As a child of the Sixties and young man of the Seventies, I embraced the age with a firm grip and tried my best to see how much shorter I could manage to make my allotted span. I managed to go through a variety of used English sports cars, motorcycles, chambray work shirts and dingo boots. I also managed to grow crop of hair, developed a lifelong fondness for delta blues and managed to not get drafted. It was a lovely time to be alive.
Time marched on and I eventually became part of the establishment that I attempted to deny by becoming employed, first as an editor of a small weekly trade journal, and then as an employee of a large corporation. Marriage and financial security became prime motivators in my metamorphosis. Often, when in the company of similarly-raised young(ish) professionals, the past would become alive – if only in our collective memories.
Recently I found myself standing next to a young guy (I am at the stage in life when someone who is thirty seems young) who caused me to stare. He had a shaved head, double earrings in both ears, a beard, a tank top with a BMW motorcycle logo, and tattoos which began at his wrists and covered both arms entirely to the shoulders. My initial thought was “Where on earth did this guy come from?” and assumed (a bad, bad thing to do) that he was probably a biker with a tenth grade education and felony arrests in his background.
It hit me like a thunderclap; I was making assumptions about someone I didn’t know a THING about. He noticed me looking at the tattoos, which really were art – with a number of Japanese word characters interspersed within them – and locked into my stare. I broke away visually and cautiously spoke; trying to remember what it was like to be a much younger man, “You ride?”
He grinned, actually grinned in a friendly manner, and said, “I ride all year round!” Given the fact that I live in Pennsylvania, this is a major accomplishment. I generally cease enjoying my aged Honda when the temperature drops below fifty degrees. He continued the conversation, telling me about the various vintage BMW motorcycles that he owned, as well as the Russian Ural bike that he used for winter motoring. Further inquiry revealed that he was a third-year student at Penn State, having served five years in the U.S. Navy (hence the tattoos and Japanese ideograms) and planned on a career as a teacher of English Literature on the college level.
I suppose the moral of this particular tale, if there is one, is that our perceptions allow themselves to be shaped by our experience. And, if becoming suddenly unemployed was the catalyst which allowed me to regain control of my perception, it was worth the blow to the ego. I have made a conscious effort to shape my perception on my terms, and not upon those imposed upon me by an employer. No matter what occurs in the future, I will fight making assumptions about anything – or anybody, for that matter – without examining my motives. Becoming suddenly unemployed can free you of those restrictions.