Sunday, November 27, 2005

My World is Gently Imploding

So I'm back down in Norfolk for Thanksgiving, locking in some serious quality time with the family. I love seeing my family, and Norfolk will always be home for me, but socially it is a bit claustrophobic. For me and my friends, Norfolk is a video game where we have already killed all the bad guys, gotten all the special weapons, and now we just run around the screen.

Now that all of my closest friend from home have either married or had their parents move off, it gets a little tough to find folks to kick it with down here. My dvd player runs extra hot...

So when my old friend and former math tutor from high school called me up to come out and have a drink, I leapt at the chance. She said "yeah, some other Maury folks are gonna be there, too..." and that did not even faze me.

As it turns out, it was a reunion of sorts for the folks that I could not STAND in high school. I have long believed that anyone worth being around now had a rough time of it in their formative years. Being into Batman, the Ramones and having horrible acne at fifteen builds character, dammit. All of a sudden I was surrounded by people whose character got built by team sports, hot cheerleaders and picking on the geeks.

"Suck it up, Simmermon," I thought, and dove right in with a hearty handshake. And man, I ashamed to admit that the experience was really not that bad at all. Once you close in on thirty, coolness is so much less of a badge, and it can be a shaky commodity to have based your entire personality portfolio on.

There were these twins in high school, and me and my friends got a lot of mileage out of not-so privately hating on them. They were on the swim team, ace students, shared a jeep and could have won class president of the planet Earth after pissing on a nun's back. Their cronies really dug calling me "McFly" and got extra off on referring to me and me peeps as freaks and geeks. This was before being "alternative" was a revenue stream for advertisers and well before Hot Topic became the one-stop rebellion shop.

These guys were archetypes of cluelessness, icons of mainstream toolbaggery, and I wanted nothing with them. Time went on, I started my own band, got into art and went off to college, never seeing those dudes again until the other night. It appalls me to say that I had the best conversation of the evening, possibly of this month, with one of those twins.

It's appalling because it really made me realize how long I've been clinging to a self-constructed identity as some sort of outsider, and how outdated that attitude is. Nick Hornby sums it up well in 'High Fidelity' when he has his main character say that what you like is more important than what you are like. It's funny because there's a lot of people that feel that way, and to an extent I'm one of them. Or was. While I can feel that wall melting, true personality change doesn't come crashing in overnight.

When you're a teenager, you're desperate to define your identity in the absence of much life experience. So you lean heavily on your tastes, likes and dislikes, and construct a working identity out of what you can. You make your friends based on their t-shirts, their presence or absence at social events, and the things they slag off in an attempt to construct themselves. Eventually you have some life experience under your belt, but if you're not careful, you'll just be this big Katamari Damacy ball wrapped around indie-punk snobbery. Fuck knows I can't stand the DC indie scene in aggregate...

I'm thrilled to have caught up with that guy and had a quick, real conversation that night. You grow the most when you get over yourself and dive in, and I'm so glad to be closer to ejecting that crusty old nugget from my core. If you'd told me at sixteen that the guy I was the most contemptuous of was going to be instrumental in my becoming an adult, I'd have laughed. I'm laughing now, too, but in a whole different way -- at myself. Good luck to you, Mister Young, wherever you are.


At 2:00 PM, Anonymous s.lyon said...

jeff, when we were in college you let me in on the secret that "no one is cool".

even if you weren't truly feeling it then, you knew what it was all about in theory.

i always repeat that to myself when i pull an exceedingly uncool move. i took comfort in it then, and still do now.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Capt. Jack Sparrow said...

You wrote, "It's appalling because it really made me realize how long I've been clinging to a self-constructed identity as some sort of outsider, and how outdated that attitude is." What an unexpected epiphany you had! Congratulations for taking your hometown experience somewhere new.

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Fatt Matt said...

Jeff meant, "No one but Fatt Matt is cool."

At 9:43 AM, Blogger Nics said...

I have never been cool and I never will be. I'm okay with that so I don't see why others aren't.

At 11:23 AM, Anonymous gwen said...

Hmm, lately i've been feeling a bit blue because i'm definitely no longer cool. Realizing i probably never was, and that that is just fine, is comforting. :)
Great piece Jeff. If there is anyone cool, it's you, and this piece proves it. You're still not as cool as Fatt Matt, though.

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny. I'm sure I'm quite a bit older than any of the others who have commented -- and quite a bit later -- it's seven + months since your piece was originally posted. Nonetheless, the issues are so familiar.

I too feel that my world is imploding -- indeed, that is what drew me to your post -- but your youth probably gives you the time to loosen yourself from the black hole. Good luck, Norfolk.


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