I feel like life passed me by. That I squandered my chance and I’m a loser in the new economy. You know, the STEM world, run by entrepreneurs. Money is everything and I ain’t got none. What did I do, where did I go wrong? Did I break the cardinal rule of the future by not having the five right friends who could help me through, did I not have enough confidence, or did I just waste too much time period…what exactly did I do in my twenties and early thirties?
I’m doing my best to read only fiction. Because it illuminates life better than truth. And I’m sick of people telling me how to live, what makes them such experts. But when I finished “The Story Of Ove,” which is a juggernaut overseas, I dream of having such impact, I researched online for greatness, that’s how I decide what to read, on the reviews, of both the cognoscenti and the hoi polloi. And I saw that William Finnegan’s “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life,” had won the Pulitzer Prize.
Hmm… I knew of this book. But was there too much surfing? Some of the user reviews said so. But I was gonna be wasting a lot of time waiting for doctors so after I found the free sample chapter intriguing, I purchased the whole book.
And I saw myself in it.
It was not like today. In the fifties and sixties no one had famous parents, we didn’t have a leg up, we weren’t worldly. My father owned a liquor store, as did one of the surfers from the Inland Empire who went to Yale. Our mothers and fathers didn’t want us to be equal to them, they weren’t buying insurance, making sure we could survive financially, rather they wanted us to be BETTER than they were, they wanted to provide opportunities, and they neither coddled nor hovered over us. We went unsupervised. We got hurt. We made it up as we went along. And one thing’s for damn sure, our parents were not our best friends.
Finnegan, presently a staff writer for “The New Yorker,” dropped out of college. As soon as they got a high draft number that’s what so many baby boomers did. They were less worried about finances, state schools were relatively cheap, and certainly not worried about their financial futures, rather they were interested in themselves, finding out who they were as opposed to accumulating notches in their belts.
Don’t confuse this with the tech dropouts. Zuckerberg and the rest were driven, we were lackadaisical. We might know the credits on every LP but we had no idea who we wanted to be. The pinnacle was an MD, and even if you could tolerate the sight of blood did you really want to see sick people all day? Sure, organic chemistry weeded out the wannabes, but the truth is most of us wanted nothing to do with science and math, art and literature, anthropology and sociology, people-focused subjects were king.
Assuming, once again, you stayed in school.
Finnegan dropped out to go surfing. He brought his girlfriend along with him to Hawaii. Even though in so many ways we’re going backwards, with cuts to abortion, never mind welfare, much of what we accept as commonplace today was anything but in the sixties and seventies. Free love was permitted by the pill. And living together turned our parents’ insides. They wouldn’t let us stay in the same bed under their roof unless we were married, today I know kids who LIVE in their parents houses, together!
Finnegan eventually goes back to school, but it’s not Harvard, it’s UC Santa Cruz. Everybody wanted to go to the best school they could get into, but if you didn’t go to an Ivy you didn’t see your life as immediately ending, you didn’t see your future chopped right off.
And then he worked for the railroad. That’s right, after finishing his education Finnegan did blue collar work to accumulate enough cash to fuel his dreams. Does anybody even do that anymore? As far as starting a career out of school, not a single one of my compatriots, including myself, of course, met with a recruiter on campus, and I went to a highfalutin’ college filled with strivers.
So why did I go to Middlebury?
That’s true, absolutely. And looking back over the decades I can see that’s the one thing I studied that I still do, assiduously, it appears I made the right choice. However, I could never relate to most of the people there, they thought life was all about what you learned in books, I wanted something more, which was not so easily accessible in the hinterlands of Vermont.
So with that railroad cash Finnegan went on an endless surf trip, around the world. Even Howard Stern believes you can’t sacrifice that career time, but Finnegan did. He was in search of not only the perfect wave, but new experiences, in an era where when you were far from home you truly were, hopefully letters caught up with you weeks later. There were no cell phones, no safety net, you lived by your wits.
In this case at the bottom. Finnegan reported his travelers checks stolen and after getting reimbursement the originals were sold on the black market. Desperate people do desperate things. But today’s upper classes don’t know desperation, they know flying private, the world is their oyster!
As for the surfing… What is the most important thing in life? Everybody goes around just once, we all get the same amount of time, give or take. You can work at the bank, do 24/7 at the tech firm, make a lot of cash, but when you look back did you follow your dream, did you have great experiences, or did you just do what was expedient, afraid to break the mold and be poor.
You die and then you’re forgotten. Just look at the deceased heroes of the year, no one was even mentioning David Bowie until Prince died, and the purple one is getting tons of adulation but then…time marches on.
So I feel better about myself. Especially the 54 days I spent on the hill this year. I hit some amazing powder in Telluride, especially on Electra off of Gold Hill. It was blowin’ and snowin’ and near closing time and there was an EX sign on top of the slope that designated extreme terrain and I’d never been there before but something inside said this was my chance. I was on ’em, I could do this.
So I pushed off.
Stuart said no mas, he went down. Joel and Schmitty decided to follow me, they went into the trees.
And when I reached a point where I could see no more, I stopped. And asked a local. Which way to go.
NOT THIS WAY!
The obvious way, over the ridge, was full of rocks and cliffs, we should go ’round the bend.
Where there was a railing. A series of poles and wire rope installed so you didn’t fall off the cliff. There were a couple of feet to maneuver in. But you could only go straight.
I’m here telling you the story. Obviously nothing untoward happened. And sure, I might have survived just fine on the road not taken.
But the fact is I took a risk. Not a business one that would yield me money, but a personal one that meant something only to me.
And it won’t pay dividends.
But it made me and still makes me feel fully alive.
I don’t think youngsters fully understand their baby boomer progenitors. It’s hard to imagine being so unencumbered and free.
But we were.
In an era when life was different. When musicians were kings, speaking their truth, beholden to no one, corporations were the enemy.
And the audience was all on a personal hejira. Groupthink was anathema. We wanted to be all we could be.
Sure, the Army ripped off our slogan but we were there first.
We were always there first.