Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Age is nuttin’ butta numba

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I greet substantial stages of my life with great hesitation for some reason. Everything that comes my way – college, work, growing old(er) – I walk through it, and make sure I consciously experience it and learn from it, but it always tends to be done with reluctance.

And I think that purely has to do with my outlook on life. Some really old wise guy once said, and I’m misquoting, “The strongest people in life are those who are able to constantly adjust to the world’s changes.” I immediately related to that, as I’ve always worked to adjust to our fleeting surroundings, but never got too attached to them, as every moment is a passing one. I’ve learned to gracefully roll with the punches life hits us with.

It’s gotten to the point where major milestones don’t really affect me anymore. I’ve been your local friendly newspaper editor for exactly one year now. Normally this should justify a reason to celebrate by throwing a party or drinking myself to sleep, but I prefer to see it as just another day.

I instead enjoy celebrating moments I consider to be mediocre milestones in my life. And if I’m in the company of friends, I force them to high five me whenever they happen: “Hey, that was first time I ever stared at a dog on a porch while wearing yellow pants! High five!”

Those, to me, are the truly special moments in life.

But again, it could just be my age where I don’t like to reflect very often. When you’re around 30, there’s more ahead of you to see than behind, so I credit that fact to my inability to reflect as much as I focus on the future.

The downside with my age, I’ve realized, is that nobody listens to you. Which is fine, because I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have that much to say.

Besides, I don’t think the world really listens to you until you’re about 40. No one wants to get lessons in life from someone like me who hasn’t been playing the game that long. And that’s why I quote really old wise guys.

Despite my young age, society has seen drastic changes since I’ve been alive. I can think back to several things I was raised with that children these days would read and have no idea what I’m talking about.

To start things off, I never paid for bottled water when I was a kid. When I was thirsty I drank from a garden hose. I also ate straight from my parents’ garden. Everything from carrots to raspberries, I ate it all, often without even wiping off all the dirt.

And if I was ever being a pain in the butt, my parents had no shame in spanking me. And you know what? I probably deserved it, and I never called up a lawyer afterwards and tried to sue or divorce my parents for what they did.

I guess I was familiar with pain. After all, I played dodgeball in grade school, slid down lead-based slides and played with mercury from the family thermometer. I got pressure burns on my body from the water that soared out of fire hydrants, when firefighters used to crack the lids open so we could cool off in the summer. I also used to trip on telephone cords, back when people actually owned phones that plugged into walls.

And back in my day, why, phones were used for one thing – to talk to people. Not to text, Twitter, check email or download music. But they were also used to make prank calls, and my friends and I knew we could get away with it because we didn’t have to worry about getting called back, as star-69 or caller ID didn’t exist yet.

I did other things that kids couldn’t get away with these days. I was about 7 when I used to buy cigarettes for my uncle. The people behind the counter asked me what I was buying them for, I told them, and they handed them to me. And they literally had to hand them to me, since I couldn’t see over the counter.

I also remember going to fast food joints and being surrounded by cigarette smoke… or going into any indoor place, for that matter. I was honored to have eaten at McDonald’s on the final day smoking was allowed there back in 1998, when I was in high school. I even stole an ashtray to commemorate the moment – they didn’t need them anymore, I reasoned to my friends, as I threw up my hand for a high-five to celebrate that milestone.

My friends and I knew how to have fun when we were young. We roller skated, had pine cone fights, played with mercury some more, and when we got hungry, we could buy candy at Ben Franklin for one penny.

Entertainment came in many forms, but they didn’t come by way of the Internet. I came in before the electronic age erupted and changed the complexion of our society. My high school didn’t even have Internet until my last year of high school, and even then it was only available in the library. I didn’t log online for the first time until I was 20 years old. (I actually logged on at 19, but back then it took about a year to dial up to the web.) I wrote school papers longhand, sometimes even by typewriter, and made sure I didn’t make a mistake, because it took forever to correct them with whiteout, recue the typewriter and retype the letters.

Reality television to me meant watching “The Mickey Mouse Club,” but that was only when my parents chose to buy cable television for us kids, which meant having an astonishing 30 channels.

I was a teenager when my dad first introduced our family to a CD player when he brought one home one night, which cost about $500 at the time, and was roughly the weight of a hippo.

I know baby boomers talk about having to walk to school through 10 feet of snow, uphill both ways (because apparently the earth’s axis was not as stable back then), when they were kids, but I can relate to that. During junior high and high school, I walked over a mile to school every day. I also worked a couple miles from home, and walked to and from there as well, which included winter days, when it was well below 0 degrees. Oh, and the walk home was all uphill. So take that, baby boomers.

Times continue to change, and it’s odd to think how quickly they actually do. Sometimes, whether you realize or not, changes happen, and I’m sure my list could be a lot longer if I put more thought into it.

And before I know it, the children that don’t know what I’m talking about will have a long list of their own that the next batch of young kids will read with utter confusion. And I kind of look forward to seeing that list, because then I’ll feel like a really old wise guy.

Regardless of all these changes, I’m still young at heart, and don’t ever want to lose that – mainly because when life takes another swing at me, I want to have the energy to move.