And so it comes to this. This is how it happened:
It’s late at night, or early in the morning depending on how you look at it. I try not to look at it. Being completely unable to sleep is a fascinating mix of helplessness, isolation, and absurdity. Your eyes hurt, your body aches, and your mind enters a strange void of disconnect where every thought is consuming and nothing is constructive. Like peddling your bike on the lowest gear, spinning your peddles furiously, and getting absolutely no where. Cars are honking at you, pedestrians are pointing and laughing–you look like a fool. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you? Just shift up. Shift up! This is more embarrassing than that time you showed up at the costume party with nothing but a name tag with someone else’s name on it. I mean we get what you’re doing, but come on, man. Just…come on.
Netflix won’t help you. Don’t even try. You’ll end up breaking dawn watching Nick Cage movies which is, in of itself, a descent into madness. Or worse, you could end up breaking dawn with Breaking Dawn, which I think is actually below even Netflix at the moment so you’re safe. For now.
Wikipedia helps. It gives your moon brain something to wane on while you attempt to digest the infinite knowledge and disinformation the internet has to offer. Which is all of it. And this is where I find myself. Twelves tabs deep on my web browser, tumbling through Wikipedia links, face illuminated and hypnotized by the cold glow of my computer screen; wondering where the world went. Having completely lost sight of where my journey began, with tabs in between ranging from the Secret Service to electronic cigarettes to Limburger cheese, I found myself reading the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia which made my head hurt worse than the time I tried to read As I Lay Dying and drink Bourbon at the same time. It sort of made sense and the Bourbon helped me accept things I would have otherwise complained about, but it still made me angry. William Faulkner can go faulk himself is what I’m trying to say. Seriously.
By the time I was done spinning and twisting my way through reading Wikipedia on Wikipedia, I decided to take a different approach to being drunk on moon brain, and it involved being drunk on something far more readily accessible than the moon.
It’s a little game I created called Russian Roulette. Admittedly, I didn’t create the game Russian Roulette. I’ll admit that right now. But no body really knows who did, and my version is a lot more fun and a lot less deadly, anyway. It involves a Nerf gun revolver, a bottle of liquor, and a single foam dart. It’s simple. Load the dart, spin the chamber, place the gun to your noggin, and pull the trigger. If you get shot, you take a shot. Great party game. Good for the kids. Playing the game alone is a lot less exciting because, within six rounds, you lose every time. Or you win every time, again, depending on how you look at it, and tonight I was winner.
I removed my trusty N-Strike Maverick Rev-6 from my Nerf gun collection, grabbed my even more trusty bottle of Jameson, loaded a dart, and got down to business. Seven shots to the face later, something hit me besides foam projectiles: I have a Nerf gun collection. That’s totally a thing that I have.
Why do I own a Nerf gun collection? Well, because I like Nerf guns. I liked Nerf guns ever since I knew what a Nerf gun was, and I never got over it. I liked Nerf guns because it was a toy that, as far as I was concerned, had all the awesomeness of a real gun and none of the consequences. I could shoot the shit out of all my friends, and I was at best a minor annoyance. And the best part was that they would still wince and put their hands up and beg and plead. Nobody wants to get shot with a Nerf gun despite the fact that it causes zero pain. Despite that, somehow getting shot with a Nerf gun still sucks. As a kid, it was the most delightful kind of magic. I could run around shooting up the joint, and not only was it safe, but people hated it if they got caught in the crossfire so it gave me power. Not so much power that I wasn’t gonna get grounded if I shot my mom, but dammit if I wasn’t gonna shoot my mom.
As an adult, I was using a Nerf gun to aid me in drinking booze because it was three o’clock in the morning, I was legally able to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages, I didn’t have work the next day, and I am at times a strange, strange man. And the thing was: that was A-okay as far as society was concerned. I was well within my rights to foam dart myself to the face until I was drunker than a frat boy at a brewery, and nobody was gonna say shit to me. Because I, my dartless friends, am an adult. And at no point does that not clash with how I perceive myself and perceive the world around me. Case and point: I own a goddamn Nerf gun collection.
Adulthood. I am a twenty-six year old man. I’m not even a guy anymore or a dude. I’m a man. Maybe I was a guy at twenty-two. At twenty-two, you’re fresh out of college if you ever went. People pretty much understand if you live with your parents. Hell, I think these days they’re starting to expect it. But twenty-six?
I don’t know what being an adult is, but I know what it’s supposed to be, and I know I rarely feel that way. Sure, I do lots of crap that my sixteen year old self would nod and agree sounded pretty adult like. I’d tell him I pay car insurance, earn a salary, and just filed my taxes. But I wouldn’t tell him I filed my taxes in July and they were due in March and that it’s his fault for instilling within me deep procrastination habits that are hard to break–Jesus Christ, dude, stop masturbating for like five seconds!
He could stand to yank on himself a little less, that’s a given.
What I would tell him is that he’s never going to “get it”, I certainly never “got it”. At times I feel as lost and confused as I did when I was sixteen. Sure, maybe I understand the world a little bit more, but my place in it? Fucked if I know. And the inner turmoil persists albeit it’s about different things now. Maybe he’d be impressed that I can just talk to women now. I can talk to them, not make an ass out of myself, date them, and it’s not even a big deal. He’d think that’s pretty cool and we’d high five and then I’d absolutely destroy his ass on the Xbox. Just utterly ruin his day. But maintaining a happy and healthy relationship: that’s a big deal. That’s as big a deal to me now as it was then and every bit as challenging. The more I learn and think I understand about relationships, the more I run into problems I never even considered. It hasn’t gotten any easier. I mean it has. It’s gotten a lot easier, but–holy shit, what the fuck am I doing? It’s so hard!
Yet here I am, supposedly having it together trying to be an adult, putting on my big boy pants and driving to work. Driving the car that I absolutely own and paid for (ladies). Meanwhile, I’m trying to grow up, whatever that means. I think it means I’m trying to be less awkward. There was a time, I think, where my goofiness came off as quirky and endearing. Now, I find myself worrying about coming off as creepy and disconcerting.
I’m going to say something now at great risk of being misconstrued, particularly in this land of the internet that we all seem to exist in; a hell of a lot more than we should. Ready? Okay, here we go. Don’t make it weird:
I like kids.
I really like kids. I’ve been working with kids for almost ten years now, and I’m going to continue doing it. People say I’m good at it. I think it’s because I have the patience to be around kids all day and not ever want to punch one right in the face. Which is a lot more patience than you would think. And I was working with kids a lot.
Until recently, I had two jobs, both of them in childcare. I cut back to one now. At the time, I worked thirteen hours a day. Assuming I spent seven of those hours sleeping, that only left me with four non kid related waking hours to live. When you work with kids that much, or really if you work with kids at all, let me be the first to tell you from first hand experience: that is not a good time to struggle with straddling the line between endearingly awkward and disconcerting.
I was at work the other day, driving a group of kids around in a van and we got to talking about video games, another childhood interest I definitely never grew out of. They asked me if I had played Injustice: Gods Among Us. I said, “You mean that fighting game where you can play as most of the D.C. comic book heroes and beat each other up including Aquaman who has a special move where he summons the very ocean itself, impales you with a trident and feeds you to a goddamn shark? No, why would I play that game. I hate fun.”
This led to a riveting conversation about who was better than who at the game which I mostly tried to stay out of because I was obviously better beyond their comprehension. They didn’t seem to agree despite the fact that I’d been playing video games literally longer than some of them had been alive and told them as much. Things reached a fever pitch when we drove past my neighborhood and one of the kids said, “Hey, Jesse, don’t you own the game and live near here? We can stop at your house and settle this right now!”
To which I responded, “Well obviously I own the game! And we can stop by my house right now and I’ll hang out with a van load of children playing video games in my home, alone, without prior consent which is absolutely not okay and I will never do and I can’t believe I ever entertained the notion of that what the hell is wrong with me?!”
As much as it annoyed me to have a bunch of brats claim they could best me in a video game, I decided it would be more annoying to be unemployed. I find myself in these situations all the time. Working at the Boys and Girls Club meant I couldn’t go anywhere without running into a kid who knew me.
Kids would routinely ambush me in grocery stores, sometimes in the alcohol isle, and give me hugs and start talking to me. I’d kneel down, hide the beer behind my back, and shoot the shit with them a little bit because I wasn’t going to run away, leaving them in a puddle of tears and rejection, much as I wanted to. It was always at that very moment that their parents would show up, finding me there, some random man who their kid knew, but they didn’t know or know their kid knew, chatting up a storm. One time, they even stumbled upon me giving their kid candy! Because I had candy and the kid wanted some of my candy so I gave him some. It was just the worst. I’d always pull out my Boys and Girls Club badge and explain the situation to them and hold my breath fearful that I was going to be tackled and tased by the predator patrol which is a thing Walmart has I’m pretty sure.
My boss said I could avoid these awkward situations, especially with the booze purchasing, if I limited my sauce shopping to the liquor store. Which made sense. Except that when I did that I still ran into a kid one time. Because parents go to liquor stores and parents have kids and sometimes parents make their kids sit in the car instead of taking a separate trip and because fuck me, that’s why. It’s awful.
Maybe I spend so much of my time thinking about being an adult because I spend so much of my time with kids. I wonder what the difference is between me and them. I wonder a lot harder when I think about the fact that, in a lot of ways, I’m into the same stuff they are and behave in much the same way they do when no one’s watching.
Yesterday, I had ice cream for breakfast. For no greater reason than: because I can. I ate a whole pint of pistachio. The worst part was, I remember thinking: okay, this is pretty immature, yeah, but a kid would hate this. They’d go for the cookie dough, but I went for the stuff with nuts in it because I’m a grown up.
Am I an adult? I pay my bills and contribute to society and is that all it takes? One day, a particularly annoyingly mature and self aware kid asked me what it means to be an adult, and I couldn’t even pretend to answer her. I just shrugged and threw a piece of candy at her for finishing her homework on time. She wasn’t ready for it and it hit her in the side of the head and I loved every second of it.
Truth is: I don’t know. I never knew and likely never will, and if only I had known that. Life is hard and confusing and, in a lot of ways, it never got any easier. And scary. Life can be horrifying. I struggle with anxiety and depression and sometimes a deep rooted sense of looming emptiness keeps me up at night or makes it hard to get up in the morning. Or both. I don’t know if I’m living the adult life I’m supposed to. But I also know I am just having so much fun.