When I Was Twenty-One


I spoke to my best friend Michael the other day about my son, Max.

“Max’s birthday is Monday,” I remarked.

“Wow,” he said. “He must be what, eight or nine by now.”

Right. No, wait. He’s going to be… twenty-one. A man. Able to sign a contract. Able to buy a drink. No longer, according to the government, my little boy.

“That’s not possible,” Michael said.

And I agree, it’s not. Except it is.

I remember when he was three and used to put his arms around my neck and call me daddy. Now he’s taller than me, has a deep voice and a beard and calls me “Dude.”

Yesterday he caught me gazing at him in that adoring way — the way I have always stared at him, with a big smile pasted across my face.

Max“Why are you smiling at me like that?” he asked.

“I’m smiling like that because you look like me,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he replied. “That’s why I’m not smiling.”

And so I thought of that night (3 a.m.) twenty-one years ago and all the emotions that you might imagine. But I also thought of Sept. 13, 1971, some 42 years ago, when I turned 21.

I had elected to go out to dinner with my father and Marshall Kincaid, a family friend, my dad’s age. We went to the Top of the Hub restaurant in Boston, one of those restaurants at the top of a skyscraper with breathtaking city views.

On the way in, we listened on the car radio as it pumped out news about the Attica prison riot.

I had asked for a special gift for my 21st. It was a boxed set of records (they were vinyl, also called LPs…oh, never mind): the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas on 14 discs played by Daniel Barenboim. Angel Records. The cost was something over $50, which my father thought was outrageous. (According to the inflation calendar, that would be $279.59 in today’s currency.)

My son asked for the following books and video games as birthday presents: the Human Division by John Scalzi; a couple of graphic novels by Jason (apparently no last name); and the Bandai Namco Mobil Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. for PS3 (if you have no idea what this is, don’t worry, no one over the age of 30 does). Now walking in my father’s shoes, I can tell you that the fact that this video game is only available from Japan and costs about $75 gave me pause. However, compared to my father, I got off cheap.

And, even though the medium hardly exists anymore, you might be wondering what happened to the birthday present from 42 years ago. Wonder no longer:

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2 thoughts on “When I Was Twenty-One

  1. Mark:

    I heard a great marketing quote allegedly from a marketing guy from the Bud Beer empire:
    ” I could throw away half of the marketing we are doing; I just don’t know which half to get rid of”

    Take care,

    Bill

    • Hi Bill, yes, it’s a famous quote about advertising. From Wikipedia: A popular saying illustrating how difficult it was to reach potential customers using traditional advertising is attributed to John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

      John Wanamaker (July 11, 1838 – December 12, 1922) was a United States merchant, religious leader, civic and political figure, considered by some to be the father of modern advertising and a “pioneer in marketing.”

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