Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: The stupidity of youth – it never leaves

I haven’t always been cool.

It’s hard to believe. I know. But the short, pale and scrawny four-eyed writer of this column was once the kind of person you might consider a dork.

Still can’t visualize this as a plausible reality? Well, hold on to your cerebral hat, let me take you on a brief journey…

Before we embark on this little mental trip, I have one disclaimer: I won’t mention any of the obvious fads people my age were all guilty of – tight-rolled pants, slap bracelets, fade “Vanilla Ice” haircuts (girls included), Zubaz, Deloreans and so on. I’ll instead only point out the fads I personally selected out of my own will and want.

Starting things out, in grade school I grew a tail. It was long and fluffy, and I kept it for years, convinced the look would pick up and people would see it as the contemporary Davy Crockett look. The entire time I had that thing on the back of my head, I was pestered by my older brother, Mark, to shave it off, which I refused to do.

I finally gave in, after Mark offered me $3 and a baseball card from my idol, the Minnesota Twins’ left fielder at the time, Dan Gladden. That was the going rate for destroying my integrity. I couldn’t pass it up. It was a card I didn’t own yet.

From baseball I moved onto basketball, where I shaved the number of my jersey, 32 (which was Gladden’s number, by the way), onto the sides of my head, which I was convinced would be a hip move.

But the one dork move that most resonates with me is one I got involved in with a friend of mine, Eric. He and I, in second grade, decided to informally change our names. I named myself Hudeschmier Nonavonpuke Bunitlacoff. Eric’s name became Fretlick Yesavonpuke Bunitlacoff. Together, we became the Bunitlacoff Brothers.

During that time, and for several years afterwards, we created personalities that took on the nonsensical connotation of those names. The pseudonyms quickly soared, as Fretlick and I fully indulged ourselves in our new personas. We began writing songs about our brotherhood, and during recess we would choreograph those songs. We invented new words, and made up games that only we could play, because only Bunitlacoff Brothers were allowed to play them.

I became so immersed in that name that I began ignoring people who addressed me as Brian. Teachers learned to call me by my new name, and I was no longer associated with the name Brian.

I even lost a close friend during this time, as he refused to call me Hudeschmier, which I constantly demanded he do. I often think about my old friend, and can’t help but wonder if he might be sitting in his living room right now, thinking to himself, “If only I’d called him Hudeschmier, he and I would be having a beer and a couple laughs together right now. Why do I let my integrity get the best of me?!”

It was in high school where I really went nuts. I stopped caring what people thought, took a peek at the deep end, and jumped. The moment I could grow facial hair, I grew every patch I could. When it was only my sideburns, I let them grow freely. When a stripe of hair on my chin sprouted, I nurtured it like a Chia pet.

I then went through a strictly black clothing phase, and wrote poetry. I was deep, sensitive, soulful, emotional, and confused. My Irish pigment only made me look even paler with the contrasting black clothes. To this day I still can’t wear black clothing.

Then I began painting my nails. After I got tired of that, I began growing out my nails, and then pierced those nails, placing earrings into them.

After that phase wore out, I got into jewelry. I wore bracelets, then rings, then necklaces. It got to the point that I looked like a hippie Mr. T before I began cutting down.

I’ve gone through several phases in my life that I look back with shame, but at the time, in my own skewered judgment, I was convinced they were cool. Some things I used to think were cool I see now as ridiculous and passé. But at the time, you couldn’t have changed my mind for the world. Unless you had the right baseball card.

It’s all so sad. My past conviction is now a punchline. And people wonder how schizophrenia starts…

I realize there are youthful elements about me that remain a part of me now, which may or may not be pathetic. But I have neither the time nor the energy to analyze and interpret every element about myself and determine if it’s something I find cool now and could foresee to be in the future. Being cool is no longer an issue with me. At some point you just gotta give up and say, “Hey, this is me. And I need to live with that.” All I know is that whenever I see a puddle, I need to stomp on it. If I’m at a park I’ll always grab a blade of grass, lick my thumbs and place the blade in between them to make it whistle. Every time I see bubble wrap, I can’t be stopped. I must pop it. I still run hangnails across my lips because I like the feeling of it. I’ve done all of these since childhood.

Why do I still do these things? Were they habits that, for some reason, managed to persevere beyond my awkward teenage years, a time that was pretty much dictated by peer pressure? Or do they make me feel normal and comforted, because that’s what I’m familiar with?

I probably just answered my own question. I’m sure it’s both. I should probably think before I write.

It makes me wonder if any decisions I make right now are ones I will look at in hindsight and realize I was being a dork. I hope not. After all, time and trying are our best teachers, right?

But really, come on. What’s not cool about me? I’m so cool, in fact, that I was even thinking about shaving the word “Editor” into the side of my head. Now THAT would be cool, right?

…Right?