The Ramblings of a Young Curmudgeon

I was raised to give universal respect to those who were farther in age than me. I was to presume that more time spent on earth meant possessing greater wisdom, dignity, and compassion. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve come to realize that’s bullshit. Snow atop one’s head doesn’t earn a flawed human anymore grace. I’m 32 years old. Grey hairs are starting to sprout, and I feel no wiser. In fact, I feel less belonging to this postmodern period than my geriatric constituents.

The digital age is here. I’m a millennial, so I’m expected to embrace the 21st century, to be hooked on my phone like a desperate junkie. It would be quite fashionable to let those stupid wireless earpieces dangle like overpriced jewelry from my lobes, giving off the impression that I’m too important to use my own hands. Who needs hands anymore? They only exist to hold our devices while our necks hang downwards, probably causing early arthritic pain that will eventually be cured by a new advancement yet to be invented. Of course, it won’t be covered by health insurance. God bless those measly co-pays. 

Face down, head in phone—that’s how older generations judge me for my presumed ignorance, self-absorption, and fragility. They don’t realize I care more about their generation’s culture than they do, and even generations before them. For I’m a nostalgist. A lover of bygone eras. An old soul, so I’m told. The more I explore books, records, movies, fashions, and artifacts from yesteryear, the more melancholy I feel about a past I was never part of. 

Long gone is the old world; it exists now only in my imagination. It was torn down and traded in for shinier new structures, objects, and interests. The dirt, the filth, the grime, the beauty in imperfection—all gone. The future is sleek, clean, sparkly, and manufactured; easily replaced, just like our interpretation of history. Our legacies are replaceable. The marks we leave will dissipate. We’ll all fit into 90-minute documentary someday. Viewers will wonder who we were, then they’ll move on with their day.

Whenever my face isn’t glued to a screen, I walk around the streets of my city and look for remnants of its history. These neighborhoods and their buildings look very little like they did in the old movies. The steel forest I once witnessed from a distance, hoping to someday inhabit, has been colonized by developers and removed of its ecosystem. Blighted, it’s been sterilized of all traces of personality and spirit, its storefronts filled with hollow, faceless occupants. They see no reason for community; they just want your money. They’re here to sell you on the idea of individualism. They live to make you feel special. They’ll even lure you with “nostalgia” as a marketing strategy. Did you know Wendy’s was established in 1969? Well, now everyone does because they’ve plastered it onto their logo. 

Ah, yes, 1969. An effective year. A transformative year. An emotional trigger for some Americans. A longing for brighter days, even if it’s a false reimagining. Don’t you just want a damn burger and fries already? 

The new residents moving in are no deeper than the dip in the curb that carries the soles of their sockless shoes. The yuppies could care less about the origin of the quarters they now occupy and the cultures who once existed before them. They ignore the few old folks crawling down the sidewalks, confused with the ever-changing world around them. Those damn left-behinds, too stubborn to call it quits and migrate down south. Their apartments, gutted of any trace of their former existence. No traces of life, no lingering souls remain. Their remnants now sit in antique stores along the highways of rural America, where resentful traditionalists spout old fashioned rhetoric like “It’s not the same anymore…” and “In my day…” or “It’s all gone to hell…”. 

I agree with those old soreheads but they don’t care what I have to say. Youth is their enemy. I’m my own worst enemy. “I care too,” I long to tell them. They won’t care that I care. I don’t belong to their cranky generation. I belong to my own flock of whiners. Why is there so much whining? Aren’t modern conveniences supposed to enhance our lives? We have toilets to dispose of our waste. We have bounties of food without ever having to forage. We have shelter. We have technology that continues to conduct our lives for us. Why are we still miserable? I thought we’ve perfected the art of living? No? Damn. I guess I’ll crawl back into my hole, with my old movies and my books and my records. I’ll daydream of the good ol’ days, where we polished the ugliness and envisioned a world of tomorrow. 

Raj Tawney

Raj Tawney is an essayist and journalist in New York. Recent contributions include New York Magazine, The Boston Globe, Variety, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and Oprah Magazine.

Peter Griffin

Art by Peter Griffin, courtesy public domain.