Friday, April 02, 2010

Youth is Not a Credential

Barring being victim of a post-natal abortion by one of the diabolical triumvirate of Accident, Murder or Disease, all human beings experience youth.

Youth is a great time.

I remember the days when the waist of my jeans was 30 inches. When I galloped basketball courts for hours, finishing off the afternoon of fun (it was never exercise back then) with a Super Big Gulp and giant chocolate chip cookie from 7/Eleven. There was an evening when I was in my early 20s when I finished a day of work at a part-time job, went home, consumed a large pizza, drank six beers and then went outside and jogged five miles.

The person who coined the subversively brilliant phrase, "Youth is wasted on the young," must've had me in mind.

One other thing about my youth -- I had an insatiable curiosity for what came before me. I always wanted to hang out with the older guys in the neighborhood so I could hear how things were before I around. No self-respecting older guy would have any of the young punks around him, but I still managed to gather snippets of neighborhood lore.

There was Philip, down the street, at least 10 years older than I was, who was said to have let his girlfriend watch him take a piss.

There was dullard, Steven, at least 13 year older than me, who was said to have freaked out one day at school when he was 11 or 12 and actually killed a kid who was teasing him.

There was Peter who had climbed onto the roof of the Peerless Ice Cream Parlor, jumped down over the sign, nearly landing on an old lady walking by on the sidewalk.

More than that, I'd caught word around the neighborhood about a rock concert that had occurred before I was born called Woodstock. It was said to have last three days. A friend's older brother had seen the movie. I couldn't imagine him sitting in the theater for three solid days. Having little idea what a rock concert even entailed when I was six or seven years old, I took it upon myself to learn more about this Woodstock.

. . . and Charles Starkweather, Lenny Bruce, Jim Morrison, Lester Bangs, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Chambers (who was said to have appeared in a Dove soap ad mere weeks or months before a porn movie she starred in hit theaters), and John Belushi, Bill Murray, Evel Knievel, Jimi Hendrix (who was said to have played his guitar with his teeth on occasion), Iggy Pop, and on and on.

Even as a young kid, I always had the sense of things having gone before me. It's as though my back was against a wall marked 1971 (the year I was born), and I could only face forward toward the future. But I sensed an open doorway next to me, and I was fascinated to peak around its edge and see what had gone on pre-1971.

Not everybody feels this way.

I once worked with a very kindly, intelligent woman who'd been born in 1980, who had no interest whatsoever in anything that occurred in the world before that year. I jokingly teased her that, in fact, the world had not existed pre-1980, and that history before that time was merely a mass illusion. Even my own memories of times before 1980 were counterfeit.

Interacting with people a decade or more younger than myself, I find that that attitude isn't as isolated as I once thought.

With the solidification of youth culture, and even "tween" culture, more and more young people -- who still have the new-car smell on their pubic hair -- actually believe they are in their prime.

All youth believe themselves invincible. That's a law of nature. But an alarming number appear to believe the soil of the earth was turned on the day of their birth and only then did meaningful life begin.

When I lived in Ireland, one of my best friends was 90 year old Molly Kelly, who had grown up in County Kildare with my grandfather. Countless Saturday afternoons I sat in her parlor, listening, rapt, to stories about life in the Irish countryside. Far from being a Celtic Little House on the Prairie, dear Molly -- who poured me four-finger scotches and insisted on cooking me dinner -- told stories about the banshee, about farmers disturbing fairy rings and living to regret it, about black dogs following people home and bad luck befalling the household ever afterward; about the three knocks that came in the middle of the night at homes where people lay dying.

Whether hearing about Fatty Arbuckle, Jonestown, the Crucifixion, Pope Joan, Miller McGrath, Popa Doc, Martin Bormann or Wayne & Schuster, I wanted to know more of what happened in the world before I was around.

Whether it was Fatima, Auschwitz, Woodstock, Coral Castle, Magnetic Hill, the Bermuda Triangle, Flanders Fields, Martello Tower, Mulligan's on Poolbeg Street . . . I wanted to know about it.

Life on earth did not begin when I began.

And though every generation believes itself to be The Generation -- it ain't.

Some outdo others in banality and triviality, but otherwise, every generation believes it invented drinking, reinvented childbirth and is somehow the wunderkind that's finally going to get things right.

But they don't.

1 comment:

Macphisto said...

Seriously you bring up a great point. It also made me think about the generation of our parents, who seem to be stuck in their own way as well. Whereas the youth of today refuse to look at the past, the old refuse to look at the future. They stubbornly refuse to learn about computers, or gadgets, even when they are proven to be helpful (and I am not talking about the bone-head science of 1000 flushes). For example, many new stoves and microwaves comes with timers on them. Yet people will still use that old dial timer that pings when completed.