Below is book excerpt originally titled "The 60 Second Rule and Expiration at 40", part of a longer fiction piece about Tugg Woodward, a sports writer preoccupied with women, age, and anything remotely linked to sports.
At age 18 men are long since out of puberty. You're a man. Or at least that’s what you tell yourself.
At 19 men realize they're not as “man” as they think they are. You can get a gun license and be drafted to war. You can open up a checking account, and eat as much White Castle as you want without your parents’ permission. But no beer, unless you ask your older sister for help.
At age 21 you get shitfaced and brag about it for a couple weeks. Then you get a summer job; hopefully bartending, not washing dishes or gutting fish.
At age 22 men exit college or have been in a job for a few years. Guys with crappy jobs begin to hate their crappy jobs. Guys in college either find a way to stay or are stricken suddenly an uppity primadonna’s disease called “Senior-itis”.
At age 25, you're starting to get “serious” about things. Or at least that’s what you tell yourself.
By 26, you have a girlfriend or are trying to get one. If you're gay and you're not out it's only because of where you live (either in a backwards town, or at home, possibly). Or it's because you're heavily Catholic. Or an evangelical preacher. Either way, you're missing your life.
At 27 men are supposed to have some semblance of a meaningful existence. Respectable furniture, a career maybe, and a car that isn’t totally falling apart. Maybe a few ties, some decent socks and underwear without holes in the crotch.
At 28 men start to get invited to a lot of weddings. It’s because you’ve got a girlfriend (hopefully) and that she is getting invited to a lot of weddings. In short, her friends are getting married, and her sisters are married, so then you're next. And if it's a boyfriend you've got, you'll get invited to even more weddings.
At 29 men worry about what soon being 30 means. Just like women do.
At age 30 men lose touch with popular music, gripping tightly what we knew from age 15 to 30. So for me, the collection --partly made up of vinyl records and 45s-- spans Simple Minds to The Strokes, Night Ranger to Nas. Which is better than the 50-something guy upstairs, whose record collection spans Foghat to Falco.
At 35 men start to grow unsightly hair from their ears. That’s about it, really.
When I turned 36 I did the usual sports nut thing and took to trying to identify --in my head— any legendary athletes who wore number 36. There are a few but not tons.
First and most notable, there’s Jerome Bettis, who wore number 36 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, ending his career with a Super Bowl trophy at age 34. Great guy.
Other pros who have worn the 36 are Cliff Lee before he came to the Phillies; Dave Bolland of the Blackhawks; and also Jered Weaver, the All-Star pitcher for the Angels; as well as Shaquille O’Neal, who wore 36 for the Celtics. Shaq originally wore his favored 32 for the Orlando Magic, and then number 34 for the Lakers, only because they had retired number 32 for Magic Johnson. Not sure why Shaq went #36 in Boston.
There’s also Rasheed Wallace, the wily on-court wildman who wore 36 for the Detroit Pistons after wearing number 30, only to change it back again to number 30 from 36. Wallace even broke 36 technical fouls in a season a couple of times, setting his high in 1999 at 40.
My favorite 36 is Gaylord Perry, the Hall of Fame pitcher who had his #36 shirt retired by two teams. One of Perry's coaches once said, "They'll put a man on the moon before he hits a home run." And about an hour after Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, Perry hit his first homer.
On the subject of my hometown Chicago Bears, there’s no distinguished Bear who wore 36, and this bummed me out. But an interesting thing happened. What I stumbled upon while trying to find a noteworthy 36 was the score of Super Bowl XX which I kinda sorta had in my head within a couple of points or so. I remember watching as a kid, but forgot the scoreline, just remembering that the Bears won handily. I was reminded, in fact that the Bears beat the Patriots 46 to 10, winning by the Super Bowl by 36.
There are other things that some wouldn’t care about regarding 36 and my 36-year-old’s fascination with #36. Such as the fact that Dennis Rodman was 36 when he won his last NBA title with the Bulls. Or that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin won his first Super Bowl for the at age 36, the youngest coach ever. Or that Wilt Chamberlain’s 36 field goals in a game stands, even today, as a long time NBA record.
Numbers are incidental to sports, but the sports fan's grasp of it becomes an autistic quality we’re proud of, helping us figure out life.
Always terrible with numbers, I can remember a player’s shirt number like his face or his stats in a way that suggests that I should have been good at mathematics. For example, if I was given an address to an event, at, say 3144 High Street, I would –knowing that I can’t juggle numbers on their own—translate this address to shirt numbers of notable players. Most normal people would write it down. But me, I‘d pack it away as something like Reggie Miller / John Riggins. That’s #31 for Reggie Miller, the Indiana Pacers' perennial All-Star; and #44 for John Riggins, a Super Bowl champ running back with the Washington Redskins. Sometimes, this practice pains me, because, dammit, I hate the Redskins.
Some say sports obsession is a gender-linked, hard wired obsession. Most say age is just a number. I think both are true. Age is a number, and a state of mind. So, at age 36 my state of mind must be that you start noticing cool things about the number 36, and little else.
But sports obsessed men are not the only ones who put stock in numbers, using them to their liking.
There’s a theory that seems to be universal in the minds of single women, and I heard about this right before I turned 36.
This dangling obsession is one about about a man’s age and the number 40. Particularly if a man is at 40 “still single”, my friends (the women ones that is) tell me he's undate-able, and maybe a future train wreck.
I'm not making this up. I’ve heard plenty of women talk about expiration at 40, and once I first heard about it, I started asking questions.
“What do you think of a guy who's 40 and single?”
And I got feedback. Plenty of it. From the ones that I've polled, the thought is that men over 40 are expired produce. I might even call this whole idea the “40 Year Old Single Rule”, which according to women applies only to men, but not to women. Specifically, the theory goes that all 40-plus still-single men are like bruised fruit at the market, spoiled milk, or skunked red wine. Damaged goods.
But loopholes, albeit small ones, exist. Supposedly a divorced man is a better catch , as is one who can claim a broken off engagement, as both at least imply apparent competence with women and a track record of moving in the right direction.
Sure, the theory hasn’t been officially tested by scientists. But along with things like the Kennedy Assassination and The Bermuda Triangle, the idea of expiration at 40 is a generally accepted rule. Moreover, The 40 Year Old Single Rule is accepted practice, just like tax accountants use GAAP. Generally two profiles fit the wrap sheet:
1) Commitment-phobic specimen, Male #1 let’s call him, is still single because he would rather be a player than your serious mate. Likely, he never wants to be married or “tied down”, at least not to you.
Paradoxically though, despite the caution advised, as my opinionated friend Tess puts it, Male #1, is probably good for a short-term fling. Strange logic. Then again, half of these guys are nothing special anyway.
2) The second guy, which we’ll call Male #2 who is Mr. Totally, Irreparably Socially Inept.
Male #2 is never-married at 40 because he’s too attached to his mother, has childish hobbies, or focuses on trivial things that demand full saturation of his mind and limited emotions. Hopefully he’s moved out of mom’s house physically, but if so, it doesn’t make much difference. Or he’s just a tad geeky, Quasi Modo-like. Sure, you don’t want to be mean by judging him, but you definitely don’t need to date him, and nor do your friends, even the most hapless and hopelessly single of them. At best, he’s married to his job, one to which any woman will always play second fiddle.
He can't hold a conversation and risks boring, nervous, tedious company. He's prone to temper tantrums and has unpacked snags that you just don't have the time to deal with. This guy is a bad date and would be an even worse fling. Like you even need a deal breaker.
Beyond that, there might be legitimate reasons why a man is 40 and still single. Maybe he’s a poor, lost poet finding himself. Maybe he’s busy taking care of his elderly mother and has a heart of gold. Or maybe because he’s legally a bound slave or serf, beholden to the beck and call of some Roman-style emperor-dictator, witch doctor, or female monarch in a distant, off-the-beaten-path country. Any of which makes him no more attractive to a single girl than either Male #1 or Male #2.
Sounds like a tough rap, being 40ish and single. If you're a man and you have put yourself in this position, you'd better enjoy it or at least not be bothered by the stereotypes. According to everyone else, it’s like you’ve dropped out of high school and since then have barely held down a pizza delivery job. Or like you’ve done time. Or both.
But that's just the prevailing logic. Anyhow, don't ask me, I'm only 36. I've got a few years until they start looking at me with suspicion.
Andy Frye writes about sports and life, is currently writing a book. Follow the non-fiction stuff on Twitter at @MySportsComplex.
All the thoughts and opinions expressed are that of the character, not necessarily the creator.
Written words © 2011. Pics courtesy of the NBA.com store "customize your jersey" tool.