Sunday, October 30, 2011

Still uncool: Sept. 1, 2002

The process of becoming uncool begins with the theory that one was, at any point, cool to begin with. In retrospect, this column is deeply flawed in that I was never cool. At 30, I was even less cool than all the uncool I had always been. And now, at almost 40? Sheesh. It's hopeless.

This column also taught me that many, many people don't get sarcasm in print. The end of this column was intended to be funny. But then I got a few emails from readers who congratulated me on being such a strict teacher. Again, sheesh.

It’s cruel but true: At 30 I’m no longer cool

    I’ve gone back to school.

    High school, in fact — which I remember well enough to want to forget.

    It all came cruelly back to me the other day as I stood in front of a classroom full of teenagers and watched two young women laughing behind their hands.

    I had been talking, as teachers do, about the subject I am teaching, which is journalism. When these two young women began to giggle, I stopped and asked, "What? What’s funny?"

    "You are," one of them said. "You talk funny."

    Well, pardon the 1980s out of me.

    It’s high school all over again. The seniors are laughing at me, and I have no witty comeback.

    "Listen," I told them. "You are all going to freeze right about the year 2002 in the slang you use. In 15 years, when some kid is laughing at what you think is perfectly acceptable slang, I want you to remember this moment."

    There was more laughing.

    The hilarious thing I had said, it turned out, was that something had "wigged me out." I say this. It has been part of my vocabulary since, oh, about 1987, when I was a sophomore in high school.

    Things wig me out all the time.

    The power bill was $140 last month, and that wigged me out. My son won’t stop chewing on his little 2-year-old mouth, and it is really wigging me out. The car we spent too much money on keeps breaking down, and that has wigged me out totally.

    But apparently, in 2002, people don’t get wigged out. Do they get freaked out? Flipped out? There must be a new term. I must make a note to ask my students.

    Here’s the sad thing: Right up until that moment — when it was revealed to me that 17-year-olds think I talk funny — I still thought I was cool.

    I mean, I own a pair of low-rise jeans. (I don’t wear them, but I bought them.) And I didn’t go to that Bonnaroo concert thing, but I really, really wanted to.

    And, yes, I drive a Volvo station wagon, but it has kayaking and biking stickers on the back that I thought made up for its inherent, and literal, squareness.

    Turns out I’ve been kidding myself. There is nothing like a room full of teenagers to remind you that, low-rise jeans or no low-rise jeans, you are 30. And 30 is just not cool.

    It’s OK, though. I’m not going to let this realization of my uncoolness wig me out. I think I’ll just embrace the un-hip me and become what’s expected.

    My dear students, I had planned to be quite the groovy teacher.

    We were going to have long discussions about current events and the media, during which I was going to let you say all sorts of subversive things. I was even going to say a few subversive things myself in the spirit of journalism and education.

    I was going to encourage you to rewrite papers until you were happy with your grade and I was convinced you had, in fact, learned something.

    We were going to put out a very cool (not that I know what’s cool) school newspaper, and you were all going to be in charge of its content.

    I was even thinking about wearing my low-rise jeans to class.

    But since it turns out I’m not the groovy type, I think I’ll just lecture most of the time, give lots of quizzes and we’ll have a test every week — an essay test. Grades will be based on those tests. And, yes, spelling counts.

    We will have assigned seats, and you can talk only if you raise your hand.

    If anyone misses a class I’ll need to see a note from every adult who has ever had any say in your upbringing.

    I hope none of this wigs you out.

    See you Monday.

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