Sophie was running ahead of me, talking to her friend on the cell phone, trying to decide where to meet. We eventually found her friends over at the sunscreen-sponsor tent. After the initial greetings, my daughter immediately banned me from their presence. I’m used to this by now. But I still put up a little fight.
“Well how am I going to know where you are? There are like twenty thousand people here. What am I gonna do all alone?”
“Da-ad! You are NOT sitting with us! Alexa’s dad came too, and he just went somewhere and found a place to sit. Why can’t you be like him?” Alexa conspires with a smug grin.
“I just want to see where you sit.” I said
“Dad, go away. I’ll call you when the concert’s over and we’ll meet somewhere.”
This went on for a while. I eventually pretended to leave, but then went all stealth and followed her and her friends for a while. Modest Mouse was playing their noisy set in the background. Soon enough they made their way to a blanketed spot on the lawn, and I finally relaxed a bit. No beer, no pot. No drunken boys that I had never met before.
Now what? I looked around at the concert scene unfolding around me and took stock of my situation. I didn’t like it. I’m just not up for this anymore: the smell of cigarettes and pot, the crowds, the scrappy-looking new-age hippies who think they know everything, the noisy loud music, the throngs of young people without a care in the world other than spending $35 to hear the bands they love. And then I remembered something else: isn’t the lead singer of REM, Michael Stipe, a militant vegetarian with a big political mouth? I hate that. If I come to a concert, I certainly don’t want to be politically preached at. Especially not by a militant vegetarian.
This old familiar feeling crept up and quietly gripped me: I am a total outsider. I don’t fit in and everyone can see it. My mind went all paranoid. I imagined all these young kids looking at me, and laughing.
“Hey dude, look at the corporate tool who’s trying to re-live the college glory days!”
“Yaw, dude! Bill Gates called and wants his Khaki’s back!”
Go ahead, dudes, laugh all you want. I could kick your ass in a Boardroom. All day long. And I’m not wearing Khakis. I am wearing cargo shorts that I bought at Kohls, and a very comfortable golf shirt. And I’m carrying a backpack filled with items that I thought we would need for our father-daughter experience in the park: two ponchos in case it rains, bottled water, a blanket to sit on. Just the basics.
“What a dork!” I thought to myself. I am totally the corporate tool.
I distracted myself by considering how the salutation “dude!” ever became so popular. It seems as if among younger people, everyone calls everyone else “Dude!” Old, young, male, female, friend, foe, all are appropriately referred to as “Dude!”
“What about pets?” I asked my thirteen-year-old daughter and her group of friends one afternoon. “Can animals be called ‘dude’? Is that allowed?”
They shrug, looking at each other desperately for help in interpreting this bizarre question coming from an adult. I’ve stumped them.
“Like,” I continued, “What if your dog is bugging you for food, and, like, you say ‘Dude! Hold on! I’ll get your food later!’ Do kids say that? To animals?”
The girls look at each other in disbelief, horrified that I am even having this conversation with them.
“Uh, yeah, I guess.” Says Zoe, backing up slowly, nonchalantly, avoiding eye contact.
The group of seventh-grade girls briskly make their way out of the kitchen, up to Lily’s bedroom, to the familiarity of their cell phones and computers and uniform black eye makeup and straight-ironed hair.
I fumbled through the crowds with my backpack, hop-scotching over little segments of people on lawn chairs and blankets. Skipping and jumping between all the happy couples and random groupings of youthful friendsters, I found a tiny square of lawn where I could park my middle-aged ass and pretend to enjoy the concert, alone. I sat down and scrounged enough space to lie back with my head on the backpack. I’ll close my eyes and think quiet thoughts, that’s what I’ll do. I shut my eyes. The lawn was already damp. The dank smell of beer was everywhere in the air. I listened to the idle chatter and laughter of the twenty-somethings surrounding me. Damn these kids who are so optimistic and upbeat all the time. I bet half of them are still living at home.
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