A Fork In The Road

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A Fork In The Road

Words by Mr Chris Elvidge

23 September 2015

Our columnist ponders why some men are destined to be old souls, but others will remain forever young.

One of the downsides of working in an office where everyone wears black is that any occasion – no matter how celebratory – has the potential to feel like a funeral. My 29th birthday was no exception. As my colleagues filed towards my desk to present me with the obligatory card and cake, singing a dirge-like rendition of “Happy Birthday”, their bowed heads illuminated by the flickering light of a single candle, I felt a sense of passing. I realised that all of a sudden that I’d reached a fork in the road. One path led to “Fogeytown” (not to be confused with “Funkytown”, the disco anthem from Lipps, Inc.). The other led to “Forever Young” (not to be confused with the Alphaville power ballad of the same name).

Let me explain: we live in a time where being “young” and being “youthful” are arguably no longer inseparable. Mr Johnny Depp is 52 years old. He still plays in a band and is married to a woman the same age as me. When society stops expecting us to act a certain way at a certain age, is it not possible to be youthful at any age?

In late 2013, trend-forecasting agency K-HOLE released “Youth Mode”: a report best known for kickstarting the normcore trend of 2014 that saw hip young Brooklynites dressing in Walmart slacks and sweatshirts from Old Navy. The report opens with a chapter called “The Death of Age”. “Youth is a mode,” it reads. “It’s an attitude.” Printed alongside these words are two pictures. One is of Mr Tony Hawk who, at the age of 47, rides skateboards for a living. The other is of 42-year-old Mr Pharrell Williams who looks, acts and dresses like a man half his age.

Maybe they’re right. At 18 years my senior, Mr Hawk is in many ways more youthful than me. He still wears skate T-shirts and drops into halfpipes. I put my skateboard in storage a few years ago when an ex-girlfriend told me, in no uncertain terms: “you aren’t fooling anybody, Chris”. As for Mr Williams, what is there left to say about a man who managed to look cool for most of 2014, while wearing a hat that would reduce lesser men to resemble Woody from Toy Story?

And what about the other side of the argument? The people who, at the tender age of just 30, are already “old souls”? I know guys younger than me who are already on their third kitchen refit and spend their weekends washing the car and mowing the lawn. One of them asked me to his birthday not too long ago with an invitation that included the following message: “Come join me for my 27th birthday commiserations. Celebrate the fact that I am now officially old!”

“Officially old”? It struck me as horribly depressing thing to say. This isn’t the 16th century; we’re not all destined to die of consumption and have rotten teeth by our mid-thirties. How can a 27-year-old man living in a first-world country – someone who, by even the most conservative of estimates, is less than a third of the way through his expected life – consider himself old? In the same way, I expect, that Messrs Hawk and Williams still consider themselves young. Because it’s all just an attitude, right? A state of mind?

Well… I’m not sure. The problem with “Forever Young” is that it’s a tricky look to pull off. Take Mr Hawk. He’s been able to continue skateboarding at the age of 47 for two reasons. The first is that he’s quite good at it. The second is that he’s able to make a living out of it. And how does Mr Williams get away with wearing a shorts tuxedo to the Oscars? He is a musician – a careers path that has seen Mr Rod Stewart appear in a Celtic Football Club kit well into his sixties.

Why is it that some men are able to remain ageless, like one of those Broncos you see in southern California that looks like it just rolled off the assembly line, while others look like rust buckets. And how much of it is really to do with attitude? Deep down, we all wish it were possible to somehow cling on to our very youthful, twenty-something selves. But for many of us, this just isn’t an option. Our lifestyles won’t allow it. Our faces, figures and hairlines can’t hide it. It’s all too easy to hypothesise about “the death of age” while ageing is still an abstract concept, but what about in 10, 20, 30 years? Will things look different then? “Forever Young”? In theory, it’s beautiful. In practice, it’s got midlife crisis written all over it.

Which brings us back to that fork in the road at which I find myself standing. To my left lies the flat, well-paved path to Fogeytown. To my right lies excitement. Youth. Freedom. I can hear the distant siren song drifting in on the wind. My generation has often been referred to as the Peter Pan generation. Not that many responsibilities to speak of and no real incentive to grow up. Older now than some of our parents were when they had us, and with nothing to show for it. How much longer can we put off real life?

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just eaten half a birthday cake and I need to work off those calories. If anyone needs me, I’ll be at the skatepark.

Illustrations by Mr Giacomo Bagnara