stopped in my tracks and thought about that: hairs popping up in new places, redistribution of body weight and hormones gone awry. Although I hated to admit it…I hated puberty the first time around… she was right.

 

But life goes on which, as I’ve said before, is better than the alternative. In fact, this month marks two important milestones for me. First, Tim and I are celebrating our nineteenth anniversary. Somehow, he sticks with me, despite my shortcomings. Second, my best friend, Kris, is turning thirty years old, her twenties a quickly fading memory.

 

A beautiful, smart and funny young woman, Kris suddenly finds herself facing what we all will eventually face.

 

“I’m going to be old,” she lamented the other night over a few beers.

 

Having been the butt of a few of Kris’ “old man” jokes myself, I smile, the twelve- year old in me returning.

 

“Yes you are,” I say, “yes you are.”

 

Happy birthday, Kris!

 

BY: CURTIS COMER