My friend Phil has brought me to Best Buy because he's TV shopping and needs moral support. I've never felt entirely comfortable providing this crutch for Phil, because the rate at which the guy buys electronics rivals the rate of growth of Imelda Marcos' shoe collection in the 80s. Where the money comes from, I don't know. Phil is either deriving nutrition from his PSP and Ipod, or he's doing inappropriate things for money a la the I've-seen-better-days Dirk Diggler towards the end of Boogie Nights; either way I figure this is none of my business.
Phil's got a plasma TV at home that I would kill for, but he's brought me to Best Buy ranting about some new television set that he must investigate. I've abandoned my Jiminy Cricket role and left Phil to his own devices while I kill time on the demo Xbox, thoughtfully loaded with Halo 2 and mounted in front of a mated set of recliners, each one rivaling my Civic in size. It's not long before a handful of kids show up, looking to take me on in Halo.
Right away, the kids establish themselves as pretty OK in my book. They call me "Mister", which is bemusing at first but eventually endearing. They can discuss the finer points of Halo pretty intelligently. But I can't stop looking at their polo shirt collars. They're all turned up. I don't get it.
After a while, the banter turns from Halo weapon combos to music, and then from music to skateboarding. They use slang words I've never heard. I am Polybius in Rome. I can understand what's going on, but I don't understand it. I think about when the last time I watched MTV was. I can't remember.
The screen goes black in-between rounds and it reflects me flanked by all of these kids, probably ten years my junior, with their collars turned up. The only thing I can intelligently discuss with these guys is games.
I never anticipated growing old. There was no denying that I was going to age, of course, but I had never thought I would get old the way my dad did: ostentatiously, infuriatingly old. Putting in ear plugs before taking me to a Def Leppard concert when I was twelve or stubbornly insisting on wearing a fanny pack in public for the sake of "convenience". I was always damn sure that I was going to be able to resist this sort of social degeneration. I dressed well, listened to hip hop, carefully and deliberately styled my hair so that it looked unstyled and developed a cultured disdain for department stores. I had made myself impervious to aging.
Somehow, in spite of my entrenchment in the cool camp, the lines had shifted beneath me. At some point, an all-hands memo was sent out informing the youth to flip up their collars and I totally missed it. The down-turned collar was my fanny pack, my coolness Waterloo.
My father and I can talk politics and money all day, but for entertainment, we can talk X-Com. Or Civilization. When I tell the kids here at Best Buy that they're wasting their time with the pistol and SMG when I've got a battle rifle, they're relating to me the way I relate to my pops. The way my dad can't relate to his dad, who in his old age can only discuss his latest health deficiency and who aspires to no higher form of entertainment than Off-Track Betting. So as Phil strolls over to where we are, I am left with a consolation prize for my defeat at the hands of time; games are the great generational equalizer. As long as I am a nerd, I have a conduit to my youth.
The kids notice Phil approach, and ask him if he's any good. Phil jerks a thumb in my direction. "I'm better than him. But if I beat you, you gotta flip your goddamn collars down."