"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right; here I am, stuck in the middle with you. And I'm wondering what it is I should do."
-- Stealer's Wheel
In all our lives there are milestones we never forget: first kiss, first car, first time we saw Spam jelly without getting nauseous. Recently, I went careening headlong into one of those milestones with a speed normally attributed only to supersonic aircraft and attorneys rushing to an accident scene.
According to a newspaper article, the U.S. Census Bureau puts the median age of the American public at precisely my age. That means that every man, woman, and child in the United States is either older or younger than me, a nightmarish concept I find about as comforting as being stuck in an elevator with a timeshare salesman, a pit bull, and a mime.
You see, I've always been a "the glass is half empty" kind of guy because, to me, a completely empty glass or a completely full glass just makes more sense. You just never hear anyone shout, "Bartender! I think I'll have another half glass!"
I feel the same way about age. Although we try to convince ourselves that we are in a certain unique age click--Gen X, baby boomer, senior citizen, etc.--in fact, we are all in one of only two classes of age: old or young; thrash dancing or line dancing; South Park or Murder She Wrote; Clearasil or Metamucil; Gameboys or Clappers.
Half empty or half full.
Except for those of us who are exactly my age. We are the people without a clique, perched precariously on the highway island of life, terrified of leaning backwards, lest we be consumed by 14-year-olds with spiked dog collars and electronic pets; horrified of lurching forward, lest we be assimilated by 79-year-olds with plaid pants and ear hair. We are the Peter and Jan Bradys of life, hoping beyond hope that Greg and Marcia will move out of the house so we can take their rooms, and that Bobby and Cindy will stop their incessant whining and go play in traffic.
What's worse, being in the median gives you a disturbingly clear view of where you've been and where you're going.
When you're young, you care about little except having sex with anything unfortunate enough to be both organic and slow-moving. To the young, old people are a distantly related species with really bad skin. On the other hand, when you're old you spend much of your time lamenting the loss of your youth, and the rest of the time lamenting what a bunch of squalid larvae young people are.
But the view from the median is different. The only thing shrinking faster than the image of your fading youth in the rearview mirror is the mileage between you and the road sign that says "Welcome to Corn Pad City." Along the way, you're continually plagued by one question: Should I, as Dylan Thomas said, "not go gently into that good night, but rage against the dying of the light"? Or should I just quit this insipid mewling and cough up the down payment on a deluxe Craftmatic adjustable bed?
Okay, I'm way past wearing size 62 jeans, sporting lug-nut tongue studs, and hanging out with my peers as we make such urbane commentaries on the nature of existence as, "Like, so keep it real dude, that jiggy pink Mohawk is, like, so way da' bomb." Not that I'm knocking the youth of today. When I was a teenager it was fashionable to wear bicentennial leisure suits and "shake your booty" to the strains of such cherished standards as, well,Shake Your Booty. (And if you think that hasn't done irreparable psychic damage to us median people, think again.)
At the same time, I'm nowhere near ready for driving 12 mph on the sidewalk, taping the Weather Channel, and eating six heaping bowls per day of Prune-Powered Thunder Bran. I happen to think that senior citizens are among are most undervalued resources. But when I'm on the express line at the supermarket for 45 minutes because an elderly person is trying to use a coupon that expired during the Taft administration to buy enough adult undergarments to soak up the Gulf of Mexico, this resource philosophy of mine starts to run thin. At that point, I start randomly hurling magazine racks, shopping carts, small children, and anything in the general vicinity until I'm either subdued by burly checkout girls or gassed by the local S.W.A.T. team.
No, I refuse to go either way. In fact, I'm going to make it official by founding my own age philosophy called Medianism. We mock the young. We offend the old. We will straddle the middle ground forever! Or at least until Ed McMahon comes on TV during Matlock reruns and offers us really cheap life insurance with no required physical exam.
Adapted from an article originally published in Life and Leisure magazine, March 1994.
© 2011 Steven Ricci
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