When we become what we formerly scorned

I had this very conversation just yesterday, when my friend Ephrat came over

at lunchtime with a tailcoat she’d embroidered for my upcoming wedding. But

today Lindsay has nailed

it with a bile-filled stream-of-consciousness rant which I sympathise with

100%.

I take some solace in the fact that the vast majority of the things that Lindsay

is railing at don’t apply to me. But I don’t kid myself that she wouldn’t include

me in that group anyway. Over the past year I’ve proposed marriage, gone apartment-hunting,

and actually bought a new place on Avenue B and 3rd Street. Before long I’ll

be set up with a master bath and a spare bedroom and a barbecue in the back

yard. This Is Not Punk Rock.

When I moved to New York, I had the time of my life. I partied all night, I

had platinum-blonde hair, I wore ridiculously outrageous clothes which had made

it to Century 21 because no right-minded male would ever buy them. I shared

a basement duplex with a transexual party promoter and too many cats, I subsisted

mainly on $1.50 slices of pizza, and I spent significant amounts of time comparing

prices on Levi’s 501s so that I didn’t spend an extra $4 unneccessarily.

The company I worked for didn’t pay us website people very well, which meant

we couldn’t afford to go to the coffee shop in the lobby every day. We therefore

went out and bought our own coffee machine instead. Which had a habit of overloading

the power system and thereby shutting down all the computers in the office whenever

we turned it on, which was kinda funny.

Over time, things changed. Even as my disposable income rose, my desire to

go out and party all night waned. The process was accelerated when I changed

jobs: the new one entailed getting up very early every morning, which meant

that come Friday I’d normally be passed out on my bed by 7pm.

You can look at what I was writing

in mid-2001 and already it’s clear that I’ve become a privileged yuppie, albeit

one who hates himself for being that. Ephrat told me yesterday that a self-aware

boring yuppie who knows he’s a boring yuppie is better than an oblivious boring

yuppie who, in Lindsay’s terms, "starts believing a person can be interesting

just because they’re famous or rich".

Meanwhile, Ephrat herself – a woman who has dedicated her life to making

the world a better place, and who values her beliefs much more than any job

– even Ephrat is occasionally tormented with worry about her New York

City lifestyle and whether it’s not a little hypocritical. Which means there’s

really no hope for me.

But I’ve been this way for a while, now. My decisions to become a property-owning

married man are maybe not as momentous as they seem, insofar as in many ways

they only ratified my pre-existing condition. I’ve been living in this same

apartment for well over 7 years now, firstly with a succession of roommates,

but then the last one moved out and Michelle moved in. At that point we had

an entire two-bedroom apartment to ourselves: we had attained a comfortable

dinky

lifestyle which, once achieved, is very difficult to give up.

I do envy my younger self, and his ability to have a great time without the

need for comfort and luxury. I envy people like Ephrat, or Lindsay, or my sister,

who are still in that place today. I feel a bit like David Byrne, who got

the question right many years ago:

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife

And you may ask yourself-well…how did I get here?

And you may tell yourself

My god!…what have I done?

The easy answer, of course, is also the difficult one. It’s "well, I’ve

grown up". It’s something I never really wanted to do – something,

in fact, I promised myself I wouldn’t do. I never liked grown-ups, I never liked

their smug security and their indulgent attitude towards the likes of me.

And there are some people who are very good at not growing up. Four years ago,

one such person gave a rather self-satisfied speech at the rehearsal dinner

of a friend of mine who was getting married: "Congratulations," he

essentially said, "on growing up even as I never managed to". I jumped

to my friend’s defense, and gave a speech of my own. No, I said, my friend wasn’t

a boring grown-up. He might have a posh job and a beautiful wife, but he was

still the same guy who only a couple of years previously was living in a St

Mark’s tenement with the bath in the kitchen and the toilet down the hall.

Well, I was wrong. My friend had become a grown-up, much as I refused to believe

it, and now I’m becoming one too. Or rather, I’ve been one for a while, and

now I’m admitting it. "Let’s not become what we’ve always hated just yet,"

says Lindsay. "Or is it too much to ask – ever?" Maybe, Lindsay, it

is too much to ask. I wish you luck in your endeavour, but ultimately

it’s not a binary thing: we all fall somewhere on the spectrum, and a Manhattan

lifestyle in a model-infested building with elevators and security guards and

a large-format photograph of a Chinese river in the lobby is not particularly

Punk Rock either.

I’ve long believed that the secret to happiness is not getting what you want,

so much as being happy with what you’ve got. (Don’t worry: that’s about as Deepak

Chopra as I ever get.) That’s why I’m not ambitious. Other people can chase

their dreams; I’m happy as I am. Or that’s the theory, anyway. In practice,

if there isn’t a disconnect in one direction, there’s a disconnect in the other:

what if you don’t want more, but in fact you want less? What if you

have a bizarre love-hate relationship with your disposable income? On the one

hand, I love having the freedom to wander down to the local coffee shop for

a capuccino and a salami sandwich whenever the fancy takes me. But on the other

hand I feel that I don’t really deserve or need that freedom, and I’m perfectly

capable of looking after myself without it.

I certainly have no interest in returning to my lifestyle of eight years ago:

I’ve discovered the wonders of monogamy, for one thing. And in any case I’m

probably getting a bit old for that kind of thing. So maybe I should just be

happy that I was happy then and am happy now.

The way I see it, one always cuts off possibilities over time: it’s part of

what growing older is all about. Youth is about exploring those possibilities,

choosing some and spurning others. When we spurn possibilities in our youth,

we don’t notice it so much, because there are so many left. But eventually you

reach a point where you find yourself with that beautiful house and that beautful

wife and you ask yourself how you got there. And it was never a considered decision,

it was just a concatenation of natural choices. It’s like the present debate

over intelligent design: just because something looks premeditated, doesn’t

mean it is. And just because you didn’t always want to end up here, doesn’t

mean that here isn’t actually a pretty good place to end up.

Bohemianism, for lack of a better term, is a lifestyle and a dream: it’s a

way of living, and a desire to keep on living that way forever. Hugh Macleod’s

cartoon today

is one of his classics: one of the ones he explicates on this

page. Here’s how he describes it:

Spring ’98. I was at a bar, it was late, I was kinda tipsy.

Suddenly I realized that my life hadn’t changed much in the last decade since

leaving college. Work, bars, cartoons, random conversations of a big-city

nature, second-hand bookshops and art films, the occasional bout of random

or regular sex to tide things over etc etc.

It wasn’t as interesting as it used to be. But I hadn’t moved on, really.

And I had no idea where to go next.

Welcome to New York.

For Hugh, the bohemian dream had faded, but the lifestyle remained. For me,

it’s the other way around: the dream remains, but the lifestyle is now long

in my past. I think I’m better off this way round.

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19 Responses to When we become what we formerly scorned

  1. Tatyana says:

    Wait until you’ll decided to invest your disposable income into real estate and become a *lendlord* (scare quotes). Alters one’s ideology in truly amazing way.

  2. 99 says:

    I wouldn’t get to het up about it. The tyranny of youth means that we lose touch with a rich literature of experience that addresses the same issues, generation after generation. In fact, it was one of the things that made New York great, but the welter of Jonathans and tripe like Domino has temporarily blinded us to the fact that none of this is new, none of it is original, and that’s absolfuckinglutely okay. Let’s all read some Edmund Wilson and tell the Billyburg crowd to go pound sand or grow up. I don’t care. In the meantime, I’m getting a drink at the Blue Bar every chance I get, before they turn into into some goddamn simulacrum of the Stanton Social Club. Hopefully I’ll have a collar that won’t offend you, and I won’t regret it.

  3. lindsay says:

    I was hoping either nobody would read that or nobody would think about it too much. It was more of a visceral reaction than a logical one. For one thing, I don’t think I know anyone who was ever truly “punk rock” – the real punk rockers sold their bodies for heroin, while I’ve never even had a one night stand, for instance. I just think there has to be a way to live in this world (NYC) and stay true to yourself. Not to sound like a vapid pop star, but I’m just trying to figure out how. (All I got so far is “stay away from the coke!”)

  4. Rhian says:

    Bloody hell, Felix, you’re only two years older then me and sound like you’re a whole nostalgic generation above! But while I’m here, does anyone else remember Felix’s “ability to have a great time without the need for comfort or luxury”? I remember the time, I think, but you always loved excess and it often seemed quite luxurious or extravagant to me. Maybe we’ve just upped our perceived level of acceptable comfort in parallel. As for not growing up, well, the older I get the better it gets, the less I do what others say, the more I do what I want, the fewer hoops I have to jump through, the more freedom, the more dreaming. The dream’s still there and finally the lifestyle has started to realise it. Isn’t that what growing up is meant to be about?

  5. Span says:

    So the answer (if, indeed, there was a question) is to go and live in a “wonderfully simple bubble” for, say, 18 months and return to “the real world” growing young, rather than growing up?

    Hmmmmm. Shall have to ponder that. Anyone for a large glass of very grown-up vino?

  6. bafc23 says:

    Even old punks get to live comfortable adulthoods Felix, witness:

    Steve Jones (ex-Sex Pistols), drives an ’05 Porsche to get mani/pedi hair treatment in Bel Air.

    Glen Danzig (Misfits,Danzig) , drives armored Jag, has bomb-proof house.

    Henry Rollins (ex-Black Flag), drives seven-series b’mer, has bomb-proof ego.

  7. Larry says:

    Part of growing up is accepting yourself. It’s pitiful to see a 50-year old trying to act 20.

    - an ex punk rocker nearing 50

  8. Rhian says:

    I’ve changed my mind, or rather, my representation. I just cut a peach up into sectors really satisfyingly, and I can also cut apples into those perfect little rectangles that my mum used to do so quickly when I was a kid and I couldn’t get right even after painstaking labour with a chopping board, two hands and a large knife. I always hoped that when I grew up, I’d be able to cut apples like that. And then, worse, I put cashews on the peach slices and got away with it.. and I could pour myself a gin and tonic anytime I like and not feel self-conscious about it. And buy train and plane tickets, travel the globe, walk down random streets and ask for things in shops without being laughed at. Hell, I can even spout shit about science! These are the things that make me feel grown up and they’re great. Bring on growing up. I guess houses are just the next thing along the line.

  9. Dunno. Being 33 is awesome. My best friend just started roller derby, and she’s like 37-something. The more freedom I have by having a bit more income, the more I can make art. As time ticks on – I start fine tuning shit. 9 years ago when I moved to New York, I dumpster dived and bought furniture at junk shops for $10. I still like a good deal. But I’m not running around the city slightly desperate anymore, the feeling of just holding on to the edge of Manhattan – scared I was gonna get kicked out. Hiding from my landlord and terrified I’d lose my job while racking up insane credit card debt. Those days are over! Yesterday I finally paid off all my debt. I am growing up.

    Hooray for 33. Being more comfortable means having freedom I have never had before. I’m not talking about throwing money around, but being more secure so that taking a month off to go trekking/exploring is actually possible. I threw money around when I was young. Now I save up for holidays and am conscious about what it means. I care more.

    I want to have the freedom to see the world and experience everything I can. I love getting older, even if it means I’m not as cool as I once was. I’ve got some wild, destructive memories of tearing through my twenties – but now I think staying home and reading about bugs is cool.

    I’m glad you’re happy Felix. It would suck if you got this far and weren’t. New adventures are right around the corner, life is fun.

  10. Joe says:

    Maybe the reason some of us don’t want to grow up is not the fear of becoming the smug adults but realizing most adults regardless of the CENTURY are no more certain of their footing then when they were younger. Some adults are nothing more than confused and scared little kids in not-so-young-anymore skin and hair. The tough part as a parent (which I am of 2 little men) is realizing you need to keep it together for them. They look to you for truths and worse, absolute truths, which you still might believe exist. I am not so certain about that one anymore. Some people are so worried about the day their kids realize this hypocracy they ignore it and figure the kids will understand when they get older. Some of us are so upset when we realize how hypocritical adults can be we vow to never be a hypocrite (read: never become one of them). If you are blessed with the opportunity to care for little ones you’ll probably love it. You’ll find humour in the things you railed against when you were trying to figure out the world only to realize that you don’t have it completely figured out yet and NOW you have to take care of someone and teach them things. Then the really funny things happen when you meet other parents whom know as little as you do about the world but feel they need to put on a tremendous act for the benefit of their kids and as part of their own safety barrier. In the end what are they teaching their kids? Some of those kids figure out pretty quickly that their mother/father is full of shit and thus the cycle continues.

    So does this mean you have become what you have formerly scorned? Maybe not. You may not have fully realized what you were railing so hard against. It probably was not the establishment but the BS. Becoming an “adult” is about more informed decisions but it doesn’t mean life has to be mundane or that you are expected to stop making mistakes. I would say your possibilities are even greater than they were when you were a younger punk. If nothing else back then you didn’t have the ability of losing a bunch of money because you didn’t have it. It sounds like you have a bit more now than you did then. So are your choices fewer today?

    Good luck with the wedding. It is not easy. By definition if it was too easy it could not be so darn rewarding. And if you are up for the biggest challenges of your life try parenting. You may end up even questioning the non malicious BS you tell your wife and yourself everyday about why you drive too recklessly or do things you know aren’t the best for you. We all know better than to do some of the things we do but we do them anyway because we don’t have to answer to anyone, blah, blah, fucking blah. Then you realize this small little creature whom will be completely dependant on you for probably the next 20 yrs has the ability of helping you confront some of those things about ourselves we have never wanted to confront.

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