Friday, November 04, 2011

The Day I Turned Uncool (2002)

Title: The Day I Turned Uncool: Confessions of a Reluctant Grown-up
Author: Dan Zevin
Publisher: Villard
Price: Received as a gift
LCC: PN6231.M47 Z48 2002

I turned 30 recently. The big THREE-OH. THIR-DEE, as in pretty much middle-agish. Shortly after my birthday, I twisted my torso too quickly and immediately experienced crippling back pain that brought me to my knees. I haven't had my hair fall out and I haven't had a prostrate exam yet, but I am  awaiting my inevitable slow decay.

However, now that I am facing my own mortality, I thought it was finally time that I take Dan Zevin's The Day I Turned Uncool off the shelf. I had received this as a gift from my then-girlfriend/now-wife in college and had never gotten around to it. Reading it did not seem pressing at the time, but now I approached it as if it were Maimonides's Guide for the Perplexed.

Zevin's book consists of a series of brief confessions that examine what it means to be a "reluctant grown-up." Zevin finds himself increasingly doing the things that grown-ups are supposed to do--lawn care, investing in retirement, golf--but he's surprised to find that part of him actually enjoys these things. The confessions themselves are breezy. Depending on your fiber intake and your reading speed, you may be able to read a confession during your morning BM. That's not bad, really, when you think about it. Consider this sentence from Gertrude Stein's Everybody's Autobiography:
He told about how you had to know that you should never stop before a red light signal, anybody in an automobile is too impatient not to lose any time starting if the lights should change to take anybody up so you want to stop behind the crossing because then having made the start anybody is good-natured and willing to take yo up, you should also always think about hills in the same way, you should never stand with any one and above all not with a woman, some one might take up a woman alone but they would never take a young man with any kind of a woman, and as he went on and he made those long roads so real Picasso got scared, it is a funny thing but knowing so much about what people are going to do on the part of anybody always scares people who are occupied in creating they like to analyze and talk about what people are going to do but they never like that anybody can known what anybody will do, really know and act successfully act upon what people are going to do.
I've already flushed and I haven't even finished the sentence. Oh Gertrude, as bathroom reading this will never do. Advantage, Zevin!

Zevin is at his best when he describes the dwindling of his male friendships. In a confession entitled "My Social Circle Has Shrivled and Shrunk: Why I Have No Friends," Zevin reveals how a combination of work, children, and geography have caused his friendships to erode. This may make Zevin's 2002 book seem like a forerunner to the bromance comedies of Judd Apatow. Both Zevin and Apatow revel in their lack of maturity. But Zevin's is a very different sensibility than Apatow. Zevin is far tamer. His brand of humor is closer to Dave Barry or Ray Romono. His is a very CBS-sitcom style of comedy. It's acceptable to everyone.

Many of the confessions feel like they could be the premises for individual episodes. "The One Where Dan Plays Golf," "The One Where Dan Hires a Cleaning Lady," "The One Where Dan Gets a Massage," etc. Indeed, reading the book I wondered if I wasn't so much reading a humor book, so much as I was reading a pitch for a sitcom: Seinfeld with a moral conscious, or Mad About You meets Dave's World. According to Zevin's website, he's sold the rights o the book to Adam Sandler's production company. So, ready yourself to hear "ADAM SANDLER IS . . . DAN ZEVIN" some time soon in movie theaters. 

The jokes might be sweet-natured, but there's also a kind of navel-gazzing entitlement that runs throughout most of the book. What makes Zevin a "reluctant" grown up is that his new status symbols make him feel uncomfortable. This doesn't lead to much soul searching on Zevin's part about what it really means to be an adult. His is less the life examined, so much as it is the life shrugged off. In light of the current economic crisis, Zevin seems to be living the good life, but he just can't enjoy it because to do so would supposedly be a mark of maturity. So when I read Zevin complain about how weird it is that he has a cleaning lady or that as a part-time community college instructor he's distressed by his new found authority, I can't help roll my eyes both on behalf of the cleaning lady and myself. Boo Hoo! Now grow up.

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