Saturday, April 25, 2009

On Change, Old School, New School, Same School, and High School.

I saw a guy I went to high school with today. We were in line at the supermarket, and I recognized him. Though it’s been 20 years, it wasn’t too hard. He looked and dressed the same as back then. Sweatpants, unlaced construction boots, long hair to his shoulders, and a black leather vest over a concert t-shirt. He even wore his hair the same, though it was more gray than black now.

It made me think of my Al Bundy theory. Al Bundy, from Married with Children, never did anything greater in life than play high school football. He sat on his couch, hand down his pants, and reminisced about the good old days. Life after that was all downhill to him.

I think that’s the case to one degree or another with everyone. I can always tell the age of most women in the town I now live in by looking at their hairstyle. Whatever age they thought they were the hottest-looking, determines their hairstyle for the rest of their lives. They keep it the same. Likewise for the guys, which is why we have a bunch of late-30’s early-40’s aged guys with mullets walking around town. There are a lot of women the same age with the over-hairsprayed feathered-back big hair, which, as Andrew Dice Clay described, from behind looks like a peacock’s ass.

People try to keep up with the fashions and trends to some degree or another, but after a while they just give up. I think it usually occurs at the point where they think their best years are behind them, and they just don’t want to try anymore. The joy and thrill of living life, to some extent, is gone or going away. Like that John Cougar (pre-Mellencamp) song Jack and Diane. From what I’ve seen, it usually happens when someone gets married and has kids, and settles into a regular job which he hopes gives him a steady dependable income. Fashion, hairstyles, tastes in music, hobbies and interests generally stay the same after that. Different things give them a joy or a thrill, like watching their baby’s first steps, or seeing their kid hit a home run in little league. Most people are too busy dealing with work, family, kids, dance recitals, soccer games and little league to give a damn about the latest in fashionable footwear. Besides, with their ever-expanding waistlines, it’s kinda hard to see the shoes anyhow.

Being a single guy with no kids, who had sort of a nomadic lifestyle, and now finding myself back in the town I lived in longest as a kid, I especially see it. Having worked a corporate gig in Manhattan, lived all over the tri-state metro area, and having lived Colorado for a while to “find myself,” I have a different perspective than most people I grew up with. Most of them never left the town they were born in.

My town is an old factory town, but the good factory jobs have gone. What was once a blue collar working class town, is now a place where people get by with a few crappy jobs to make ends meet. The foreclosure rate is very high out here. Most everyone I went to high school with never went to college, got married in their early 20’s at the very latest, had a few kids and at least one divorce.

I remember asking a co-worker in Manhattan, who lived in the city, why it was that everyone our age, about 32 at the time, who lived and/or worked in NYC seemed to be single, while everyone I went to high school with seemed to be on their second marriage and fourth dead end job? She thought it was because there was way too much to do, see, and experience in NY to settle down and start having kids. People were still too busy living and enjoying all that life had to offer to want to slow down and settle down with someone in the suburbs. And they had the money to afford either option.

Last year, to help a guy out, I had a roommate who was 21 years old. It was quite the experience, walking into the house at age 38 to a party like from my college years, seeing my kitchen table turned into beer pong central, and the living room turned into a Guitar Hero tournament center. While it was nice to revisit the college years for a while, it’s not exactly where I want to spend all my time. (I admit to missing the 21 yr. old girls in bikini’s in the pool though.)

Likewise for the freespending NYC years. Long past are the days of figuring “Hey, I missed the last train out of Grand Central, so I may as well hit an all night bar, then grab breakfast before catching the 6 am train back home to shower and change, then head back to work.” Truthfully, my body can’t take that anymore.

I even find that my iPod is filled with songs from various periods of my life---the Goth resurgence days of the mid-late-90’s, the New Wave of the grade school years, the Heavy Metal from high school, the Grunge from the college years, but not “Poker Face” by Lady GaGa. Not to sound too much like my father here, but I just cant see what kids today see in the crap they call music. I can’t seem to identify with it.

It seems I’ve hit that age where I’m settling in, in some aspects of my life. Call it getting old or giving up, but whatever it is, I don’t get the same thrill or joy out of the things I used to. That settling down is coming maybe 15-20 years after most people I went to school with, but it’s finally hitting. Along with gray hair.

On the other hand, I’m starting a new adventure in the fall. I’m opening up my own law practice, which is pretty exciting. I’m still doing other new and interesting things in other ways, and getting a thrill out of life. Just not in the ways that I used to. There are some things I just refuse to change anymore. In some departments of life, the change to the newest thing doesn’t interest me. Like the changing music scene, I can’t identify with it.

I think that’s why I am sticking with a d20 based 3.x rpg. We use 3.0 now, and are using Pathfinder when it comes out. I just don’t see the need to change my rpg. I don’t want to take the time to learn a whole new system. The guys I play with feel the same way. The latest and greatest doesn't thrill me anymore just because it is the latest and the greatest. My enjoyment of the game these days come not from the best build, classes combos, weapons, magic and spells. It comes from just having a beer and hanging out and "Imagining Together." Plus, it seems to me from what I’ve seen of 4.0, it is based on certain elements I don’t identify with, both game-wise and culture-wise.

My books growing up were Feist, Eddings, and Dragonlance. Not Manga. The computer games were Pac-Man and Asteroids, and later Doom 2, not World of Warcraft. The cartoons were the Superfriends and Scooby-Doo, not Bleach. After school we went out and played in the yard, or with kids from around the neighborhood in their yards, or in the street. We made up our own games with what we had at hand. We had to come inside when the streetlights turned on. There wasn’t a structured after school organized activity every night, requiring us to be shuttled all over the place by our parents. We didn’t sit in front of the TV or play video games all day and veg-out as like I see kids do today. If we did, our parents would yell at us and kick us out of the house, where we’d find other kicked-out kids, and start playing a game---made up purely from our own imaginations and what we found in the shed. Which I think is the reason I get a thrill out of playing WAR in the back yard with my 4 and 5 yr. old nephews, as we plan and carry out a water pistol assault on their parents and grandparents at the picnic table.

Sometimes nostalgia is a good thing. Sometimes, revisiting what used to give us joy and thrills, can still recreate those great feelings from childhood. The carefree years, where we weren’t limited by anything, bound by no rules other than bedtime, dinnertime, and “Don’t hit your brother!”, and still got a thrill out of the purely imaginative unknown.

I can’t tell you why 4e doesn’t grab me any better than I have in this rambling post. If you understand what I just said, then you know why I’m sticking with 3.x. You might even understand why I get a thrill when I make up a campaign with an old school AD&D/swords-and-sorcery feel to it. If you can’t figure out what I’m talking about, then just chalk it up to an old guy who’s losing it, and joining the ranks of the Grognards.


  1. Great post. Really strikes a chord. I grew up in a boring average-sized town, moved away at age 18, lived in and around Tokyo since 21... now I'm back visiting my old home town and it's a strange experience to say the least.

    Although, oddly, I'm the only one out of most of my school friends who ever got married. Mostly they seem to get drunk and sleep around and have been doing since the age of 16... which is a lifestyle I often find myself missing, but have done enough of, probably.

  2. I've got the same experience as you guys with your home towns. I now settled in British Columbia, Canada. When I get back to France I see the people I grew up with, and realize that many things, in terms of experiences and outlook on life, separate us.

    I understand what you are talking about. I guess I'm there myself. It makes a lot sense, though I think it's perhaps not the whole picture as it relates to 4e in particular. I won't go there, since I don't think you ever claimed that this had to be the only reason to stick to 3.x or prior editions of the game. Plus, it would seriously derail the discussion.

    Best to keep it for other entries.

  3. This is excellently written. Being 44 myself, I can relate to a lot that you say; not about music, just as a case in point, as I can relate to what's new right now, but I particularly concur with other people, their habits, their hairdos and their stagnation.

    Which is why I just want to point out that change is life. Forget 4e, your decision I think is sound there, but don't quit on change. You sound like you've pursued it up until now and its what makes this writing you do so interesting - you're alive.

    Really enjoyed the post.


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