Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I'm walking home today and this car stops near me. A girl rolls down the window and asks me, "If I gave you some money, would you buy me some beer?"

For those familiar with my town, it might not surprise to know this occurred downtown on South Street.

I said, "No thanks." Though in retrospect, I should've messed with her and said, "I'm not 21," which is technically true.

But it got me musing on age and perceptions thereof. Perhaps I'm showing my age my using words like 'thereof' but this is another matter.

Whenever people guess my age for whatever reason, they come up with widely varying results.

This girl thought I was at least 21, but I still get ID'd for beer most of the time. In fact, two years ago, a cashier almost wouldn't let me buy beer because she didn't think the photo on the ID looked like me. I was 27 at the time and the photo was of me at 21. Suffice it to say, my face was a little fatter and my hair was a little thinner. Um, I mean, shortly cut. Fortunately, I graduated from school with the shift manager so I ended up with the beer. But it was still strange.

The year before, I went to a high school football game in a neighboring town and the woman asked me if I was an adult or a (high school) student. I was 26 at the time. Admittedly, I was on my bicycle but still...

Part of it might have to do with my very casual style of dress. I usually wear windpants or shorts or sweats. Normally a t-shirt or hoody. Frequently a baseball cap. And almost always a backpack. So I look like I COULD be a student, though by now, at least it's a college student. Though just last week, I was at the local high school for a basketball game and a visiting fan asked me for directions by beginning, "Do you go to school here?"

I remember my 25th birthday. I was feeling a little bummed. My parents were making insufferable "quarter century" cracks (the kind of thing that's vaguely amusing the first time but gets tiresome quickly). The next day, I was walking to work and I passed this little kid, maybe 9 or 10. He said, "Hey kid." I didn't respond, assuming he was talking to someone else. Then a few seconds later, he said louder, "Hey big kid." I turned and asked if he was talking to me. He said yes and wanted to know what time it was or something. I felt good after that.

I guess age really is a state of mind. There are good things about being a kid and good things about being an adult. I miss carefree summer days hanging out in my friends Bob's and Phil's backyards playing wiffle ball and capture the flag. I don't miss having to rake the leaves with my (then) obnoxious brother who spent more time whining than raking. I like being able to go to a hockey game whenever I want. But the frequency means it's no longer the special occasion it once was. I'm glad I know what's going on in the world. It makes me a little less self-absorbed. But sometimes all the crap stresses, angers and/or depresses me. I miss having friends with whom I can hang out without having to book the occasion two weeks in advance. I like the fact that 'fitting in' with my friends is no longer my highest social priority.

Still, many people have bizarre expectations about growing up. They think it means abandoning a sense of curiosity. They think it means treating wonder and enthusiasm as naive and foolish. They see harshness as doing others a favor by introducing them to reality. Being "pragmatic" is the highest virtue. Dreams are a waste of energy. Empathy is weakness. I find this very sad.

The point of this essay is not to tell you childhood and adolesence are bliss. There are parts of it that were great and parts of it that were miserable. Yet if the above is the perverse box I must squeeze myself into in order to be considered a serious "adult," then it doesn't seem worth being.

I find most kids more fascinating than most adults (if for the simple fact of straight-forwardness). If this means that people don't consider me an intellectual heavyweight, so be it. I won't waste my time trying to superficially impress people who don't want to get to know me. Being thought of as some twisted definition of "mature" isn't worth sacrificing my basic humanity.

"To an adult, seeing is believing. To a kid, believing is seeing."
--From The Santa Clause

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