birthday cake

Chocolate birthday party cake

Well, you know what they say. Sixty is the new 40.

And frankly, if just one more person says that to me, I’m going to lose it.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know who the “they” is that’s saying it, but I do know this: They’re idiots.

Last week, I turned 60 years old. Which, I’m told, is something of a milestone in a person’s life. And indeed, I’m now officially twice the threshold of trust for Jack Weinberg, the free speech movement guru who once famously said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

I suppose that goes double for those over 60.

It’s particularly telling that none of the people who have been sharing this 60-is-40 wisdom are actually in their 60s, and the vast majority of them are 30- and 40-something whippersnappers. (That’s right, people. Now that I’m officially old, going forward I’ll be using a lot more terms like “whippersnappers,” “hornswaggle,” “tarnation” and “heavens to Betsy.”)

I know folks mean well when they say that. The platitude is intended to be comforting — basically, that my 60s won’t be nearly as bad as I imagine — but it isn’t. Because, for starters, I can imagine some pretty bad stuff. But also, saying something like that to a person who just turned 60 feels a bit like walking up to a couple who just lost a child and telling them, “Listen, you’re young. You’ll make more.”

Speaking of insensitive acts, who invented the surprise birthday party? I mean, who was that very first person, eons ago, who said, “You know what we should really do to celebrate the birth anniversary of a person we love? We should make them feel as awkward and uncomfortable as humanly possible.”

I’ve seen my share of birthdays over the years — 60 of them, to be precise. And during that time I’ve had almost that same number of birthday parties. But I have never, ever had a surprise birthday party.

Until last weekend.

Earlier this year my wife — bless her heart — decided that the one thing a guy turning 60 years old could really use is to be surrounded by a bunch of people laughing at the fact that he’s a guy turning 60. So last March, she and a handful of other co-conspirators began putting together a surprise 60th birthday party for me. Which, to my chagrin, was held last weekend.

Believing that no good deed should ever go unpunished, I’ve decided to name names here. I know several of these people HATE to see their names turn in the newspaper, so it seemed like the least I could do:

My sweet wife, Rugan Saal, was the mastermind behind it all. I thought we were deeply in love, lo these last 37 years. I may have been wrong.

My daughters Megan Frankowski and Caitlin Nolte, my son Tyler Saal and my son-in-law James Frankowski acted as co-conspirators.

Beyond that, a special mention goes to once close, personal friend Don Porter, who worked at the Standard-Examiner years ago and more recently was a fellow columnist here at the paper. He distracted me on the day of the party by inviting me to lunch and a movie, then concocted a fake “gas leak” story (he’s a spokesman for an energy company) to get me to the party.

And, of course, let’s not forget local comedian and friend Craig Bielik, who conducted what has to be the single-most awkward, embarrassing roast in the history of forever. Those of you familiar with me know that I am not easily embarrassed — I simply don’t have that “shame gene” — and a prolific writer such as myself is certainly rarely rendered completely speechless.

However, on this occasion I was both.

Now that the festivities are over, and my 60th birthday is firmly fixed in the rearview mirror, I’m rapidly settling into this new decade of life. And I do have to admit one thing:

Sixty might not be the new 40, but — heavens to Betsy — it certainly beats the alternative.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at

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