I Think I’m Finally Growing Up—Maybe Not

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© 2018—Robert Chapman/Chapmanesque.com

There was a time when a steak dinner at a really nice restaurant was affordable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m arrogantly in my 30s, so I’m more than able to afford a steak dinner at a nice restaurant; it’s a far cry from me ten years ago when I was absolutely not able to afford any kind of dinner at any kind of restaurant. That’s not the rabbit trail I’m exploring.

I guess I’ll take a second crack at that opening sentence:

There was a time when a (Read into this singular letter the number one. We’re talking about the literal definition of a here, people)—when a steak dinner at a really nice (Read into the previous two words as the upper tier of a chain in the fashion of Outback or Olive Garden…and by Olive Garden I mean the Olive Garden of 2001, not the Olive Garden of today where your Chicken Scampi is reheated in a microwave more appropriate for a Lean Pocket)—at a really nice restaurant was affordable (and of course by affordable I mean that I could drop $17 on a sub-par steak and a Bloomin’ Onion because my parents were either paying for this meal or they had paid for everything else in my adolescent world that a twenty would more than suffice for sodium-filled, thawed out meat and calories galore trapped in a fried vegetable notorious for bad breath and for allegorical references).

ironicWhew! Hope I clarified that grammatically simple sentence for you. Ironic, isn’t it—and not in an Alanis Morissette way where Canadians replace the definition of coincidental with a term that quite obviously does not mean coincidental. Annoying, don’t ya think?

Mo’ Money Mo’ Metabolism

I graduated high school at a buck-sixty. Eh, we’ll go with a buck-sixty-five because, why not.

I graduated high school in 2003 at a buck-sixty-five fully armed with a fun job (screen printing is where it’s at) college ahead, and zero obligations to anyone or anything.

My car was a piece, so insurance and my tag were low, and smartphones hadn’t been invented yet, so a $49 per month cell-phone bill with free nights and weekends and unlimited SMS messaging had me flying high. I guess that’s our generation’s equivalent of our parents always telling us how cheap gas was when they were teens.

I had a small pocketful of cash on a daily basis and nothing to really spend it on. I look back at the fun I had blowing my paycheck on useless junk like the full collection of Monte Python’s Flying Circus on VHS (autocorrect wanted to change those three letters to O-L-D) and a baby blue cover for my Nokia 5160 because I was tired of the Black-and-Fire cover I bought the week before.

I even remember buying a vibrating battery for my 5160 and it costing $75 and me thinking, “This kind of hurts spending that much money, but if I can just make it through the next few weeks without thinking about it, it’s almost like it never happened…” Moron.

But a parallel can be drawn from my white-bread world revolving around spending small-time money on useless crap to eating actual white bread. Zero nutritional benefit there, but it sure was good. In fact, I’d probably eat a whole bag of chips and wash it all down with a few gallons of some sort of sugary concoction, putting my pancreas in overdrive. But on a brand new V-6 (ahhh, who are we kidding, I was a 4-cylinder) you don’t really worry about wear-and-tear.

We all pushed our adolescent body and our small-time-prentending-to-be-big-time wallets to the brink. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, right? Riiiiiight.

Gramps Talked About the Good Old Days, too…

I now find myself sitting on my couch thinking back over the more than a decade and a half since my Nokia was fire, man (both metaphorically and literally if you count my legit fire face plate), and I think about all the money I wasted, all the calories I smashed and burned that now would reek havoc on my colon. I think about the 2 AM Thursday nights and the late night trips to Taco Bell and the fact that Olive Garden was actually something people waited over an hour to eat.

Those days, those were pre-9/11 days. Those were the days before anyone knew who TSA was, when my mom could walk my 13-year-old self to the airport gate and say goodbye without needing a boarding pass.

Those days, those were pre-Katrina days. New Orleans hadn’t drowned and the Mississippi Gulf Coast wasn’t a “landmass” uninhabited by any life whatsoever. Those were days when Camille was something your parents remembered, not something you compared the 2005 storm to.

Those days, those days were pre-scandalous scandals. Yes, I know there were scandals before Y2K, but they seemed to occur less frequently than they do now. Those were the days when “Bill and Monica” were the end-all-be-all of scandals, when you could still talk yourself into believing that public figures still had some good in them.

Those days, those were the days before social media and hashtags and subtweets and hackers and all the mess that has come to define the second decade of the new millennium.

But I don’t want to paint a picture of happy trees and happy late 20th Century bliss.

Over my time working on English degrees and teaching classes, I’ve come to discover one of my favorite recurring themes in literature, social science, and public life.

It’s this: To grow up, one must inevitably lose his innocence. He either trades innocence for wisdom and grows in maturity, or he has his innocence stolen from him and is stuck in a state of perpetual adolescence. (Yes, I used a masculine pronoun throughout that entire sentence. The sentence identifies as a male today. Check back tomorrow, it might change).

So, let’s try this again

There was a time when a steak dinner at a really nice restaurant was affordable.

Now, my dinners are priced for a family of four, and the real nice restaurants can never compete with what I’ve worked hard at creating, at building, at molding, and thanking God daily for.

I may have traded in my “I wear a medium shirt” for “Extra Large, please.”

I may have lost my 18-year-old’s concept of “good food.”

I may even have made a few mistakes along the way (Read that: I definitely made a million mistakes along the way).

But I’ve learned. I’ve learned a lot.

And although I certainly can drop $200 on my family eating at a nice place, I’ve developed the maturity to know that I shouldn’t even think about taking my crew anywhere that doesn’t serve chicken nuggets, that doesn’t have an indoor playground, or that I’d have to spend more than $30 at.

Ironic, don’t ya think?

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© 2018—Robert Chapman

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