When I was a young man of 21, I was out carousing about the town with some of my friends from college. After school ended and seeing each other every single day in the hall of the house or at the table in the dining hall stopped, we made it a point to make sure that we all got together from time to time because we knew that eventually, we wouldn't see each other every week anymore. We knew that time would move on and that things would happen and that people would get girlfriends and that there wouldn't be as much time to do these things anymore. Well, we didn't quite know that and if we did, we didn't want to face it. What we did know is that we were buddies, frat brothers. And we all had to be friends. We all had to see each other. We had to make it as much like what was familiar to us as we could. There was reason for that too.
Our new world was scary.
But we were brash and confident. The vagaries and tribulations of the new world didn't scare us. We weren't yet smart enough to be frightened. And there was safety in numbers. If that meant getting together every Friday and Saturday night and finding a bar and having a few beers, then that's what it meant. We were willing to put in the effort. Our jobs weren't difficult yet. Our lives weren't complicated yet. And we took advantage.
On one particular advantage-taking night, when it was still early in the evening and a couple of beers hadn't yet turned into a case, three of us found ourselves in the company of three women who we took as about our age. As such, we began to pour on the old charm. We took everything we had and we brought it to them, along with three newly purchased beers for each of them. They were Amstel Lights. They'd been sitting in the ice for a few hours getting chilled and the moisture had loosened the adhesive, so the labels slid down the sides of the translucent brown bottles. When the end of our nights out would come and we were still drinking Amstel Lights out of their bottles, we would drunkenly watch the labels slide down the sides and that would be an event in and of itself. We could sit there for minutes absently staring at the labels that slid off the bottles so flawlessly that there was little to no remainder of its presence on the side of the bottle. That was the allure of the Amstel Light, that silly little extracurricular activity, that label ritual.
We approached these young ladies with the fearless abandon that four years of coming on strong in college had taught us worked so well. They sat there and they listened to our line of shit. They listened to everything we had to say, patiently, quietly, softly smirking at one another and taking small sips of the beers that we had purchased for them. When we finished what we had to say, when we'd finally come up for a breath of air, one of the women spoke up. She was a slight woman, pretty but not a model for classic Greek beauty. She had straight blonde hair that came down to the middle of her back. She turned her head to address us, the aggressive frat boys fresh out of college, and her hair swung to the far side of her body, hit the wall and then fell right back into the position that it had started in, motionless against her back. She smirked at us, a mischievous smirk, a smirk that said more than she probably ever could have once she opened her mouth, and our faces sank.
"Aren't you boys a little young for us?"
The other girls at the table had laughed and the confidence we'd betrayed just moments ago had now betrayed us. We stood around the table, unsure of what to do. Too young for you? How could that be? We're not too young. We are men. We are college graduates, for Christ's sake. We are experienced in the ways of the world. We get together every weekend. We have jobs. We are men who work for a living, support ourselves. How could we be too young for you? How could that be? What's too young? I think a better question is, are you too old for us? How old are you girls anyway? 24? 25? You couldn't be more than that. We are 21. Some of us are 22. That's only two years, three years. How old are you?
"Well, how old do you think we are?"
The blonde spoke again and she was even more beautiful than the first time she spoke. And her hair! My god, that beautiful hair that sat still against her back and barely moved, barely even gave so much as a jiggle when she turned to face her friends then turned to face us. What color was that hair? Sand dune? Gold coast? You are young and vibrant, like us. Look at your hair. You have to be young. Come join us. Drink these beers that we have bought you and join us for a few more. We will pay attention to you. We will enjoy your company. We will do all of that. If they won't, I will. I'll pay attention to you. I'll enjoy your company. I'll enjoy your hair and your legs and your life, all of that. You can't be older than 24 or 25.
We turned to face the brunette who had yet to speak. When she said it, she all of the sudden looked it. 31? We are young. We are too young for you. I'm sorry. You two, the other two, we are with you. We can be. Surely you are not as old as your friend. The three of you work together. Is that it? You came for a Friday night, after work beer. It's a good thing you did also. You were lucky enough to run into us, here at this very bar. It's fate. Blonde girl, isn't it fate that brought you and I together on this night? It would have to be. She's 31, in another age bracket. Advertisers are targeting her that do not want to come near you or I. We are young and careless, Gen Xer's in the beginning of our lives as young adults.
The other brunette, to the left of the first, spoke up and she too began to look her age. What's that? How could you do this to us? We are young and vibrant men and you, you two are deep into your lives. You are aging women. We are men who still could be considered in our sexual peak. Sure, we're on the downside, but we're there. And we're relishing every damn minute. OK, screw these guys, my blonde goddess. You and I are young and we have no fear. Come with me, we'll face the world together. These girls are too old for us. My friends will find other people. You and I are ready to go. We can make things happen.
"I guess that leaves me. I'm 32."
You are what? You are how old?
We were beaten. We, the virile men fresh from the upstate New York institution that had conferred the title of ëgraduate' upon us, were beaten. Our shoulders sagged. Our faces dropped. Our tails, no longer wagging, were placed squarely between our now weak knees. I turned to walk away, assuming my counterparts would follow, and I heard a voice from behind me. It was sweet. It was mellifluous. It was 32.
"Why don't you guys sit down and talk with us?"
We can't. We are young. You are old. We know a few things. We just graduated college. We know that the Battle of Britain was the turning point in the European theater. We know that where supply meets demand, that's your ideal market. We know that young and old don't go together. You said so yourself. Even though you girls, nay women, haven't been in school in some time, you do remember some of the rules. It hasn't all left you.
We sat down. I put my hand up to signal to the waitress that the label-less bottle that I was turning back and forth in my hands was now empty. The beers that we had brought the girls were barely touched. They had only taken small sips but the lump in my throat couldn't be washed down by what remaining beer I had had and the same was true for my compatriots evidently. They, too, brandished empty label-less brown bottles.
I had a bigger problem. All of the inter-sex tricks that I had picked up in college, all of the aggressive tactics that worked wonders on freshmen from Merrick and sophomores from New City were rendered moot. I had nothing to say. I didn't know what to do next and I could see the same worry in the eyes of the men that I shared the table with. I knew these guys like I knew my family. Countless hours of video games, fraternity functions, conversation, late night drinking marathons and parties had granted me insight into their thoughts, their mannerisms. I knew what they were thinking. They were thinking, "Let's get the fuck out of here and find some girls that are in our league."
I was thinking that too. They knew.
I think the girls knew also. They weren't uncomfortable. They were busy, slyly smiling at each other and waiting for us to speak. They took small sips from the beers we'd brought with us. And they waited. We sat in silence for a bit. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. If there's one thing I suffer from, among many, it's pressure of speech. I can't stand silence around a table anymore than I could stand the fact that the women we sat with were 8, 10 and 11 years older than us, respectively.
"Well, I really can't believe that you girls are that old. I mean, not old, just that much older than us. We thought you were much younger, I mean, you look so much younger that you actually are, so that should be a compliment. After all, it's probably better to look younger. Women are usually happier to hear that they look younger than they are. Do you get that a lot? You may not like to hear that if you hear it a lot. I don't know. We just met you, you know? I'm just surprised is what I'm saying. You know, because we're so young. I mean, not young, just younger than you. Older than some people. By the way, I'm Mike."
That should do it. I am Mike.
No one said anything so I kept going.
"What made you girls say that we were too young for you? Was it something that we said? Something that we did? Do we look young? I don't really think we look all that young. Brian looks kind of young but I think we can pass for older. We never really had a problem passing for older before. I guess we do look young. Maybe I'm wrong it wouldn't be the first time. I'm wrong a lot. So what was it about us? Would you girls go for us? I mean if we weren't so young. I mean, not young, just so much younger. Is that all it is? Just that we're young, younger?"
I was nearly out of breath. I could really use a "Dude, shut up" from one of these guys right now.
"It's not just that you're younger. You just have so much to learn."
She spoke softly. She didn't mean it as an insult but I was insulted nonetheless. So much to learn? What had I just spent the last 4 years of my life doing? And I wasn't just learning that J. Alfred Prufrok was lamenting his life and fearing death. I wasn't just learning that hell is other people. Oh no. No sir. I learned all kinds of things about life and living. I had grown up. I had changed. I looked back on the last four years of my life in a flash and I was about as changed as a person could be in four years away at their school of choice. What was college all about? It wasn't entirely about getting an education. It was about figuring out who you were, planning your life as you, not as your parents' child. College was as much about that as anything. And I had done it. I had seized the opportunity to explore who I was, to formulate opinions, to figure out my side of the story. That's what I had done. So much to learn? I think you have so much to learn about what to say to people in mixed company.
"You're going to change. You're going to change a lot more than you have already."
I'm going to change a lot more than I have? This is getting out of hand. Who do they think they're talking to? I spent the last four years changing as much as a person could possibly change. I came to college, young and inexperienced. I left aged and jaded. I had expanded my mind through chemicals and learning. I was shy and had little confidence when I came to college. I was now a self-assured, pompous jackass. I had even grown an inch and a half. Tell me I have a lot to learn. That point is at least debatable. Tell me that I'm going to change a lot more? That cannot be.
"In fact, I'll let you in on a little secret. I changed more in the four years from 25 to 29 than I did in my four years of college."
I stood up. This is an outrage. I bid them good day and I went back to the rest of my friends that were at the bar. They gave me a hard time.
"How'd that work out over there?"
"You gonna go home with them tonight?"
"Hey, Walnuts, you gonna score?"
I took my abuse. I'd brought it on myself. Who did I think I was approaching them anyway? I should have seen it coming. They're visibly older. That's not the problem. The problem is their attitude. Do they think I don't know anything? Do they think I'm an idiot? Do they think that I'm a child that has ever so much growing up to do? They were wrong. I was right.
My friends finished up with the girls. They were on the way out. The blonde came over to the group of us and pulled me aside.
"I didn't mean to insult you back there. I forget what it was like to be 21 sometimes."
She was quiet and soft. I was in love with her all over again. Does this mean we can go away together? Can we go find some place to be alone? I'll show you who I am. I'm a great guy. I'm caring and sensitive. I love the movie "Steel Magnolias." I have everything you could want. Take me with you. I know you're leaving the bar but take me with you. I don't need these guys. Modes of communication are so sophisticated now. We'll be able to stay in touch with them. Take me with you.
"Here." She handed me a piece of paper. "Today is August 18th. I want you to call me in 5 years. It's a long shot, I know. It sounds ridiculous just saying it. Hell, in 5 years, I'm going to be an old lady." She laughed self-consciously. "I hope I hear from you." She kissed me on the cheek and she left.
I watched her walk out.
18th. 5 years later. I'm in my room searching frantically for a sheet
paper that I should have put in a safety deposit box or something. I've
turned this place upside down and it's nowhere to be found. It's
better off this way. As much as I'd like to talk to her, I can't stand
[Geoff Wolinetz does this]
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/wolinetz.html]
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