Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Meditations on a Life Spent Slacking

From college until pretty much the time that I got married, I was a slacker. Most of my friends were slackers and most of the pop-culture that I absorbed was from a slacker-based perspective*. I don't think that it was entirely wrong to laze about for a good portion of a decade and a half, because that was essentially who I was. But, I'm not sure it was the absolute best choice that I could have made at the time either. I think that the time period that I slacked through life was the perfect era to be a slacker because it was a bit more culturally tolerated.

* I still am very keen on slacker-based pop culture, which is basically stuff from the mid-90s. For some reason, no other decade really tolerated and celebrated the slacker lifestyle as much as the 90s did. The one thing that I understand is the inherent hypocrisy that permeates from this cultural oeuvre. I intend to get more into this as this Blog rolls along.

Another trait that I have is that I am a chronic second-guesser and overly nostalgic*, so it was really no surprise today that I was thinking back on my slacking days with a degree of warmth and also one of wasted opportunity. This stirring of nostalgia was stirred up primarily because I've been rereading Chuck Klosterman's “Fargo Rock City” which is the perfect combination of who I was when he wrote it (20-something, living on my own) and what he wrote about (a kid who liked metal back in the day).

* First off, every other paragraph in this entry is not going to be referenced and explained by a footnote, but I felt like I had to expand a bit on this statement. When I say that I'm overly nostalgic, I don't mean that I wish that I was not living the life I am presently leading. Far from the truth, considering that I can remember romanticizing about the past during the periods that I am currently romanticizing about.

For example, in high school I would fondly remember the feeling of being sheltered in elementary school, especially when a test or major project was due. Not that I wanted to go back there, but there was a certain feeling of warmth and naivety that I didn't (nor could I ) have while I was a teenager. When I was in college, there were times when I waxed about being in high school. And when I got out of college, I thought that it would be awesome to relive those “carefree” days.

Every time I move on to a new place in life, I look back fondly on the one that just took place. And I am completely aware that what I'm doing is complete bullshit, but it's still something that I do. From the time you're born to the day you die, every person is saddled with problems. Looking back on those problems, they don't seem so bad especially when compared to the problems that you have today. But they were still problems that stressed you out.

ANYWAY, when I think back to the early part of the 90s there was a movement in the culture that needed to be rectified. The 80s excesses—symbolized by Michael Douglas' “Greed is good” phrase from the Oliver Stone movie “Wall Street”—had bled into a new decade. However, all was not right with the country and this line wasn't really holding up any more. There was the Persian Gulf War I, the AIDS epidemic and a recession, suddenly watching metal bands and hip-hop acts live the glamor lifestyle seemed sort of stupid, pointless and most of all it pissed people off. No one had the money to buy Dom Perignon, audacious genie pants and have random sex with models. The pendulum was beginning to swing the other way.

That's when musicians grabbed a t-shirt and flannel, rappers dressed down or were clad in black. There was a general feeling of “fuck it” in the air. Artists wanted to express themselves, but didn't want to entertain. The overall mood was, “If you like it, cool. If you don't, whatever.” And that last word, “whatever” was the generation's overall new philosophy.

You notice that I'm only really focusing on the music because that is usually the harbinger of popular culture. Movies and television don't usually arrive on that cultural wave until later and when they do, that particular wave has crested or is on the verge of breaking. And with movies, it's usually the smaller films that understand the day's fads. Cameron Crowe's “Singles” got the whole grunge-Gen X thing way better than “Reality Bites” ever could. “Reality Bites” seemed to be too calculating and too slick to be taken seriously, it desperately wanted to be “Singles” but fell short. Another example is John Singleton's “Boyz in the Hood” which brought home the plight of the urban 20-something to the masses (read white audience) more than any other black film released after that could.

As 1992 took shape, many of us took the obnoxious clothes that we wearing (the Zubaz or Z. Cavarrici pants) and threw them in the back of the closet and found our worn out jeans, flannel shirts and t-shirts. It was fashionable to look like you didn't give a shit. And for the next four or five years, that's how it stayed.

Ultimately people got bored with being depressed.

Once Bill Clinton was elected president and had enough time to turn the country around and people began to prosper again, did young America's mood change. A lot were sick of dressing like slobs, listening to depressing songs and not having sex. Almost over night, the culture seemed to change and excess was back. P. Diddy and Ma$e were waving their Rolexes from side to side, bands like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit were trying to rekindle the early 80s debauched styles of Motley Crue and Van Halen. In 1998, journalists were trumpeting that Glam rock was making a comeback (though it ultimately never did, except for Marilyn Manson's “Mechanical Animals” which most of his fans didn't like too much—but is the only Manson CD that I own).

But I was among a group of people that didn't change. I was stuck in my slacker ways and the atrophy was my security blanket. Anything that took an honest-to-God effort was pushed away. At the time I wasn't seriously dating anyone, but I was hooking up when I could. While other, more motivated colleagues were making a killing in the first dot com boom, I was working a 9-5 fund accounting job that I absolutely hated (I spent more time perfecting the art of sleeping at my desk and trying to come up with the layouts of new golf courses than figuring out how to be a better employee). When I did get a job that I liked (reporting) I worked hard, but I wasn't super motivated and the pay sucked.

For recreation, most weekends my friends and I would hit a bar, get shitfaced and come home. Or we'd get a case of beer and watch TV or play Sega Genesis. Even my favorite movies at the time were about unmotivated slackers: “Office Space”, “Swingers”, “Clerks”, “Mallrats”, “Boogie Nights”, “Dazed and Confused” any Tarantino flick. All of these movies were about people who float through life where things happen to them. They're protagonists in the sense that they just happen to be the vessel that encounters the rough seas of life's storm.

And to me, that was a great way to live your life.

I never knew how rudderless my 20s were going to be. When I was younger, I thought that I'd have things all figured out and I would have a pretty good map of where I was heading. I spent a good portion of my 20s half-heartedly trying to find that magical map and I would get frustrated because I never could seem to figure out where it was hidden.

An era of uncertainty is romanticized after much time has passed. When you're young, poor and living this type of life day-to-day, it's not paradise. There were many days I'd bring sandwiches to work that I wouldn't even think about eating now. The cold winter months after I quit my fund accounting job and sat around a quiet apartment with nothing to do but watch “Mannix” reruns and wonder if I'll ever get a job just sucked. But there are times where I look back with fond remembrances of that past.

I shouldn't. I spent an awful lot of time doing nothing and now that I don't have that free time, I wish that I had done things differently.

When I worked at the paper, I was friends with a guy named Tom Abrams who was a few years younger than me. He told me that the summer after he graduated college, he packed up a back pack and bummed around Europe for a few months by himself. I have always wanted to do that, but never had the stones to do so. The summer after I graduated I delivered pizzas and laid around in my parents' swimming pool.

To be honest, it was a great summer as I had a kick-ass tan and had zero responsibilities, but following that summer I wish that I had gone to Europe and had that experience. Even if it was by myself. I wish that I had run with the bulls in Pamplona, seen the Louvre, gone to Amsterdam and Rome and Prague and Athens. It angers me that I spent my time ringing door bells and handing idiots pizzas. I wasted a prime opportunity because I was too lazy or too afraid to do anything.

And I'm not trying to blame the slacker culture for not being a self-starter because that's not my point. There are literally thousands of self-described slackers who have become big stars while it looked like they were sitting around doing nothing. Comedians like David Cross, Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn or directors like Richard Linklater, Kevin SMith and Quentin Tarantino, writers like Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman make it seem like they spent all day on the couch, but they had to be self-motivators to get to where they are. Constant writing and performing, the ability to move from one city to another to get to the level of where they want to be.

They spent a lot of time and hard work to achieve a position where they could spend a lot of time doing nothing. And that's the paradox that I never understood until later in life.

Note: I have no idea where the image I got for this post came from, I did a Google search for "Slackers" and aside from the incredibly late-90s movie, that picture came up.

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