Student fads: hookahs, porkpie hats, and ukuleles

I work on a college campus, so every year is a fascinating adventure into hipness. What will college students be doing / wearing / eating this year? Hoop skirts? Viking helmets? Fright wigs?



Actually, this year, it seems pretty sedate to me. “It looks,” I said to the shuttle driver the other evening, “like it did when I first came here in 1978. I guess the wheel has finally turned all the way around.”



He snorted a laugh. “Did they have blue hair back then?” he said, nodding toward a girl on the sidewalk nearby. “I don’t think so.”



Well, he was right about that. There are always changes and aberrations. But if you’d shown me a photo in 1978 of what the average student is wearing in 2011, I would have shrugged. What’s so different about that?



College students are very attentive to trends. I remember Bullwinkle when he went to Wossamotta U.: “I’ve got my raccoon coat!” he said. “I’ve got my ukulooloo and my hair stickum!”



(Yes, he said “ukulooloo.” I can hear it in my head even now.)



But modern college students look very similar to the way we looked back in the 1970s: simple, black t-shirts, jeans, floppy hair. 



But Shuttle Driver was right: there are some differences.



There is, for example, the Ironic Porkpie Hat.



A few years ago, all the boys (or at least the cool ones) were wearing classic porkpie hats. It was a little odd, but certainly no odder than the lime-green leisure suit I bought in Spokane in 1977.



Now they’ve moved beyond the conventional porkpie. They’ve actually become post-modern about it.



Today I saw a white porkpie hat. And a straw porkpie hat. And a flannel one, with a little flourish of feathers, like a Tyrolean hat!



And have I mentioned the proliferation of hookah cafes in the neighborhood? That, at least, was not something we did in the primitive nineteen-seventies.



Ah, youth! What next?



(For us, it was disco music!)



Student employees


I posted some student jobs recently, and have been reading the applications. I am bemused, as always.

Some thoughts:

  • I would describe myself in a lot of different ways, but not as “ebullient.” God knows I’m not ebullient, but even if I were, I would be shy of applying the word to myself.

  • Ditto “gregarious.” There are a lot of ways of saying this: “I’m a people person.” “I work well with others.” For me, “gregarious” connotes a large hearty man in a tweed jacket at a New Year’s Eve party, his arms around his friends, singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

  • “I have awesome skills.” As do we all. To me, it’s awesome that I actually wake up alive and conscious every morning. But the phrase “awesome skills” better describes a ninja than a college sophomore.

  • “Affable.” Affable? Are you eighty years old? Do you belong to the Explorers’ Club?

  • “I have experience with a wide variety of people and computers.” Really! And were the computers nice?

  • Best of all: “I make acute observations and have unique thoughts.” Hmm. Dorothy Parker? The Cumaean Sibyl? The Unabomber?

I may actually bring Awesome Skills into the office for an interview. One of the positions is largely customer-service: answering phones, greeting guests. And sometimes, a cheerfully over-the-top student is just the ticket to disarm a grumpy caller.

I hope, when I meet him/her, he/she is affable, and gregarious, and makes acute observations, and has unique thoughts, and is generally awesome.

Because – you know what? Most of my student employees have been all of the above so far.

Here’s hoping.

Age, I do defy thee




Partner and I were in a fragrance boutique the other day (some stereotypes are true, once in a while).  The manager gave us some free samples, in molecule-sized packets.  This was one of those places that slaps a French name on everything, so I got a little giggle out of the following label: CONCENTRE JEUNESSE / YOUTH CONCENTRATE.  Like Wednesday Addams, who thought that Girl Scout cookies were made from Girl Scouts, I wondered idly how many youths had given their lives for this little dab of concentrate.

I tried the stuff, by the way, and it was very nice.  But it did not make me young again.

Getting old is a tricky business.  I was a jerky awkward young man, and I wanted desperately to be older, so that people would respect me.  Now – well, ahem, I’m still waiting for the respect.  I have rapidly degenerated into a stick figure with a big bulbous head and wispy gray hair.  If I wore overalls with suspenders, I would look exactly like one of my paternal uncles.

Adding insult to injury, I work on a college campus.  The students never age; they leave when they hit 21 or so, and a new supply arrives every year.  This means that I find myself getting older and older, right in the middle of a group of people who never get older at all.  About a month ago, I was walking across campus and ran into a former coworker, a woman about my own age.  We were having a lively little chat about the old days, but then I noticed the students on the sidewalk looking at us funny, and suddenly I had a vision of the way the students saw us: a skinny old man with a high shrill voice, talking to a fat old woman with a deep scratchy voice.


I have also become acquainted with the aches and pains of age.  I am reminded constantly that I’m Not As Young As I Used To Be.  I was talking to a coworker about a vacant position in our department and found myself saying “This would be ideal for someone young and energetic,” and as soon as I said it, the words turned to ashes in my mouth.  That young energetic person ain’t me.

And not to be morbid, but I probably don’t have more than another fifty or sixty years in me before my batteries run out entirely.

A friend of mine theorized a long time ago that we stop aging emotionally at a certain age, and stay that way for life.  I think it’s absolutely true.  Partner, for example, is about eight years old inside: beginning to feel grown up, but still vulnerable.  I, on the other hand, stopped aging emotionally at five: easily distracted, easily amused, easily hurt.

Now, all you young nymphs and shepherds, think of how it feels for that five-year-old to look into the mirror and see Abe Vigoda looking back.

And do you know why it hurts?  Because life is so much fun.  There are still so many things I want to do.  The idea that I’m running out of carnival tickets is a bad nasty thing.

I started in French, so I’ll end in French.  This is Erik Satie:

Quand j’etais jeune, on me disait: Vous verrez quand vous aurez cinquante ans.  J’ai cinquante ans.  Je n’ai rien vu!”

“When I was young, people told me: Just wait until you’re fifty years old, and you’ll see.  Well, I’m fifty years old, and I haven’t seen a thing!”



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