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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Age of Reason: The Reason for My Age

Written by: Bob Rehak
Edited by: Matt Bradwell
Joboja Staff Writers

I used to think that I was young. I even had proof of it: I felt young, I looked young, and I acted young. I knew all the songs on the radio and knew most of the characters on most of the sitcoms, and even a few cartoons. These were all sure signs that I was part of the "happening" generation. For a while there, most advertisers were courting us Baby Boomers like royalty. "If the Baby Boomers won't buy it, we won't sell it," they said.

Then we blinked.

It's strange, but I believe that if you have a positive high school experience or a positive college experience, you tend to view yourself frozen in that best time of your life. This feeling can last a long time. Mine lasted about 22 years.
Even though I was in college and had the heavy backpack and even heavier tuition to show for it, I always thought of myself as still the same person that I was in high school, but with a few more rights--and harder homework. Then when I graduated college, I still felt like the same high school senior, only I had a few more bills to pay and no more homework (there's no better feeling than realizing you'll never do homework again). And even though I was married, I still felt like a high-schooler, only I had a few more chores around the house (at least it wasn't homework).
The arrival of two kids still didn't deter my way of thinking, either. I figured they were just two more playmates, more than anything. So now I had much more responsibility and much less hair, but still I felt like I just got out of study hall.
That feeling got me through the 1980s, the 1990s and part of the 2000s, until one day when reality hit me with a two-by-four. My best friend in high school has a birthday in August, and I always make it a point to call him on that day. It's the one tradition that I have that doesn't involve a trip to Hallmark or the Black Hole Mall. My friend and I use this annual call to update each other on what has happened in each of our lives during the past year. Being male, this usually takes about 15 minutes (10 minutes to review the year in sports and 5 to review our personal lives) and we're good for another year.

During one of these updates, he shocked me with the news that he had been in the hospital recently after a particularly nasty accident. He was fine now, but he was hurt pretty badly. My immediate, high-school mentality reaction was to say, "Why didn't you call me?" And as I said the words, I knew the answer, and there was a pregnant pause as we both struggled to find a way of saying, "Why would I? We don't even know each other anymore."
That's the day I realized that I wasn't young anymore and that life had gone on past 1978 and there wouldn't be any more pick up football games or wiffle ball games in my backyard. Heck, I didn't even live near my backyard anymore (although I still had the wiffle balls in my garage). But the passing of time isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless you count all the missed years the Cubs haven't made the World Series or all the friends who now have their own kids in high school (me included), or all the parents of my high school friends who are now infirmed or have passed away.

I guess this is what they call middle-aged: when you realize that you've entered into full adulthood; not the kind of adulthood you feel when you get a driver's license or voter registration card, or when you can use the phone without asking permission or drink a 2-liter of Pepsi for breakfast without repercussions, but the kind of adulthood that makes you the second-to-oldest generation of your time. Growing up, you'd hear elderly people talk about "being only as old as you feel", but it didn't mean much to you then. In your eyes, anyone with a mortgage or a new car was old. They had to be in order to own houses and cars and pay enough bills to choke a horse.

So there you have it. I've declared my middle-agedness. I'm no longer in the most desirable demographics for advertisers on either Nickelodeon or Network television. I now check the second-to-last box on those surveys that ask about your age group. My weight is suddenly an issue; my cars were built long after I graduated high school and college; and the toys of my youth are now auctioned on the internet as "antiques." Middle age isn't so bad, though. I may not know all the songs on the radio or the characters on the sitcoms, but I'm not beyond a game of wiffle ball with my son's friends. And I do win once in a while. If you're truly only as old as you feel, I'll accept the age of a post-graduate student.

Just don't give me any homework.

4 comments:

Kuz said...

Don't worry brother: 50 is the new 40, 40 is the new 30, 30 is the new 20, but of course 18 will always be 18. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

What's homework?

Anonymous said...

Bob, you have such talent. How come we never discussed this before? Next time I'm in Illinois we should.
-Bradley

Carol Maskus said...

Yes, it's strange to think now that I'm 27, commercials are catering to me. It always used to be grown-ups in the commercials, but now I see 27-year-olds talking about Ford Tauruses, and I realize, "hey, they want ME to buy that car."