ON FRIDAY NIGHT, two days before my birthday, I was in Miami for a weekend conference, and I didn't bother going out on the town.
To put this seemingly minor fact in context, you have to understand a truth that will stand until the end of time: Miami is not Philadelphia.
Not by a long shot.
First, there are virtually no facially challenged women in Miami (yes, I'm married, but I am also not blind). Secondly, snow has been abolished in Miami by a sun that is firmly in charge. Thirdly, Miami is a mixture of cultures that's exciting and spicy and new. Finally, Miami's December temperatures make Philly summers look like the Arctic.
So why wouldn't I take the opportunity to at least see the city while attending a conference with 60 or so men from the Black Male Engagement campaign? Well, I turned 46 this weekend, and I think middle age is catching up with me.
Yes, the conference was engaging. The information was vital. My fellow attendees were dynamic. But let's keep it real. When a man leaves 20-degree temperatures to spend a weekend in Miami, he must find his way to South Beach. Me? I was content to spend most of my time in the hotel.
Looking back, I should have seen that coming.
My warning signs of middle age began months ago, when my perfect eyesight started fading. At first it was the blurry appearance of objects more than 20 feet away. Over time, however, it's gotten progressively worse.
One evening, I opened my door and saw figures lurching toward me, and just as I was about to get my hedge trimmer to fight through the zombie apocalypse, I realized it was just the children. It worsened when I looked down the street late one night, and mistook a light pole for Sasquatch.
When I asked a Walmart clerk for her autograph, believing she was Randall Cunningham bringing back his trademark Jeri Curl, I knew I needed help. But I chose to remain in denial, no matter what my body tried to tell me.
When I woke up thinking someone had poured milk on Rice Krispies, and realized I was listening to my knees, it was bad. When my daughter asked me to give her some juice, and I responded by reading Dr. Seuss, it was worse. But when I refused to go out on the town in Miami because I was too tired to do so, I knew I had a problem.
While the other men made plans to get to South Beach by horse and buggy, by borrowed mule, by cab and trolley, by hook or by crook, I planned to stay in my hotel room. But that's not the pathetic part. The worst aspect of my old-man behavior is the fact that I spent the day scheming.
While sitting in conference sessions, I occasionally drifted off into a make-believe world. My daydreams weren't focused on seeing the South Beach hotties, or dancing at Miami nightclubs. Instead, they were centered on my ability to lie in bed, stretch out and eat junk while watching the movie of my choice.
For normal people, that wouldn't be the ideal night in Miami. But for a 46-year-old father with 9- and 12-year-old children, a night in a luxury hotel without having to watch the Disney Channel is like traveling to Fantasy Island. If I could simply watch a flick with nonstop action and senseless violence, it wouldn't matter that I could no longer see, hear or walk like I used to. I would be free, and that was more important than anything.
To pull off such an evening - one without the bubblegum movies my kids prefer, or LaVeta's Bette Davis flicks - I would need food. So when I found out we'd be having Friday-night mixer, I did what Philadelphians do. I wore a sport jacket with deep pockets, and I filled it with as many turkey sliders as I could.
When the mixer ended, I looked like the Michelin Man. As the other men made their way to the streets, I ducked into the elevator and went to my hotel room. All the while I prayed that the grease wouldn't soak through my napkin-lined pockets.
In my mind, it was worth the greasy risk, because room service would have cost $50. I needed that money to order my Million Dollar Movie.
As I lay in bed that evening watching a Matt Damon sci-fi flick, eating sliders and drinking Coke, I felt like I'd finally gotten over on the man. I felt like age wasn't such a bad thing. I felt like I was doing what I enjoyed most, and that was the best birthday gift of all.