Your 20s: an owner’s guide

No one tells me anything.

I’ve just been winging it for 24 years. Formal education, in the system we have conceived, teaches you lots of wonderful things, few of them are the practical bits of advice that’ll get you through the hours between stays in your bed. For example, How to Accomplish Things Without Ending Up on the Couch Marathoning QI, Projecting Gravitas in Customer Service Phone Calls and My God, What Has the Dog Eaten? would have been super instructive.

There should be instructions for this crap. Life’s tough, and I am a person who cannot bake anything without step-by-step illustrations on a package — I am a person who needs instructions. Or perhaps a user agreement, at the very least, preferably in microscopic type and flashed before completing the purchase of something I really want.

So whenever someone with a whole lot of free time and ambition gets around to penning a handbook, I have listed a few entries below for all those still trying to find their way in this cold, cruel world.


  • The sum total of things you do not understand will crush you if you think about it.

I learn each day the astonishing array of things I do not know. It is even an education each time I look at Twitter’s trending topics. The way the world works is mystifying. What’s more, most of the things you think you know will 1) someday evaporate from your brain, 2) become obsolete and 3) never be comprehensive.

For starters, I don’t understand 3-D printing. It has been explained to me many times — many, many times — but it still doesn’t make any damn sense. I can almost comprehend how you could print, say, itty bitty plastic things. But then some tamperer with the natural order shows up and proclaims soon we’ll be printing human tissue and food and suddenly we’re knee-deep in Mary Shelley and I don’t know what’s going on. NASA’s band of hyped-up Trekkies wants to 3D print pizza, which is to say manufacture cheesey, saucey, meaty mouth-pleasure from which there was none.

Witchcraft, burn them!

Back on this planet, I don’t understand how a city can enter bankruptcy. To be honest, it would be accurate to say I don’t have a good grasp on bankruptcy at any level. But how a city — a municipal body in which people, live, work and die — can file for bankruptcy is wondrous to behold — like a caterpillar’s metamorphosis or a bird’s molting of all its debt obligations.

Add grapefruit juice to the list of quandaries. Who in their right mind purchases grapefruit juice — besides the poor, misguided fools (such as I) who thought their enjoyment of Izze’s sparkling grapefruit juice would transfer? It tastes like distilled pus. Or the juiced musk of an African civet.

  • The velocity at which you are hurtling toward becoming your parents will startle you.

Do you want to play a game? Move 1,000 or so miles from your ancestral home and monitor how your behavior changes. Hypothesis: Go buck wild and reinvent yourself. Result: End up muttering about “entitled sapsuckers” under your breath and complaining about the price of gas.

It isn’t until you’re out of your parents’ reach (or basement, ye of the just-matriculated set) that you discover all the ways they’ve irrevocably screwed you up altered you. You start talking like them, thinking like them, judging others’ lifestyles based on their system. You see a teenager walk into CVS without a shirt, blaring his kooky rap music on his earbud-less iPhone, and you just scowl and, hunched beneath the burden of your animosity, scuttle about the store. There are moments you clutch your pearls.

Speaking of …

  • You have lost the ability to understand anyone younger than the age you currently are.

I didn’t know until last week what The Wanted and a Hunter Hayes were. As I mentioned previously, of course, I’m suddenly, inexplicably more likely to enjoy the musical stylings of Boxcar Willie* than chase the latest craze the kids are into. To be clear, by kids I refer to anyone 23 years and younger. It is not an exclusive categorization by any stretch.

It’s common to become out of touch when you come home and devise detailed lists keeping track of fictional spouses, parents, once-mentioned children and career changes in The Golden Girls. But good heavens, what are these kids wearing nowadays? Is it the style to make yourself as unattractive as possible? Is that supposed to be ironic? Is anybody there? Does anybody care?

  • Your body has already begun its steady march into decomposition.

Perhaps you’ve already noticed that your body — which has carried you through childhood disease, severe acne and misguided tequila shots — is not the hardy vessel it once was. There was a time when I could actually do anything I wanted (except twerk) and my body said, “Oh, yeah, go on. Have a blast.” Frankly, I thought I had till 40 before things went to hell.

Nope. Dare you, 26-year-old, to try that 2 a.m. Pizza Shuttle cheesy bread. Better yet, scrounge up something from the Taco Bell late-night menu. Go on. Try it. You’ll feel ill for the next five years.

As for libations, you know what they say about alcohol tolerance — it’s the same they say about foreign-language knowledge: Use it or lose it. And if you’re not sure what yours is anymore, you’ve already lost it.

Not that any of that matters. You’re going to be in bed before you have to worry about it. There are no midday naps anymore or resistance to the effects of all-nighters. Just the sad, cold realization that you will never again see your bed as much as you’d like to.

Because that’s life: a star-crossed love story between you and your sheets.

*Author may or may not have included this reference to cash in on lucrative Google searches for “Boxcar Willie.”


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