It’s the day before your birthday so stop reading the news. Stop thinking about that megalomaniac waging war in the Ukraine as soon as the pandemic started to wane. Stop obsessing about gas prices, and inflation, and your daughter’s college tuition, and the fact that being a human being of modest middle-class means these days is absolutely untenable.
After all, you’re a just speck of dust in the dust-coated chaos of an eternal abyss.
Tomorrow you’ll be 47 years old. Make a bucket-list. Write it down. Take it seriously, but know you’ll never cross off the items.
Know you’re never going to backpack Europe, or learn to yodel, or dance The Charleston, or become the George-Clooney-handsome/George-Saunders-smart image of yourself that you once envisioned. Know your bucket-list is fiction.
Breathe. Ignore the tingling in your fingers, the tightness in your chest. Breathe deep.
Take a baby aspirin.
Do not Google your symptoms. The information on the Mayo Clinic or WebMD will affirm what you already suspect: you’re on the brink of cardiac arrest. Or an existential crisis. Or both.
Do not call an ambulance. You can’t afford an ambulance with your crappy health insurance. Try to hang on one more day. Shakespeare died on his birthday. There’s nothing poetic about dying the day before your birthday. You’re not Shakespeare.
Take an Ativan.
Confront your shirtless reflection in the bathroom mirror. Accept that you’ve gained 20 pounds in adulthood. Accept it as the collateral damage of parenting, and marriage, and age, and beer. A lot of beer. Erase “lose 20 pounds” from the bucket-list.
Take a shot. Open a beer. Breathe.
Lie on the couch in a crucifixion pose. Now you’re really taking yourself seriously. Listen to “Pigs on a Wing.” Think about those people in the Ukraine. Think about heart attacks. Think about your middle-age bloat. Think about Shakespeare the second before he realized he was going to die on his birthday.
Bake a cake. Buy yourself a present. Play that birthday song by Cracker you liked in your 20s. Then play it again.
Breathe. Get over yourself.
 When those creepy pictures of Putin surfaced with him, pale and bloated and shirtless, mounted on a horse, you suspected he was a lunatic. When Donald Trump became his lapdog, adoring Putin like a teenage girl following her favorite boy-band on Tik-Tok, you knew for sure.
 You realize that you and your generation—Gen. X—were, perhaps, the most sociologically equipped to deal with the pandemic.
 You’ve known this since your junior year as an undergraduate when that one smart guy with the ponytail passed you the bong and instructed you to read “Thus Spoke Zarathrustra.” You bought “The Portable Nietzsche” then called it a day. You found him utterly unreadable and the ponytail-guy pretentious.
 It can neither be confirmed nor denied if your humble columnist had a transcendent experience in college while listening to said album.
 You have really no way of validating the information from the Mayo Clinic, but it seems official.