Middle-Aged Joys

I've arrived at that life-changing confluence of middle age where one-third of my index finger easily fits inside my belly button. This deepening body cavity can now accommodate more than one 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 currently? 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! Although most men adore breasts, they do not want their own pair. Fondling one's own shapely cups does not give one much sexual pleasure. Mine are just plain disturbing, like an extra set of one-eyed heads staring out at mid-level. Underneath them is a new roll of fat, so 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 lately with the addition of some older men I actually feel a bit lighter.

At the age of 47 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. The worst is yet to come. My grandfather lived to be in his late eighties; my grandmother to ninety-one. Let's say I continue to gain two pounds every year until the age of eighty-eight. That's equals around three hundred pounds.

I am not a vain man. Obscurity has always been the goal. Many a time I have walked into a room and have not been noticed. People have handed me their hats and coats on the way to another, more exciting, room. I'm like Muzak, a bit annoying but, after awhile, a part of the off-white wallpaper background 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 lapse with the razor for even a day a rapid-response rebel hair will break off from the more conservative eye brow community and strike out north on its own. I know where it's headed: to a new burgeoning colony inside my left ear. Once united these hairy suburbs will do what all suburbs do. They will 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.

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 and with a mind of its own. This spirited pioneer is as hard to cut as a green-limbed willow. I've noticed my father has the same hair but has given up trying to tame it. I may soon join him.

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 Sixties like? How do you program a VCR? What's the best Internet stock? Can I borrow $75?" But halfway through my forties no such protégé has come forward to seek out my wisdom. No one has asked me to serve on a council of elders. There has been no grassroots campaign to propel me into the political arena. But I do have crotch itch and, I think, more than a few hemorrhoids. (I'm still a bit cautious of picking around down there.)

Halfway through this current 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 forty-something 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 fifties and that unknown territory beyond.
About the author:
Stephen Lyons is a native of the South Side of Chicago and, after living for almost thirty years in the West, now resides in a small farming town in central Illinois. He's been employed in nine different states as a tree planter, daffodil picker, dude ranch cook, ice cream vendor, magazine editor, phone solicitor, newspaper reporter, professional tofu maker, grain truck driver, assistant dairy herdsman, and agricultural extension editor.
He once worked for a week in Colorado pulling nails out of two-by-fours, and for one twelve-hour day picking hops in southern Oregon. He was fired from the hops job after accusing the foreman of having bad karma. He was also fired from the phone solicitor job when he was overheard telling prospective customers that the deal (a lifetime of magazine subscriptions at creative interest rates) was a scam.
Lyons is the author of Landscape of the Heart: Writings on Daughters and Journeys, a single father's memoir. Author Terry Tempest Williams wrote about the book, "Stephen J. Lyons has offered us his grace and compassion...These essays are the deliberations of a sensitive and intuitive mind, a mind not afraid of exploring regions of the heart, so often side-stepped by men. Mr. Lyons's writing reads like poetry and has the effect of a lingering memory of love."
Stephen writes articles, reviews, essays, and poems for a variety of national magazines, newspapers, and journals including Northern Lights, Salon, Newsweek, Sierra, USAToday, High Country News, Manoa, Commonweal, The Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, Whole Earth Review, Hope, and The Christian Science Monitor. He is a member of National Book Critics Circle.
Lyons' poetry appears in the anthologies Passionate Hearts, Bless the Day, and Split Verse. His prose appears in Living in the Runaway West and Idaho in Black and White. Lompico Creek Press published an essay by Stephen in its just-released anthology Love is Ageless: Stories about Alzheimer's Disease. University of Iowa Press will publish prose by Stephen in its forthcoming anthology Father Nature, writings by fathers about children and nature.
This past year Lyons was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for "Seymour's Last Dollar," an essay about his step-father that appeared in the October 2001 issue of The Sun. This year he received a 2002 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose Writing.
Stephen is a lively reader and he has appeared at many writing venues including Elliot Bay in Seattle and as guest writer at the YMCA's Writer's Voice in Billings, Montana. For appearance fees or to send Lyons feedback, email him at: midlife@austinmama.com