My Mother-in-Law bought me a copy of Greg Guttfield’s “Uncool” for my birthday. For those who haven’t gotten around to it, allow me to recommend it. If you are reading this blog, you will probably find parallels to your own life in it.
For me, it immediately sparked a decades-old memory of a friends and family gathering. Lake Wallkill, Sussex County, New Jersey used to be a community of vacation homes, but as populations pushed out from the urban centers of New York and New Jersey, more and more families made their way out to places like Vernon, Sparta, Andover, and Newton. Northwestern New Jersey, for those who may not be familiar, was notable in the early nineties for the militarization of their township police forces long before it was fashionable. One learned quickly that any attempt to greet one of Vernon’s black-clad finest was to earn at best a set of knit brows or more commonly a contemptuous scowl in return.
But in spite of midnight phone calls for late payments on moving violations, and arrest warrants for a burnt out headlight, Vernon was for all intents and purposes, a bucolic bedroom community with a burgeoning population. Our home was practically at the edge of the forest and it was just a quick stroll to my wife’s sister’s house, which is where this anecdote is set.
The usual suspects were gathered around the umbrella tables in the yard. We were a collection of young families back then. The oldest of the children was maybe aged three with plenty more to come in the following years. I am a member of a family were the women are and were exquisite cooks, even as young wives. It might have been late Spring, perhaps early Autumn. I was sitting next to man I’ll call Frenemy One. FO had it together, no doubt. Great job, cute wife family in formation, lived on one of the better parts of Central NJ. Paid some ungodly amount, like $10,000 (early 90’s no less) in property taxes – Lois and I forked over maybe a fifth of that for our modest lake cottage.
My Dad had passed away the previous year, and due to a number of logistical considerations my siblings gave the green light to sort through his tool collection. I kept plenty and still have most of them today. The original sledgehammer head is still good after seventy years. It recently fell to me to replace the hickory for the second time. Not exactly on the same level as Nixon’s opening to his memoirs, “I was born in the house my father built,” but it’s something.
After a year of leaning my father’s tools up against the workbench in the basement, I figured it was time to store them properly. So over the course of a few weekends, I built a small, single gabled tool shed. My first. Over the ensuing years, there would be more to come of course.
My father-in-law stopped by both during and after construction and pronounced it good. My three brothers-in-law, and my brother all expressed their admiration. My mother-in-law expressed her shock. My wife beamed. All hailed the Great Builder.
Except of course for Frenemy One.
I’ll pick it up. F1 and I are sitting next to each other chatting sometimes with each other, sometimes with those to the other side of use and across the table. Late afternoon, sky still has plenty of light in it. People are either sitting or milling around. Time to stretch the legs.
So I nudge F1, “Well, you want to go see this shed everyone’s making such a fuss over?” I chuckle.
No response. Did he hear me? We’re all sort of talking over each other, so I give it a minute. Then two. I make to stand up, “So you want to take a walk over?” This time, all ingratiating smile, and as I was about to find out, all bitch-beta boy.
F1 spared me a glance, smirked, chuckled, and dripping with utter contempt said, “No I don’t want to go see your shed.” No doubt it was the stupidest idea he had ever heard.
Fourteen years out of high school I remained under the mistaken impression that one could deal with the cool kids as equals.
The coming years would enforce this lesson over and over. As a society we remain divided between those who drive the engine and those who worship the cool kids, and of course the cool kids themselves.
This why adulthood is awesome. In the end, you do get to pick your friends.
BTW, F1 and his spouse went on to be extremely successful in their chosen fields, raised a couple of high-achieving kids, and eventually took up residence in another state. I’m happy for them. I’m also happy I don’t deal with them any longer.