The Myth of the American Adult

Here is one of those things you quickly learn upon entering the so-called real world that is both disquieting in its fundamental truth yet still an adept tool at dismantling all the hypocritical BS you’ve been fed throughout the public education system:

There are no such things as “adults” in this world.

At least, not adults in the vision I always had of the tall, shadow-casting stentorian figures standing in sober attention while pulling the great levers and switches that make the nations of the world run; or the higher echelon of individuals who serve as arbiters among the childish disagreements that clog up daily life, those who put personal feelings aside to bring the finality of compromise to a dispute; nor are there grown-ups with that god-like light of right and wrong we cast our parents in, that light that uses life experiences beyond your own to bring perspective or at least inquisitive direction to the questions of youth, before going home to sign checks to the electric company, register the payment in the ledger and fall to sleep on a comfortable bed of maturity.

These are the visions I always had of growing up, of a world significantly less interesting than that of the kids but filled with certainty, responsibility and sensibility.

I was promptly disabused of this notion upon graduating into this world, where I was surprised to discover a bunch of slightly larger, sniveling children, whining about the same broken toys and bitter disputes that have dominated playgrounds for generations, made all the more depressing by the attempts to dress up in fancy suits and pass of as functioning cogs in society, shielding themselves in these illusory honorifics along the way.

I’ve come to believe this underbelly of immaturity is more a mark of our civilization than our ages.

Case studies:

• Public meetings.
At any number of meetings on issues mundane or of great import, I occasionally sit in front of an oldster, an airport supporter, an airport detractor, a military man, or just some loud chud, who will spend the entire meeting sniping, sniveling and snarling at the comments being made by officials on the dais or fellow citizens at the podium, sometimes hurling childish and churlish comments in a thinly veiled stage whisper. This, of course, occurs at what is supposed to be an open and intellectual forum for public discussion. Last week at a meeting to discuss recycling for Hilton Head, some guy kept interrupting the meeting to spout off his anti-recycling platitudes. It’s fine to have these views, of course, but that’s why there’s a designated public comment period, and why other people are given time to speak as well.

This is beyond frustrating because these kinds of behaviors are the same ones that got me kicked out of 8th grade English for laughing at the technicolor wonderland that was the made-up face of our teacher, who the second track kids had appropriately dubbed “Skittles.” The only bad marks I used to get on my report cards from grades 1-8 were also for “talks during class.” My parents, initially concerned about this during the first years of my education, soon took a “what a load of bullshit” stance on this particular grading category, for which I am grateful. They do not, unfortunately, hand out report cards at public meetings.

• Politics.
Nothing exhibits the petulant nature of children taken to the absurd ends under the cloak of adulthood more than the current state of American politics. Recall, if you will, the Republican stagecraft “sleep over” held in 2003 to protest the Democrats’ blocking of judicial nominees. Or watch any of the cable news coverage of the current election, where surrogates from both parties react with faux outrage to the inconsequential non-issue of the day with all the authentic zeal of Matt Hitchens castigating me in a pre-match “interview” in his basement before we entered a makeshift wrestling ring made of couch cushions, wherein we had agreed on a time and manner in which I would execute my deadly Vicious Knee Drop finishing move (side note: this did actually hurt a lot, I’m told. Knobby knees, my one super power).

• Landlords.
The very least of qualifications for even playacting as an adult in this world should be to take care of your responsibilities, particularly in a way that affects the lives and bank accounts of other people. Yet there I sat today at my computer, now six months after having moved out of our last house, writing a stern, admonishing e-mail to our former landlord — who has not called us back in six months, who has not responded to several letters, who has ignored a court notice seeking her reply to our small claims suit and who has not, from what I can tell, set one foot inside her property since we vacated it — scolding her like a parent chasing after a child who has not done her homework, made her bed or cleaned up the shit stain her puppy left on the dining room floor six months ago. We have a hearing at the court on the 20th and I have no expectation that she will attend, which means we still won’t have our security deposit back, which means we will have to keep pursuing it to put a lien on her house and a black mark on her credit report for the next decade, which still doesn’t give us our money, so we may be forced to hire one of those teams of sweaty, hairy men with gruff voices and dark coats who knock on front doors with the explicit purpose of using car maintenance equipment to damage people’s extremities.

I had a similar problem with my first landlord on the island, but at least he was in town and able to be contacted by phone. He just offered a serires of lame excuses as to why he couldn’t return the money, even four months after move out. SC law, by the way, is uncharacteristically unambiguous on this issue. Thirty days to return the deposit. Go on, look if you don’t believe me.

This kind of deriliction of legal obligations angers me to no end. I have an overpowering desire to find this woman, shake her stupid and scream “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?! BE AN ADULT AND FOLLOW THROUGH WITH YOUR OBLIGATIONS!” in her big dumb face until she cries. Then I’ll shake her some more and step on her favorite Cabbage Patch Doll, just for good measure.

Countless other examples of the lack of actual adulthood exist, from sports fans who get into fights in the stands to Sean Hannity to oldsters who don’t turn off their cell phones in the movies or meetings to any — and I do mean any — comment thread on the interwebs that shows just how mature people are when they think no one’s looking, to that abhorrent “Disaster Movie” franchise.

After college I soon learned that we’re all just a bunch of children, somehow trying to convince each other that these suits and cars and offices mean we’ve entered a period of maturity where we champion a sober and serious approach to the world, all the while secretly refusing to share our toys and finding more sophisticated ways to taunt each other from the safety of basement couches we bought ourselves this time. The people who manage to coexist a lot more freely in this world are the ones who give up on this apocraphyl notion of “adulthood” and consent to keep exploring the different angles of the day around us, never so arrogant to assume that we ever grew beyond the mysterious and scared status of being a kid, lost in a world so much bigger than us.

And for the record, I never stopped talking in class.

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3 responses to “The Myth of the American Adult

  1. Case and point: Can you say “bailout!” We expect children to know that they can’t get everything they want, and that there are consequences to decisions, and yet for some reason so-called adults in this nation do not expect to be held to the same standard. It all seems to fit together: this country is made up a bunch of adult/children with an unjustified sense of entitlement, appropriately labeled by the great literary series the Bernstain Bears — one huge case of “the Gimmies.”

  2. Jonathan Cribbs

    I’m not so sure the “bailout” qualifies as some childish giveaway. The bailout was designed by economists who fear our entire financial system may crumble into the Earth if we don’t save those companies. It’s a tough, tough situation, lady. What would you suggest instead?s

  3. Jonathan Cribbs

    (I was being facetious. That didn’t read facetiously.)

    Although, I’m totally serious.

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