The Day I Turned Uncool: Confessions of a Reluctant Grownup

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Sooner or later, each of us must face the day we develop a disturbing new interest in lawn care; the day we order sauvignon blanc instead of Rolling Rock; the day we refuse to see any concert where we cannot sit down. Sooner or later, each of us must face the day we turn uncool…


Reviews

Tom Perrotta: “If Dan Zevin’s so uncool, how come he’s so funny? This is a witty, sharply observed book about the embarrassing compromises and guilty pleasures of adulthood.”

Booklist: ”…These essays are an absolute comic treasure…”

Library Journal: ”…With this new work, Zevin firmly positions himself as a humorist for the next generation…We all know this guy: He’s Dave Barry with an attitude, and he gives us one heck of a good time in 192 pages.”

Glamour: ”…laugh out-loud…Growing up isn’t pretty, but in Zevin’s world, for both men and women, it’s pretty damn funny.”


Excerpt

Not My Junior Year Abroad

When my younger brother, Richie, told me he’d be spending a semester of college studying in Madrid, I sat him down and posed a serious question: When could I visit? My own erstwhile semester abroad was one of those quintessential turning points where horizons are broadened, identities are shaped, Nutella is eaten. I was young, free, and boarding with Mr. and Mrs. Knud Schmidt of Copenhagen, Denmark. Scandinavia seemed like the perfect place for student exchange, not because I had any idea where it was on a map, but because my friend Hal went the semester before and said the girls there were the “foxiest.”

Fifteen years later, I longed to catch up with Richie at this critical juncture in his life. I would spend one reckless week in Spain, showing an amateur how it’s really done. What follows are the often enlightening, always disturbing, heavily edited excerpts from my travel journals, then and now.

SEMESTER ABROAD, COPENHAGEN, 20 YEARS OF AGE

This is gonna be the most intense semester. Last night, me, Keith, Sari, Cathy, Erik Daner, Jeff, Tim, Denise, Cathy, Bjorn, Bjorn’s friend whose name I’m spacing out, and this chick Megan from my Danish Literature class (cute+smart=probably has boyfriend) stayed out all night (4:30 a.m.) drinking Tuborg at this pub only the Danish students know about and then today, me, Tim, Bill, Cathy, and Denise went to the Hamlet castle and took a train to The Louisiana which is definitely the coolest museum I’ve ever seen and tonight we’re all going back to that jazz club we went to last Thursday where everyone was all boho wearing gloves with cut-out finger holes and smoking and everything. I am sooooooo stoked! My Eurail pass came in the mail today! When I opened the envelope it was like this huge metaphor of me having the “whole world in my hands.”

WEEK ABROAD, MADRID, 35 YEARS OF AGE

I cannot see out of my right eye. I’m on the bed in our hotel room with a gauze pad the size of a pancake on my ojo. Megan and I landed a few hours ago, and when Richie met us at the airport, he had an elaborate itinerary planned–a tapas lunch, a tour of the Prado, the old city, the new city, the middle-aged city, sangria, paella, pinatas, cucarachas, the whole tour de force or however you say it in Spanish. The one thing he didn’t plan for was that my cornea would have a brush with some shrubbery a few hours before takeoff. I was trying to get Chloe’s tennis ball out of a bush in the backyard before dropping her off at the dogsitters. Ten hours later, I stumbled off the plane in Madrid wearing these mirrored, Eric Estrada-esque sunglasses I bought at the airport. I think Richie figured I was trying to be cool, as opposed to trying to conceal the gruesome, swollen mass that used to be my eye. I hated to disappoint him since we haven’t hung out since that camping trip last summer, but when I removed my Chips apparatus, it was clear he’d have to revise our itinerary. First, he needed to find me an opthamologist. Then we’d rage all night.

I just realized I haven’t checked out our mini-bar.

Mini-bar sucks. 3 on a scale of 1-10, from what I could tell from my good eye. Plus everything in there has this weird orange tint, which I keep forgetting is just from the horrible orange drops the Spanish doctor squirted into my eye this afternoon. Richie managed to get me to a clinic, and as I tried to tell the doctor–who didn’t speak English–what happened, I realized I have zero retention of all the Spanish I ever took in school. All I remember are these useless sayings we had to memorize in ninth grade. En boca cerrada no entran moscas (“Flies don’t enter a closed mouth.”). Perros que ladran no muerden (“Barking dogs don’t bite.”). Luckily, Richie was able to relay my condition in rapid-fire Espanol. He said, “Mi hermano Daniel bababababababababababababababa.” Likely translation:”My brother Dan is trying to recapture his youth by crashing my junior semester abroad. I am sure that even you, a Spanish opthamologist, can appreciate the irony of rushing him in for medical attention as soon as he arrives.”

“Tell him I keep getting this crud in it,” I told Richie. “It’s like pus or something.”

“Mi hermano tiene…uh, poos,” Richie translated. Guess he’s not so fluent after all.

“Si senor,poos” the doctor replied, much to the delight of wife and brother alike. I’ve been here less than a day and already I’ve earned the nickname “Senor Poos.”

Besides the horrible orange eye drops that have tinted my vision, the Spanish opthamologist gave me a box of tea. If Richie has his translation straight, I am not supposed to drink the tea. I am supposed to rinse my eyes with the tea, every four to six hours. Which reminds me. It’s 9pm. Tea time. Richie and Megan went out for tapas a little while ago, but I was sound asleep. Megan woke me up before they left. She said, “Adios, Senor Poos.” Richie cracked up.

Let them have their little laugh. Tonight, I’ll rinse with Spanish eye-tea and go to bed. But tomorrow, I’ll be livin’ la vida loca!

I wonder if we get free HBO in this hotel.

SEMESTER ABROAD

Backpacking through Europe is the most intense thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. Me, Keith, Erik, Denise, Megan (?), Sari, Tim, and Jeff got to Venice last night and all the youth hostels were totally booked so we looked through Let’s Go Europe for other places and it said you’re allowed to sleep outside on the steps of the train station (that book rocks!!) so everyone’s like, “Excellent!” and we rolled out our sleeping bags and played quarters, which Megan called “lires” (??), ‘till everyone finally passed out (3:30 a.m. or later)

WEEK ABROAD

Today I was forced to walk on the shady side of the street all afternoon as my eye has developed an excruciating sensitivity to light. My new system is to wear my Eric Estrada sunglasses outdoors and a backup pair of lightly tinted rose-colored spectacles indoors. It’s especially trippy to wear the rose ones inside since everything is already orange from the horrible eye drops. Combined, all the interiors of Madrid take on this freaky brownish glow. Not that we’re seeing many interiors of Madrid. No matter what time of day we walk around, everything is closed for siesta. How anyone can sleep on these crappy beds all day is beyond me. We’re paying $200 a night, and our room has two singles with mattresses stuffed with concrete. Not that I’m complaining. I learned a long time ago that travel isn’t about comfort, it’s about experience. You’ve got to focus on the positive!

The weather in Madrid is spectacular. Sunny and warm all day. Hot, actually. I thought I was gonna sweat to death in that park Richie schlepped us to this afternoon. He had this idea that we’d just sit in the sun and have a beer. He meant well, but he isn’t quite grasping the fact that exposure to light triggers an intense, searing pain in my cerebellum. I sat in the shade and had a bottled water. That’s the thing about travel: you’ve gotta hydrate.

Went to the Reina Sofia after the park. There was a Picasso retrospective covering everything from his blue period to his rose period. Of course, it all looked like one freaky brownish period to me. Richie’s gotten really into art history. He said he’s been to the museum once a week since his semester began. I can understand why. It was like the first place all week with decent air conditioning. Megan almost bought some Guernica coasters in the gift shop. But then she had a coughing fit and decided to rest up at the hotel. I’m worried that her cold is turning into swollen glands.

SEMESTER ABROAD

The most intense thing I’ve been contemplating is how totally cool it is that Danes, unlike Americans, don’t get uptight over people who are non-conformists. There’s this part of Copenhagen called Christiania where everything is legal. Today, me, Keith, Tim, Erik Daner, Big Joe, Cathy, Sari, Denise went over there to check it out. You can go up to anyone and buy primo hash and it’s totally allowed. We partied with some Danish dude who kept calling me Spickoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which is so weird that they even got that movie in Europe, but then I told him I really was Sean Penn and he believed me and he asked for my autograph, so I signed his forehead!! That was the most baked I’ve ever been in my whole life…

WEEK ABROAD

I have reached my limit re: the Spaniard/smoking situation. As I write this, we’re on the high speed train to Seville, a.k.a the Ashtray Express. Even with my protective Eric Estrada eyegear, I can feel the cigarette smoke seeping into my cornea, mixing with my poos, leading to certain blindness. Megan has been wheezing since we boarded. Great, I’ll get to Seville in need of a glass eye and she’ll need a respirator. Good thing Richie’s still with us so he can find another emergency room. How is it that he seems completely unaware of the poor air quality on this train? He’s just sitting there listening to his Discman, staring at the countryside out the window. He didn’t even bring any luggage. What’s he gonna wear? I guess he can borrow something of mine, considering that we are in possession of:

  • 1 large suitcase w/wheels (best investment of my life)
  • 1 small suitcase w/wheels (second best)
  • 1 mid-sized canvas duffel
  • 1 bike messenger bag
  • 2 daypacks
  • 1 auxiliary Le Sportsac shoulder tote circa 1983 cleverly stuffed into small suitcase with wheels for later storage of souvenirs, and…
  • 0 souvenirs–not counting one (1) box of Spanish eye-tea–owing to fact that all stores are closed at all times for all-day siesta.

SEMESTER ABROAD

NEIL YOUNG=GOD. I’ve been cranking Live Rust on my Walkman every night before bed for like the past two weeks. “…All in a dream, all in a dream…”

WEEK ABROAD

Last night Megan had a dream that the tile guy fucked up our bathroom floor at home. I’ve been a bit concerned about it myself all week. It’s not that I mind him working in our house while we’re in Spain, it’s that I know he wasn’t listening when I told him to order semi-glazed, not glazed. If that guy uses glazed, he’s dead.

SEMESTER ABROAD

Epiphanies of the day:

1. Success=freedom

2. I am in love with Megan (???) from Danish literature class

3. I don’t ever want to go back home.

WEEK ABROAD

*Fax tile guy from hotel in Seville: SEMI-glazed.

SEMESTER ABROAD

It’s carnival week in Dope-n-hagen!! The whole city is buzzing with music and tons of tourists and parades and stuff, so a few hours ago, me, Megan, Tucker from Georgia, Bob, Erik Daner, Keith, Sari, Denise, Tim, Ingrid, Little Joe, Big Joe, Gigi and her foxxxxxxxxy Danish sister (not as foxy as Megan) met at Tivoli Garden and got our faces painted and chilled out playing Frisbee and hackey sack and now we’re off to see DIRE STRAITS which is truly the coolest since MARK KNOPFLER=GOD (also Neil Young).

WEEK ABROAD

By all indications, we have chosen the single busiest week of the year to visit Seville. It’s called Semana Santa–Easter week–and the entire European Union has jammed into the streets to celebrate (and smoke). I remember the travel agent said that’s why she had a hard time finding a hotel, but I figured, Easter Shmeester–a few eggs, a chocolate rabbit, how bad could it be? Answer: Muy, muy bad. Most of the roads are blocked off for these religious parades where everyone dresses up like Klansman in the white sheets and the pointy hats, and they carry these huge floats depicting the crucifixion of Christ. The whole thing is making me jittery. I’m no historical scholar (understatement of the year), but I do remember a little something called the Spanish Inquisition…

Richie, of course, keeps saying how lucky we are to be here for such a major cultural event. He still hasn’t learned that when it comes to major cultural events, a little goes a long way. Yesterday, it was interesting. Today, it’s claustrophobic. What does he know anyway? He didn’t even bring a change of underpants.

In better news, we finally found a pitcher of sangria that doesn’t taste like Hi-C. Megan figured out that what you have to do is order a bottle of red wine with it, then you add the wine to the sangria so it’s not so weak. They really don’t know how to make it here.

SEMESTER ABROAD

At midnight movies tonight, me and Megan (?????) saw the most wicked pisser film ever made. It’s called Harold and Maude and it’s about this geekazoid kid who falls in love with this old lady but the true meaning of it is that you can do whatever you want in life which sounds so simple but SIMPLICITY=TRUTH. Cat Stevens did the soundtrack. There’s this one song that goes, “If you wanna sing out, sing out, and if you wanna be free, be free…”

WEEK ABROAD

Richie brought us to this flamenco bar where people in the crowd just get up on stage and start singing spontaneously. It was fun even though it didn’t start until midnight, like the rest of this country. Megan and I took a nap so we’d be able to stay up late. The weird thing was that Richie didn’t make any of his weisenheimer cracks about it. At first it was a relief but now it’s bothering me because it means he just takes for granted that we’re the kind of couple who has to take a nap in order to stay up late. Where does he come up with this stuff? I told him we were just immersing ourselves in the culture by experiencing the traditional all-day siesta.

Before we left for the bar, I figured I’d rinse with my Spanish eye-tea. I don’t know what came over me, but the next thing I knew, I took a sip. I’ve been wondering all week what the stuff really is. Now I am reasonably certain it is chamomile.

When we got to the bar, it was packed with locals spanning several generations. The man sitting next to us had to be 80, but all night long, he was belting out tunes like one of the Gypsy Kings. I swear he nearly inspired me to get up on stage myself! Then I realized the only Spanish song I know is Kumbaya, and we weren’t even sure if that was really Spanish. Besides, singing would only aggravate my sore throat (catching Megan’s cold/swollen glands). Maybe another night.

Right. And maybe another night, I’ll dress up in a sequined matador suit and fight a bull.

Midway through the evening, I put my mirrored sunglasses on because the smoke was irritating my eye again (rose-tinteds have mysteriously disappeared– probably pickpockets ). As soon as I put them on, 80-year-old singing man turned to Richie and initiated a brief Spanish interchange, presumably:

“Your brother, he is Erik Estrada?”

“No, he is Senor Poos.”

I nodded off around 2 a.m, but I don’t think Richie noticed thanks to my shades. Then Richie’s friend Andy came bounding in to meet us and the first thing out of his mouth was, “how come you guys got here so early?” Andy was this hippie kid with wild spirals of red hair, dressed in beat-up army pants and a rugby shirt he described as “old school.” Megan asked him where he planned to travel when the semester was done, and he was like, “Wherever, ya know, just cruise around, maybe check out Amsterdam, Prague, anywhere, everywhere…keep rollin’ till the pesos run out.”

What I’d like to know is this: When exactly do you reach the point where you start meeting people who remind you of yourself when you were their age?

And when do you reach the point where you start feeling jealous?

“So how about you birds? Ricardo here tells me this is his last night third wheelin’ it with you two.” Andy really talked like that. Birds.

I started telling him how we’ll be renting a car tomorrow and heading to the bed and breakfast I booked online for our last couple of days alone, and how it’s this nine-room estate in the mountains, really isolated and quiet, and how the food is supposed to be phenomenal and the room we requested has a 4-poster bed, and then I suddenly started feeling very self-conscious because I suddenly remembered that I was talking to a kid who probably thinks it is fun to sleep on train station steps.

“Okay dude,” I said, trying to recover. “The best part is, it’s only a hundred bucks a night. You guys should really check it out.”

Andy nearly choked on his cigarette. “ONLY a hundred bucks? No offense hombre, but what have you been drinkin’?”

At this point, I had nothing to lose. I said I was reasonably certain it was chamomile tea.

SEMESTER ABROAD

This weekend=INtense. Keith, Ingrid, Denise, Sari, Little Joe, Me+Megan (??????) took the ferry to Sweeden and it turned out to be the grand opening of the Hard Rock Cafe in Stockholm! It was awesome–not as awesome as Hard Rock London but way tastier burgers (and watermelon schnapps) than Hard Rock Paris. I’m sure everyone back at NYU will freak when they see me in the t-shirt because the realization I’ve had about Americans is that, unlike Sweeds, they are all so sheltered. It’s like they think the only Hard Rocks are in the United States.

Later on we went to this dance club that was in Let’s Go , and the DJ was so psyched that we were Americans that he played “Born in the USA” even though we kept requesting Abba since we’re in Sweden and we are making an effort not to act ethnocentric. The best was when he played “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” which was so weird because of how that song always reminds me of Megan, and it was so excellent because it felt like it was just me and her out there on the dance floor alone which was so bizarre because it was like the first time I can ever remember that I didn’t hate dancing anymore.

Everyone wimped out and went back to the hostel early (approx. 2:20 a.m.), but me+Megan shut the place down and when the bartender finally kicked us out, the sun was coming up.

WEEK ABROAD

Best night of sleep we’ve had all week. This B&B is perfect–out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but farms and mountains and sheep. Not a klansman as far as the ojo can see. And the ojo CAN indeed see, probably because I got smart and went off my meds yesterday. It finally occurred to me that any remedy calling for chamomile eye-tea and horrible drops that turn your vision orange is obviously some Spanish witch doctor’s way of torturing tourists. Megan is sitting on our balcony, writing postcards. Yesterday she scored some Nyquil from the lady who owns the inn. We both dosed ourselves and spent the afternoon culturally immersed in bed (king size; six pillows). When we finally got up a little while ago, we thought about driving to Malaga (Frommer’s says there’s a good cathedral) or Marbella (Karen Brown Guide says there’s a Michelin star restaurant) but we opted instead to take a walk in the olive groves behind the inn. Smartest decision we made all week. It’s like I was trying to tell Richie when I gave him that farewell talk about the true meaning of travel. If all you want to do is tear through a country hitting every tourist attraction in your path, you may as well go on one of those air-conditioned bus tours, like some kind of old fart.

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