Thirteen Times Two

Today is my birthday, and I can’t even crawl out of bed. For what feels like the 20 millionth Tuesday in a row, I have to wake up at 7 a.m.

The trusty snooze button, like always, is my temporary savior, but today it seems more of a nine-minute reminder of my own weakness. I finally tear myself from my bed, hunched over from the pulsating pain in my upper back as punishment for playing tennis two days in a row. Yes, you read that correctly … tennis. Excuse me while I smash my face into the monitor.

If age 30 is the new 21, how come 26 feels like the next 52? That’s what I am today—26 years old. The party side of the 20s behind me, the business side in the front. Thirty is just a hop and a skip away, and 40 is within screaming distance. Baby steps towards Death’s Door. Forget dating. If Joshua Harris would have had a book called I Kissed Aging Goodbye, he might have been on to something.

It’s a morbidly exaggerated observation, but that’s how I felt at 7 a.m. on this Tuesday.

But now, 15 minutes later, cruising in my car with a little caffeine injected in my system, I’m feeling a wee bit more spry.

Twenty-six ain’t so bad. And it seems like as good as time as any to reflect on my life. At least it’s better than listening to this P. Diddy song. Like many other middle class mid-twentysomethings, I am in the midst of one of those too familiar post-college hazes—entry-level job, single and in debt.

The MTV show The Real World has it all wrong. Twentysomething life isn’t one melodramatic soliloquy after another in between crazy relationships and wild drunken experiences. That’s just college minus the classes. In real life, no one has time to be that pathetically self-absorbed, not when you’ve got deadlines and 8 a.m. meetings.

I experience most of the trappings of the clichéd middle class “real-world” existence: the soul-crushing daily grind, a 30-minute commute, a desk where I park my rear 40 hours a week and gossipy and bitter coworkers. And believe me, it’s nothing like Friends.

On the other hand, I, like Tyler Durden, am not my job, and I definitely am not my bleeping khakis (though I do wear the same pair just about every day). I cringe at the idea of cocktail parties, barbecues and other social staples of “adult life.” I don’t want to talk about kids, mortgages and health plans. Just the word “wedding” makes my mouth go dry.

And in some ways I’m still living in the shadows of my teens, I think to myself as I shout out the lyrics to a Nelly song in between sips of a Dr. Pepper and the awkward bulge of a Game Boy Advance in my back pocket.

Contradiction? Probably. Complication? Definitely.

But it comes with the territory. We’re a generation rife with both. We say we don’t care about the American Dream, but the vast majority of us spend thousands of dollars on college and work 50-hour work weeks.

We’ve been called the most conservative since the World War II generation, but divorce rates, children born out of wedlock and abortion rates continue to grow. We are said to be a spiritually seeking generation, but most of us spend most of our lives trying to being fulfilled by relationships, entertainment or materialism.

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Of course, that’s just my guess. It would help if “my generation” were more clearly defined.

Am I part of Generation X or Y, a Baby Buster or a Post-Boomer, the MTV Generation or the Internet Generation? Can I make my own generation for fun? Someone important needs to make a final ruling on this.

In the meantime, many of us twentysomethings will keep straddling the line between adolescence and adulthood, conformity and steadfast individuality. We’ll keep working for The Man without selling our souls to him. We’ll keep one eye on the on Nasdaq and the other on the comics section. We’ll keep wearing our Star Wars T-shirts under our suits and ties.

And most of all, we’ll keep writing deadly serious articles with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Well, we will tomorrow. Today’s my birthday.

[Ryan Smith is a reporter and freelance writer and is still a remarkable physical specimen for the ripe old age of 26. He credits his fine health to a steady diet of Whopper Juniors and Dr. Pepper.]

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