It’s not my fault
There’s not a lot of good people left in the world today, which probably makes it hard for the children of the world to have someone to look up to.
I can remember being young, kinda. While the idea of hero-worship has always been pretty alien to me – the people who worship the ground that Peyton Manning walks on crack me up, whether they’re 12 years old or 42 years old, and there are plenty of people in Tennessee and Mississippi that fall into that camp – I think that finding someone, usually a group of people, to pattern yourself after is a part of adolescence, even (or especially) if you only have abstractions through which to judge those people. It says something about who you want to be, and probably even more about who you are. And if you want to be embarrassed, think back on who you looked up to during some of your formative years.
The people you look up to and want to emulate are likely to be the people you want to be when you get older. This is why the first person every young boy looks up to is his father, and I was no exception. The funny thing about that is, despite teenage angst and the rebellion of young adults, you’ll probably wind up imitating that person as you get older, both consciously and unconsciously, and people will make fun of you and you’ll be like, “Nah, I’m nothing like that old fart” and YOU ARE EXACTLY LIKE THAT OLD FART. Make peace with it.
While a father is a building block, once a boy hits the age of 11 or so he starts becoming obsessed with coolness. For me, one George Kenneth Griffey Jr. was coolness personified at the age of 11. Since I was also a lefty, I thought wearing my hat backward would make me a better baseball player; I didn’t factor in my overall honkiness and inability to run fast or hit the curveball, but athleticism was only part of The Kid’s appeal; Griffey was just cooler than everyone else. While I didn’t have a good handle on the meaning of the word ‘fuck’ just yet, even I could tell that Junior was really fucking cool.
The next blend in my young personality cocktail would teach me the meaning of that word, along with several others that I was just becoming familiar with. See, the late-90s and early-00s were marked by the reign of MTV’s Total Request Live and few awkward looking white guys inhabited that landscape like Eminem. For a country boy who didn’t understand yet what roles Johnny, David and Hank were to play in his life, Marshall Mathers was that sort of absurd oddity you could project for yourself; he was the ultimate outsider. If a white guy could break into rap and become successful, then a hillbilly like myself might just be fit for something other than farming or construction work after all.
The next part might confuse some youngsters, but when I was growing up, geek was not chic; being a nerd was not a ticket to getting laid, and that’s the thing you start thinking about, 24 hours a day, right around 15 years old. And since my personality – with its Lord of the Rings knowledge and obsession with baseball statistics from the 1950s and ability to tell dumb jokes that repelled the opposite sex – wasn’t going to take me to the promised land, so to speak, who to follow that would? Naturally, a renaissance man, a bon vivant with a tortured soul who could touch on funny or serious at different times – why not Matt Damon? Of course, he being a charismatic movie star with an Academy Award at the tender age of 27 and my high school personality consisting of crude humor, a common ground did not exist. When you’re 16, any excuse to not sound like an ass is a good excuse.
(A recap so far: my adolescence was influenced by my dad, Ken Griffey Jr., Eminem and Matt Damon. What I would give to have those four guys locked in a room and forced to make small talk for an hour. It’s a miracle any woman has ever spoken to me.)
Exiting high school and entering college, signposts become much less navigable. A wrong turn or a bad influence could have negative repercussions on a young man’s life for years to come. Thankfully, I elected to pattern myself after Animal House-era John Belushi and Ernest Hemingway – two totally solid humans for an impressionable 19 year old who wants to write and drink and drink and write to follow along.
The latter half of college I transferred my interest into screwed-up comics; Patton Oswalt, Lewis Black, the late Greg Giraldo, gentlemen of that ilk. The artsy types have always interested me, but only if that art is crude, vulgar and unnecessary.
And that’s it. Post-college, I’ve been intentionally rudderless – as a development tool, it’s best for a young man to try to force himself to fly, often by the seat of his pants, as he enters the real world. I’ve failed as often, if not more, than I’ve succeeded. Looking back at the people I’ve patterned myself after, I think it’s easy to see why.