Give us this day our daily mask.
—Tom Stoppard
lame old playwright

Joy and peace, Camper.

If you flip a coin once, the odds are 50/50 that it will come up heads.

But if you flip that coin 99 times, and it comes up heads every time, and you flip it one more time, what are the odds then? And what if it comes up heads 100 times? What are the odds that, in your excitement, you’ll turn a flip yourself, tail-over-teakettle, right there in the school hallway just to celebrate?

What are the odds that you’ll land in the hospital with your knee bent around your backside?

The adolescent brain, science tells us, is a very poor judge of risk. It always wants one more flip of the coin, one more handspring, one more text while driving. This explains why so many teenage campers never get to celebrate their 20th birthday. Once again, the mystery of evolution boils down to thinning the herd.

Your Uncle Jerry knows you hear a different message from Random Happy Adult Persons. Enjoy your youth, they say; do stuff; explore; try your wings. Life is short. Whatever. Look, they just want you to like them, so of course they’re going to lie to you. Life is short? So true. Listen to that stuff, dude, and you may find out just how short life can be.

Your Uncle Jerry is older than he looks. (Oh, stop. Really? 40-something?) Your Uncle Jerry left his adolescent brain behind him many years ago, and he hasn’t looked back . . . since breakfast.

Yes. Well. As it turns out, those of us who do make it past 20 without crutches are haunted by the suspicion that we actually didn’t have much fun in our youth. We’ve been careful, we’ve been responsible, like our parents told us to be; we’ve been playing it safe. And all we ever got for our trouble was safety and responsibility and with luck a little money. Cold comforts.

Every day we shower, shave, shine our shoes, and shampoo. Struggle into a grown-up mask, and slump out the door. That’s why they call it being adult—it’s dull. People depend on us. People will suffer if we pull off our daily mask and let the top of our head get some air. People will suffer if we get excited about the wonders of life and youth and handsprings, and forget that we’re supposed to be somewhere, doing something.

And that’s what you have to look forward to, young person, if you manage to make it past your idiot years. Responsibility. Dependents. People who look a lot like you, asking for the car keys. Be careful, you will say. Don’t get hurt. And they will or they won’t, and either way, you’ll be the one paying for it.

I’ve got one word for you, Camper: Retirement. It’s even better in Spanish: Jubilación.

In retirement, your kids are grown, your job is done, your bills are paid (more or less), and people are suddenly very tolerant. Retirees get an incredible license to freak out, flake out, chill out. I mean, just look at what they wear: would they be wearing that if they cared what you think? Look at where they go; France, Panama, Taiwan, anywhere they want. And when they get there, they get a discount. Look at what they get excited about: Everything! Food, gambling, travel, burlesque, pickle ball, the Internet, wine, rodeo.

You think flipping a coin or waving a game controller is a thrill. You’re going to love retirement . . . if you live long enough.

Peace and Joy.

In chapter fifteen of Molly’s story, the “aunts and uncles” are setting a plan in motion they think will save their own retirements.

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