Oh, no, Gen X is having a midlife crisis. You know it’s true because The New York Times is saying so. Or rather, white, well educated, Gen X men 40+ are having mid life crises. Those damn Greenbergs. Ladies are not allowed. Maybe ladies don’t care. Ladies are probably too busy caretaking.
I remember the first time I felt old, like there was a clear division between my age group who had always been the youngest, and the new kids who were very different. I was probably 24. Quarter-life crisis, nothing new.
I felt this shift at a show, alone. I don’t even recall who was playing; it might have had to do with K Records, probably a tinier label. I can’t even remember the name of the inner Southeast Portland venue, though I know I saw Servotron and Mocket there on separate occasions. Milling about were the new teens and college kids, and they seemed like kids. No drinking (it was an all ages show), you couldn’t smoke indoors and no one was smoking outside either, the girls didn’t wear makeup. They were probably all vegan or at least self-serious. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t talk to a soul.
Generation X wanted to be older. At least I did. You tried to look teenage as a kid, as an adult when teenaged (look at teens in late ‘70s-‘80s movies—or my high school yearbook—such mature looks, and not in a dress up Gossip Girl way). Older people were cool, not to be scorned like I feel is true now. Though, of course by older, I’m probably talking about people who were in their late 20s, not the elderly. Many of my friends were 10+ years older in college and at my jobs after I graduated. I dated 20 years older. Maybe you just don't feel youth obsession when you are young, yourself.
My younger, only sister moved out of the house when she was still teenage. She had an older friend, Heather, not sure how much older. Late teens? Twenty? Heather was married (I think, it could've just been a boyfriend) to a sort of hippie guy who was older than she. Once again, he could’ve been 30s, probably 30s, but there was definitely a gap. He just seemed older, had a shaggy, mullet-ish ‘do, wore suede knee-high boots full of sheep’s wool (pre-Ugg mania, obviously—though I did possess a pair of Ugg slippers at this time, a decade-earlier Christmas gift I’m certain my grandma picked up at a liquidator because the entire family got them that year). He owned a big house in Ladd’s Edition and they’d throw elaborate grown up parties with croquet in the park blocks and serve Dubonnet.
If I’m correct, it was through this crew that my sister and I were invited to an annual Big Hair Party in honor of Ann Margaret’s birthday, oddly enough, not a gay event. Neither of us was legal drinking age yet. I also didn’t have enough hair to tease into a contest-worthy coiff. I don't imagine that most of the guests that had gathered in this cinderblock, semi-public building (it was a veteran’s hall or somesuch) were any more than a half-generation off (though we did have a woman in her 50s with us). I was highly attuned to the gap, though. You know, how you get tipsy and feel like you have great insights to offer the world (please, tell me I'm not alone). I realized I was still young and needed to revel in it. I still had time, lots of time.
They were playing B 52s, “Rock Lobster,” older persons’ memory music. This party was taking place during their comeback “Love Shack” era. College rock, the term of the time, could mean many things: The Replacements or Husker Du. In high school, college rock embodied the aspriational. Wouldn't it be cool to live with a bunch of musicians, artists (maybe not poets) in a big run down house with a porch like I was living in an REM video. You’d wear ‘50s dresses with low top converse, drink on the porch and listen to music with guitars that wasn’t top 40. You were probably studying English or History, a paid for liberal arts education. This never transpired.
But I was enjoying the company of older Gen X. Reminiscing through music wasn’t pathetic. Yet, I’m still incensed when bars full of under-30s only play ‘80s music. Backwards nostalgia is stifling. "I can't take life anymore!" I screamed last night when I saw the new A-Team ad. Nightmare on Elm Street, Overboard, Private Benjamin, Poltergeist, Clash of the Titans, Karate Kid, CHiPs, Short Circuit, Dune…Arthur?!
Kate, was a gaunt but not skinny, flame-haired woman whose nose and slump shoulders covered in a baggy shaker knit sweater, gave her a gothy, turtle-like look. I can only picture her in profile, frayed hair in a stubby ponytail, outcast drab. She was a senior when I was a freshman in high school and seemed so adult—such a big difference between 14 and 18—and dated the sophomore I had the first/worst crush of my life on.
Later, when I got my first real-ish job at the public library I worked with an effeminate married man (to a black woman, unusual only because there just aren’t many African-Americans in Oregon) with a non-ironic moustache who was into young boys (I still remember the disaffected Edward Furlong lookalike at a copy machine with a bandana tied around his neck that we were both peeping at during our end-of-night, pick up all the books and put them on carts, clean up routine) and would also meet teenage runaway girls on the then burgeoning internet. This Kate was his prom date, it turned out, but she stood him up. He was not from Gresham like she and I were, so I have no idea how they even knew each other. Portland and its surrounding suburbs was, and is, small.
Kate was at this Big Hair party, competing with a Dr. Seuss-ian up 'do. I never exchanged words or looks with her in high school, and I didn't at this party either. But her presence made me respect this particular scene.
Bonnie, the Boomer we had in tow, started slurring at my boyfriend, who was sporting a pompadour for this event, "I used to fuck boys like you." Before we had cougars, we had older drunk ladies. I got it. You will see stylized versions of your youth as you age. I don't know how I will feel about young tattooed men wearing flannels, cut-offs over thermal underwear and Doc Martens when I am 50. I am repelled by it now, so I can't imagine a future attraction.
No midlife crisis now, yet. But the lots of time I foresaw at 19 shrinks every year. I feel that. Squandering days has more to do with me, the way I was raised, not to strive or try too hard, passive, easily giving up, and now being in New York City where that's all the opposite of what's acceptable. I thought things would happen, fall into place, just by existing. It's not about not wanting to grow up or even slacking, the biggest Gen X stereotypes. It's only been in my 30s that I realized if you want shit to happen, you have to do it. I am still mastering this.
Of course, none of this has any more to do with how an entire generation operates than how a successful 40-something New York Times writer extrapolates his experiences as universal.
If there's one thing we can all agree on, I'd like it to be that no one needs an Overboard remake.