September 20th, 2009
Men in their teens and twenties today seem mellow compared to those the ‘70s, who always seemed on the verge of an explosion: a temper tantrum or fight or orgasm. Sometimes all three seemed ready to occur at the same time. Look at a young man the wrong way, or bump into him too hard, or accuse him of being a ____ (fill in the blank; just about any word would do), and all you had to do was stand back and watch the show.
Who could blame them? For many, the only prospects after high school were junior college, manual labor, or a low-level job in one of the big corporations that were relocating to the suburbs. After 13 or more years of school, a “real” four-year college was like an extended prison sentence. The recession dragged on, and prospects were slim.
The other stock clerk in the Rexall, Frank, was cool simply because he was quiet and not plagued by any original thoughts. Placid, yet menacing, he lived for his car, and driving, and dating the new young cashier Maria. He had aviator glasses, and a droopy moustache, and the laid-back air of someone who had been smoking weed. He hardly spoke. He stared at people. The moment work was done, he would put on his leather jacket, grab his car keys, and head out of there in his blue Dodge Charger.
You would find the young men of the area in the parking lot of the community college, smoking, polishing their rides, playing Thin Lizzy or Grand Funk Railroad on their car stereos. If you listened very closely you could hear them, muttering in unison, “I hate this place…I hate this life.” Then they trudged off to class, to learn radio, or electronics, or automotive technology, anything they could do to afford car parts and gas and smokes.
I watched them, sitting in the book section of the auto parts store, always researching some add on, some new turbo or exhaust, something to give them more power, to make their car thrust, to explode down the street in a combustive spasm of manhood. I saw them lounging outside the Town Tap, or the Beacon Tap. It seemed they all sang the same song:
What will we do?
Nowhere to go
Lookin’ for you…
“You” was inevitably a woman who would redeem everything, who would be “some kind of wonderful,” as Grand Funk yelled, someone you could “Dance the Night Away” with, as Van Halen screamed. In lieu of this, they fought, they argued, they called people like me “geek,” and this was long before it was cool to be a geek.
Their fathers, the men of the World War II and Korean War generation, had no such anger. They were placid, tired, satisfied. You saw them at the Carpenters Hall next to the Rexall, wearing white shoes and beige plaid pants and polyester shirts with three-inch-wide collars, walking slowly, always calmly, smoking Camels, draping their leisure jackets over chairs, drinking Campari and soda, complaining about the kids these days, the very ones they had spawned and condemned to work in the auto parts stores and salvage yards of the world, surrounded by their cast-off junk, scrounging for bits of self-esteem.
I would lurk in the back of the drugstore, reading Ulysses and War and Peace, or remembering Debussy’s “La Fille aux cheveux de lin,” and recalling the great walled city of Carcassone to which I had hitchhiked in France, and I would sing to myself:
What will I do?
Nobody knows me
I’m not like any of you…