Erik Larson

Mar 20, 2010

Like, Whatever

This certainly qualifies as petty itself, but I’m in “gonzo blogger” mode right now, typing away at my suddenly indispensible 12” Netbook (it sat unused for several months while I shunned it in favor of a laptop) in the caffeine-frenzy of Saturday night at the Barnes and Noble. Free Wi-Fi! The petty part is this. A couple of young, high school aged girls have plopped down next to me, and within seconds they have launched into this string of “ya knows” and “I’m likes”, and “and then he was like”, and the obligatory “whaateverrr” (with that strange California surfer tone that somehow is emitted by all young people, no matter where they grew up. I’m convinced that there are sixteen year old girls in Iran right now munching on Persian bran muffins in bookstores and coffee shops, like-whatevering-it in the exact same prosodic rhythms as their sisters in the Barnes and Nobles and Starbucks of America’s towns and cities).

So I’m finished. Forget plowing through another chapter of “Proust was a Neuroscientist” for now. There’s really no where else to sit, and its impossible to read with the jackhammer of dunderheaded comments rattling away beside me. Anyway, in gonzo mode it’s fun to people-listen, I tell myself. Let’s listen! And what do you know, before long my initial despair has transmogrified into this kind of purient curiosity: how vapid can they get? Can Jamie actually manage something so trivial and stupid, that Bergen—who is herself dedicated to the trivial and stupid—actually becomes self-conscious? Is it possible for the weight of the triviality to collapse on them both? Or can they really keep what-evering it, indefinitely, cheerfully oblivious that they are in fact the unwitting subjects of the middle aged gonzo blogger next to them? How will our story end?

I’m on the case now. Surreptitiously absorbing the latest tale of “and-then-he-said, and-I-was-like, and-so-he-goes, but-I’m-like”. There’s a kind of internal logic to it, really, because exactly why did Heath text Bergen in class, telling her that he made out with what’s-her-name? No kidding she was like “no”, I’m now thinking, because I’m suspecting—as they are, I take it—that Heath’s like, you know, he’s like, a jerk .

So, I’m in it to win it, now. I hit upon the idea of transitioning from mere passive observation to posing a question to them. What will they do? Will they smile? Or laugh? Or look at me in horror? I figure I’ll turn to them, and, in the best older-professional, respectable face I can muster, hit them with something like: “Hi, excuse me, but I’m writing a book on the decline of intellectual conversation among America’s youth, and I was wondering if you could just continue in the vein that you’ve begun, and if you don’t mind I’d like to write about some of your conversation. The chapter that’s relevant is called “The Intolerable Vapidity of Carmen and Laney”, a kind of catchy title (I hope) about how highschool kids drone on and on about the pettiest, most trivial desiderata…”.

(But, alas, I can’t muster it. And it’s just as well, I think, because as quickly as they erased any possibility of reading and thinking, they’ve wrapped up about Heath, met up with two more friends, and are up and on to somewhere else. This leaves me in a comic state of affairs, contemplating the near total disappearance of my initial bemused aggravation twenty minutes ago, left now with a slight disappointment in their departure. Me, abandoned to my reading on Proust and neuroscience, which now seems more effort than fun.)

So our story nears its end. It suffices to close with a few admittedly cursory thoughts on “kids today”. Kids today, they seem so adroit at juxtaposing this manifest silliness with busy-body success, achievement. They’re like, studying all the time, and, like, aceing their SATs, too. It’s entirely possible that the Trivial Two who sat next to me will go on to study law or medicine or English at a respectable college, and end up a few years from now in graduate school, and land white collar, well-paying jobs, and on and on the American dream goes. Kids can, like, talk like this, for, like, a long time, and still end up getting taken seriously later. Onward and upward, for most of them. The “Achievatron”, as David Brooks calls it, just keeps going and going. Many of these kids, seemingly so vapid, are in fact wired for success. (It’s notable that they were, like, at a bookstore on a Saturday night, after all.) The Achievatron is much more difficult to stop then anything Heath can muster, and Heath himself may end up Harvard law. Smart money is: that paper will get written before class on Monday. And as far as Heath goes, you go girl. Like, whateverrr about him.