When the Number 9 Screams “No!”

When someone asked me how old I was turning this past weekend, I said “Forty-nine,” while noting the nine is German for ‘no’, as in, “No! Please don’t drag me into the next decade.”

Revolution 9 from The Beatles’ White Album holds sway with modern-day prophets, particularly one Charles Manson. The significance of that track’s lyrics was not lost on him. Number 9…Number 9…Number 9. He and he alone understood the transition about to take place, as Revelations 9, the Locust, would lead to Revelations 10, the arrival of the Mighty Angel with the Little Book. (Of course, Manson is insane, so it’s hard to give him much leeway regarding scriptural interpretation.)

More to the point, it’s hard to find favor with such an ominous number as 9. Sure, it’s a kick to watch a row of them tick and click their way to a fresh set of zeroes on the odometer, pretending that a new model of car has just taken the place of the old one, with that new car smell and all the latest bells and whistles. But such are the delusions that will turn positive thinkers into the defeated, on their knees and the gnashing of teeth.

The first time it appears in one’s life, at age 9, obviously, it has a freshness, easily ode to a Sesame Street lesson – “Let’s sing a song about nine. How many is nine?” Sometimes it’s nine cookies for Cookie Monster. Other times its nine ugly bats dangling, not so menacingly, from prop wire. Yes, very cute.

Yet each time it shows up, thereafter, coincidentally enough, every ten years, it takes on a new meaning. Turning 19 might appear as carefree, as simple and quaint as tapping the keg. Some might even say more a rite of passage than a privilege while taking flight from the safety of the nest. While 29 might be seen as an eye opener, with looming questions left unanswered. “Am I in business?” “Am I settled?” Chances are you’re on your way. But if you’re like Biff Loman, the answer is, “No. I’m like a boy.”

Thirty-nine is the age when some people decide to no longer age. Jack Benny, entertainer and violin virtuoso, mastered the art of stopping time in its tracks, holding at 39 for the next 41 years and managing to avoid the burden of contemplating 49, 59, 69 and 79. Or did he?

As the number preceding the 9 increases, the screaming of the German ‘nine’ grows louder. I now see a photograph with the scowling face of philosopher Bertrand Russell, who is old as time, smarter than most, yet unable to boil a pot of water for a cup of tea. Not because he is becoming senile, but because he has been pre-occupied for too many years pondering his own mortality.

Thankfully, and in spite of myself, I can still boil a pot of water.


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