Here’s a statement that most everyone–outside of perky cheerleader Homecoming Queens, Buzz Lightyear, Paris Hilton, Lassie, and Barack Obama–can agree with: “I’ve spent a large part of my life feeling not cool but wishing I were.”
Certainly, my desire to be “cool” has steadily and mercifully waned since high school ended, and my standards of “cool” have also evolved. Twenty years ago, “cool” was tied into what I did on the weekends, who I hung out with, and what shoes I wore. Nowadays, though, my idea of “cool” has little to do with any of those things (except for the shoes part; I mean, a *foin* pair of shoes will always rock my personal runway). I can sit on the couch all weekend, watching THE WIRE with my husband, wearing my favorite Keen shoes, and that keeps me plenty hip, in a I’m-clutching-onto-age-39-by-the-cuticles-of-my-scraggly-fingernails way. So I haven’t seen Coldplay or Moby in concert. So I’ve never had a Cosmopolitan or an Appletini. So I can’t remotely claim that anything in my life is “avant garde.”
The grace of being almost-damn-forty is that I don’t care one whit about my lack of cool, and what a glorious release that is, compared to the days of age sixteen, when my friend Charlene and I would stand in the halls of West High School between classes, raising our arms up for each other, instructing, “Sniff me. Am I pitting out?”
Recent decades have brought the peace that comes with believing “pitting out” is just another weapon in my charm holster. Frankly, I just can’t be bothered to go all Anna Nicole just because I actually smell, look, taste, and feel like a human being rather than an artificial overlay of one.
In short, there’s a whole lot of ease that accompanies the attitude of “So what?” More often than not, the people who actively strive to stay “with it” strike me as the uncool ones, the ones to feel sorry for. I can do without that whole game, really.
Or so I thought.
Then the other week, in the classroom with my college students, my “I’m Living the New Kewl” house of cards toppled. Until the toppling, I was fine with not being “cool” because I felt, way deep down, that this lack of caring actually made me cool (check the DSMV-IV under “James Dean Syndrome”). But as that mental deck of cards wafted to the table, I epiphanized: how much do I genuinely not care about being up-to-the-moment if I remain careful to toss out offhand “I’m still with it” references around members of the Millenial Generation?
“Man, I can’t believe Nickelback is actually popular. They’re so lame. Give me Insane Clown Posse anyday.”
“I know what you mean about Ugg boots. Since when does comfort equal style?”
“Did you see that crazy giggling baby on You Tube today?”
“I love your ringtone! I swear you *are* Fergilicious!”
“Is that a Go-gurt? How clever is yogurt in a plastic tube? I mean, you’re doing shots of food right here in the computer lab, multitasking as you write your thesis statement. Now that’s just smart food.”
“Check you out! You are a text-messaging, Web-surfing savant. Who knew you could add people to your friends list on Myspace while also telling your boyfriend, ‘i wnt out.’?”
“Wow, you’re into hardcore? Are you a straight-edger? Do you thrown down a little 2-step?”
The Sobering of Jocelyn began with one comment at the beginning of class, “Man, nobody is here today. What’s going on? I know it’s the end of the term and a Friday and all, but wassup, homefries?”
In response to my questioning, Helpful Student Cory piped up with, “Everybody’s been camping out all night in line for the PS3.”
I didn’t miss a beat. Oh, I came right back at him: “Hey, when did Duluth start naming its schools like New York City? Is there a new Public School 3 opening today? I would have thought I’d have heard about that, or at least the fact that PS1 and PS2 had opened, too, right?”
From my lofty perch, I peered down for affirmation. All I saw were bewildered eyes. My interpersonal expertise kicked in; I read the body language, and I realized I was waaaaay off base. So I soldiered on: “Oops, so it’s not a school. Is it a new class the college is offering? Are students lining up to register for it?”
Bewilderment gave way to guffaws, as bravehearted Kasey horned in with, “It’s PlayStation 3, and maybe you should try leaving your house sometimes, so you’d know when something huge is happening.”
At this juncture, I squeaked, “And PlayStation 3 is, um, one of those things people, hmmm, play on, like it’ s a station, and now there are three of them?”
In quick time, the growing crowd of onlooking students, heady with the rare feeling of possessing knowledge, gave me a mini-lecture about the galaxy of gaming systems and how people, that day, were purchasing the new PS3 and then selling it on E-bay (…which, in my defense, I *have* heard of. It was bombed by the Japanese on December 7th, 1941.) for upwards of $1,000-$2,000.
So, dang. Zoom in on me, the nerdina in the center of the lecture, smart enough not to confess in the face of their chiding, “Horsefeathers! I *did* play Pong back in 1976 and used to watch my next door neighbor play Space Invaders for hours on end. It’s not like I’m some Dumb Dora; I’m the Real McCoy, no Joe Palooka.”
But they had caught me out: cool no more, for evermore. Backing away, I begged my sources to, in the future, keep me informed if significant world events were underway. Since I don’t have a cell phone, they couldn’t phone or text me with the news, though. But they could crank me up on the old wall-mounted telephone (my ring is two longs and one short–but careful of the party line listening in!) or, in a pinch, they could start a bonfire and use their hoodies to send me smoke signals.
After a big group hug, I told them all they were the cat’s pajamas and the bee’s knees, but I had to 23 Skidoo.
Then, on my way out to the Model-T, I fell and broke my hip.
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