ACCORDING TO the not-very-helpful stuff I’ve read, I’m either a Baby Boomer or a Generation Xer, and that’s because I was born in the year that one ends and the other begins, which is also the best year in human history. I’m not going to explain why 1965 is the best year ever, and not only because it was the year I was born—although, really, what more could you possibly need? It’s like explaining all the many reasons why pizza is great: number one is gobs of oozy cheese, and number two is who cares, give me a slice NOW.
Then, about ten years ago, I found the solution to this little puzzle of mine. I just say that I’m old, and no one born after 1985 ever disagrees. That’s because for young people, the only difference between a Baby Boomer and a Generation Xer is the number of payments remaining on a lifestyle that is destroying our planet, you greedy narcissistic bastard.
So that settles that.
The upside of being old is that you’ve learned from experience. So today I’m going to tell all you kids a few things. First, let’s be clear. I’m not going to claim that us old folks are smarter or wiser than you youngins, cos it’s more complicated than that. The truth is, we’ve only learned one or two things from being on this planet all this time, but they’re good things to know. And you young people? Well, sorry to tell you this, but you don’t know them yet.
Those two things are: most of the stuff you think is the end of the world doesn’t matter, and the answer to 99% of life’s questions is it depends.
How I got the idea for this essay was that yesterday I went out for a walk, and on my walk I passed a high school as the kids were leaving. And I thought to myself, what would I do differently if I were fourteen and in high school again?
I don’t know how many fourteen year-olds visit this little website of mine. It’s probably not many. My own son is fourteen, and honestly I don’t think he even knows I have a website, and I’m totally fine with that. And anyways, you parents know what it’s like when you try to impart your old person wisdom. Remember how the adults all sound in those Peanuts television shows? That’s how we parents sound to our kids when we are being wise.
While I’m on the subject: I haven’t worked this whole thing out scientifically, but I’m pretty sure that a man is stupider when he’s at home. Like for instance I’ll go somewhere and give a lecture on a complex topic, and people will listen, and afterwards they’ll say things like Hey, good presentation and I enjoyed that. Then I go home and this happens:
My partner: How was your lecture?
Me: Great! I argued that …
My partner: You have something in your teeth.
My partner: Go look in the mirror.
Me: Well whatever. Anyways we got into this really interesting discussion afterwards about
My partner: There’s food on your chin. Do this.
Really, it never fails. In the drive from the university to my dining room I transmogrify from an expert into an imbecile who can’t even eat a pot roast without getting the gravy all over his face.
Then it occurred to me that if I did go back and do high school again, sure I wouldn’t make the same mistakes—cos I learned—but in all likelihood I’d make a big whack of new mistakes, because despite being older and experienced I’m still at bottom a guy who can’t eat a burger without spilling the garlic aioli sauce on his crotch. Sure, I’d eventually get high school right, but only after I was like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and I’d done it badly two or three hundred times.
For what it’s worth, here’s how I would do high school my second time.
1. No dating. Now, I know this is a tough sell, because boys are basically an accessorized hormonal system. But I definitely think high school would be a whole lot better with all the unnecessary complications of dating removed. High school should be a time when you learn who you are and what is important to you. Until you figure that out, you’re going to make a lot of bad decisions in this area, like I did. If you can, hold off from dating until you’re at least 18. Twenty is better. Thirty isn’t a bad number, and forty is the new thirty. Ha, just kidding. The actual answer to the question When should I start dating? is When you are okay having it pointed out to you, at every meal you’ll eat, that there is something on your chin.
2. No drugs. Kids, your brain is developing and drugs are not going to help with this at all. When you’re finished growing physically, and you are mature and comfortable with yourself, and you are curious about drugs—in other words, when you are like me—then fine. But until then, you young people have better, more exciting, more wild things to do than take drugs. I don’t. So let’s be clear about this one, cos it’s non-negotiable: taking drugs is MY job. All together now: Hands off grandpa’s happy medicine.
3. Cultivate one deep friendship. I had a bunch of friendships in high school, some of them good and some not so. My high school friends came and went. If I were doing it again, I’d probably cultivate one close friendship with a thoughtful, trustworthy, honest, decent and loyal person. I think more than anything this would have transformed my high school experience. Okay that’s not entirely true: for this one, getting bitten by a radioactive spider is probably a better selection. I’m not sure if I’d do it, though.
4. Have more fun. I had a lot of fun in high school. I didn’t work much—mostly I goofed off. Still, if I were doing high school again, I’d try to have even more fun. An alternative name for this entry could be “Don’t sweat it.” Remember what I said earlier, that most of the things you’ll worry about don’t matter? Well they don’t. Ninety-five percent of the stuff in your life will be sorted out by time. Oh, wait—that’s actually 100%, because death. But you know what I mean.
5. Be positive. Don’t pay any attention to all the reasons you, or your peers, or anyone else, think up to discourage you from doing what you want to do, and being what you want to be. Even when you’re older, people are going to tell you you’re too this or not enough that. For example, am I too old to shop at the Forever 21? Actually, yeah I am. So why is there no store, then, called Old Fart, for a While Longer? Anyway, don’t listen to the negatrons. If you have a dream, go for it!
Unless your dream is to walk around my neighbourhood in nothing but a G-string.