First One to 50 Wins

Anne at 50!

Milady at her birthday dinner, with hints of the pandemic around the edges but in the moment not standing between our hearts.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, when ruminating on the origins of this very site:

This blog was set up three weeks before my 40th birthday as a means of charting the effects of the aging process and this fallen world’s degrading standards on my impressions of, reactions against, and general experiences with various works of art, commerce, wonder, majesty, and shamelessness. It’s my way of keeping the writing part of my brain alive and active, rather than let it atrophy and die…

Now that 40 is thousands of miles behind me and 50 is ever-so-slowly approaching on my horizon in the not-too-distant future, I may need to update my mission statement to reflect whatever emotions begin to overtake me as that half-century mark draws nearer.

For my wife Anne, what little sense of foreboding may or may not have bugged her is past. She’s nineteen months older than me and just reached 50, right on time.

St. Elmo!

Our celebration venue of choice, a onetime special guest star on Parks and Recreation.

We’ve known each other for 34 years and have been married for sixteen. We weren’t everyday fixtures in each other’s lives till 1996 or so. The girl I met in high school German class and the woman before me today share some touchstones, but in many respects are levels apart. Unless we drag out the old photo albums to jostle our memories, it’s hard to tell she’s aged much since then.

Her Dorian Gray aging process has been an innate thing of wonder for years. I’m reminded of a time we went out to Red Lobster in the early 2000s with my son. After the waitress handed a kiddie menu to the tyke, she turned to me and asked in casual, unironic seriousness if my daughter would like one too. She was tipped well that night.

shrimp cocktail!

Their fabled shrimp cocktail, four jumbo shrimp nestled in a spicy signature sauce that includes enough horseradish to disinfect your nasal passages. And yet the tongue is unscathed, because it is magical.

American tradition holds milestone birthdays should be subject to giant parties resplendent in “OVER THE HILL” decorations, with large cardboard numbers festooned everywhere to remind guests which multiple of 10 the Guest of Honor has reached. Obviously that wasn’t happening in the Age of Coronavirus. It was a shame to have had this same problem last month on the occasion of her grandmother’s 90th birthday. She’s a wonderful lady, the last surviving person either of us can call “grandparent”, and deserved better. We all settled for flooding her mailbox with tons of birthday cards. She was thrilled, because we folks over 40 are absolutely floored whenever we receive personal mail.

In Anne’s case, the substitute birthday activities took different forms. We had a Zoom chat with her siblings, who were gracious with their greetings but had to be coaxed to sing The Song. She chatted separately with her parents via other devices. Friends and other family have blessed her with well wishes in their venues of choice.

lobster bisque!

Lobster bisque made with actual lobster, not just packets of Aldi “Mayne Lobstyr” processed lobster-flavored protein product.

As for me…well, to be fair, I’m a lousy party planner even when I’m comfortable being around other people. But obviously the day could not pass in an ordinary way. Hence, dinner someplace we’ve never been before — St. Elmo Steak House, one of the swankiest joints in all of Indianapolis. They’re elegant, proud to make extensive use of local farms and producers, and have a heft to their name that brings awe to the eyes of us locals whenever it’s spoken in reverent tones. They’ve been in business since 1902 in the exact same location, not budging an inch even when the city constructed an entire shopping mall over and around them. Though that same mall was dying well before 2020 brought its sea of sorrows, St. Elmo and its sterling reputation live on.

COVID-19 protocols were firmly in place. Our waiter assured us, “no incidents since we reopened in June”. As we’ve found with other establishments over the past four months, restaurateurs want to survive, but they want their clientele to survive, too. Tables were spread apart, all employees were geared up, and table settings were stripped down for easier swapping out and cleaning between parties.

filet mignon!

Filet mignon, cooked medium. All other steaks we’ve had this year are ruined in comparison.

St. Elmo is priced proportionately for the services rendered, so there’s no chance of us throwing away our Campbell Soups and our Spam stash and becoming regulars there. Maybe if I can figure out how to repackage old MCC posts as The Great American Novel. Until then, it remains a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would be really, really cool to relive someday, if only so I can try every single item on their dessert menu.

birthday brulee!

Creme brulee for the birthday gal, made in the classic French tradition with Madagascar vanilla beans and a delectable glass sheet across the top.

We enjoyed a refined night, kept phone use to a minimum, lived it up for just a bit, and tried to fully inhabit the role of “adult”, which is not a feeling that’s automatic for us. Sure, we have ten times the aches and pains that we did in our youth, not to mention many more responsibilities, and we’re closer to retirement age than we are to high school graduation age…and yet we don’t deeply feel our ages. We still have to remind each other we’re not those kooky teens anymore, or those know-nothing young adults, or even those hard-luck thirtysomethings who summoned up the gumption to change career tracks and figure out a new life together. We’re, like, old now, I guess?

The night ended not with the two of us standing in the rain while the valet struggled to figure out how my very basic car locks work, but with a youthful touch at home: a surprise nighttime delivery of homemade cookies from a dear friend of Anne’s, who sneaked over while we were out. And when I say “homemade” I do not mean those Pillsbury freezer-section cookies you yank apart and toss in the oven for a few minutes. Those are fine in their own way, but they can not touch these authentically homemade cookies, which are ALL OURS. I mean, um, ALL HERS.

birthday cookies!

Sure, steak and lobster are cool, but then you haven’t tried these cookies.

The only downside to this birthday celebration: the love of my life is 50 now but I still look older than her. Maybe I need to start wearing moisturizing lotion masks at night. Or trapping my own Dorian Gray and stealing the secret to their sorcery.

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