I close my eyes and rub my temple like one of those jaded police detectives from the movies. As I look back up, I see the TV clock blinking: 3:00 a.m. Even though I hate leaving movies unfinished, I can barely keep my eyes open right now. So I shut the damn thing off with a resounding click from the remote.
As I get up from the couch, I can’t help but do the “dad inhale.” You know what I’m talking about; that little sound that emanates from the battered joints and unchased dreams of middle-aged men as they get up from their La-Z-Boys.
I make my way to my room. It still looks just like the one I left behind when I went away for college. There’s the futon I lost my virginity on, and there’s the place I used to hide my bowl. In that moment, I can’t help but notice that the room is the perfect allegory for my life at this moment.
Since moving back home, I have regressed; like a sadder, less handsome version of Benjamin Button. While I’m not turning into Brad Pitt, I am relieving my 14-year-old traumas, and I can already feel my hair getting “jew-ier” and “fro-ier”. Upon collapsing onto my bed, I feel my nose instinctively crinkle at a mysterious odor. “What the fuck is that?” I think, as I shift my body, reaching an arm under myself to fish out a handful of rancid clothing. The movement serves as a painful reminder that stage diving is never cute, not even when you’ve just graduated college.
The smell triggers images that flash before me like they’ve been captured on a reel of film, but not quite. I see Sarah laughing and Becca smiling. I see Angie’s eyes closing as her face leans into mine. But then I remember that those days are gone. True existence can only be found in the present, which currently consists of rancid clothing, and the dramatic ramblings of a 22-year-old who refuses to grow up. Feeling resigned, I push my clothes from the bed and they fall onto the floor like the world’s saddest waterfall.
Lying down, I reach over to the nightstand and pick up my very-recently cracked iPhone. Upon opening up SnapChat, and toggling my story-feed, I see “Dj Khaled” pop up. Like a car crash happening in slow motion, I can’t help but watch Khaled as he waters his plants, rides his JetSki, and eats chicken sausage. I am disgusted yet amused as he quotes himself with the sincerity of someone who genuinely believes that they do something of real significance for the world.
He has the strained self-confidence of someone who does CrossFit and the self-awareness of a papaya. He is a hologram: a living, breathing, walking meme. Like the crash of a tree in a forest, Khaled’s entire existence depends solely on the presence of others. His Snapchat Story, a cathedral of ID, is the summation of vine aesthetics and recycled Instagram philosophies. He is a culture-vulture who’s been validated by similarly synthetic profiteers.
He is the fake news that lays in between the fake news involving more relevant celebrities. He is the gunk found under your nails and the scum at the corner of your eyes. He is grey matter.
He is what you look at when you’re bored but you’re too bored to actually find something that will relieve your boredom. He can be found in the stillness of the aftermath of a defeat so resounding that it could only precede an unambiguous surrender. He is what the losing team feels like when they must forfeit the game because they don’t have enough players. He is the stale, warm air found in an empty Pizza Hut box that rests on a coffee table in a small studio apartment that’s rented-by a divorced father who’s trying to reconnect with a son, and moving out of state to live with his step dad. He is Greek-Fire – just by denouncing him, I am further perpetuating him.
I run through his updates like the police responding to a crime in a white neighborhood. I see black beady eyes and a perfectly manicured beard. I see a man who’s sure of his place in the universe. I see a personality disorder. I see a captioned video, depicting captioned sandals, captioned shirts, and “captionable” quotes. I see a world of captions. Where the truth can always be found at the end of another shitty aphorism. I see social media triumphing physical flesh.
I see jowls that jiggle with self-assurance. I see an existence that is measured by consumption and fueled by self-perpetuated indignation. Then, I see myself, drunkenly celebrating graduation by wearing a tiara and throwing cake, and in that moment it dawns on me: despite graduating, I am as much of an adult as “Dj Khaled” is a real person.
I’ve never done anything that’s “adult” or “mature”. Sure I drink coffee, like IPA beers, and wear boots, but those are just acts. I can pair fish with wine but that’s only because I’ve watched countless adults do it before me. I can make conversation with a stranger at the bar but that’s only because I know to ask,“What do you do?” and “Where are you from?” I understand that while I should seem interested, I shouldn’t come off as too eager. I am the numb summation of countless hollow answers given, and stale questions asked. But I know that I’m just being immature because being mature means knowing that every day isn’t candy, and being adult means sacrificing leisure for stature and significance.
I open my eyes and I consider going back to the living room to finish the movie I was watching – Boyz In The Hood. While I don’t move, I don’t try to go back to sleep either. Instead, I think back to a scene in the movie where Furious Styles says to his son Trey, “Any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.” While this statement works literally, in that any man can make a child but only a real man can provide them with emotional, financial, and physical support, it also works figuratively. Maybe I can apply Furious’ logic to a greater struggle of identity.
Just because someone can act like a “man” or “woman”, it doesn’t make them a “leader”. Just because someone can create a life, it doesn’t make him responsible. Just because someone looks wise, it doesn’t actually make them so. We are told that knowledge comes with age, and perspective is something that’s gained. However if graduating college has taught me anything about growing up, it’s that correlation does not mean causation.
I’m 22. I “look” grown-up, and I can “act” like a grown up, but I don’t know what fucking good that actually does for me, because I don’t want to be grown up. I’ve always known what the “right” thing to do is and I’ve done it: I’ve gone to college, I’ve done the internships, and I’ve worked the shitty jobs. But despite reaching all of these seemingly essential milestones, every path that’s been laid out before me now, still scares the shit out of me.
I’ve always been told that I felt this way about growing up because I was young, naive, or spoiled, and maybe that’s true. But when I compare the unadulterated joy I felt playing in the park as a boy, to the sheer misery of working as a waiter for $5 per hour plus tips, it becomes clear to me that this isn’t necessarily true. While refusing to work for something that you supposedly want is in fact “spoiled,” not wanting to work for something that you just don’t want, is simply sane. Furthermore, if all existence is temporary, and we are only alive for a number of years, then doing anything that doesn’t make me resoundingly happy, every-god-damn-day, would be fucking insane.
I often think about how I’ve changed from a child to a supposed adult. I remember that whenever I questioned my mom, she would respond with “Because I’m the adult and I say so.” That was her ace in the hole because there was no response that I could give. That statement implies that there’s knowledge and power waiting on the side of maturation. So I would quiet down and I would think to myself, “I can’t wait to be old. I can’t wait for it all to make sense to me, the way that it does for Momma.” However, as I got older, the supposed realizations never came. Life didn’t get clear, it got more convoluted. Apparently, there’s no “right” way to live life, and there’s no certainly no golden manual for raising kids. Humans have been around for a while. If there were any universal truths that we could pass on from generation to generation, you would think that we would have figured some of this shit out by now.
I have no real concept of a 401(k), mortgage, or starter home, and any twenty-year old who does, should stop lying to themselves. Then again, my existence is entirely reliant on the concept of “renting.” When it comes to relationships, I can only manage a friend with benefits, and when it comes to transportation, I only use “Lyft.” I can’t even commit to the time it takes to illegally download music anymore. The biggest commitment that I’ve ever made is the purchase of “Spotify Premium” for a month. While going to college was a commitment, it wasn’t a choice that I made as an individual. Everyone and everything around me was telling me to do it. I went to college out of fear of working without a degree, and out of a desire to have unfettered sex.
Now that I’m home again, I can’t help but think about my first job in retail. I worked for $10 per hour, and relatively speaking, that was good pay for a spotted teenager with no experience. No one is passionate about working retail but I did it to gain job experience. “Finding your passion” is something that universities drill into us so that we shell out $600,000 for a piece of paper. These crooks schools have recognized that we need a college degree to earn enough money to live comfortably because no one wants to work in retail forever. That being said, many people do. They do it because they have to eat, and they need to live – we all inhabit the same system. So they have no choice but to trade their lives away for $10 per hour.
Working because you don’t have a choice is the definiti…“Clank!” – the sound of my fork dropping onto my empty plate is enough to end my existential moaning for the night. I suppose that if there’s one good thing about being a man-child, it’s the free food. Who knows? I’ll never sell out. I’ll never mistake happiness for comfort like everyone else. But wait a minute, “How am I going to pay for my Coachella tickets this year?!”