This month I’m choosing five words at random from the dictionary and weaving them into a true story of mine. (The five words are cufflink, inoculation, topography, Esperanto and carboxymethylcellulose.)
What some people wouldn’t give to be young again. I don’t mean young as in “pre-toilet training / age of inoculation” young, and I certainly don’t mean young as in “stumbling around pantsless on your dorm floor smelling like Milwaukee’s Best” young. (I also don’t mean anything involving Loretta Young. There was this one time – nah, just don’t get me started.) I’m talking young as in the exciting age of twelve going on thirteen, an age where everything was exciting and new, mostly because we were dumber than dirt and believed anything an upperclassman told us.
Ah, but what fun to be clueless! I remember looking upon the world with bright eyes, a warm smile and a fevered mind that tried to make every phrase sound as if it had something to do with sex. Now anyone with a brain stem finds this kind of thing juvenile and somewhat repulsive, but to the young mind this is an intellectual challenge akin to playing five simultaneous Sudoku puzzles while teaching your nose to twitch like the gal on “Bewitched.” In Esperanto. (I mean the Sudoku puzzles were in Esperanto; noses twitch in every language. But if you didn’t know that, you’re probably twelve.)
Now this was a challenge we were more than ready to take on, but given the whole “dumber than dirt” thing, it wasn’t easy. For one thing, not every phrase hit you over the head with its sexy connotation. Try to make a phrase like “brother, you’re getting way too much carboxymethylcellulose in your diet” sound provocative and you’ll be in over your head before you know it. Second, all twelve-year-olds have friends (ok, not the brainiacs or the poor kids), and they’re all competing with you to make up the best double entendres. And since twelve year olds, as a rule, lack much imagination, your success is mostly dependent upon the material you get in day to day life. My friends, for example, had geography class while I was stuck in World Cultures. I was stuck making that stale, predictable old gag about the “world-class body,” relying on that picture from the world records book of the African culture where the women go topless, while they’re making jokes about topography. Need I say more?
Oddly, some psychologists have concluded that the friendly rivalry between middle-school age guys is actually healthy. These quacks would have you believe that daily punching contests with your friends and getting swirlies about once a semester builds character. This is hogwash. Not only do these preteen hazing rituals not build character, they actually take away some of the character you’ve built elsewhere! Take graduation – here we are, dressing up in nice suits for the first time, belting out the lyrics to “The Circle Game,” with our parents handing us cufflinks and wishing us luck, and we’re trying desperately to remember what Buttface’s actual first name is and not to call the principal “Dr. Grope-nhagen” when onstage. Is this a building block to adulthood? Of course not. The only thing you’re building is an institutional knowledge of armpit noises. What you don’t repress, you rack your brain to explain, saying “boys will be boys” or “we were getting it out of our system” or “they probably pumped mescaline vapors into the cafeteria vents.” But it doesn’t work. It never works. And you’re sitting on your couch like the loser that you are, eating bowl after bowl of corn chips and suddenly holding up a Big Dog’s isn’t the worst idea you’ve ever come up with. This, this is what being twelve does to you.
So, in conclusion, the person who develops a machine that lets you skip year twelve and move right on to thirteen will do all right. Why I started this column with “what some people wouldn’t give to be young again” is beyond me. Too late to change it now, of course; just another failure to add to the list. If anyone needs me, I’ll be at Big Dog’s.