Nancy Weber . Illustration by Sheila Phalon.

Nancy Weber. Illustration by Sheila Phalon.

The superb novelist Françoise Sagan said of a woman turning 40: She’s finally old enough to wear black pearls.

Sagan died at 69, too soon to offer consoling words about birthdays in the upper upper range. But her mindset has stayed with me, and when a birthday daunts me, I seek the coefficient of black pearls.  Every age has one. You just have to do the math.

Take 72, which befell me in 2014. I could have dwelled on its being god-awful old, but instead I distracted myself with a fun calculation. I’d been 36 when my daughter was born, so at last, for once in my life, I was twice her age.  Zowie!

The kid’s seriously good at math, whipping through long-form KenKen, but she indulges my romantic, notional relationship with numbers. For 12 lovely months, she let me go on and on about our being Halftie and Twicetie.

My second and final year as a Twicetie won’t come until 84, but just as well. I need the time to get ready. When my son, at age 10, waxed wistful about how old I’d been when he was born, I assured him my “best by” date was far off.  He looked less than consoled, and I perked his spirits with a rash bet. “When you’re 42 and I’m 84, I’ll take a set of tennis from you. Write it down.”

I intend to make good on the boast, no matter that last time I played, back in the previous century, my second serve needed serious work. Along with my forehand, backhand, nonexistent net game, and ability to see the lines. So new sneakers tomorrow, and it’s twice around the block before breakfast, no matter snow or blow. And I won’t take a taxi unless I’m out of NSAIDs—write it down.

This past January, when 73 loomed, looking a bit blah as numbers go, I thought of a story—delightful even to us innumerates—which the great Victorian mathematician G.H. Hardy told about his visit to the ailing autodidact genius Ramanujan.  “I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavorable omen. ‘No, he replied, ‘it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.’” 

So perhaps every number is interesting if you know how to look at it? I Ramanujan’d 73, and eureka!  Seventy-three isn’t just a prime, it’s an emirp.  If the word is new to you, as it was to me, it’s a prime that’s also a prime if its integers are reversed.

I took to Facebook with the great news and an urgent query: Is emirp legal for Lexulous? “An emirp is the equivalent of an English lord in a discreet country north of Egypt known for its chypriot,” my daughter’s divine mother-in-law, Glory, wrote from Singapore. As to Lexulous, my favorite opponent, Jon, cabled back, “wonk tno’d I!”

Can next year’s age possibly be as resonant? Tap tap, and here’s splendid news, except perhaps to sushi lovers.  The beautiful and delectable Seventy-four Seabream (Polysteganus Undulosus to its friends) is a protected species!  Pluck me not from the rocky reef at 74, for it’s written that I may swim without fear of net or hook, flashing my silvery scales and bold blue stripes.

Seventy-five is the age limit for Canadian senators, but I’m not going to let that disappointment slow me down.  I’m partial to the Fibonacci series, in which every number is the sum of the two previous numbers, and Wiki says that 75 is a Keith number, because “it recurs in a Fibonacci-like sequence started from its base 10 digits: 7, 5, 12, 17, 29, 46, 75.”  And here’s the beauty part: no integer added up to its own digits adds up to 75, so 75 is a self number.  Take that, Ontario.  

Seventy-six trombones.  The 77 Commandments of Ancient Kemet.  (Aren’t you glad you have only 10 hanging over your head?) The 78 Degrees of Wisdom in Tarot.  The 79th Street crosstown bus. And merrily we spin toward infinity.

Although many other promising ages await me in between, I’m really looking forward to 88, obviously the year to take up piano.  Maybe arthritis will help me to play better than it did when I last tried, at age 8.  I can’t possibly do worse by the 88 keys.

I’d heard that the White House stopped sending 100th birthday letters, what with the huge increase in both longevity and postage rates, but they must have stocked up on Forever stamps. Presidential centenary greetings are yours for the asking; just email a request at least six weeks in advance. 

I think I’ll ask now, in case I forget down the road.  But what if (gasp) a Republican is president?  Will I still want the letter? 

Sure I will. Along with 4 more years of sweet life, so I can help vote her out of office.


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  • Nancy Weber March 10, 2015 at 10:19 am

    What about the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, described as “the fastest jet ever built, a machine so far ahead of its time even its own pilots thought it looked more like a spaceship than an airplane”? I happen to know you have a pilot’s license, so maybe you’d like to take the wheel to celebrate your 71? Or maybe we could have a celebratory drink at Bin 71 next time you’re in NY? When I was in my 20s & a dear friend in his 50s, we always had birthday dinners on a street corresponding to the age just arrived at. No Google then, & I remember a long wintry walk across 26th Street, not yet the restaurant-rich Flatiron District, before we tumbled into a miraculous Italian restaurant. BTW, I love the highway signs, which your sister 71-ers can find via an image search on Google.

  • Glory Jasper March 10, 2015 at 1:09 am

    I tried to get numerical assessment of 71, which I just turned into, but alas all I came up with was a film entitled 71, a war movie, loaded with violence, just the kind I don’t watch anymore, and the following road signs: which dont paste on this reply box, alas.