I’m starting to suspect that time travel will not be a reality in my lifetime.
However, I do still hold out hope that someone will invent some sort of time “post office,” a device that will allow us to send letters back and forth through time. I’m so confident, in fact, that I’ve already composed and addressed the following letter to my 14-year-old self:
Welcome to Southern California. You soon will find that it’s a world so different from your upbringing in Mississippi that you may as well be on the moon. And, given the smog conditions in 1980, it actually would be a bit easier to breathe on the moon.
Some things will be happening to you in the next month or so that will be the source of much of your identity going forward in life. These occurrences will build character, deepen your understanding of the world as a whole. and provide you with seemingly entertaining anecdotes for years to come. However, if you follow these few bits of advice, we may be able to avoid all of that. Because there’s a part about character-building and word-understanding and anecdote-providing that you don’t fully realize yet, and that’s that these things really, really suck at the time that they’re happening.
Oh, I suppose I should introduce myself. I’m you, 34 years in the future. I don’t want to spend too much time convincing you that this is true, because these Time-O-Grams™ charge by the word, and it ain’t cheap. (In retrospect, I suppose I could have avoided this parenthetical aside. What a waste of money this turned out to be.) So, how do you know it’s really me? Simple. You like the smell of your own earwax. OK, are we good? Good.
Let’s get started.
During your first week of school some kid is going to to actively shove you aside while walking home from the bus. Just let him pass without saying anything. It may seem like cowardice at the time, but if you give in to temptation and ask him what his problem is, he’ll turn around and beat your ass and torment you for the rest of the year. And think about it, you aren’t actually prepared to fight this psycho bully, so why say anything at all? I can’t promise that avoiding him will help, but it’s got to be better than the alternative.
You have an outrageous accent. You’ll learn this soon enough, but a heads up may help. See, back in your time there was no Internet (I’ll explain later), so kids in SoCal had not watched countless hours of YouTube (again, later) videos of people with accents like yours doing stupid things in off-road vehicles, on trampolines or with cows that result in them landing on their faces. They never have heard anyone speak like you do. They’ll be shocked, and not pleasantly. When you open your mouth to speak, people — all people within earshot — will react as if they’ve just heard an elephant trumpeting. Get an early start on disguising this accent so you can have a conversation that doesn’t involve being pointed at in wonderment. Here’s a good first lesson: Begin to substitute “you guys” for “y’all.” I know, I know, it makes no sense. You just have to trust me.
You dress wrong. Honestly, that hasn’t changed much for you over the years, it’s just not an issue these days. But this is your first week as a high school freshman, and you need to look like every single other person if you have any hope of surviving unscathed. Get yourself some Levi’s 501s, an OP T-shirt and some slip-on Vans — stat. Dad will try to talk you out of this wardrobe and into velour pullovers. Don’t let him.
I’m almost out of room, but I have one more crucial bit of guidance. After you start to make friends, some of them will ask you if you want to go boogie-boarding with them. You will have no idea what this “boogie board” thing is. Never even heard the word. You will not be able to even faintly conceive what this activity may entail or where it would take place or what you should wear while doing it. Winter coat? Formal dress? Not a clue. This is fine. It’ll all sort itself out if you just reply, “Yes, I would love to go boogie-boarding with y’all — I mean you guys.”
Do not! DO! NOT! Do not say what you’re really thinking. Because if you say (like you did when I was there) “What’s a boogie board?” you will hear about it every single school day for the next four years. Trust me, that’s more character-building than you need. You’ll get plenty of THAT sort of character-building by asking the school cafeteria lady if she has any hushpuppies.
Oh, wait, — duh, letter sent back in time, totally forgot, uh, don’t ask the cafeteria lady if she has hushpuppies.
Godspeed. And see you way too soon.
Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays.
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