I eased the car to a stop on Prospect Street to let a five or six college kids cross the street. One boy had a red cooler on his shoulder. Another carried a thirty pack of Busch. Straddling the double yellow line, one girl in a sundress took out her Blackberry and read it. Then, still standing in the street, she slapped her thigh and started texting back. I put the car into park. On the other side of the street, a Miles Reis Trash truck eased to a stop. We didn’t honk.
In a moment, she looked up at her friends and shouted “You guys! Wait!” Flip-flops fluttering, she scurried across the street. I nodded to the truck driver, he nodded to me and we went forward with the summer.
The college students have returned. Memorial Day weekend brought them in fresh with their colorful shorts, sunglasses, and red cups. They lined up at the ATM’s, they backflipped off bars and the slept in the grass on Cliff Road. On Sunday morning, they left beer cans perched on curbs, full cash drawers at the bars, and one set of red lace unmentionables perched on a wooden trash barrel. The imagination scuttles into the gutter.
There is a lot to honk at. Youth arrives with a thirty rack of entitlement. They can’t believe that the pizzas can’t be delivered or that their Visa card was declined. They cut lines, swear at their friends, and pee in doorways for the camera. At least a hundred set up camp on a yard on South Washington Street with coolers, sunglasses and The Awesome (Funk) Power of a Fully Operational Mothership. Like ants to a potato chip, they left downtown and followed the scent trail.
I can’t say that I haven’t been there. Nor would many others on this island. I have heard the chimes at midnight. I have biked the wrong way up one-way streets and laughed at the drivers. I have stolen signs, tipped cows, and crashed weddings. I have lived long enough to hold some of those memories in the back of my wallet. And those times have passed
Which doesn’t mean I don’t want them back. I watched a younger version of myself bicycle the wrong way up Union Street, hands free, holding a six pack of beer. As you might understand on a Memorial Day morning, I was torn between warning him, hitting him or just letting him ride past. The better angels of my nature won out and he swerve past. In truth, I would like the days to wash away and put me back on that bike.
I don’t envy him the party. I don’t envy him the girl. Or the balance. Or even the waistline. I envy his ignorance.
At nineteen, you know nothing. As a result, you can do anything. You can do backflips all day at the gym or off the diving board. Hitting one off of the bar at the Chicken Box is even easier. And, in the undefeated impossible ignorance of youth, you can.
The pleasure of youth is the pleasure of superpowers. The laws of physics and biology do not apply to you, because you haven’t seen them. You have no scars. You have no losses. You have no “nevers.” At nineteen, you haven’t been told that you will never do this again. And, if they have, you haven’t believed it. Your knees are in great shape, your liver is sound, and your next concussion will be your first.
And you have an idea of Forever that stretches about two weeks in front of you. History is about two weeks behind you. Between History and Forever, your friends and lovers populate the world that you live in. I envy that. I do. I envy that Gatsby thrill at the next party, the next bar, the next stop with my friends in the middle of the night out where the music is pumping, the girls are hot, and our dreams are moored in the harbor. This is the best weekend of my life.
Time doesn’t rob you of this. Time merely keeps expanding the horizons until you see all of the things that you missed early on. It pushes the calendar into years and then into decades. Age merely brings light. In the slow, certain progression of Tuesdays, gravity works its magic. At forty-five, you can’t mark which weekend was the best. Or which party. Perhaps it was a first birthday party, or a wedding party, or even an anniversary party. There have been a lot of them.
To the girl who stood on the double yellow line on Prospect Street, the great tragedies of her life are before him. These friends will walk away and be replaced by others. This boy will be crowded out by one of his eskimo brothers, who will be also be cashiered by another boy. And there will be deaths, both sudden and expected. They will die in hospitals, on Colorado roads, and in hotel swimming pools. Their names will blink away in the fading battery of an old phone, but their love will still weigh her down. She will also hold those memories in the back of her wallet.
On Youtube, I watched a man climb the Eiger in under three hours. He moved, fast, confident, and reckless. He never looked down, never talced his hands; he just kept moving handhold to handhold. He floated over the rock. He was a man who has not the weight of love or the arthritis of doubt. Either would make him reach for the safer handhold. And, in one fell swoop, he would find himself on a riding lawnmower. All he needs to do is look down. After the first death, there is no other.