A lot is written about the awkwardness of the American teen years, especially the challenges of early teen junior high years. An almost ubiquitous social angst about these years makes the whole thing feel like hype, like a scripted rite of passage. What is so awkward about middle school? Come on…it is difficult to take seriously. I know problems and challenges lurk out there, but the solution seems to involve a neurotic preoccupation with social structure. I am at least a decade or two removed from those years anyway and so I want to talk about something much less understood and certainly much more underappreciated.
I want to write about another awkward age, those years between adulthood and something else that comes later. I catch myself thinking about it more and more often as I feel caught deeper in those transition years. A couple years ago I took offense, somewhat, to being called “sir,” especially by twentysomething women. Now I feel offended if they don’t. I’ll still buy you a beer and make your day, but call me sir before you call me “hey you.”
But things like “sir” are easy to spot. I like the more subtle signs of transitional awkwardness.
Tonight, for example, I was at the grocery store — I like grocery shopping — and I was feeling very outgoing when I pulled up to the sour old bag at the check out line and thought I would make a little comment about the contents of my cart. I had managed to pick out a six pack of bottled water, a bag of frozen peas, two cans of condensed soup, and a cookie. I thought I would strike up a conversation, the way old people do, by saying something like: “When my cart looks like this I know I should have made a list!”
Now that’s damn funny. Clever. A great conversation opener. Ha, ha, ha! Look! I came to your store and this is all I managed to pull from the shelves. Oh, boy, won’t I be disappointed when I get home and realize I needed toilet paper, too! Ha, ha, ha!
The old gal behind the cash register — clearly old enough to appreciate my folksy charm — didn’t even bother to roll her eyes. Instead she complained that my six pack of water wasn’t ringing up correctly.
Huh? That’s it? I’m supposed to be practicing for being older just as a teen practices to be an adult, but what can I learn from that lesson? Someday I might be sitting on a park bench somewhere and my whole day might depend on me being able to come up with inane little comments like: “Sure do miss 1999.”
Tomatoes! That’s what I should say…just tomatoes…and see where that gets me. Just be nutty about tomatoes. Something needs an explanation point: Tomatoes!
For the record…there was a cute twentysomething behind me in line tonight and she did smile. (I still got it. Tomatoes!)