Well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days. ~ Bruce Springsteen
We were kings of the beach. My cousin Jimmy and his crew looked like something out of a movie - long hair, cut-off jeans, aviator glasses and tone, tan teenage bodies. I was also present, too. I also had cut-off jeans. I guess every movie needs comic relief.
Jimmy was one of those guys who would go drinking with his buddies at that log in the woods or that pipeline by the river that all of the cool teenagers in your town knew about. You know the one. Maybe you went there yourself or maybe you heard the other kids talking about it and felt a little envious. Maybe a lot envious.
If we'd lived in the same town, Jimmy probably wouldn't have ever given me a second look. He had achieved a nigh-Fonzie level of coolness and thus transcended the need to interact with people outside his social circle. However, I was his cousin and Jimmy was fiercely loyal and protective of me.
Jimmy insisted I become a part of his crew when we took family trips to Cape Cod. The other kids all worshiped Jimmy. While they surely never worshiped me, their fealty to him ensured that I was always at least tolerated.
We'd drive around in his Mustang (how did a 16 year old get a Mustang?) and blast Jimmy favorite kind of music. Hair metal.
Jimmy had been a big fan of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Van Halen and Black Sabbath around age 13. By the time he was 16, he was into the California wave of glam metal - Poison, Mötley Crüe, Cinderella. Jimmy wore his hair like Ricky Rocket, which meant he never went into the water at the beach. He spent way too much time on his hair to risk it getting wet.
Man, I hated hair metal, but I loved Jimmy so whenever I was around him, I loved hair metal, too. I studied everything I could about the bands and the music so that I could have an intelligent (sic) conversation about, say, Hanoi Rocks' discography or Twisted Sister's latest censorship battle. This meant I always had something to talk about with Jimmy's friends.
I mean, these guys didn't know anything about Monty Python or Douglas Adams or Dungeons and Dragons. My mental database of White Snake minutiae was my one reliable tie to coolness-by-proxy. Besides, I'd spent my childhood patiently tolerating my father's love of country music. Surely I could grit my teeth and listen to "We're Not Gonna Take It" a couple thousand times.
I've idealized those summers with Jimmy. I couldn't have gone to Cape Cod with him more than three or four times. We never stayed more than a couple of weeks. In my mind though, those summers were endless. When I close my eyes, I can still see teenage Jimmy in his shades with his summer girlfriend sitting at the end of the jetty on Cold Storage Beach staring out towards the ocean.
Of course, time and reality spoil everything.
Are you old enough to have listened to classic rock stations in the 80's? Do you know that many classic rock stations play the same songs now that they did back then? Sometimes people, like radio stations, never update their playlist.
As we approached our late 40's, Jimmy's personality had still never developed much past 1985. He still istened to the same music. He still drove Mustangs. He still wore cut-off shorts in the summer. If he wore his hair differently it was because he had much less of it to sculpt.
His attitude, his beliefs and his likes and dislikes were all tied to the early 80's. He decried how much things had changed all the time. He had a job on and off, but often chose to be unemployed for several long stretches in his life. Jimmy didn't like his bosses' attitudes so he'd quit, much to the exasperation of his wives (one, two and current).
In essence, he'd never really grown up. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'm better than him, but I get really upset that he' wasn't doing something more with his life. I idolized him and - this is totally unfair of me - felt like he was letting me down.
His whole crew is in the same boat. Flipping through Facebook and looking at their profiles is a sad trip through failed promise and heart breaking desire for an idyllic past. The changes they've made in their lives since high school are differences time has forced on them.
They blame the government or the Republicans or the Democrats or their parents or other ethnicities, genders and orientations for their unhappiness. "If only things could go back to the way they were when I was a teenager, the world would be perfect," they think (forgetting, perhaps, that being a teenager means somebody else is bankrolling most of your shenanigans).
Time is relentless like the ocean (but you can't avoid what time does to your hair). If you get trapped in a specific way of thinking, time's undertow will sweep you right out to sea. Time doesn't give a damn if you curse it. It will overwhelm you if you don't try and ride it a little, like surfing a wave.
Last Christmas, Jimmy seemed more relaxed than I'd seen him in years. He and his current wife had just had a late-life baby - his first. He's absolutely adorable with her.
We got talking about music, like we often do, and suddenly he started dropping names of all these new bands he's been listening to - rock bands with strong female vocalists like Halestorm and Benedictum - no more hyper-masculine screamers on his playlist.
It seems like a small change, but for somebody whose been trapped in 1985 for 30 years, but its a sign that becoming a dad has made a huge difference in his life. He's traded in his Mustang for a banana-yellow Subaru Outback. He's had a steady job for four years now. He talks about the present and the future - about what kind of world we'll be leaving for his daughter.
I've even seen video from last summer of Jimmy on Cape Cod with his little girl playing in the surf. As far as she's concerned, he's still king of the beach (and she doesn't care what his hair looks like).
Turns out, he's still just about the coolest guy I know.