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The Column

Life, 9/11, and the Interstate
9/12/04

Yesterday, I turned 25. I am now a quarter-century old, and closer to 30 than I am to 20. As depressing as that is, I got some good news. I saved a bunch of money on my car insurance.

Which is well-timed, considering I got into my first accident a few days ago. It wasn't my fault. Someone swerved ahead of me, I stopped to avoid him, and the guy behind me was too close and hit me at about 30 MPH. My neck still hurts, and the inside of my trunk is a bit crumpled, but the guy's insurance is going to take care of it all. He's been 25 for quite some time now.

This is the last birthday that people look forward to, except perhaps 65 because then everything gets cheaper. So is it downhill from here? I hope not. Because if I'm going really fast downhill, I may hit someone else.

I've written about having a 9/11 birthday before – I use the day as a time of contemplation rather than celebration. This year, in addition to contemplating life in general, I'm contemplating getting older. Odd that I didn't do that before, since I have been getting older almost every single year of my life.

I did a few 9/11 benefit shows this weekend. I teamed up with Billy Bingo, a retired firefighter and comedian who does a lot of work for the Thomas Elsasser fund, which raises money for NYC firefighters killed outside the line of duty. I try to devote as much of my birthday as I can to helping anything related to 9/11. The rest of it is devoted to being annoyed when people call and don't remember to wish me a happy birthday. I'm kidding. No one ever calls.

Actually, the past few years, my friends have been wonderful about calling me to see how I'm doing. And the answer is that I'm doing great. Even if my neck hurts a little.

The shows were great as well. The folks at Worcester Polytechnic and Anna Maria College in Paxton (as if knowing it's in Paxton is going to help you know where the school is) were very friendly. After the Anna Maria show, there was a vigil for September 11th. The kids thanked me for coming – which was silly, since they were the ones extending themselves to me. I thanked them for having me. And demanded some cake.

Okay, so I didn't demand cake. But I was offered plenty of food afterwards, when we visited the firehouse in Auburn, Massachusetts. Billy knew a friend of a friend, and they offered us dinner and hospitality. I'd never been in a firehouse before, let alone stayed there. The guys were great and they were very happy to meet a New York firefighter, trading stories about people they saved and people they didn't. I was silent through it; I was both fascinated, and feeling ridiculous for ever complaining about my job.

When I stay at a friend's house and he gets a call at 6AM, I am allowed to complain. But not Friday night. At 6AM, I was woken up by a report of an 80-year-old woman with congestive heart failure that needed medical attention. She lived. Just like I did on the highway last week, and several thousand people did a few years ago when they were evacuated from the World Trade Center before it went down.

There's a lot that I wanted to accomplish by the time I was 25 that I haven't. Mainly because when I set those goals, I was 20 and had a very different view of the life I'm actually leading. But I'm fine with that. I am closer to 30 now. But I have the next five years before that actually happens, and I can use them to keep contemplating and set new goals and find the guy that swerved in front of me and whap him in the back of the head with a wet sock.

I am thankful I made it through that accident pretty okay. There was a fourth car that almost nailed me from the side. So I'm thankful I made it to 25 at all. And I am also thankful that, if that 4th car had hit me, there are people who spend their lives saving ours.

If you'd like to help the Thomas Elsasser fund, you can click on "merchandise" at www.billybingo.net and pick up an FDNY comedy t-shirt.

I just did. I can afford to now that my car insurance payments have gone down.

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