I am not an old man. I still consider myself a young man. I don’t feel young in my bones, in the mornings, when I wake up and creak out of bed. But I feel young in the mind. In the spirit. I do young things. And I grant there might be some merit to the argument that cause becomes effect. Maybe doing young things makes one feel young. Maybe it’s the other way around. All I know is that I didn’t take the adult pill when I was twenty-three, driving off the Air Force Base with all my personal belongings stuffed in the trunk and backseat of my Cavalier. I grew up, sure. And now I had a job as a Software Engineer at a corporate web-hosting company. That’s not a child’s job. And I didn’t make a child’s wage. But in my head, I just chose to take my new responsibilities, my new goals, my new financial inclinations and obligations, and stuff them into the pigeonhole of adulthood. Everything else, well, I would just let it ride. Check my bet until the guy to my right raises to a point I am forced to call. Or fold.
I know it is not unique to say I refused to grow up. I don’t think I’m unique at all, in fact. We’re all snowflakes, as Tyler Durden would say. But he would also say, ‘you ain’t your fuckin’ khakis’. What does it take to spend half your day working – being an adult, paying your bills, earning your paycheck, unclogging a toilet, replacing a ceiling fan, and all the other daily surprises one is faced with – and half the day climbing down off that same ladder and just enjoying life? I found it revolting to have to stop playing with my action figures as a mid-teenager. I tried and tried to keep at it well into the time when I started driving and practicing my skill at the one-hand bra-removal. It just didn’t work anymore. I knew, you see, that we only got a decade-and-a-half at best to be immature. To play with the toys we were given as children. And then they just get boring. You grow out of them. I fought this change with everything I had. But of course, you know how the story goes.
We must grow up. We must support ourselves, lest we live in our parents’ basements relying on them. Who wants that lifestyle? I know I don’t. So I took the job. I learned how to be responsible. I learned how to turn my own wrench – be my own handyman. If you can call a number and pay a human to come fix something in the house, you can fix it yourself. Right? All you need is the knowledge. If you can’t figure it out, you back up. Go back to square one. Is there a screw? Unscrew it. Is there a panel? Remove it. Is there a blinking light? Make it stop blinking. Eventually you can learn everything the professionals know, without ever taking a class. But maybe that is your class. Maybe trial and error, replacing boards that aren’t bad, getting shocked a few times learning to handle high-voltage components, and spilling a few ounces of oil – maybe those things make up the classroom. And at my age now, though I am not old, I have repaired just about every component you can find in a sixty-year-old house. Run new electrical wire to every outlet in a room that has no ground wire. Replace a bad fan motor on the air conditioner. Rip out a small bathtub and replace it with a 53″ Japanese Soaking tub… I can do it all. You can do it all.
But that means being an adult. Well, part-time, anyway.
My point, is that you don’t have to be a full-time adult. Instead of giving up on toys altogether, you pick new ones. More age-appropriate ones. Maybe instead of Ages 4-12 on the label, it should read Ages 18-45. My toys these days are record collections, flight simulation, cigars, whiskey, Jeeps and motorcycles.
I didn’t go to college. I don’t subscribe to the doctrine that everyone needs to go to college. I did four honorable years in the military and that was good enough for me. Maybe college is for you. But don’t expect it to give you any skills. Unless your pursuit is medicine, law or science. But the best school I received in my life was experience. You don’t get to be experienced without failures. Trips, flips, dips and burnouts. Wisdom over knowledge. The bottom line is this: don’t let your life be a work-support system. I tell my closest friend all the time, you’re going to burn out and die a young man, having never enjoyed a weekend off. He literally lives at work. That is not a figurative statement. He built a shop that houses his work, and his bed. So what does he see when he wakes up on a Saturday morning and opens his bedroom door? Work. Waiting for him. So, he just does more of it.
I work as fast and hard as I can for as few hours as possible to be off. So I can enjoy the things I call toys. If I get off work at 2pm on a Tuesday, that gives me a few hours to ride my motorcycle. Where doesn’t matter; only wind. If I get off early on a Friday, I can take Amber Waves out to the trails and go climb over some shit.
My dad was always motivated by money. If there were more hours to work, he worked them. That equaled more money to him. And I won’t say he wasted his free time. He didn’t. And now that’s all he has. He retired in his mid-fifties. So he did this thing I haven’t mentioned between the black and the white that I’ve spelled out here today. He did the grey thing: he saved up all his free time to use all at once, at the end of his career. That’s a lot of hard work. And I have to say, I’m not far from my mid-fifties now. But that was a choice I would have had to make at 16, like he did, when he was living in the pizza shoppe he ran, bathing in the sink.
I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life. Most of them are thoughts of love lost. Could-have-beens and wonder-ifs. And those are pretty easy to shrug off. I feel like I’m known as the cool dad to my two girls. The guy who picks them up from school in the Jeep with no top or doors on it, blasting music. And it’s good music, friends. Don’t get caught up in the web of bad-music radio. Or the guy who, on a Sunday afternoon won’t be found sitting in front of the television watching a game that doesn’t matter to my life with a beer in my hand. Rather, you might find me outside in the sun by a burner, making my own beer.
I’ve never scored a touchdown or hit a home run. I’ve never made a game-winning shot from the 3-point line. But I have published books. I have a record out there available for streaming to the entire planet. We all have our things, right?
My desire is not to come off as a braggart. For I haven’t said how well my books have sold (they haven’t) or how many streams my songs have gotten (I have yet to reach the pay threshold). But I am proud of my art. While I feel like I’m pretty good behind a bat at the batting cage, I wouldn’t bet on being any better than anyone else. I would, however, take a poetry challenge. Any day.
I get ribbed a lot for my hobbies and the things I organize. I have ideas, and I think they’re good. I like to put them into action. For instance, recently I came up with the idea that I cannot be the only person on the planet – or at least the greater Garland area – who likes to sit and listen to records and drink whiskey. So I created a Meetup group to try and find some other people who might like to get together and enjoy them. My idea went so far as to create a format. Each person brings a record or CD. We take turns playing a disc, a side or a few tracks from the album. Then we discuss what we just heard. What we liked, what we disliked. All while casually drinking adult drinks. Or tea. Whatever your fancy.
First one happens, a bunch of people show up. But I have to stand there during the introduction of the night and listen to how I come up with new things like this every few months, and they have to tolerate it and go along with it until my mood changes, and then they’ll go through the same thing with a new idea. No one joined the Meetup, by the way. It was friends I shared the idea with who became interested in the prospect. So it was friends who did the ribbing. I stood, waiting patiently for them to finish. Because there’s truth to it. But really, you showed up with the idea that it would be fun. And that first night, everyone got so into it and had such a great time that two of the participants went the next week and rearranged their living room to accommodate a listening space. I got a text asking if such-and-such turntable was good, and what kind of speakers they should get. So it seems my idea was not a bad one. And they all showed up a month later for round two.
It’s not the hobby they’re mocking. The experimental gathering – for which I could find no analog on Meetup. Literally no one was doing what I was proposing. Though I see hundreds of people in the record store over the course of my many visits per month to the new arrivals bin, not a one of them shares their hobby with a group? That just can’t be! Well, if they’re doing it, they ain’t advertising it. So it wasn’t the get-together they were mocking. It was me, whose mind never sits still long enough to keep enjoying something for longer than a few months. It was my need to fulfill my next fantasy of involving people in something I think is a great idea. And this seems, by the way, to be successful enough to make a permanent fixture on my calendar. And it’s gotten my whiskey-shooting sister to come hang out with me. If that’s not worth its weight in gold, then I don’t know what is.
I guess those around me accept me for what I am. They know I’m a scientist. I experiment with fun and cool shit and toss the bad things, hold onto the good. I put flame under the beaker of a new idea and see what color the liquid turns. If it smokes and fizzles out, I move on to the next thing. If it smokes and gets us high, we do it again. Is there anything wrong with that? Should I, in other words, grow up? Spend more hours at work, working to improve my sales to put more digits before the decimal in my savings account? Buy a prettier house? A luxury car? My life is not a job-support system. I will not comply! I will not assimilate!
I spend many hours a week locked in this tiny dark office – because it’s the only space left in the house where I could make do as an office – typing on a loud split-hand keyboard, adding thousands of words per night to my next novel. I have some Saturdays where I add ten thousand words. This office, by the way, was a half-bath when we moved in. I renovated and remodeled it myself. There’s even an arch doorway behind me now. How much of that savings money did I save by not paying a professional to come out and do it?
My latest, greatest hobby is the one I focus on the hardest. And with the most passion. Though in my later years, I have tried to pare down the infrequent visitors – the pencil-sketching (which requires a tackle box full of art supplies and a stack of sketch books), the coin-, dice- and skeleton-key-collecting. The things that take up space and time but don’t net any real rewards, well, those things need to go. Finally. I’m maturing in my older age. I’m learning that I need more of that off-work time to do the things I really love, instead of things I only just like. I studied long and hard, spent over four hundred hours in a realistic flight simulator learning how to fly a single-engine plane. I have the syllabus for the class. I know it front-to-back. I know how to fly a plane. But if I’m not going to go out and get the license (seriously, why do I keep procrastinating this?) then what the fuck is the point? Fun? Fun? I’m an adult, man. I can’t do things just for fun. I need to mature. I need to…
Sigh. Roll-eyes. Whatever emoji you can find to fit the situation, I will whole-heartedly agree to. But when someone can explain to me what the difference is between someone’s spending a thousand dollars on a TV so you can watch football every Sunday, and my spending a thousand dollars on a cockpit setup with all the instruments to learn to fly, then I’ll listen. Clearly there’s a difference. I’m learning. Improving a skill. The other person is not. It’s strictly hollow entertainment. Which is fine. It has its own merits. But the point being, I take criticism for the money I spend on the things I love because they’re looked at as toys. I’m not sure I care anymore.
What am I saying here? Am I complaining about the state of my world? No. Hell no. My world is a good place to be. At least for me. And at least for now. Until something else comes along that changes my course, changes my gears, changes my mood. I’m going to truck along doing these things until I burn out from too much fun.
And when it’s all said and done, we all die. We’re all just so much dust in the wind, right? I mean, I get it. I don’t need twelve (or was it thirteen) guitars. I did sell most of them. I now have five. It could be debated that I don’t need even five guitars. But then I have to let you in on a little secret. I met a woman who became my wife, who won’t let me sell any more of them. I only consistently use two of them. But she likes the way they look on the den wall. She also likes the way my board-game table looks in the other end of the living space. And all my games on the Kallax, atop cubes full of records. And whiskey signs and band posters and lanterns that light up and flicker when I tell Google to set the mood. Someone who understands that my passion makes me fun. My refusal to grow up makes me more innocent. More kid-like in my play time. Right? Right?
When I die, I’ll not be leaving behind a house full of boxes, in turn full of shit no one’s interested in. Old photo albums full of faded memories of people no one knows. No one remembers. No wedding dresses and silverware and china and dumb shit no one cares about. I’ll leave behind a few books. A few board games, a few records, a few pirate coins. I don’t think it’s dumb shit. I think it’s something someone will care about. But to whom do we leave that? Who will enjoy it? Maybe it will have to be someone like me. Someone who refused to grow up. Someone who will truly appreciate my boxes full of the things I spent my life loving. Boxes of me. Boxes of toys.
I’m not telling anyone – never have – how to live his life. I’m just saying, you should try mine out. See if you like it. It makes taking the garbage out more fun. Sweeping the floor. Washing the sheets. Because it’s always in preparation for the next big thing. The next fun thing. My relentless endeavor to fight back or otherwise just resist the unyielding and persistent march of time that turns one’s hair from blonde to silver, and turns ones toys from Tonka to trail-riding. Don’t give up! Don’t go gently into that dark night! I don’t want to go out slumped over in my wheelchair, being pushed, drooling, down a cold, sterile hallway. I want to go out riding a wheelie. Or at least trying to invent the new wheelie.
I came to where I am with a smile on my face. The whole way, I smiled. And if I turn around and look back, I smile some more. I hope you can say that too. Life is worth the time when your biggest collection is a memory box full of smiles. And when you re-open that box of smiles and gaze upon it with watery eyes, nodding your head, and you smile… that’s when you know you’ve finally grown up.