Young People and the Poison That’s Made Me Terminally Uncool

So I’m in this meeting at work, and this meeting is about young people, and in this meeting I realize I’m an old person—I am now a peer to my peers—and I’m woefully short on stool softener. Addressing the reader–e.g. you, right damned now—isn’t something I’ve been wary of during these tangential brain dumps, these transient and eternal complaints of my age and the things in this world I don’t understand, so I’ll tell you this: I’m going to talk about getting older, again. If you’ve waved back to your thirties or are at the point in your journey where those commemorative quarters advertised on the television are starting to sound like Christmas gifts, then hop back in your rolling donut and get on with getting on—this bastard is about the lower to mid-middle among us, both in class and season. So this meeting, the one from a few sentences ago, it’s about the students we have working in the place that I now work, and it’s about how we can best exact a strict benevolence over their tender waypoint positions, keeping in march with the khaki socks and computer policies, stuff like that. It was when I was nodding my head along with the room’s cadence that I started to feel like I was formulating the type of Reich that always vexed my earlier self, and that it honestly seemed necessary to spend thirty minutes talking about the things that would have me soundly beaten by the nineteen year old version of myself. Well, he’d try. Nineteen year old me was a pussy.

I had no idea who Adele was when she started winning Grammys, and I’m still not certain what actually makes dubstep, dubstep, other than it’s music that has commanded me to “yield my body to the bass satan.” These are green people, these interns, removed from me by little more than a decade, but it has been in these formative adult years that I’ve become most aware of myself, molting from my twenties and attempting to walk through the forest on all four hooves, or wherever that metaphor was going. I’ve been cornered in the elevator by our interns before, and the scene always plays out the same:

Young People: “Hey, Matthew, uh, so are you picking up the new QRX deft-beat implant? I hear it’s gonna, like, up the switchflex for all the new blartsnats. Coffee, ironic clothing, vampires.”

I try to answer, but usually wind up lighting a newspaper on fire and waving it at them while shrieking until I reach my floor.

It’s right outside of high-school when you and your kind start the reminiscing. Friendship is now a series of, “Remember that thing,” or, “Remember how we did things back during these times?” After you’ve reached your mid twenties, it begins, remaining that way until you’re gripping a dixie cup full of blood thinners, liver spots on your dealing hand, rummy the only thing that makes sense anymore. It’s a rough thing, feeling like the old square in an actual office setting. My entire career, up until the stretch where I was freelancing, was spent looking at the ones in charge with disdain, and hell if they didn’t earn it—advertising is no place for a creative young professional—it’s the chief bastion of budget rape, 99 cents, a lack of empathy for your fellow man and a violent marina of rehashed stock nonsense. I worked for villains, and as the morale lowered in these places, my ability to care went right out the door along with my loyalty and the urge to tuck in my shirt.

Now I feel responsible by default, like my dry demeanor and actual desire to do well in my job is a poison that’s made me terminally uncool. I’ll look around the room during a team building exercise, some weird Office Space nonsense that we’re all doing that involves colors or a picture of a tree. Everyone’s playing along though. Not in a “pieces of flair” way, but in a semi-focused way that says, “Yeah, this is a little corny, but I like being good at my job and a part of something bigger than myself, motherfucker.” Some people have been assimilated by the white walls and the fluorescent lighting, and there’s not much you can do but play along with their carefully chosen words like “inappropriate,” and “correspondence.” If you’re actually making a difference, I begrudge you nothing, but sometimes I want to pull a coworker to the side, lean in close, and whisper to them, “We’re all just playing along, right? Nobody really thinks like this. Who are you outside of this place?” They’d probably look at me and laugh, the ol’ office funny guy. He really should do stand-up.

Somewhere along the career path it all shifted, the correct language and stuffy meetings became purposeful rather than a nuisance, and when you start leading them yourself, the red pill isn’t going to help you anymore. Reports, timelines, deadlines, resources, direction, collaboration, feedback, connections, timetables, development—this is the new-speech and it’s irritating how unconscionably useful it is. I hate that my career has become these terms, but I can no longer tell you why. There has never been a ratty-haired anarchist inside, I’ve never worn makeup and I have never rocked either of my socks completely off. The magical yester-when are times I’ve never experienced and drugs I’ve never consumed. I fret and freak and itch when I sit in conference with my earth-toned office associates, yet I have no explanation for it, other than there was once a time when I just didn’t like it. That flies about as well as a paper airplane with a soppy turd for a passenger. See, I’m getting better at those.

Older is older, Wooderson had it right, and the students keep staying the same age. The senior moments are the ones that get you though, a glimpse into the failing reflexes of your parents’ brains and just what you’ve got to look forward to as you barely broach your thirties. Recently, for me, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos became, “Yahoo’s Fish Tacos,” spoken casually in conversation, like I didn’t know or didn’t care, I was too old and things like that don’t stick anymore. It’s frightening. Why would I call the restaurant Golden Corral, “Orange Corral?” That’s not the right word, dammit. One of my retired friends referred to the popular iPad game, Fruit Ninja, as “Slice Pickle.” Allen’s been caught too, as we’re both old enough to be pre-Pokemon and actually owned Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Em’ on cassette.

Allen’s own elders referred to the game Plants vs. Zombies as “Potatoes vs. Aliens.” Recently, I started talking to Allen about a thing or two, and after watching the color drain from his face, he stuttered out, “Well…wait, what? Did you say… What’s going on?” It’s like he’d watched something unfold before him, a commercial for music television featuring long hair and pastel colors, a big blur that you just get tired of not understanding and develop coping mechanisms. When you no longer grasp what the television is telling you, it’s time to hang up your concert t-shirts and yield to the reality of your new demographic—the stuff that propelled your life back in the “remember when’s” is now sitting at Goodwill, broken and wrapped in clear tape. Go visit it sometime, see if you can’t snag a “Regis and Kathie Lee” wooden cookie jar with one of its handles missing.

Music in this episode:
Beggars in a New Land – Planetary Turn

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