You collect leather jackets. All of them vintage 20th Century, with patches of skulls and naked ladies, pins from heavy metal bands and biker gangs. You have never ridden a motorcycle in your life. That silly gold stud you put in your right ear during high school. It lasted three weeks. You took it out before visiting your grandfather, who would never understand jewelry on a boy.
The Atkins diet robbed your adolescent body of energy until one day you fell down the stairs, but it made you thinner, a prerequisite of being cool. Picking up your first can of beer at 14 in a gangway with miscreants. LSD. Cocaine. Quaaludes. At 16, you sold your entire comic book collection (including Spiderman #1!) to buy a pound of marijuana. Rolling joints all night, you sold them from the Jack in the Box across the street from your high school. A hard pack of Marlboros in your jean jacket pocket shone like a red badge of courage. Feigning a hatred of school to impress one group while maintaining high grades to appease another. Doing anything to fit in. A late bloomer and heavyset, you mastered the art of the put down, the burn, what they now call roasting. Honing your wits. In lieu of having a young man’s physique, your place in the group depended on it. But try as you did, cool just never happened to you. It remained ephemeral, like grace.
A stone cold fox in your grade, Katrina, once bequeathed you a backstage pass to the Judas Priest concert. It wasn’t a date. She would meet you in the parking lot behind the venue, where you smoked a joint and she pressed the coveted sticker onto your jacket. She “knew” the band and, well, those doors were not open to you. “Have fun,” she said. That was the last you saw of her. Still, you had a backstage pass, enabling you access to the bacchanal behind the curtain. At last, cool! The reality was this: you spent the entire concert standing in the corner of a dark, rank hallway smoking Marlboros, neither in the room where Katrina and the other girls were, nor by the stage where Judas Priest was. You saw the band as they marched past you, heard their English accents and smelled their leather and cologne. Observed bits and pieces of their show through a seam in the wall of amplifiers. Pushed aside by security as the group stumbled to their dressing rooms, where booze, drugs and sex undoubtedly awaited. Tantalizing. Just out of reach. Way out of reach. That backstage pass, just a silly sticker, only reinforced how uncool you really were, like headgear they give to special-needs kids.
Four decades on, you still seek coolness. You called it relevance but the concept was the same. Cool people are in the game. Cool people got laid. They get hired. Mia said coolness was trying to become what you thought others found attractive. It was, she said, a perilous pursuit. Letting others define you. Yes, but the peacock must display to attract a female. Many creatures had to put on a show. Wasn’t it only natural that humans did too? You sucked at it. Fronting might be crass but it worked. When Rex pulled up in his gold Trans Am the girls noticed him and so did the boys. He stirred the herd. He was the stag with the biggest horns.
It always eluded you. Well, almost always. That time with Michelle you were the stag. She’d chosen you, over Rex, over everyone. Once. Much later things started clicking. You were on. Your clothes fit. Women even wanted you. Then came the big jobs. Once, there was even a bidding war for your services. Once.
To be continued…