The Middle Ages

At 58, looking fondly at the hill made by the sands of time

Chris Erskine turns 58 and finds it gives him perspective, range and an appreciation for baby boomer luck

Not a bad age, 58. I've had worse. On the way to school the other day, the little guy asked me who I'd like to be "if you could be anyone in the world?"

"You," I told him.

"Me?"

I told him I'd like to be him because of all the great things ahead — the ballgames, the fishing trips, the college chums. The 6,000 sunny autumn afternoons. Or the multiple mutts he will own along the way, not to mention the fast cars ... amazing girlfriends ... the candled Christmas Eves.

"Yeah, I'd like to be you," I said.

Which startled him a little. He didn't realize that he was in such an enviable position. Only 11, he still believes in monsters, shuns showers and wears the same smelly T-shirt for three straight days.

"CHANGE THAT SHIRT!!!" his mother coos.

And he fishes one from under the bed.

So to be 11 is a fine thing, but 58 might be better.

I turned 58 just the other day, and so far it's working out well: no seizures, no backaches and the requisite amount of good times.

I told a buddy recently that a mutual friend of ours behaves like he never left college. Also in his late 50s, the mutual friend is still a smirky, mischievous and contented college kid.

"Like you?" responded my buddy.

Oh, I don't know. But at 58, I can claim to have seen every Super Bowl, every Bill Murray movie, every kind of sky-is-falling false alarm.

At 58, you're leery when they scream that the world is ending, because the world has been ending all your life. Communism. Avian flu. Y2K. Nothing on that list has ended the world because, for all of mankind's flaws, we seem to rise to the occasion — always, from the first Crusades to Ebola.

Like 4.16 million other Americans, I was born right in the middle of the baby boom — 1956, a great year for Chevys and off-the-lot baby boys. Tom Hanks was born in '56 ... Joe Montana ... Bryan Cranston ... Bill Maher ... Larry Bird. If we ever got together ... well, these days the party would probably end before midnight.

We boomers didn't have it perfect. The older ones faced an awful stupid war, one in a series of awful stupid wars. By the time you reach 58, you realize that most wars could be averted. At 58, you realize that if we spent half as much on the military and twice as much on textbooks, we'd all be saner, smarter and better off.

No, at 58 you realize that the boomers didn't have it perfect, but we had it pretty good — jobs, houses, savings. True, holiday bonuses disappeared, as did pensions, as did trade surpluses. Still, most any generation would swap with us. In all of human history, most any society would envy our run of prosperity and cheery good luck.

Fifty-eight gives you perspective; it gives you range. At 58, you remember when "new technology" referred to grocery scanners. Or flip-top cans. You remember standing in line at the bank every week, or the days when nobody pumped his own gas.

At 58, you remember when there were three TV channels, four car companies and only one way to feed the meter.

At 58, you remember back to when "Doonesbury" was actually funny. And the typeface was still big enough to read.

At 58, your parents are probably gone or fading, and you find yourself the go-to guy, the sage, the éminence grise. You're hopeful, though not certain, that your kids will find good steady work or be able to eventually afford a comfortable home.

By the time you're 58, you realize that 4,000-square-foot "dream houses" come with lots of clauses, business trips and too many Marriott nights away. At 58, you appreciate the benefits of living within your means.

Yep, at 58, you're a long way from done, but entering that critical fourth quarter of triglyceride counts and gimpy knees. When you buy a car, you wonder, "Will this one be my last new toy?"

Naw.

Because, despite the occasional drawbacks, 58 is grand. Better than 28, when you know everything but understand little. Even better than 11, when adults won't leave you alone.

At 58, I sleep better, worry less, gripe only when provoked. It's a myth that we lose energy as we age. Ever met a teenager who awakened before noon on a Saturday?

So give me 58 any old time, because, while I don't feel 18, I certainly don't feel almost 60.

Now 60, that's really getting up there.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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