First, let me start off by saying, I’ve never gotten high in my life. I have asthma so the idea of messing with my lungs makes me nervous. I’ve seen people suck the whatever-it-is out of whipped cream cans, but I didn’t quite take that step myself. I’m no goody-two-shoes, either; I’ve had my share of drinks. Sometimes more than my share. But I know where to draw the line. I will never, EVER go into a casino and tap the ATM so I can keep playing.
I swear on my wool, I wasn’t drinking tonight, I wasn’t smoking anything funny (or anything period), and I’m not pregnant, but “Jack & Diane” came on the radio tonight and I started bawling. That bridge section, “So let it rock, let it roll/Let the Bible belt come and save my soul/Hold on to sixteen as long as you can/Changes come around real soon, make us women and men.” I lost it.
I still have clear memories of being fifteen (since I was younger than most of my friends in high school), dancing at Sweet Sixteen parties, looking like frogs in a blender but having a wicked great time. That song would come on, and we’d all get That Look. You know the one. You look at the other person and you each know what the other is thinking. Yeah; this is It; this is The Meaning. (We were all quite sure we’d found the meaning of life back in high school.) I even remember a picture of my friend Mary Brouder, dancing beside Donna Mulcahy, and sorry to say, guys, but it was one awful picture. You both looked like you were on the tail end of a 3-day bender. I love that picture. And I know you hated when I brought the camera around—I specialized in candid shots—but I’d like to believe you appreciated that someone was there to freeze that moment in time.
Unfortunately, I left my photo albums at my friend Stephan Ann Santoro’s house, when we were there for Shabeena’s going away party, and I never went to get them back. But the pictures are still frozen in my mind, and hopefully, they’re dusty in Steph’s attic somewhere.
Anyway, back then, hearing that bridge, it served as a regular reminder (because the song came on the radio at least 3 times a day) to grab onto the moment and appreciate our youth because it doesn’t last.
Flash forward to me now, 42 years old, married with 2 kids, a house, a mortgage, 2 cats, and more yarn than any human has a right to own. Yeah, these are happy times. I went to get the boys their Friday night special, McDonalds for dinner, and I thought about how Ryan’s high school is playing their arch rival tonight. John said he heard there could be fights, it’s that tight a game. They’ll be playing less than a mile from here; chances are good we’ll hear the band, the cheering, the whistles. I’ve got to go one of these days. I’ve never seen a high school football game, and I’ve grown fond of the Eagles.
Then “Jack & Diane” comes on the radio, and the bridge plays, and I think, “Holy hopping snot, I sang this song when I was 16 and being ‘women and men’ was MILES away. Now I’m 42 and I’m buying dinner for my kids who’re teenagers, and one’s playing on the computer and the other is watching television. I have bills and responsibilities. I am women and men. What the eff happened?”
John Cougar Mellencamp (as he was known at the time) was dead on. Hold on to sixteen as long as you can. Changes DO come around real soon, and they make us women and men. The funny thing is, at the time I was kind of scared of the idea. 42 is OLD to someone who’s 16. But I’m 42 now, and…it’s not that bad. I’m not scared of it. I mourn for all the time I wasted, taking the wrong path here and there, but in the grand scheme, it’s not such a bad thing. I learned a lot. I’m still here, and at the moment, it’s more than a lot of people can say.
“A little ditty about Jack and Diane,
Two American kids doing the best they can.”