But life neither begins nor ends thereSteve Hammer

Wow. I never thought I'd make it this far, but yours truly will celebrate his 40th birthday on Friday. When John Lennon approached my age, he wrote a very beautiful song called "Life Begins At Forty," a tune full of optimism and hope. Within a few weeks of writing the song, he was gunned down by a lunatic, disproving Lennon's theory.

Yes. Thank you. No, you don't need to get me anything, although a 1.75L bottle of Crown Royal is always a nice gift. I also have an Amazon.com wishlist linked on my Web site if you are a rich person who would like to buy me something.

But I'm embarrassingly rich in material things, even though I'm flat broke and deeply in debt. I'd hoped to be a millionaire by age 40 but it's not going to happen, barring a Wednesday night Powerball victory.

In doing prep for this article, I read a variety of newspaper columnists who, like me, couldn't resist the opportunity to discuss their own lives in print as they crept up on 40.

I found that most of them were whining about their own mortality and how they felt the grim reaper hot on their trail. That doesn't really apply to me. I've narrowly escaped death, been threatened with murder and/or tried to kill myself so many times that I can't even begin to count them.

When John Lennon approached my age, he wrote a very beautiful song called "Life Begins At Forty," a tune full of optimism and hope. Within a few weeks of writing the song, he was gunned down by a lunatic, disproving Lennon's theory.

Martin Luther King never made it to 40. Elvis barely did. Like anyone else, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I've done enough living so that, if my life were to end suddenly, I'd feel like I'd had a pretty good run of things.

I have just enough intimate friends who, along with the help of various medicines, keep me on the legal side of sane. With lovers, I have no complaints, at least none I'd make publicly.

I've never been married (and I have no children that I know of), but I did have a love of my life who, if the cards had been dealt differently, might have assumed that role. Now I have only the memories and the visits from her best friend to keep me company.

Somebody asked me once what it was I hoped to achieve with my writing. My usual answer is, "Pay the rent and light bills and hopefully have enough left over for booze." That answer still applies.

But, of course, it goes beyond that. If I could do anything with my words besides inform and entertain, it would be to evoke a certain kind of hope and optimism, the kind you only rarely experience in real life.

It's the emotion you feel when you finally do meet the aforementioned love of your life and you're about to kiss her for the first time. There's a moment where your faces are only a few inches apart and you realize that once those inches have been breached, your life will be changed forever.

That's the kind of optimism I'm talking about.

I felt a similar kind of optimism in November 1992, when I stood in the ballroom of the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock and watched President-elect Clinton and Vice President-elect Gore celebrate their victory over the forces of darkness.

On both those occasions, I was overcome with optimism, strength and hope. If I could give a gift to anyone, it would be that.

Disappointments? Difficulties? Fuck yeah, I've faced plenty of both but have managed to survive them thus far. I guess I'm lucky that way.

My most recent crushing defeat came exactly a month ago, when America faced a choice between hope and failure, between freedom or death, between a good man and a corrupt one. A few thousand votes in Ohio meant that America chose the dark road and preferred the voice of deception over an honorable, trustworthy man: John Kerry.

But I'll even turn that to my advantage somehow. Maybe I'll be the Trivial Pursuit champion of the death camps, who knows? The worst that George Bush can do is physically kill me and, as I stated above, I'm not afraid of that.

The fact that my very existence frustrates not a small amount of people makes me happy. Every breath I draw is a rebuke to them. It's a raised middle finger to my detractors. So that makes me feel good.

So as I draw up on 40, my life is pretty good, considering. The only thing I'd add to it is maybe a queen to share my kingdom, but I'm surprisingly picky when it comes to stuff like that.

(If interested: SWM, just turned 40, seeks SF, 24-32, for LTR. Multiracial or African-American. Must have job, felonious exes and the ability to put up with a lot of crap. Rich women preferred. E-mail address above.)

But I don't really even care all that much about that. Easy come, easy go, right?

What I do care about is living long enough to see America return to its former greatness and seeing the nation return to building a community of shared responsibilities, shared values and shared benefits.

My man asked the other day, "What should our shared values be? Everybody counts. Everybody deserves a chance. Everybody has got a responsibility to fulfill. We all do better when we work together. Our differences do matter but our common humanity matters more.

"So I tell you we can continue building our bridge to tomorrow. It will require some red American line drawing and some blue American barrier breaking, but we can do it together."

That, more than booze or broads, is what I'd like to receive for my birthday.


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