Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Acting Like an Adult

Lately, I’ve been pondering what it means to be an adult. Although it may appear the opposite, I’m an extremely responsible person. You don’t need kids, a mortgage and a high-powered job to be a responsible adult. You could slip me into any of those roles, and I’d do fine, regardless of the misery factor associated with each.

I simply hold myself accountable and let people know this. Then again, I was much the same growing up, so I’m not sure that’s the essence of adulthood. Recently, I’ve slipped into the slovenly habit of catching ABC’s Monday night wife-swapping show: where the wives from two disparate families will trade places for two weeks and, predictably, encounter an unfamiliar world of shit compared to their comfy home lives. (This is what happens when a Southern Baptist moves in with a family of holistic bikers on acid.) Why it’s always wives being swapped, I don’t know – save to say it’s pretty bizarre how many households they manage to find where only the husband works. I didn’t know set-ups like this still existed.

The last episode I caught had a young couple with two kids who were street performers. The husband had some strange blue star-shaped tattoos on his cheeks and a metal plate inserted into his head so he could screw in two small metal horns, which poked out just above his closely-cropped hairline. (During the closing-scene roundtable meeting between both couples, he kicked a few chairs over and stormed off the set when his swapped “wife” accused him of being a negligent parent.) Invariably, there is at least one husband on each show like this – a guy who seems like he picked a certain age (14, 18, 22) and stopped growing at that point emotionally, regardless of having kids, a house, a job, etc.

It’s not so much the lame shock value of a guy going around with horns and a tattooed face (next to a swastika-tattooed adam’s apple, an unsubtle way of saying “please don’t employ me”) as it is the reality of a grown man, generally in his 30s or 40s, going through life with a maturity level stalled out in late teens or early adulthood.

I’ve noticed this, too, with concerts. Specifically, older recording artists charging a boat-load of money to see them – and, more unbelievably, the concerts selling out every stop of the tour. My rule of thumb with shows is anywhere over $35 is straight out – most of those big-name older artists are charging anywhere from $80 to upwards of $200 per ticket for their shows. Artists who more than likely charged $10, give or take, back when seeing them live made perfect sense in the 70s and 80s.

If you want to go see Styx and Journey at a fairground, go ahead, but, fuck’s sake, shouldn’t that have been something we all abandoned by, say, 1985? More than anything, I think it’s bored, aging fans who never managed (or wanted) to shift gears or grow musically, and the newer stuff that has come along since isn’t knocking their socks off. (For good reason – most of it sucks and/or is geared towards kids.) I can remember back in the 80s laughing at people attending “oldies” concerts for 50s and 60s artists on package tours – for the life of me, our generation is just as bad, and worse for paying extortionate prices to do so. A 45-year-old man taking his son to a KISS concert? Imagine that in 1976. It just didn’t happen, unless the father was tagging along to make sure his son didn’t get high. Now the son has to tag along to make sure his father doesn’t get too drunk to drive them home.

Walk into a store specializing in comics and sci-fi memorabilia, and most of the customers will be adult males … who missed an important fucking boat a long time ago. I’m trying to picture my father and his three brothers, World War II vets, coming home from that war in their mid-20s and playing with Flash Gordon dolls. It just doesn’t pan out. Granted, a lot of this is simply pop culture becoming a force in the marketplace, but when does it end? Will there be 80-year-old men playing with KISS dolls in retirement homes one day? Paying $500 in 2020 to see Springsteen play “Born to Run” – or would it be “Born to Roll” at that point?

There just seems to be some strange cultural inertia that encourages men in our society not to grow up – not too dissimilar from my earlier post about men being encouraged to be as feminine as possible. I think part of that is the aging of baby boomers, and their refusal to let go of the cultural limelight, which will always be tied in with the 60s. But turn on a TV, or open a magazine, and you’ll be presented with childish men who position themselves as errant little boys who need to be spanked or coddled, or some professional wrestling take on the world, where the volume is turned up to 11 and life is one big beer commercial.

I’m hardly above it all either. I don’t have a wife or kids, which makes alarms go off with people who think they have gadar (but don’t, unless spotting gay guys who are practically carrying around flashing pink neon signs stating "I'm Gay!" counts for anything). I’m not gay – if I was, I sure as hell would have acted on it by now in one of the few places on earth where it’s openly encouraged. I just think marriage is a huge step to take, and judging from what I’ve seen from friends who’ve made it, and just as often ended up in messy, painful divorces and separations, I’m in no hurry. Over half of all marriages go down in flames these days, and from what I’ve seen, a lot of people stay married because throwing in the towel would create such enormous problems, be it with kids, finances or simply comfort levels, that it just wouldn’t be worth the trouble. (My apologies to those who are happily married, whose quiet response would be, “Well, ‘happily' is debatable, but we’re still here …”)

As for owning a home, buddy, in New York City, forget it. It just aint happening here, and I do envy people in other parts of the country who can reasonably afford a home with a piece of land – the one thing that I would like to do some time in my life. But unless I start robbing banks, it just won’t happen in this insane city.

Simply stated, adulthood is accountability. I often meet people younger than I am who are clearly acting like adults. Meaning they’ve adopted stances, often based on seniority in a workplace, or possibly having kids, where they see themselves as authority figures and act accordingly. And that always feels clammy and wrong to me, like they’ve bought a forfeit version of adulthood based solely on appearance. I didn’t like adults who acted this way when I was a kid, and I don’t like fellow adults who act like this now. I could take that attitude alone, but often that will be accompanied by pity bordering on contempt for anyone not choosing to live like they do, which is just unforgivably wrong and indicative of someone living life in outline format.

By the same token, I can’t fault these people for trying to move forward with their lives, instead of maintaining some ironic distance established in their early 20s. New York is filled with folks like this, who might have come here because anonimity is preferable to everyone knowing what irredeemable douche bags they really are. I find myself growing more tired of that stance as I go along. My point? I don’t know how to act like an adult, although I know how to be one. I don't know how to act like anything, save an asshole, and I'm not sure how much of that is acting.

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