Thanks to those of you who commented on the previous post. Sometimes when I get into those super-introspective moods, I wonder if what I’m thinking makes any sense at all. And trying to explain something so complex in writing is an even bigger challenge. I’m glad to know there are people out there (besides just Ethan) who are able to decipher my code and understand, even if just a little, what it’s like to live inside my brain.
A topical sidebar on the picture below: The couple who took this poorly composed shot of us (what happenedto our feet?!) had a little tow-headed tyke that took a liking to circling our ankles and splashing water on us while we were posing. “They don’t want you in their picture,” they said to him. “At least not yet.” My uterus didn’t even twinge back then. Imagine that!
In July of 2001, when Ethan and I made the eight-hundred-mile drive west from the only homes we’d ever known to the first place we’d call “ours,” we stopped at Lake Tahoe, on the border of Nevada and California, to eat the picnic lunch my mom had packed. We found a spot on the lawn near the water’s edge, spread out a blanket all romance-novel-like, and unpacked our new super-deluxe cooler, which was not only better than the refrigerator waiting for us in the Berkeley apartment, but not unlike Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in that it ended up having all sorts of mechanisms and “special features” that betrayed its secret powers of flotation and flight.
After lunch and a stroll, we drove around the lake, looking at the modest brown bungalows, the casinos, the million-dollar cabins, the wedding parties (my favorite) and the ski resorts (his favorite). As we talked about this turning point in our lives–not only moving out of Utah but moving in together and out from under our parents’ roofs for the first time–we wondered what kinds of people we’d meet, where we’d go, what we’d do, and who we’d become in this new phase. Seeing groups of twenty-somethings forging the Tahoe roads in caravans of Jeeps, watching them cruise on foot, a jumble of tanned limbs and Abercrombie and Fitch, we wondered if, in a few months or years, we’d be those people. Or would we just want to be those people? Or would we mock and dismiss those people?
Coming from a place where everyone goes to public school, no one spends thousands of dollars prepping for the SATs, no one goes away to college, no one dreams of living in New York City or Paris or Tokyo, and no one lays actual practical plans to become a world-renowned scholar or a minor celebrity in the publishing scene, we were headed to the University of California at Berkeley, where the ivy-covered walls echoed with the academese of prep school grads, Princetonians and Yalees, Rhodes Scholars all. Our new vocabulary would include things like “trust fund” and “junior year abroad” and “summer home,” things we’d seen parodied and stereotyped on film but never in real live flesh and blood and green paper money.
“Just think,” I said to Ethan. “A year from now, we could be here on a weekend getaway with our new best friends, staying at their family’s cabin, sailing the lake on their family’s boat.” “Ski vacations in the winter,” he added, his eyes tracing the sky for some imagined powdery peak. We indulged ourselves with thoughts of fine wine, hot tub parties, intelligent conversation about the theatre and the best way to see Rome.
And then, true to form, our cynical, middle-class, keep-it-real selves got all self-righteous and we launched into a critique of what was wrong with the wealthy and privileged, driving their SUVs, wearing their fancy clothes, drinking their wine, and talking about European capitals with all the grotesque detail of a jealous ex-lover. Hell no, we didn’t want to be those people. We wanted to be good, honest, McDonald’s-eating, Mervyn’s-shopping, Blind-Date-watching, two-income-family types who knew what it meant to work for everything they had.
Ah, the blind vanity of the in-betweens.
So where are we now, almost three years later? Who have we become? Well, last night we spent $6.01 on ten chicken nuggets, a large fry, a sour cream and chive baked potato, and a large Diet Coke. And tomorrow afternoon we’re leaving for a weekend ski vacation at Lake Tahoe with some friends we know through our rich friends. Thirteen of us are renting out a cabin for three days, during which we’ll ride the slopes by day and, by night, enjoy the conveniences of our own private hot tub, pool table, foosball table, TV, stereo, washer, dryer, full kitchen, and indoor bathroom. If you know our history with the rich friends, you can guess how stressed I am about what to wear and what to bring, and you can bet I’ll be packing three types of pajamas–grungy, casual, and fancy–you know, just so I won’t be totally out of line when we sit around playing Truth or Dare into the wee hours of the morning.
And you can also bet that we’ll both be battling that little Bruce Springsteen that pops up on our collective shoulder now and then and tells us to fight the man and not give in to the lavish ways of the lazy affluent. How dare we allow ourselves to play yuppie when we we’re so…so…bourgeois?
So have we sold out or are we just putting on a show? Are we no more than well-practiced poseurs with a conscience?
Now, here’s the good part. When I think about who we were in our early twenties and who we are now in our *gasp* mid-twenties, the differences I see are not shallow matters of taste. The categories so often used to judge class–where you buy your organic fruit, how “addicted” you are to NPR, how much you paid for your ugg boots–are not at issue anymore. We simply do what we dig, we follow our bliss, and we don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. We’re renting a ski cabin at Tahoe because it will be fun, not because it will make us look cool. We eat at Wendy’s because it tastes good, not because it will give us street cred with our homies. We no longer obsess over the connotations of our actions or deny ourselves things–high-class or low–simply because they don’t amplify a particular image.
Here’s what it comes down to in the end, I think: It’s not so much that our tastes have changed but that our attitude toward them has. We thought we’d “grow” by acquiring particular prejudices about food, travel, fashion, money. And we have. But it turns out that was only part of it. The other part was learning to accept the different facets of ourselves and throw away the idea that “personality” comes in a finite number of mutually exclusive variations. You can study for your PhD in between reality shows. You can have Shakespeare and Entertainment Weekly on the toilet tank. You can make a mix tape with Ani DiFranco, the Beastie Boys, Prince, John Denver, U2, Spearhead, Beethoven, Jacques Brel, Al Green, Jerry Jeff Walker, RENT, and Britney.
Sure, we “grew.” But I suspect somewhere along the line we also grew up.
There’s no one else I’d rather meet at Caf