“Faster than the speed of sound… Faster than we thought we’d go…”
For most of last year, I enjoyed getting to work an hour before everyone else. Often, I’d be the first in the building- the motion lights of the vacant hallways clicking to life upon my arrival. It felt important to settle into work. As I age, my brain seems to take longer and longer to heat up- like one of those old IBM computers, with the turbo button on the yellowing plastic shell, that would only display green type on a black screen. Back when computers held mysteries and nerds were the only priestly caste who could access them. Now computers are vehicles for advertisements and nerds are the people happiest about it.
I enjoyed getting to work early because the roads were empty and I could speed. The highway I’d choose was wonderfully twisted, lined with trees, and toward the end of the school year my backdrop would become a gorgeous sunrise. It felt like playing Outrun (1986), and just the idea that a wrong move could flip my Honda Accord (I chose the “sports model”) and send it bouncing across the road made me feel alive. The only risk embedded in my daily routine was cut short by a speeding ticket. The officer was polite and reduced my seventy-eight in a fifty-five to a seventy-five citing major differences in consequence. I appreciated that. I plead guilty by mail, and got a reasonably prompt reply that my guilty plea was rejected. A court date was to be determined.
But I wouldn’t get to work early to do actual work– it was genuinely about swimming through lanes to cut-off the guy doing sixty-five in the left. Send him a message about my superiority. Maybe an intervention of sorts: only the strong survive. Feel the torque of your pick-up and become who you are. Pac-Man chasing ghosts, viciously cutting off anyone who considers safety an inherent guarantee of highway usage; watching in the rearview as they drift to the right. Lesson learned.
I’d get to work and watch old MTV videos on YouTube. Stuff you couldn’t have fully appreciated upon initial airing. When I got to 1979 (1996) I found myself watching on repeat, my eyes welling with tears, in what would become my morning ritual for the rest of the year.
There’s a complexity to adolescence that becomes forgotten in adulthood. Like the ability to truly fall in love, once it’s lost, it’s gone forever. People who shit on adolescence- who mock those who miss high school, who swear they’d never go back while laughing at the cynicism they’ve developed over the years- are dead inside and should be avoided. If you’re so far gone that you can’t remember a time more lofty and wistful… you may as well give yourself over to the system entirely, work your bullshit job until you’re dead, and, if you’re a woman, get pounded out by every shithead with a decent opener on Plenty of Fish. Most men don’t have that luxury. If you do have fond memories of adolescence, you’ll end up doing all that just the same, but at least you’re not an asshole.
Adolescence is the intersection of childhood freedom and adult responsibility. Childhood isn’t terribly interesting, even when romanticized, and being an adult is like a sitcom that’s been running for infinite seasons too long- every year a rehash of the same- everything amplified to parody, where Kramer and George are building a rocket ship out of couch cushions because George got caught masturbating at the library. The manifestation of sexuality is what makes the human experience interesting, but too much sexuality gets old quickly. There is nothing romantic about a twenty-two year old trying to fuck everything that moves- in another time, in another place, that energy could have been harnessed to build bridges and craft beauty, but in hell we spill fluid on hormonally altered women and consider that success.
But there’s a beauty to the emerging sexuality of adolescence. Taking a closer look at the pool scene in 1979, we find the play and exploration of childhood, as a boy and girl leave a house-party to hop the fence of a neighbor and swim in their in-ground pool, before a fleeting moment of eye-contact becomes a welcome kiss. There’s a moment where the girl smiles with elation and- as if this was too much, too soon- the characters are next seen throwing patio furniture into the pool; a regression to the aimless destruction of suburban living.
There’s a greater depth of meaning to that kiss than every OkCupid date you’ve ever been on. In a perfect world, they’ll marry and share variations of that kiss for the rest of their lives, evolving as they mature- taking the form of spending the first night in their new house, giving the first bath to their newborn daughter, the disastrous first Thanksgiving they host- everything carrying the newness of that kiss, and for a lifetime, they’ll never step out of that moment.
A moment that’s been erased by the modern world- a moment that’s become as dreamlike as a music video. A modern world where people don’t marry young; a modern world that’s given us the gift of college life and travel, exploration and experience, time on our side with a double middle finger aimed at anyone who doesn’t get the joke- that we’re too good to replicate the lives of our parents; too good for our fuck-count to be in the single digits; too good to marry our high school sweethearts, and only once that it’s too late to change course, as we careen down the highway- swimming through lanes and cutting off cars- will we understand that we’ll be chasing those ghosts forever.