Having turned a year older yesterday, I am torn between wishing I was young and hale again, and desiring to become a crusty old curmudgeon.

I mean, 42 is like some kind of netherworld between age brackets. You ainít old, you ainít young. Youíre old enough to know better, but too wet behind the ears still to be smart. Know what I mean?

I look forward to being an Official Old Grit. You know the person Iím talking about. Every wedding or family reunion of some kind has one. Thereís the Official Old Grit, or as is known in more genteel circles, the Official Old Character. My father was the last Official Old Grit/Character in the family. He would sit at a central place in the room, just conspicuous enough to be noticed but not so obvious as to appear brazen. In this position he would draw eager ears for various stories about Chitimacha, fishing, woodwork, Texas or whatever subject was at hand, and people would in turn fetch him punch and cake. My father made quite a career out of being an Official Old Character at these types of functions, but was never greedy about sharing the limelight. If another Old Grit or Old Character ambled by, heíd gladly share the position, though his Official status remained unchallenged.

The older I get, the more I enjoy being around people I like and the less use I have for people I donít like or, at best, donít find interesting. While I was a fairly amiable fellow at 25 or 30, at 42 I find myself paring down my group of close friends and closing the membership rolls unless an applicant is highly recommended by an existing member and comes with a lengthy resume of references. At 55, Iíll probably have half a dozen or so close friends and refuse to speak to anyone else except my therapist.

This is because my ability to make small talk has diminished with age. While I used to be fairly adept at "passing the time of day" with just about anyone I run into, I just look at idle chatter now as taking away precious fishing time.

Now, thatíll give you something to think about the next time we run into each other in the department store, wonít it? Hee-hee!

But about the little bracket of mine. Iím middle-aged. Middle-income. Middle-America. My middleís the only thing heading toward large. My favorite author is Harry Middleton. If I lived in the Midwest, Iíd probably go crazy with some middling psychosis or another.

The older I get, the more I enjoy peace and quiet and the less I get of it. I regret my early years when I had 100-watt stereos in my Mustangs, and I apologize right here to anyone that I bothered. Nowadays, when Iím sitting in my chair at home trying to write or work on a project or even just relax, a booming stereo or barking dog or passing helicopter or whatever annoys the heck out of me. Iíve said it before, thereíll be no phones in my life at some point. Thatís guaranteed.

I think that one of the compensations for growing old is the right to be an old fuddy. I mean, if we have to put up with all the failing body parts, the ailments, the graying or lost hair, all that nonsense, we should have some benefits in the deal, right? One of these is the right to be cranky, tell off-color jokes at inopportune times, speak loudly and tell everyone you meet whatís wrong with them. Gosh, I just canít wait!

These days I listen to people talk about their vacations to Disney or L.A., or some such, and all I can think of is how, when I take a vacation, I want to be as far away from anyone else as I can get, except the person Iím vacationing with. I want the company of wild water, wild trout, wild places and, best of all, no dadgum end table for a telephone, no hooks to hang a clock and no roads to drive around an 1,800 pound stereo system.

Gosh, I just canít wait.