Growing older is funny. You mellow out a lot. For example, last Saturday afternoon, I was checking into a hotel with my father, and the Jamaican woman working behind the desk said, “Enjoy your stay, Mr. and Mrs. ____.” My father, who is 63, felt rather flattered. I, on the other hand, replied firmly, “I’m his daughter. Wow, I must look really old.”
To which my father said, “No, it means I look really young.”
The Jamaican girl said nothing.
I’m not sure which is odder – my dad thinking he looks like he’s in his 30s or a twenty-year-old hotel desk clerk thinking I was married to someone literally old enough to be my father.
Instead of being upset about this absurd misunderstanding and running to the nearest injection spa, I decided to laugh. It’s not that I look old. It’s that the <del>woman</del> girl asking was so <em>young</em>. I didn’t mind being thought of as a trophy wife, though I was missing certain telltale signs of being a trophy wife and any truly observant person would have caught on right away.
I wanted to explain to her that one is not officially old until they hit 90, but I intuited that she’s not the type of person who would either believe me or care very much. Working the front desk of a hotel is a summer job for her, a way to get a work visa so she can travel to the U.S. before starting university in her home country. It’s not a learning opportunity. It’s not the beginning of an adventure, and of adulthood. This summer job is one of many steps she’s taking on the way to building a life in her own fashion.
My former self once did this, on a different summer between college semesters. That summer job wasn’t at a hotel in Montana; it was at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio. It was my first professional acting job, performing five times a day in a live children’s theatre show. I played a little boy named Jimmy Jammies and did the grapevine and jazz hands with people in fairy costumes. My hair was growing out from my years-long love affair with buzz cuts, and obese park goers would follow me around hurling niceties such as “dyke” and “you look like a boy.” It was my first time in the American Midwest and I went back to New York City thoroughly unimpressed.
My interactions with my fellow actors at the park were equally disappointing. We were doing a kids’ show, after all, so of course all anyone wanted to do was drink and smoke pot after work. This is a common urge among children’s theatre actors. Seriously, they are the rowdiest, naughtiest people in the green room. I was, however, uninterested in these activities that summer, and chose to spend my free time going to the library in Sandusky and eating hummus wraps instead.
This did not endear me to the sorority girls who were my cast mates, but they seemed to agree with my literary choices, which consisted mostly of Harry Potter and Anais Nin.
Back then, I was deeply invested in being mature and in being better than other people. I was also deeply invested in counter-culture. I didn’t want to be like everybody else. It took up a lot of energy, to be honest. And a lot of eyeliner.
That’s why growing older has been so funny to me. By virtue of habit and my innate personality, I am inherently always going to be a little odd, but in my adult life I’ve found friends who are the same way. Rather than being outcasts, we are all alike in our quirkiness, and most of us no longer feel the need to differentiate ourselves from the masses. We have realized that we have become the masses, because frankly, the masses are all strange in their own way.
Which leads back to the hotel and where I am at the moment – in West Yellowstone, exploring America’s largest national park with my father. The town and the park is filled with families and hikers; childless married couples and newly engaged sons and daughters; and predominately, it seems, tourists from East Asia. There are two Chinese restaurants in town and a place where you can buy ice cream cones the size of your head for $3. In the words of one Chinese tourist: “Are you going to buy ice cream? It’s very cheap.”
Ten years ago, I would not have bought ice cream the size of my head, because that’s what everyone does on vacation. But now, disguised as a trophy wife, I will eat ice cream. I will be just like the Chinese guy – enjoying massive amounts of cheap ice cream – but I’ll probably order a different flavor, because that’s what makes the world go round: celebrating our differences amongst our similarities.
We all want the same thing, after all: beauty, adventure, love, and satiety, but we are all unique.
People come to Yellowstone from all over the world precisely because it is different, like no other place on earth. Why be like every other place on the planet? For that matter, why be like anyone else? We should celebrate our oddities. People will flock to you because of who you are, not in spite of it.