I had the opportunity last month to spend a couple of weeks with one of my favorite people in the world: my youngest brother, Andy J. We went to the beach, ate ice cream, swam at all hours of the day. Nothing complex, just good simple time spent with family. Wind whistled through the trees, bullfrogs burped out on the pond. There were lightning bugs and giggling. So serene. And it was this serenity, this pure medium, that allowed me to realize a certain truth… Namely, that my brother is indubitably a moron.
I love him dearly. It’s not his fault. After all, he is thirteen and male. When you’re thirteen and male you don’t leisurely eat ice cream. No, you take it as a challenge. You dominate the ice cream. You consume over a pound of the stuff (17.5 ounces to be exact) in one sitting. You don’t just go swimming; you wrestle-swim. You Kung fu in the water. You Jujitsu in the water. You leave your swimming partner with an ache in his most sensitive areas. You don’t just go to the beach; you make the beach your bitch.
And why do you do this when you’re thirteen and male? Why do you shoot BB’s through windows and blow up hot dogs with firecrackers and run around waving some poor girl’s underwear over your head that inadvertently ended up in your laundry at camp? Simple. Because it’s cool. Coolness is the sole justification. Coolness. People will blame this behavior on hormones or caffeine. Freud would say that the young man is trying to achieve some libidinal pleasure. No, no, Siggy. He’s trying to be cool.
Coolness is bliss. Upon performing an act of coolness you, at that moment, have reached the pinnacle of life in this or any other universe. At thirteen you have usurped the laws of physics and chemistry, thus creating a momentary ether in which you are the center. You glow fluorescent shades of blue. You emit never-before-smelled pheromones. You’re not a man, you’re The Man. This is coolness. But, like any high, it’s fleeting, so you become a chaser. You seek out other opportunities for coolness. You are relentless and, if nothing else, original. You realize that sledding in and of itself is not cool, but sledding off a six-foot, coccyx-shattering jump is. You discover that simply lighting the charcoal is a sad substitute for incinerating the charcoal with a gallon of gasoline. Who cares if the burgers taste like a trucker’s leathery hand because in doing all this you are striving for the ultimate, hoping that all these acts will somehow weave together, like an Arthur Fonzarelli spider web, and become law. You’re hoping to become the lifetime sheriff of cool.
Problem is, cool is not universal. Cool is in the eye of the beholder, but the thirteen-year-old beholder is too encased in coolness to know it. He sees coolness in having an indoor water fight using pitchers and pitchers of water. For his father, however, this event produces the polar opposite of cool; it produces red. It produces your-are-so-uncool anger. It produces go-to-your-room-for-a-week-and-only-come-out-to-help-me-tear-up-the-carpet anger. Anger, if anything, can thwart coolness.
And the thirteen-year-old male idiot does get his fair share of anger. It sometimes piles upon him like sticky tar. For a while he doesn’t understand what the big deal is, but then the reasons behind the anger soak in. He grows older, too. To some extent he starts to understand how to function in the world. He learns that coolness isn’t the only force in the universe. He learns the rules. But—and this is the scariest part about the male, cool-seeking moron—the urge for cool never… goes… away. Never. You just learn how to manage it. You dole it out in smaller doses. You get better at lying and making excuses.
You know when the time is right. But the search for cool never leaves you. So, at 19, you create a floor-to-ceiling barrier of phone books in your dorm hallway while everyone else is sleeping. At 25, under the cover of darkness, you jump into bushes for no reason at all. You, at 32, take utter joy in stealthily whipping your friends with a towel. As a father at 40 you tow your children on sleds behind your truck, sending them whipping along the frozen streets, but you make sure their mother doesn’t see. At 45 you have to fight the urge, when walking with someone next to a swimming pool, to push them in. Doesn’t matter if it’s your wife, your mother, or your boss. And, at 55, you sneak off on the 4th of July with a Black Cat and a hot dog, knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that blowing stuff up with firecrackers is the coolest thing ever.
Keep it cool.