Isn’t that a great word? Seenager, a cross between a senior and a teenager.
That has been me this year. I only realized it when I first heard the word, in November, but it’s a perfect fit for the whole year.
In retrospect, it was retirement that turned me into a seenager. It hadn’t occurred to me that retirement would free me up, just as the children’s growing up was freeing me up.
Here I was, free again, for the first time since that sad and warm hippy period beginning with grammar school in England and ending with college in California, a time spent thumbing and driving across Canada and back, down to Aspen in Colorado and across to Cambridge in upstate New York, down to Paris and up to Brussels: above all, “just keep truckin’ on!”
That wonderful period of movement, of months of budget travel and then months of driving lorries and working in warehouses to be able to afford it, had ground to a halt over 45 years ago. I had completely forgotten how it felt.
As is the norm, I was either at school or working, or both, for the entire 45 years, and had worked pretty hard most of the time. School had been more free than work, of course, and I had waltzed through an extraordinary hippy education, a BA from UC Berkeley and a law degree from Yale, making for a gentle and smooth transition into the real world. In fact, I barely noticed settling down.
But the career was stressful, tiring and oh so long. I love negotiating and I love drafting, but why do the best moments of both last 16 billable hours a day?! And why do so many measure their success by how much they put over on the other side? Did everyone in corporate law really intend to turn into commercial landlords or venture capitalists? I cut back from full-time lawyering in 2005, which had been a partial relief, but that stress had continued just as intensely, if for fewer hours on smaller deals.
Then there had been those 33 years of raising children, count ’em! (The years, not the children.) Nick, my oldest, was born in 1986. And Alex, the youngest, turned 21 in January, the month I retired! All four boys are pretty much formed, and more independent than many in their generation. All four have found their paths.
I had done what I could to teach them about the importance of a moral compass, and the value of both work and play, and now it was up to them. And they are all doing pretty well, if I do say so myself. I’m still there for them on some level, of course, but it’s not the same full-time commitment as parenting was for so long.
And how does it feel, this release from so many of the constraints of adulthood? “I’m free, I’m free, and freedom tastes of reality!” Thank you, Pete Townsend, for that sentiment as well as for Tommy.
Then the incredible greed of Silicon Valley and the spineless collection of losers currently ensconced in Washington, not forgetting the financial damage done by a creepy divorce before a corrupt judge, prompted a move away from my beloved Santa Cruz to Bretagne in western France.
Nothing opens you up like a change of country, of culture, and especially when you change the language and move from the city to the country. Your reference points dissolve and new ones coalesce.
Like its younger cousin, being a teenager, being a seenager involves a tendency to chaos in intimate relationships, a tendency to relationship turmoil. Theoretically, one is much more experienced as a seenager, but well, gee, gosh, whatever happened in my case?!
March found me moving to France with Erika in tow. She had been a decent girlfriend while it lasted, but things were on the downturn, and both of us knew it. She was captivated by the idea of moving to France, but figured out pretty quickly, after about five weeks, that she shouldn’t have come with me, that it was basically over. This may have had something to do with her finding that my cottage did not quite pass muster!
During a trip back to the US to try to shore up her challenging finances – her rental property was not renting, and I had retired – she emailed that she would not be coming back.
She left a bunch of stuff in the cottage, including a dozen or more of her paintings and suitcases and boxes of clothes and ornaments and the like, and still berates me for not bringing them back to her. “But I already brought your stuff here; maybe you could take care of getting it home?” Relationship turmoil!
Free again! Party time! Enter Lisa, stage right.
She and I had gotten to know each other at NextSpace, with restraint because of Erika on my side and her husband on Lisa’s. Then he exited stage left in a blaze of cowardice and shame right around when Erika exited stage center, and Lisa and I had been getting better acquainted at a distance: it was now time to meet up and see if we actually had something going. New York was the chosen venue.
“Met” is an understatement. Wham! Pow! Bang! Wild times in Gotham! Five days, and we both knew that this was it!
Exit relationship turmoil.
We’ve been an item ever since, still at a distance, but spending lots of time together, in California where she lives and in France where I live, with side trips to Athens, to see Arlo for his 30th birthday, Santa Barbara to see Charlie and Alex for the former’s 24th birthday, and Madrid to visit her cousin Erin and Matt and meet Ena, their new baby. But don’t get it wrong: with discount flights, AirBnB, and some wonderful friends and family, we travel very cheaply, like teenagers!
(I was going to use “Seenagers” here until Lisa informed me that she was a seenager’s companion rather than a seenager herself. Well fine, be that way!)
We both suffer some seenage mistreatment. For example, her mother absolutely does not let us sleep together in her house, which does happen to be her home in California! Stranger than that, Nick asked us not to sleep together in his and Charlotte’s apartment in Nantes, at least not when he and Charlotte are there. “Too many rules!” is a seenager’s complaint too.
But hey, don’t you wish that you will be provoking that kind of response when you reach my age!
We do have great adventures.
There was that evening in Orange County. It took me a while to realize what was happening. Waze was switched off, because we were driving down the Pacific Coast Highway south of Los Angeles on a Saturday evening, and I figured that finding our way would be easy and traffic holdups unlikely. It was a relaxed after dinner moment. Cars had been turning off in front of me, some even making U-turns, but until the lights of the sobriety checkpoint were glaring in my eyes I did not see it coming.
This was a major checkpoint, cops milling around, a trailer set up as a command center, and I eased to a halt next to the waiting officer and switched my window down. Not having drunk more than a gin and tonic, and that a couple of hours earlier, I was feeling pretty comfortable until Lisa hissed under her breath, “get your foot off the accelerator!”
I heard the sound that the car was making with my foot floored, pretty loud for a BMW, at about the same time as the officer himself asked me politely to take my foot off the accelerator. I did realize that this was a bad start!
That was when he began to smile, which continued as he put me through the ensuing sobriety test.
It was a collection of relatively simple physical exercises designed to illustrate whether or not you are physically impaired. I asked why they didn’t just breathalyze me, because immediately I started doing those tests I realized that they were not going very well. No idea why.
They had parked her car in a lot nearby, and so Lisa sat watching me perform. I don’t know how she kept a straight face! Her heart had sunk when I accidentally trod on the accelerator, and she told me later that eyeing me wobble and shake prompted reflections on how she was going to bail me out! I knew none of this, because she seemed so calm and collected. It’s a good thing that one of us was!
The culmination of the physical tests was a heel to toe walk forward, then turn, and then a heel to toe back, nine steps each way. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? I wobbled and swayed like a, well, like a drunk to be honest! My only success was when the officer asked me how many steps I’d taken. I asked him if I should count the steps turning. He replied in the negative, explaining that they count the turn as a pirouette. I gleefully answered “18!”
They finally breathalyzed me, and I came in at 0.02. The limit is 0.08, and so I was far from drunk, exactly as I thought, notwithstanding my various failures in those silly tests. By now the police were all beaming, despite what may have been a disappointing outcome from their point of view, and I introduced Lisa to them. One suggested that my age might have had something to do with how I handled the tests. Off we drove, with a good little story under our belts.
Disneyland has its own Adventureland, which of course we ended up messing with in our own immutable fashion. Not deliberately, but we decided to take advantage of recent changes in California law and bring a can of edibles into the park.
I should have remembered from the 1970s, when I first became acquainted with Walt’s world in person, that it was always a squeaky clean place: no beer allowed back then, for example, even though it was very legal and great light entertainment. So edibles were not a good idea from the start.
They were “found” by one of the security guards at the entrance (the one who dreams of a position with the FBI: you’ve met one like that yourself, grimly enthusiastic!).
We were given two options, leave the edibles with the security guards (and we were explicitly told that they would not be returned to us later), or take them back to the hotel, in other words off Disney property. We took the second option, and then decided to save time by throwing the can into the garbage.
All well and good, except that we also decided to take a couple each first, principally because we bloody-mindedly did not want to change our plans for anyone’s security guards. But a plainclothes Disney security guard saw all of this. He gleefully accosted us as we approached the entrance for the second time, complete with the can that we had just thrown in the garbage! This was presented to us as the proof that he’d seen everything, including our munching on the edibles that we neglected to throw away.
We didn’t argue the point: nailed is nailed, even by a private cop! And so we were banned from Disney property for 24 hours, under the interesting theory that even consumed edibles were banned in the park – how to enforce that one in the normal course is a bit of a brain-teaser – obliging us to use our tickets the next day. Fine, be that way! The plain clothes officer did return the can, but when I checked it later, about half of the contents had disappeared! So if you want free pot and live in Orange County, join Disney security!
Adventures arose spontaneously throughout the year, in part because Lisa and I are like-minded in our openness to them, and in part because we had the time, and the same could be said of our vacations, another seenager pastime.
“How’s your vacation from your vacation going, dad,” Charlie had asked when we showed up at his apartment in Isla Vista, the UCSB student ghetto, for our first visit this year: fair comment!
It was his birthday, and during dinner I was telling one of my fascinating stories, about a dishwasher purchased for Nick when he moved to Nantes, and you know how important stories like that are to me, dealing with Amazon France and refunds and the like, when Alex cut me dead: “riveting!” Well okay, maybe what happened to the humidifier that Amazon delivered in place of the dishwasher is not exactly thrilling for a college senior!
I got even with him later: two can play at that game! Haley, his long-term girlfriend, was talking about her laudable career goal of being a special education teacher, and I warned her that dealing with many problem children for many hours a week was a lot different from dealing with a boyfriend with special needs on an occasional basis. Not one to hold grudges, Alex gave me a fist bump!
The San Diego Padres against the Arizona Diamondbacks came later that same vacation, with classy home plate leather recliner seats offered to Alex and Haley and Charlie and Lisa and me by my lovable nephew Antony Nash and his law firm.
We arrived at Petco Park in the third inning, with the Padres down 4 to 0. Two runs in the 4th, four in the 6th, score tied at the bottom of the 9th, and a two run walk off homer in the bottom of the 10th!! Padres win! I don’t really understand baseball (Lisa gave me that language), but it was an exciting finish even for me!
The San Diego Zoo “Food, Wine and Brew” event was the next night. It started with small shots of peanut butter whisky (I will admit to three!), and continued with innumerable samples of esoteric food and drinks. Which, well, all present felt compelled to sample to some degree. And all free, once Antony’s law firm had ponied up for the all-inclusive tickets (I am beginning to like this firm!).
In addition to the animals that we spied in their elaborate cages (we were in a great zoo, after all), there was live music and dancing for entertainment. Courtney and Antony danced, Sue and Derek danced, and Lisa and I passed.
Noticing this, Courtney asked me curiously what happened in me to the dancing gene from which her husband (Antony) and mother-in-law (my sister Susan) benefit: thank you, Courtney!
Charlie, Alex and Haley disappeared, and when they finally showed up announced that they had really enjoyed the Casino – of course that’s where they disappeared to!
Even Sue and I enjoyed the occasional chat and giggle during the course of the evening. One of my brother-in-law Derek’s friends congratulated him on FaceBook for facilitating those interactions. I was tempted to reassure him that Derek has been doing that successfully for about 40 years!
And what did you do when you were a teenager? Music, that’s what!
Have you ever been in a mosh pit! Well I had not, ever. Punk and mosh pits arrived in 1975 in England, and by then my college career had already started in California, and concert going had become less frequent. I remember being offended by how expensive US concerts were.
This year, the Libertines played l’Olympia in Paris, and we were there!
Do you know the band? Arlo (fka Tom) introduced me to them when they were pretty new, maybe 2004, smart English rockers with a punk tinge and poetry and Kate Moss in their lyrics.
Arlo played their songs over and over, in particular “A Time for Heroes,” as he slowly mastered acoustic guitar upstairs in his room at home. Beautiful music, if a little edgy. He still plays that song occasionally, and in 2010 had his own moment with Pete Doherty, the lead singer of the band, at a pub called the Galway in Paris.
Our own moment started with Lisa doing what she does in concerts, which is easily slide through the crowd toward the front. It’s a special skill, and I hung on to her hand and sidled along behind her. We were maybe five rows back from the stage when she stopped, and maybe the only seenagers that far forward. Which did not alert me to anything until the music started. There was a great starter band, and the crowd around us was starting to move a little, a collective sway and twitch, and I was starting to wonder why.
After an appropriate pause and buildup, a time of increasing excitement, on came the headliners, and the crowd went crazy! There were young people around us, French people, who knew all the words in English of songs which they may have first heard in kindergarden. So many were singing along! What a feeling!
Lisa and I were singing too, both equally oblivious, both equally out of tune!
Then the waves came, the waves of young people barging across in front of the stage, barging toward the stage or recoiling away from it, and sucking us with them in every direction. I was starting to get nervous. Lisa went all the way with them every time! She said later that she felt sucked in by each surge, whichever way it was going.
I was holding my arms around her, trying to protect her, because when I say the groups of young people were barging through, I mean that they were like a soccer crowd surging uncontrollably. That happened when supporters still stood in the stands and waves of passion would send us all wildly and uncontrollably back and forth (search for “Arsenal” on this page for a personal description of this soccer phenomenon).
And she just went with the flow, rushing after the boys barging this way and that, sucked into the vortex when those barging created space, and being pummeled when they surged back through that space, pushing everyone in it out of their way. This was not planned, at least not by us.
But neither was it entirely safe. It was uncontrollable, and we would have been flattened, literally, were it not for my being more cautious than Lisa, and a kind of courtesy on the part of the throng, an awareness of our predicament. And this was not a Sex Pistols concert: the Libertines are much more melodic, much less provocative of their audience.
We moved upstairs for one of the encores, and a guy saw us and checked in with us to make sure that we were all right after our time in the mosh pit. He had noticed us, he said, before going on his way reassured
You can’t keep a good woman down, not when she loves music the way that Lisa loves music!
Just as teenagers tend to go home for the Holidays, so did we.
Thanksgiving was spent at Lisa’s place, in California, and Christmas in my cottage in Brittany, with her family in California and mine in Brittany. Both felt warm and cosy and good.
Maybe I’ll grow up a bit next year! Did someone say “maybe not?”
Happy New Year everybody!