It's A Car, Not A Crisis!
My birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, and it's making me take stock of my life. There's something unnerving about realizing that people who graduated college this past year or this next one were just about being born when I graduated college. (Well, OK, no, I went on the "Decelerated Plan", so technically the people who were being born as I graduated college are just getting out of diapers... which is pretty embarrassing, giving the valedictory speech to their high school classes in Depends... but I digress.)
This birthday brings up something that's been eating at me since I turned 40: the midlife crisis. When do I get to have mine? It's not fair, I see so many men my age running around with fast cars and hot women (or hot cars and fast women, which is almost as good) and I want to know when I get my turn! Oh, sure, my wife is incredibly hot, but it's not the same; She's my wife. The whole point of the midlife crisis is NEW hot women. NEW fast cars. NEW applications to AARP arriving in the mail.
Seriously, the stereotype of the midlife crisis has actually always bothered me, and here's why:
If you have a Y chromosome, you're genetically wired towards sports cars. The sportier the better. We grow up seeing them on television and dreaming of the day when we'll own one of our very own. Not a sport-y car, but a no-point-to-it, way-more-gas-guzzling-than-is-justified, take-the-muffler-off-so-everyone-looks-at-you SPORTS car. An it-cost-more-than-I-make-in-a-year-but-damn-it-it's-worth-it car. A Lamborghini Countach or a Ferrari Testarossa.
And we know we'll never get it, but sooner or later we'd like to settle for a Corvette. And so we start dreaming and planning and scheming and more than a little bit of praying when we should have been praying for the wellbeing of our family members, or at the very least, a passing grade on that final we didn't study for. And we're in high school when this starts.
Reality first kicks us in the nethers around the end of junior year in high school, when we finally convince our parents to let us buy a used car. We envision finding an old DeLorean that we can work on for a few weeks over the summer and bring back to tip-top condition, to ride triumphantly back to school in the fall. What we end up finding is that our life savings, the sum financial result of our lives to this point will manage to buy us a used Chevette. And not the good one, either, in order to afford gas and insurance, we have to buy the one with the big dent in the door and an aroma which seems to indicate that the previous owner's goal in life was to see just how many cigarettes it took to make a windshield look "charcoal tinted" without actually paying for tinting.
And just a few days after we learn that, we discover something else: We have the raw ability to repair and restore a car that hurricane Katrina had to repair and restore New Orleans, but with less likelihood of attracting topless drunken women.
So we drive our beater-mobile, eventually coming to grips with the fact that at least every other guy in our graduating class fared about the same in the car department, except for the rich kid who lives on the hill, but everyone pretty much figures he's a jerk and a snob anyway. (This is true, we had one guy in my class whose father bought him a Corvette as a gift. Not for graduating, nor for turning legal age, but because this kid had failed the drivers test twice, and his father offered him the 'vette as an incentive to study and pass the third time. Yes, really.)
High school ends and we head off to college, replacing the Chevette with a 10 year old Honda Civic that our parents had decided to replace. Still not a sexy car, but reliable in the same way our parents are: Never giving us quite everything that we want, but there for us when we really need it. And in much the same way our parents also didn't, this car utterly fails to get us laid. But that's OK, this is college, we've got way too much studying and stuff to do to, and really, we can get to everything we really need with a few minutes walk, so the car mostly just sits parked most of the time.
College ends, and we go out into the world to start our careers, laden with college loan debt and being paid at a rate that we will, one drunken night, make the mistake of calculating that if it doesn't improve, we will make enough money to pay off our student loans just about in time to retire and file for social security. We're no longer thinking about the car, we're thinking about whether after eating Kraft macaroni and cheese every night this week, the box it came in might make a nice change of pace tonight.
But of course our pay does improve, and we begin the slow climb up the corporate ladder, and pretty soon, we've got some disposable income. Not a lot, but a bit, and it is at this moment that SHE walks into our lives. Our future ex-wife, but at the moment we're convinced she's The One, without whom our life is not complete, The One with whom our own genes will combine to form perfect little human specimens, The One who completes us. (The One who will one day run off with a plastic surgeon from L.A., taking our children, half of our stuff and more than 75% of our metaphorical gonads with her, but we don't know that yet).
And so as quickly as it arrived, that "disposable income" goes to feeding another mouth, and then one or two much smaller mouths connected to little butts that have to be covered in diapers whose annual cost makes you look back fondly on the days when all you had to pay was college tuition. You love the kids, they make you happy, almost happy enough to not think about the car you traded away the chance for in order to have them, and so you work extra hard and scrape together the cash to save for a down payment, so you can buy a house and give them some stability.
One day you wake up, and you're in your thirties, with a mortgage and two kids rapidly approaching their teens and now eating piles of food equal to their own body weight each day. On the plus side, you've passed the halfway point in paying off the student loans, but there's still shockingly little in your 401(k), and that car is just as far away as ever, and in a way you hadn't thought possible, gets even further away as you pay the divorce lawyers and sell off most of what you own in order to split it "equitably", a word which in legal circles means "75% to legal fees, 45% to your ex, leaving whatever remains to you."
But as the divorce is finalized, you begin dating again, and with the wisdom of experience, on your 35th birthday, you marry your second wife. This time, you chose well, this one will last, but she's in debt as well, being the one woman in the country, apparently, who decided to treat her ex-husband fairly in the divorce and he screwed her for it. And not in a good way.
Finally, you reach mid-forties. The kids are in college, so there's no more child support payments, and those student loans are finally paid off! You've managed to put together a little bit of a retirement fund and you have a little bit of extra money, and so finally, one day, you announce to your wife that you're going to buy your dream car. Not the Testarossa or the Countach, but the Corvette, and what happens? Everyone looks at you and "tsks" and says ruefully "midlife crisis car".
We finally make it to a point in life where we can achieve one of our lifetime goals, and it's dismissed as a midlife crisis. Just because we bought a sexy car. Just because we wanted something that goes "Vrooom".
Knowing all of this, you can just imagine how much work we put into the trophy wife!
Copyright © October 14, 2009 by Liam Johnson. http://liam-humor.blogspot.com