Pig Buttstickery

by Eric Elmer

You know how sometimes you develop a notion in life and you're so taken with your own insight that you insist on explaining it to other people as a "theory"? Why does it have to be a "theory," anyway? Why can't you just form an opinion and go with it? Live your life and keep your internal thought process to yourself? I say "you" as if I'm sure this is a phenomenon anyone can relate to. I guess I'm trying to gather support for my wack-ass tendencies by cloaking them in the language of inclusion. Let me start over.

Sometimes I develop notions in life and I'm so taken with my own insight that I insist on explaining it to other people as a "theory". I guess my thinking is that if I can wrap up a cockamamie philosophy in an intellectually handy package, it's easier to pass that to someone else and get them to swallow it. So the first thing I might want to ask myself is why I feel the need to make other people swallow my package.

But back to the theory. Here it is: everyone has a true mental age and a true physical age, and these usually have nothing to do with the number of birthdays you've had.

What do you think? Kind of clunky, I know. I need to tinker with the actual thesis statement, jazz it up a little. Something like: "If your age don't fit, you're still legit!" It needs a Johnnie Cochran/Jesse Jackson kind of rhyme, or at least to be whittled down a bit. But let me explain it.

I've been working on the first part of this theory for a few years, but I didn't add plank #2 (true physical age) until recently. I'm not sure if it even belongs with plank #1 yet, and indeed, plank #2 might threaten the integrity of the whole shebang so it might have to be abandoned or tabled for inclusion in a future theory that I can use to make myself look like a thoughtful guy.

Have you ever met a little kid who can be trusted to take messages or do his homework without being told or handle a bit of privileged information without telling anyone? In short, a miniature adult? By the same token, have you ever met someone in their 50's who likes to blast the radio when they drive or debate about books or movies or stay out until 3 in the morning? A crazy old codger who likes to play practical jokes and giggle at naughty words? Or how about an adolescent who likes nothing more than to play chess and work crossword puzzles?

It all goes back to plank #1 of my theory. Everyone has a certain ideal mental age that they carry around with them and project most of their lives. It's not always so much in the way they act as in they way they think. Sober responsibility and joyless routine might claim us all in the end, but some of us fight that a lot more than others. If you think like a 10-year old, you're going to have an especially tough time when you get old and are expected not to laugh at farts. If you think like a 65-year old, your childhood is going to be awkward and frustrating, but in the end you'll catch up to your own attitudes and probably be a smashingly successful old cranky bastard.

Personally, I think my true mental age is 25. At 25, a person is independent, self-absorbed, and not expected to have really made anything of themselves yet. You can let your affectations show, you can still behave and dress however you feel (why don't retirees wear jeans?). At 25, bad habits are just habits, not lifelong vices sure to ruin you. At 25, you've got some friendships that go way back, but you're still likely to meet a lot of new people. You're far enough past your teen years that you can look back and realize what a bunch of assholes teenagers are. But you're still young enough that you can shrug off the looming concerns of middle age. You probably haven't spawned yet so you aren't obliged to look at the world as a nervous parent. It's an awesome age to be.

It's also got a downside. The carefree mid-20's are the envy of every other age group. It's truly the best of both worlds, when you think about it. Thus, the scrutiny that you're under to leave them behind is especially focused. As you leave 25 behind, younger people stop trusting you or thinking you're cool, older people start urging you into their maudlin hell of seriousness so they'll have some company. For someone who cherishes their 20's, the milestone of 30 seems like a gallows. But the bean counter on the fast track to global business domination probably can't wait for the prestige of his 30's to kick in. Or, the woman who has already squeezed out 3 kids by 25 probably doesn't even notice 30 when it hits her, since she's had to swallow the bitter pill of reality many years before.

So if you're lucky enough to have a true mental age that's a little more socially acceptable, like 6 or 73, you don't have to deal with as much scorn before or after you've reached it. The eternal 8-year-old is tolerated by a lot more people than the eternal 25-year-old. I'm not really here to defend 25, I'm just trying to explain plank #1 of the theory. Everyone is a certain age inside, regardless of how many times around the sun their carcass has gone. Whether I've done a good job of explaining that or not, I must move on to the recently developed plank #2.

I done thunk this one up after my recent 10-year high school reunion. I must tread carefully on this topic lest I become sidetracked by irrelevant anecdotes, like how this one kid named David poked a stick up a pig's butt when we were on 5th grade field trip to a farm and I really wanted to remind him of that when I saw him at the reunion. Or how the first girl I ever kissed was there and it was so weird to be standing in the same room as her and my wife. Back to the second plank: everyone has a true, or better yet optimum physical age.

This is a little more nebulous. I'm not talking about the age at which the person has hit their physical prime. Everyone's optimum physical age would be 17 if that were the standard. I don't mean sexual peak either... though while I'm on the subject let me just say that I think this business of men hitting that peak at 18 and women hitting it at 35 is a bunch of sex doctor hoo-ha. Anyone who's married gots to give me an amen on that. That's a discussion for another day, anyhoo.

No... what I'm saying is that people are much like the grapes of the field, which have that one fleeting instance of dewy perfection that a good winemaker will understand and wait patiently for before plucking them at that tender moment and making them into Mad Dog 20/20. People hit their stride with their body at a unique time. It's not about having the most hair or having the least fat or having the perkiest particulars. It's about being comfortable in your own skin. This is what my reunion proved to me... there were some women there who were (in high school) hot enough to give you the night sweats, and nowadays... eh. Take 'em or leave 'em. I'm not saying they porked out or grew beards, I'm just saying that some of them lost that magnetism. It's because they passed their true physical age. Their concept of themselves is inexorably dependant on being 17, but 17's gone and not to pass this way again.

Consequently, some formerly awkward ladies are now stunning. The place was too damn crowded and loud to really say that this was entirely a matter of physical dimensions or makeup or other externals. There were just some girls who put off a confidence when you talked to them at the reunion that I know they didn't have in high school. Part of that's from feeling good, not just looking good.

I'm not going to lie, there were some women who were hot then are hotter now. But you catch my drift.

This applies to the men, too. Some guys looked like sad shadows of themselves. Maybe this ties back to plank #1. Maybe it's the people who are now ten years past their true mental age who have the hardest time projecting that comfortable physical aura. I dunno. I just know that some of the guys weren't keeping it together too well... they've had the 1990 hockey hairdo cut off their heads in the intervening years, or they're saddled with kids, and their life (happy or unhappy) did not at all turn out the way they thought it would, and it shows. Some guys never really fit in high school and now when you talk to them they seem like they've got the world by the tail. Or they were simply gawk-awkward at 16, but 28 really agrees with them.

Again, I'm not talking about "camera" attractiveness per se, unless by that you mean the way that a comfortable person is attractive to others and fun to be around. When I was in high school I was probably 65 pounds lighter, clean-cut, and apple-cheeked. Nowadays the wrinkles are neck-and-neck with the double chin and the careless goatee as they race around the muddy horse track that is my face. But I feel a lot better about myself than I did in eleventh grade.

"What is this horseshit?" you might ask. "Some way to intellectualize the whole high school tableau and position yourself beyond it all? You're just looking for some geeked-out way to tear down the strong and build up the weak long after the fact. Get over high school, you sad sack."

You may be right. I may be crazy, and I did say at the beginning that I tend to make theories out of things that other people just hold in their minds as a matter of course. But if you've read this far, it just might be a lunatic you're looking for, so how's about we get back to you swallowing my philosophical package? You can spit it out after I'm done, but let me at least finish, here. Be a sport.

I did consider that all this half-assed philosophy and fancy pants rhetoric might be just revisionist nerdplay, but I don't think it is. For one, the theory of true mental age holds up even when you apply it to other phases in life.

Think about this: a lot of people I know had one wacky/silly grandfather, and one cranky/serious grandfather. One was a child at heart, the other was proud to be a grouchy adult. Not that they didn't both love you, or that one was irresponsible or the other was mean... it's just a common pattern, and it proves that no two old men are created alike. In every stage of life you'll find people who subvert the preconceived wisdom about how they should behave.

As for the theory of true physical age... let me again use senior citizens to make my point. Sometimes they'll show some old fella on the Nightly News when it's the anniversary of some great battle, reminiscing about how he and two other Marines held off three dozen krauts at the battle of Grunchenjurgen with nine bullets and box of raisins. Tom Brokaw will be talking to the guy in his living room, and then they'll cut to a picture of him in uniform from sixty years before. Yeah, most of the time the younger picture is going to look a lot better than the old bag of bones in the living room... but sometimes the picture from WW2 will look... bizarre. Sometimes you'll see pictures of someone from younger days and it will just be frightening... big ears, fish lips, terrible dated haristyle. The person hadn't grown into their look yet.

It's hard to explain it if you don't know what I mean... think about Moe Howard from the Three Stooges: put that head on a little kid and the mental image doesn't really seem to fit, does it? But Moe was once in grade school. Certain faces are just good older faces. Part of it is looks, part of it is style, part of it is having confidence. But at the end of the day, some people don't really "take" until they reach 40 or beyond. And some people pass their adolescence and never seem natural again for the rest of their lives.

What's the balance between the two? Can your true mental age differ wildly from your optimum physical age? Are the two aspects interconnected in ways that I have failed to consider? If I was aware at 25 that I was entering my stride as a person, did that help me to come to grips with my physical aura? Can you recognize these patterns and change them, choosing for yourself a new true age? Could I sound more like a telepsychic or quack therapist? These are all good questions that might ultimately confirm or disprove my theory if I were to pursue answers. But the clock is ticking as I hurtle past my true mental age into the great grey unknown, so I've gotta go be independent and self-absorbed now.

--EEE, 10/12/00