Because I Can

This is a piece I wrote in the late 90’s, when I was living in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California. It is filled with dated cultural references; which is actually one of the things I like about it. But it also has a few tidbits of wisdom, which I thought worth the read: “We are finally beginning to understand who we are and what we are about; yet, at the very hour when we become the most self-aware, we are confronted by the unavoidable truth that the price we pay for wisdom is your youth. We are running out of time.” That sentiment seems even more relevant today, than it did twenty years ago.

They Cannot Force Us to Wear Baggy Pants



I think that I once used to be young; but it is now hard to say for certain.

My friends and I are beginning to approach middle age. We are no longer celebrating being old enough to drive, vote, or drink. Instead, we are thinking about the notion that at thirty-five, we have lived half of our lives. We now talk about IRA’S and CD’s and we are not referring to the Irish Republican Army or the compact disc. Mutual funds, interest rates, and most surprisingly, HMO’s have become a part of our dinner conversation.

I long ago realized that when speaking to “old” people, you should be prepared to listen to stories about their aches and pains; however, I am not yet prepared to hear my friends compare doctors, recommend prescription drugs, or offer opinions on dental work.

Last night, I sat in a room filled with people whom I have known for fifteen years. These are the same people with whom I used to listen to Edith Piaf records, while we sat around eating whole-wheat lasagna, discussing socialism, Henry Miller, and the first time we saw Paris. Now we are talking about health care, not in general, or how it affects the nation, but how it affects us. We have moles. Do we have them removed or not? The consensus was if has not changed colors, leave them alone.

When did we go from living in barely furnished, tiny apartments, with posters on the walls, to living in IKEA furnished houses, with guestrooms? In the old days, if the conversation was too intense to leave or the wine too freely flowed, we simply stayed the night. We slept on the living room floor or curled up in a chair. Did anyone own a real couch? Now the party breaks up at ten, and we rush home until the next birthday gives us permission to meet again.

When did that happen? I know it is a gradual process, everyone tells us so. One can almost hear the words rolling off the lips of anyone slightly older than us, whom we are willing to listen to: “I know I look one-hundred and ten, but inside I still feel twenty-five.” Here we sit, truly in the prime of our lives, but somehow age has begun to catch up with us. We are finally beginning to understand who we are and what we are about; yet, at the very hour when we become the most self-aware, we are confronted by the unavoidable truth that the price we pay for wisdom is your youth. We are running out of time.

Fifteen years ago the world was our oyster. There was plenty of time to explore foreign lands, even if that meant staying in small, damp rooms, and surviving on bread and cheese. We were not afraid to explore lands where war was raging, where we had no knowledge of the language or barely enough money to return home. We were having adventures; creating memories which would last a lifetime and sustain us when we were too old to climb to the top of the Sun Pyramid or run the maze of foot long rats, which led to Maximillian’s house, just to be able to compare the two views. A ride to the West Bank or a venture into East Berlin, were experiences not to be missed! We were living in the moment, throwing caution to the wind. Why not share a hotel room with two perfect strangers? If they spoke English, carried the obligatory backpacks and bottle water, they must be safe! Who could have known then, that in such a short time, we would come to insist on reservations to a clean, air-conditioned room, with a full bath, before even considering plopping down our gold card. Someone should have warned us of how quickly we would lose that spirt of adventure, and come to demand our comfort and the guise of safety.

Then there was also plenty of time to knowingly fall in love with the wrong person. It did not matter if in six weeks or six days it would all be over, the moment was enough. We could look at them and think, boy this is a mistake; but still go ahead. We were filled with romantic notions about the man at the next table, or the woman across the hall; it was more important to live out the passion of the moment, than to think that a romantic encounter, on a train between Chicago and New York could kill you. No one had heard of AIDS and no one wanted to hear about AIDS. No, we were afraid that the out of town businessman, who you happen to meet at a crowded concert, might actually be the love of your life. How were you supposed to go home on those insipid busses, when he was standing there telling you that this was it – this was a moment not to be missed. We wanted so much not to regret.

No one asked about what you did for a living or what your future income potential might be, no one cared. We were at the beginning of our dreams, when we could still be brain surgeons, concert pianist, or the most brilliant legal mind of our time; and have it mean something. It never occurred to anyone that it could possible not work out, or that success might not mean what we had thought it would. Nor did we consider that we could achieve our ambitions and lose our dreams.

Who could have foretold that the same people, who had been so excited to registrar to vote, would someday have to drag themselves to the polls? When did we become so cynical? When did we go from giving lunch to Leroy, the homeless man on the corner, to thinking it has been five years Leroy, it is time to get a job. What happened to our view of the world? I do not think we ever really wore the rose colored glasses of the sixties, but somehow we were gentler and we were kinder. We were able to differentiate between good and evil and right and wrong. We knew who to support; but now we are frozen. First we stopped donating our time, being too busy with those exciting careers and those spectacular love lives. Initially, we comforted ourselves in our monetary contributions, but now we give less and less money, and even the bumper stickers are beginning to fade and fall off, and we are not replacing them. It is not that we have stopped believing, and maybe we even accomplished something; after all I still have my free Nelson Mandela buttons. But something has changed. You want to support animal rights; well good for you; I do too. I walk my dog every night, take him to the groomer every couple of weeks, and have gone into debt to pay for his varied surgeries; I am doing my part. Okay, I will look for products that are not tested on animals; but I am not giving up my leather handbags or steaks, sorry.

What has happened to us? Have the disappointments been too many, or is it just the opposite? Is it our successes that have changed us? I often reminisce about a one-bedroom apartment, with floor to ceiling windows, on Ocean Boulevard, in Long Beach, California. I would open those windows late at night, after the traffic died down, light a cluster of candles and watch as the fog would come in off of the ocean. My apartment would become engulfed with misty vapor and the deep smell of the sea; at that moment, I lacked for nothing.

Yet, in the light of morning, I would wish for more space; I wanted a garden, I wanted a room to write in and I wanted a dog. I got all of that; but in calculating my dreams, I never understood the cost. The need to clean a garage, trim trees or shampoo the carpets somehow escaped me entirely; I never figured that it would take me two or three times as log to clean and maintain that extra space. Nor did I understand that I would have no choice but to do it – you see in the suburbs your neighbors really do care if your lawn is not properly maintained. It did not occur to me that all of that space would cost so much more financially. I never counted on the fact that once I left the city, I would be meeting my fellow suburbanites at Mimi’s for lunch, instead of some exotic hole in the wall, with its wild offerings. I did not see us former rebels and world travelers sitting in a both across from white haired women, who had just played tennis at the country club. Nor did I think that an Academy Award nomination, for best Foreign Film would someday come to mean that there was no need to go into Los Angeles to see it, because Block Buster would soon have it on video.

Now it is not that we never go to see a foreign film anymore or try a new restaurant, it is just that now it an event, instead of just our life. We still travel, only now we talk about it more and travel less. Our destination is now more often than not, a visit to see a friend or family member, instead of a long weekend in Jamaica or a drive up or down the coast; in the end we spend the same amount of money, just with less effort.

We are getting older. However, getting older does have its advantages. We do not have to pretend to understand hip-hop, rap, or new age music. We are comfortable listening to boleros, opera, and that rock and roll we grew up with; also no one will ever convince us that we should buy our jeans three or four sizes too big. We are not shaving our heads, piercing anything other than our ears, or wearing black nail polish. Nor do we think that since we missed heroin the first time around, we should try it now that it has made a comeback.

We are the last of the baby boomers. In many ways our accomplishments were much more insignificant than those who started this generation; so were our failures and excesses. Perhaps that is what makes it all so difficult now. We can no longer quit our jobs, just because, we want to go backpacking in the Canadian Rockies, for six weeks and we only have a two week vacation. We pay our bills on time and try to plan for that inevitable retirement; how can we not? We do not stay up all night and talk, because we know that our bodies can no longer function on two hours of sleep; so why torture ourselves?

So here we are, kind of normal and stable; reluctantly admitting that we too know more about our neighbors lawn than we think we should; but not quite able to apologize for that fact. We have been here long enough to know that someday, sooner rather than later we will be gone. The greatest value in that knowledge is that we have come to understand how much more we must value the time we have left. So now, those of us who have yet to find love, must and do consider race, religion, and occupation, when deciding whether or not to have a cup of coffee with the man at the next table or the woman next door. We know who we are and more importantly what we need. There is very little time left for experimentation. Those of us who have the love of our life, now see their wrinkles and bruises, as well. We have experienced euphoric highs and devastating lows. We have come to understand that more often than not, the reason people stay together has very little to do with passion, and a great deal to do with friendship, comfort, stability, security, and mortgages payments. Which really are not such horrible things.

As for politics, I think we are still trying to believe; but it is getting harder, as Pollyanna has left the building. We stay current, but we are more guarded now in what we are willing to march for or against. Bosnia is discussed, but not necessarily when we are all together. We have concluded that we disagree on the subject, and oh so many more. This is not to say that passions never flare; but I think I can safely state that none of my friends will be forming an “International Brigade” anytime soon.

We are here doing the best we can; but I really would not want to give up my china or crystal, my garden or dog, or my dreamy bed. I guess now and then, I simply need to remind myself that my wonderful, fluffy bed, which stirs a need in all who see it, to at least sit on it, is a direct result of my first trip to Switzerland. It was in a small, rather quaint hotel, across from the train station, in Zurich, where I first discovered down feather beds and knew I must someday have one. Of course it took years before I could afford to recreate that bed, or had a place to house it.

Fifteen years ago, that group of friends discussed driving from Los Angeles to Argentina. This was the trip; the one we all wanted take. Then no one owned a car that could have survived the journey along the Pan American Highway. Now, we are all nesting either at home, work, or in a relationship; but we still talk about that trip. I think maybe in the next ten years or so that it may still happen. Who knows, we start to hit forty-five, begin having a real mid-life crisis, and may think we need a wild trip to reenergize us; at least that is what I am counting on.

(It really does feel like this piece could end with That Is All For Now; but that tag line was years away.)

9 Responses to Because I Can

  1. Marcial on March 14, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    Excellent! It is still so valid, so authentic. How does it feel 25 years later? Great piece Jill, thank you!

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