Tom Cermack

Tom Cermack

Tom was burned out as a lawyer. His marriage was history. He had a nifty sports car, but it lacked a gear for reversing the march of time.

The 40's suddenly seemed as much about loss as about life. He thought of a brother who had died years before and realized it was time to make his move. ''I didn't want to be 80 years old and have my daughter wiping mashed potatoes off my face in a nursing home and regretting I never gave it a shot,'' he said.

He headed for the open mike.

His new business card reads: ''Tom Cermack Standup Comedy.''

''I'm divorced,'' said Mr. Cermack, 45, opening his act the other night at Rascals Comedy Club here, ''but I prefer the term pre-owned.''

And off he went, pursuing a laugh, any laugh, just as he once pursued settlements and verdicts before coming face to face with what a friend calls his ''midlife awareness.''

That ''awareness'' can make people crave crazy things. New spouses. Red cars. Sixty-inch televisions with 500 channels. Sheer-faced mountains. Free falls from small planes. Baseball fantasy camp.

Then there are those who find new life by recapturing the exhilaration of being the class clown.

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