Awkward Stage

We all go through an awkward stage, trapped somewhere between “got it all figured out” and “gave it all up”.

We like to think we only go through it as kids, as teens trapped between childhood and adulthood, longing to hang onto the simplicity of toys and imaginary friends and Saturday morning cartoons over a bowl of Super Honey Crunchy Nuggets with enough extra sugar to make the leftover milk too thick to drink without a spoon, and anxious to taste the freedom and opportunity of adulthood that we perceive the world is spitefully holding just out of our reach. We are exactly in between two better places to be.

In reality, we go through lots of awkward stages, a series of awkward stages, a plethora of awkward stages, one, long, painful, excruciating, lifetime awkward stage.

I’m going through an awkward stage right now, trapped in a funhouse of mirrors where everywhere I turn I see myself reflected back just slightly twisted, almost me but not quite me, a little wider here, a little thicker there, a little more transparent here, a little in the dark there.

I look behind me and I see myself in my son, all feet and hands like a Great Dane, trapped in the body of a man with the emotional maturity of a turnip. That’s the boy I was, trapped in amber, and as many times as I’ve said to myself “I wish I knew then what I know now” I can’t seem to get the young seventeen-year-old me that lives on in my son to accept the gift of what I know now. In fact, he refuses it like a bad meal and sends it back with his nose wrinkled, and so instead of being the more well informed me he has the opportunity to be, he is the obnoxious and self-righteous and irresponsible me I was all over again.

I look ahead and I see myself in my father, all Velcro shoes, stacks of newspaper clippings and heavily invested in the company of a cat. I am more receptive to his hand-me-downs than my son is of mine, perhaps because he’s mellowed with age and is making more sense, perhaps because I’m less my son than I am my father, but I also find that he’s no more receptive of my hand-me-ups than am I of my son’s. In other words, he won’t hear my advice to remain active, go on a date, take a trip, get a tattoo, pierce something, do just one of the things I hope I’ll still be doing when I get where he is rather than simply walking a daily route around the family room double-checking the volume setting on the answering machine and rotating the batteries in the remote control.

My awkward stage is pretty much just like my son’s, trapped between two unsatisfactory eras, and much like he can’t wait to get to my wonderful magical world of adulthood where life is all about driving and endless sex and drinking and staying out as late as he wants spending the hundreds of dollars per month he’ll make on anything he damn well pleases, I’m trying desperately to get to the freedom and flexibility of the golden years, where life is all reduced prices on movie tickets, free frozen meals delivered right to your door by volunteers with bags of groceries, and free money from the government in the mail every month.

What I can count on is that I don’t get to stay here, so I better not be getting too satisfied with how things are right now. This awkward stage is only tolerable if there’s something better coming along… being a cranky, tired, slacker teenager is only tolerable if we’re convinced that life as a grownup is all freedom and opportunity. Being a cranky tired slacker middle-aged guy is only tolerable as long as we’re sure that getting older will bring us freedom from the tyranny of the time clock, the freedom to wear black socks with sandals, the freedom to steal batteries. So don’t you dare tell me that ain’t the way it’s going to be, because then I’ve got nothing to look forward to, and like my son I’ll just be pissed off and stuck in between.

It appears that wherever we are, it is exactly halfway between two better places to be. Life is just one long awkward stage, desperately fleeing a crappy dissatisfactory past in search of a better situation that’s just a reflection in a twisted mirror where things are actually further away than they appear.

The only little joy I get is in knowing that my son will one day look back and realize how lucky he is at this moment.

If I was more insightful and less focused on being sure I don’t miss out on my own son’s disillusionment, because real dads wait for that day like others wait for the sweet sixteen, I might realize that my father, the me I’m going to be one day, is feeling exactly in between two better places to be, looking back at himself in me and wishing he were either here now or ten years older and plugged into a machine that does his chewing for him with a nurse to rotate the batteries in his remote.

But catching myself thinking how lucky I am right at this moment would take my focus off my own cynicism and perpetual dissatisfaction.

And we can’t have that.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

The Great Big Book Of Me

Call me Ishmael.
It was a dark and stormy night.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Every good story needs a good opening line. Something that grabs you; that sets the tone; that establishes the tenor of all that follows, forecasting all the creativity, drama, success and adventure to come.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the opening line to my life.

“It’s Thursday, I’m tired, and tonight I’ll eat a hotdog.”

Welcome to The Big Book of Me.

Books are supposed to have introductions, and story arcs, and conclusions with character development and resolution.

Some books have complex storylines, and subplots about spys and illicit love and marvelous adventures.

My book is like Doctor Seuss without the rhyming. Just a mundane story about a guy who likes ham, and not at all poetic.

Chapter One: Childhood.

I was an only child. What that means for most people is too much attention, no sharing, and all the toys. For me, it meant both my parents had already been divorced, and lost their kids to their spouses. They both had complicated lives with too many kids in too many places, and I was about as lonely and average a kid as you could be. I went to school. I had a dog. I collected spiders and lizards, I listened to Mac Davis, pined for the Principal’s daughter, and wrote horrible poetry. When it was over, I was glad. I thought entering puberty was a good thing.

Little did I know.

Chapter Two: High School.

High School was easily the most horribly mismanaged series of opportunities any one person has the right to throw away. It was unremarkable, transient and unimportant; they were the beige Pillsbury Doughboys of years. I had the body of a man, and the complexion of an aggregate driveway. I was at the height of my sexuality, and scared to death of girls. I was independent, and paralyzed into inaction. I lived to get laid, and I was not getting laid. When it was over, I celebrated.

Chapter Three: That thing that comes next.

Being a young married expectant parent at twenty years old is the fastest way to bring the moderate momentum you’ve established to a screeching halt. No twenty-year-old friend of yours understands why you can’t pick up and take off for a drink, or a pizza, or a road trip. I loved my wife, and my children, and being married, and being a father, and yet I fought becoming whatever it was that it seemed to be inexorably leading to with all my fiber, and extended instead my irresponsible and unremarkable adolescence right through the childhoods of my offspring. Not funny, just true. Luckily, they were in their first chapters, and likely never even noticed.

Chapter Four: Middle Age.

The children are gone, I’m single and free, I’ve been laid by now so I’m pretty sure I know how to do it, I make way more money than a teenager, I can buy booze and cigarettes and porn, and I can stay out as late as I want. There is the potential for an exciting new chapter, a twist in the plotline, a sequel of unprecedented success.

Unfortunately, they call it middle age because that’s where you age the fastest – in the middle. It hurts when I walk, it’s hard to bring the porn into focus, and I have difficulty staying up for Letterman. Rather than newfound freedom and adventure, my life consists of going to work, working, and going home from work to recuperate. I have no exciting stories from my youth, no adventures to reflect on, no great political or artistic laurels upon which to rest.

The deal is, I’m a stalagmite. In the early years, time drops little lumps of crap on you, and slowly over time the crap adds to you. It makes you taller; it adds to the bulk of you, and you grow. You get more stable, one hopes, with time, while you simultaneously reach for the heavens.

Then, eventually, you’ve reached about as high as you can; you’ve absorbed all the crap you can, and the crap reaches its angle of repose. Any new crap that drops on you no longer makes you taller; it just rolls down the sides of you, making you wider. Thicker. It’s just more crap, and it doesn’t matter very much.

That’s my future. Wider and thicker. No more reaching for the sky … no more altitude to be had. I am, at this point, just absorbing the crap. The best to which I can aspire may be to eventually connect to the thing that drops the crap on me; to become one with the source of the crap.

Oh sure, I’ve endured, I have history, I’ve raised smart and funny and loving children, I’ve paid my bills and fulfilled my obligations and participated in society in my own banal transparent way. I have made the most out of my crap that I could.

So therein lies my story. No fiery conclusions. No O. Henry twists. No poetry. Welcome to The Big Book of Me. The best-laid plans of mice and men do often go awry.

I guess I have my closing line.

I should quit while I’m in the middle.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

Farmer Tan

Why doesn’t my culture speak to me anymore? Why isn’t Madison Avenue interested in my dollars? They wanted my dollars once. Once I was young and beautiful, and advertisers fought to get my attention, because I fell in that magical range of people with money and time and a pliable brain.

I used to be hip, you know. Don’t let this Costco polo shirt and the full-cut Wrangler’s fool you. But now? Not so much.

I cleaned up my back yard last weekend. I cleaned up my back yard, not so I could garden, not so I could have a place for the kids to play, not so I could throw kickin’ partays, but simply so I could have a place to lay out and get a tan without having to show the neighbors my white, un-toned middle aged mid-section.

Now I don’t know which issue is more pressing… the fact that I’m white as a sheet of quality copy paper, or as un-toned as a guy who hasn’t had to do a sit up since he figured out that with enough force applied to the foot rest, you can get a recliner to launch you to a vertical position without burning a calorie.

And it wouldn’t be so bad if I was shaped like Fred Flintstone or Homer Simpson, but I’m shaped more like Hank Hill, with enough extra mass above the belt-line to build another little guy, while keeping my legs and chest at a near zero body fat ratio. What the hell kind of cruel joke is this? What kind of a distribution plan is this? This makes no sense. It just throws off my whole center of gravity. This is a very bad plan.

And this uneven distribution of personal attributes just continues from body mass to melanin disbursal, insofar as my arms, head and neck look like Che Gueverra at the same time that my torso looks like a gallon of whole milk.

So I have this horrible spiraling self-fulfilling curse going on, a riddle for the ages that keeps me from starting that exercise regimen I promised myself back at the turn of the Y2K when it seemed like a good idea to be able to move quickly and open a can of beans with your teeth. That regimen was going to make me a lean, mean, surviving machine, baby. I was gonna be lethal, man. I was gonna be ripped.

The problem is this: I quit exercising. I got soft, so I didn’t want to remove my shirt at the beach, so I developed this raging farmer’s tan; once you’ve got the farmer’s tan, you look like you’re always wearing a t-shirt, which is about as attractive as those guys who look like they’re always wearing a sweater, so you never remove your shirt again, until your arms are dark enough to pass for evening gloves.

Once you’ve hit the point where you’re never removing your shirt, the impetus for getting ripped is gone, ‘cuz who’s gonna see it? I don’t care how ripped you get, you’re not strutting your stuff at the beach without a sweatshirt on. You ever see a ripped guy at the beach with evening glove arms? I’m not saying there aren’t ripped guys with farmer’s tans, though I kinda doubt any of them are farmers. I’ve never seen a ripped farmer. But I’ve never seen a ripped guy with a farmer’s tan either, so I’m guessing the ripped guys with farmer’s tans never take their shirts off.

It’s very hard to feel hip with the body of Poppin’ Fresh. So now I’m feeling very un-hip, very old. And I’m realizing that I’ve passed into this weird space where I’m of no interest to advertisers looking to connect with sexy contemporary America.

I’m watching TV the other night, and there’s this Hip Hop 7-Eleven commercial. Apparently, Seven Eleven’s “got da goods, yo.” It seems that they have sick monster sodas, and a foot long hot dog that is going to make my momma sit up an’ take notice.

Okay, kids, I have news for you, but 7-11 has been around since I was a lad, okay? I got kicked out of my first 7-11 for sucking on a Slurpee machine in 1969. 7-11 is a clearinghouse for day-old cafeteria food, warmed under a lamp from an Easy Bake Oven, served to you by a scared dude behind bullet-proof glass with an apron and a pistol and a baseball bat under the counter.

Is it necessary to make 7-11 hip? Are we really to the point where you can’t even get a kid to lay down 49 cents for a day-old five pound sausage and a gallon of Mountain Dew without selling it to them in a rap song? More importantly, are we really to the point where a crappy hip-hop rhyme can make a five pound sausage and a gallon of Mountain Dew cool?

And yet, there you are, 7-Eleven wrapped in a hip-hop song, and all of a sudden 7-11 is sick, yo. 7-Eleven is hip hop, yo.

Does anybody understand how ridiculous that sounds?

Where’s the hip-hop theme song that’ll make Denny’s, and by extension all of us who eat at Denny’s, hip as we wanna be?

How the hell did I end up too old to be of interest to a freakin’ 7-11?

How the hell did I end up in a demographic to which no advertiser is interested in speaking?

But of course, I’m not that 7-11 demographic. And I don’t want to be hip-hop cool. I’m not asking to be as hip as, say, Arsenio Hall.

I just want to be hip enough to walk into a Sam Goody and not get looked at like some kind of child molester. “Dude, we don’t have any Duran Duran, okay? Just take off, before I have to call security.”

I just want to be hip enough to use a convenience store or a fast food restaurant without having to bust a rhyme. Is that asking so much?

That’s it. That’s all I got.