On my birthday, I went to the library in my neighborhood for the first time. It was boiling hot inside, and there were a bunch of people sitting around looking stressed out. Who goes to the library anymore? On my birthday, it was the elderly, local students, and me. It felt like how I imagine 1974. It felt like the world of CBS FM. Computers were a negligible presence, and the books themselves were yellow and middle-aged.
I sat down in the periodicals room and opened my composition notebook. I was trying to finish new lyrics; that was why I came to the library on my birthday. I was hoping that the purgatorial vibe of the library would give me something. It felt like an Edward Hopper painting in the daytime. I was looking to find rhymes in that. One guy near me was wearing a sea captain’s hat and slept sitting up in his chair. The man next to me was reading two giant reference books about cancer. That’s not you, I said to myself. You are here today to turn 26 and write lyrics.
Later that day, after I had put together 2 verses at the library and come back to my apartment, I decided to do 70 pushups in a row without stopping. 70 pushups would not be my lifetime record, but it would be close—I once did 75 in a hotel room in August, 2011. Sometime after setting that record, I started walking around as a guy who could do 75 pushups in a row, and then I stopped doing them, and then I lost the ability. I started trying again this past summer, when I went to Morocco with my girlfriend. On our first day, with no phone and no friends in a foreign country, I realized that it was just the 2 of us and our wits. And part of my wits, I decided, should be pushups. So I started doing pushups again.
3 months later, on my birthday, I was ready to try for 70 straight-through, no junk ones. Down and up, every time, with my back straight. That was the plan. Around 5:30 PM, I got down on the carpet and said to my girlfriend, “I think I’m gonna try my thing now.” I’d had reasonable success at the library earlier, and I’d had a full day to brood about the meaning of turning 26. The meaning of 26, as far as I understood it, was horrifying to me. I read somewhere that by the time George Harrison was 26, the Beatles had already accomplished everything and broken up. So I spent most of my birthday furious at that, and on my way back from the library I dared to ask whether George Harrison, at any point in his life, could do 70 pushups in a row. The answer must be no, I said.
I started my pushups by using the terror of old age to power through. The first 50 were a mostly-painless blitz of pride and self-actualization. Starting around 54, I had to slow down a little and concentrate. The next 11 took on a personality of their own. They had the feeling of a blood offering. The feeling of a painful thing I was only doing to scare away the thought of, “What if it never happens?” But I made it to 70, and the last 5 were not too difficult for me to catch a glimpse of 80. I saw the nearness of 80, and I saw the possibility of beyond. It’s not too late to dream of 100, I decided. Happy birthday.