Hi fellow dreamers in baggy jeans from the staircases of the academic block!
If someone had told your lot then, as you stared at nothing in particular and spoke of nothing in particular that one day you’d meet here, in this tastefully lit, expansive drawing room, dressed in several months’ worth of pocket money, and talk about things like the appalling new generation of interns, you would have laughed your jeans off. Hanging out with this bunch isn’t a choice, you would’ve said. It is an irrefutable hazard of life.
Yet, here we are. Mini-reuniting after ten years of launching off into our own orbits from the big bang. Curious to see how the dust has settled on the primordial gasses of the world. It has certainly settled in mighty sediments around waistlines, my god. The midriffs confirm prosperity, just as the hairlines show signs of recession. And what is this proclivity to slump into any piece of furniture at the first opportunity?
You have aged, and you have no energy. Of course, you knew that already. No denying the distinct dewiness you feel upon encountering the springy enthusiasm of a first year associate in office every now and then.
That is not the point. I mean, it is, but only sort of. The point is that soirees like these make the point more pointed, if you know what I mean. Force a dame to reflect on the then versus now, us versus them.
This half-way egg-head coming towards me with a drink, for example, used to be the captain of the basketball team back in the day. I remember him spending much of his day plotting ways to dodge his girlfriend for an extra hour of practice. Look at him now, all family guy with a one-year-old gurgling in his lap. And that girl cooing away to enraptured admirers about her solo trip to Croatia (she brought back tall-black leather boots like the ones Victoria Beckham is wearing on Instagram these days, haven’t they seen? They will be the rage this season, they will see) was a spectacled dolly bird from across the hostel corridor whose name I can’t immediately recall. I believe she went abroad for something and came back a newly-refurbished, riveting version of herself. And do you see that pin-striped suit surrounded by a crowd? That’s Mr Wise-Crack of old. He spent glorious hours in the canteen catapulting taunts at passers-by while the rest of us laboured away in class. He is now a counsel in a magic circle law firm, who can’t stop talking about the life-changing benefits of waking up at 6:00 am every morning to get his drafting out of the way.
Everybody seems to be getting on in life. The smart ones who were always going to make it, and the half-witted ones who have surprised themselves by making it, and the lone library-goer who nobody knew was a big daddy’s son till he got out of law school and made it.
All this evolution of the personality and journey of success stuff is making me queasy. Did I experiment enough like Dolly bird? Did I pursue my career with the same single-mindedness of Wise-Crack? Am I getting on in life as much as everybody else?
Say you take a breath, stop competing with people you barely know anymore, and focus on your own achievements. Your career is alright, and your hairline is as well-preserved as any in the room. Why don’t you step back into Wise-Crack’s group with a little more confidence this time?
Wait, but Wise-Crack is no longer the accented foreign-return he was a couple of drinks ago. He’s cracking hahaha-look-at-that-idiot jokes at his audience to their absolute delight. And egg-head has hijacked the music system, which explains the jolting transition from soft instrumental to heavy metal. His one-year old seems stunned, maybe nobody told him about daddy’s fabled love for Iron Maiden. The room seems to be slipping into another time, and people are dissolving into older versions of themselves.
It gives one pause, really, to think that blokes on the brink of so much success should be so eager to shed the present, so nostalgic about a rudderless, baggy-jeaned past.
Maybe everyone in the room is in the same sputtering boat as you. Overwhelmed by the drive to be more and more successful, underwhelmed by the success they already have, uncertain of the future, grasping to find conviction.
What was all that fluff before then? Look at me, look at my wings!
Maybe that’s what lawyers do to mask their insecurities: make a good case for themselves. Thump their convictions loudly, smother doubt with strong opinions. Maybe egg-head secretly wants Wise-Crack’s fancy job, and Wise-Crack wants Dolly Bird’s experiences, and Dolly Bird wants egg-head’s familial bliss.
Just as I want what all of them have. It would be nice to go back to a time when none of it mattered, to being broke, idle, uninspired and perfectly ok with it. So broke that a dinner date could empty a wallet, so idle that work seemed like an unnecessary interference with a well-planned day, so uninspired that what exactly some oddballs did in the library was a mystery to the rest of us. But it wasn’t an empty existence. The hilarity and tragedy of young independent adulthood was all-consuming, to tell you the truth. We never really had the time to obsess about the vagaries of a far out future.
Even when you sat doing nothing on the steps of the academic block?
Especially then. It was a busy kind of idleness.
And now? What is it now?
An idle kind of busy-ness.