Eighteen was a long time ago.
Fifteen years, three months and two days, as of this upload to the digital presses.
If I were to mouth it aloud, the sentence would encompass a drawled-out effect: “Eighteen was a lllloooonnnngggg time ago.”
In the nine months since my return to the Wi-Fi’d halls of higher education, it’s hard to pinpoint when that reality first intruded.
Perhaps the time I emerged from class, bundled up in a coat, gloves and thermal underwear, to spot a line of goose-pimpled bare legs stretching around the block. On a night I could see my breath, a string of coeds with one mini-skirt shorter than the next was content to shiver for 30 minutes before entrance to a local club.
Or the time I declined a pick-up basketball game on the intuition that any activity coupling a full sprint with two air-bound feet would likely qualify as a pre-existing condition under my health insurance plan. Sure, I played a year of college football — when Bill Clinton was running for a second term. Two knee surgeries later, hello stationary bike.
Or, saddest of all, when I realized my enthusiasm had dwindled to attend a party whose theme was aptly titled “Golf Pros and Tennis Hoes.” The same goes for a bar special that serves beers for 25 cents apiece, often bought in bulk Costco-style 20 at a time.
Fifteen years go by quickly.
Illogical as it sounds, I never thought that going back to school would mean being surrounded by young people. By young I mean 18-24, the demographic as likely to be found YouTubing or beer ponging at three in the morning as, say, sleeping.
To my pleasant surprise, upon befriending a handful of them, I’ve discovered they make worthwhile companions. They’re up on all the latest gadgets. They work and play 24/7 with equal ferocity. They have the most fun of any group I know. They’ve taught me more tech-tricks than I care to admit. An advertising book I’m reading puts their net worth at $100 billion.
Drawbacks? Suffice it to say their living spaces are known to require navigating piles of smelly clothes, undone dishes, bathroom hair clumps and cat litter artwork, among other odes to unconstrained adolescence.
Within my circle of younger friends, however, my favorite of their quirks is the knack to reduce commentary on events both global and local to one-word summations. Such as: “Rude.” “Lame.” "Whatever." “Awkward.” “Seriously?”
Example: “You forgot to text me directions before you turned off your phone. Rude.”
While we’re on the subject, text messages are now a permanent extension of my thumbs. First I added text messages to my plan. Next I upped the ante to 200 texts a month. Finally I waved the white flag and surrendered to unlimited. My bill now averages $120.
Certain facts of age I take for granted. I couldn’t figure out why a coed was so excited when I agreed to bring her a drink on request, until I remembered she wasn’t 21. At which point I informed her that I would not be procuring adult beverages for minors, especially beverages best described as cheap grain alcohol smothered in artificial fruit flavors and served in Styrofoam cups.
Male friends of my generation invariably want to know one thing: “What are Mizzou girls like?” The question presumably arises from the point of view that I’m still young enough to date them (barely) without freaking out their friends or family.
Truth be told, I rarely engage females born after 1985 without a school-sanctioned reason because I risk coming off as the creepy older guy. We all know them by sight, whether it’s the graying hipster crashing a Death Cab For Cutie concert or the designer jean-clad instructor getting too chummy with his students.
Millennials are intrigued by the notion of dating an older guy — in particular one with his own car, apartment and somewhat-reliable line of credit.
But when I was an undergrad, I couldn’t fathom turning 30. The thought was beyond comprehension — and remained so until I was at least 29 and a half.
The difference between 18 and 33, I’ve concluded, is merely one of replacements. Iced coffees replace milkshakes. Relationships replace roommates. Jobs replace a life.
The other day a friend told me that she hates being 21. Everyone treats her like a kid. She can’t wait to be older.
“But not as old as you,” she couldn’t resist adding. “I’ll never get that old.”
Brian Jarvis is a journalism graduate student at MU and produces the radio show Global Journalist.