Saturday, August 27, 2011

Am I Still the Youth of a Nation, or is it Middle Age Wasteland?

I turned 40 in May, and this whole "40 thing" has been rolling along pretty smoothly, until several situations over the past week gave me pause to consider what "age cohort" I consider myself to be a part of.
Example 1: One of the receptionists at the Thompson Community Center (where I work) resigned recently and last Thursday was her last day. She had already turned in her work keys and asked me to open a locked office for her. As I pulled out a ridiculous number of keys on my work-keyring, I said, "With all of these keys, I feel like Schneider from 'One Day at a Time'!" I thought I was being witty. She stared at me blankly. I said, "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?" and she answered, "Not a clue." She is 19.
Example 2: I was sitting up at the front desk late Friday afternoon when one of the volunteer receptionists at work called another local agency and left a voice mail. She turned to me and said, "On their message, they said if I was calling from a rotary dial phone, to hold for an operator. What's a rotary dial phone?" Instead of answering her directly, I asked, "How old are you?" And she answered, "Eighteen." Then I said, "It would take me too long to explain it to you," and I walked back to my office.
Example 3: My new car has a 6 cd changer. Since I became somewhat adept at using iTunes (which happened around September of last year) I have been burning "comp cds" (we used to call them mix-tapes, back in the day) like a banshee. I think I've developed carpal tunnel in my right wrist from holding the mouse and clicking for hours on end. Anyway, I was driving home from work this week and the song "Youth of a Nation" came up. I love this song. Even though there were no metal detectors in my high school, no one could image something like Columbine happening, and the biggest high school prank was toilet papering the campus trees during Homecoming week, for some reason, when I listen to this song, (I think) I can empathize with the angst and violence and sense of unfairness about having to grow up too fast that is expressed in the lyrics. The next song that came up was "Baba O'Riley" by The Who. I understand that baby-boomers claim The Who as their own, however, during the summer after high school graduation, several friends and I saw The Who's "The Kids are Alright" tour AND The Grateful Dead at Alpine Valley within the same week, which makes a pretty strong argument I believe, that "Baba O'Riley" especially, belongs to everyone. As I was listening to this song, I remembered being at the concert and turning around to look at the people standing behind me, and thinking, "Man, are they old. What the hell do they know about being a part of a "teenage wasteland"? Thinking about it now, they were probably 40ish.
So the task I'm trying to accomplish is reconciling my biological age and the fact that I'm surrounded by people with a completely different set of cultural references than I have, with the fact that I don't at all feel my biological age and for some reason can relate to the violent, unfairness of being marginalized and not taken seriously that is a hallmark of American adolescence.
Am I just really hip and don't know it? Do I have that "thing", that essence that some adults have that make them trustworthy and authentic? Or am I really middle aged and simply in denial? These are questions I don't have answers to.
They say, youth is wasted on the young. When I was in my late 20s and early 30s and trying to put myself and my life together I believed that.
Now that I'm 40, I believe that age is only a number, you're only as old as you feel, and middle age ain't so bad.

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