Once you turn 21, it’s a long downhill ride back to Earth

Mike Camerlengo

It was a great night. I went out with some great friends and had a great time. I didn’t pay for a single thing. I was doing what I have done countless times before, but now it was different. Now it was legal. I was 21 and having the time of my life. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized: it’s all downhill from here.

Now I know being 21 means much more freedom: you can safely walk out of a liquor store with a 12 pack and not have to worry about the secret SWAT operation to bust 20 year old kids with alcohol. No more looking over your shoulder or fake ID worries. No more memorizing fake names and different zip codes. You are legal and this should signify the beginning of good times. Well think again.

Now that you are 21, there is nothing to look forward to. No more milestones worth getting excited about. When you were 15, you had 16. When you were 18, you only had a few years until the big 21. But now what? What lays ahead for you? 30? 40? A midlife crisis, an ever-growing gut and the loss of hair are also looming.

The allure of drinking without worry is always there, so you drink for no apparent reason. I find myself drinking during every meal I eat and especially when the sun is out. I say this not to brag, but to warn you of this pitfall. Also, our good friends at the reservation are just calling for you to come to their casinos and gamble. Blackjack? Hit me. Poker? I’m all in. I can’t stop. Don’t worry, the House always wins. As if this vicious cycle couldn’t get any worse, you find yourself lecturing younger kids to do well in school and stay out of trouble. Why is it that 21 signifies becoming a man. My 83-year-old grandmother has more facial hair than me and yet somehow people call me ‘sir.’

I want to blink and be in third grade again. Or maybe I’d like to be in a sandbox with a diaper and crap in my pants playing with toy trucks. I want to be in sixth grade getting ready for a dance trying to figure out how to kiss a girl. I’m still not very sure, but that’s what my good friends at Anheuser-Busch are for. Am I crazy? Maybe this is my pre-midlife crisis? If I had any money I’d go out and buy something but I doubled down one too many times at the table. Before you are 21 you are swimming in the heated pool with a diving board and an attractive lifeguard. Once you hit 21 you finally get promoted to the ocean and everybody thinks it is great. You don’t want to let anybody down so you tell them it’s “wonderful”, but in reality, the ocean is cold, salty and causes shrinkage.

I write this not to scare you, just to let you know that it’s pretty close to being over for you. For those of us who have crossed in to this cold, wrinkle-causing ocean, there are a few things we can do. Go make a visit to your parents and when your mom tells you your dad fell asleep watching “60 Minutes” at nine o’clock last night, you should feel better. Also, take a look at a building; odds are it is much older than you.

So youngsters, take advantage. Enjoy calling yourself Franklin Waters and telling people you are from Missouri and ‘that’s how IDs look out there.’ Take pleasure in the thrill of checking out cars outside the liquor store for undercover cops. And when you do turn 21, have fun. Don’t pay for anything and don’t drink and drive: because after that, it’s a long steep road to the bottom.