Living the life of Reilly

July 19, 2010 at 12:01 AM 3 comments

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If I envy anything about my son’s life, it’s the number and quality of friends he has. They are brick-and-mortar friends he has known since high school or elementary school, not the 936 passing acquaintances he has collected on his Facebook page, many of whom he would be hard-pressed to remember how he actually met in the real world.

This weekend two of Max’s old friends slept over and three others stopped by to visit. Throughout Friday night dinner and Shabbat lunch, this knot of twenty-one and twenty-two year olds kept up a steady conversation about the movies they had seen in movie theaters and on their laptops, and the movie parodies they had watched on Hulu and YouTube. I tried to eavesdrop from the kitchen, where it was my job to keep the platters of apricot chicken, schnitzel, pasta, potatoes, broccoli, fried eggplant and salad flying onto the dining room table. I have to take it on faith that Max and his friends were speaking English. Despite listening hard, I could barely make out a word that didn’t sound like “kleep” or “geleet.” I simply couldn’t piggyback onto their sense of humor and irony.

I also didn’t get their idea of leisure. For my son and his friends, Shabbat is a hammock that stretches from Friday night to Saturday night. A day well spent means partying until 3:00 a.m., waking up at noon, getting dressed to eat a second five-course meal, and then going back to sleep until the other set of friends drops by again to hobnob about movies and YouTube parodies. Shabbat leisure for me means sitting on the terrace with the weekend newspapers and Alan Furst’s The Spies of Warsaw. It also means getting back to the kitchen to put together an evening meal of cold salmon and dill sauce, egg salad, guacamole, cherries and leftover challah. Except for my not writing or using electricity, my Shabbat leisure activities aren’t all that different from a typical weekday schedule.

I watched movies too

Movies were big when I was in my early twenties too. I know it’s facile to say that the movies I saw were better than the movies that my son and his friends watch. They were certainly more French, Italian and Spanish than the Toy Story I-Toy Story II-Toy Story III type movies Max and his gang watch. Other than catching a Butterfield 8 or a Blazing Saddles on TV, the movies I saw had to be watched in a dark theater with other people. And when Pepsi or Coke tried to infiltrate a commercial onto the screen before the feature began, people hissed. They hissed! Max has been a willing consumer for as long as I can remember. In high school, he spent hours online looking for brand-name coupons. He was so good at ferreting out deals that he even got a Wii for free.

I liked Bunuel; Max and his friends prefer Kevin Smith. To each his own. The real difference between my twentysomething movie-watching and Max’s is that mine came a couple of times a week after working a nine-to-five job. The movie-watching that goes on in my son’s world is almost non-stop. It is squeezed in between classes, between homework, before breakfast, before bedtime.

The dada of awesomeness

If I needed any confirmation that my son and his friends are dedicated to filling their free time with trivia, the Times Magazine carried an article this week called When Funny Goes Viral. The article is about a conference at MIT called “What is awesome on the Internet.” And what is awesome on the Internet is trivia. The more pointless the more awesome. The writer argues that “interesting people have been doing curious, quirky, playful or offensive things with technology, outside the mainstream” as far back as 1840. And yet I suspect that the masses of twentysomething men back in 1840 did not have the leisure to indulge hours and hours of their days on the curious, quirky, playful and offensive to the degree that my son and his friends do.

So much puerility! So little talk about Deepwater. So much talk about “Family Guy!” So little talk about To Kill a Mockingbird, however good or bad the book was.


That’s the sound of me putting the brakes on my critique of Max and the way he and his friends spend time.

In my early twenties, I was alone way too much. Partly I was driven to write a novel, so I engineered my schedule to spend as much time as possible in front of my Olivetti manual typewriter. Partly, I didn’t know how to find a bunch of people I wanted to hang around with. As for that nine-to-five job I got shortly after I graduated from college, I despised it.

Lonely as it was, I pursued my life of books and high culture because I was on a tear to turn myself from a chicken farm rube into a New Yorker. Max and his crew don’t need to do that. They talk about movies the way a lot of other men talk about sports: As a way to socialize with each other. They are a tight group of friends. For all my reading and writing, I cannot put five friends into a room and squeal with pleasure over the last one hundred movies we all saw.

I am like the Russian spies who were deported in early July. In an age of biometrics and cloud computing, they were using the artifacts of a bygone era to ply their trade. Likewise, I am still stuck on books and indie movies  the way those spies are still attached to forged passports, shortwave transmission and invisible ink.

Having declared myself a Cold War-era fossil, I cannot help but hope that one day Max will look back upon this Shabbat, during which his trivia-challenged mom made sure that he and his friends had enough food and air conditioning and time to be awesome. The world of bad jobs and unquotable movies will be waiting for them. Why rush headlong to meet it?


This post is dedicated to the memory of Dorothy Koplow, the beloved mother of Amy Koplow.

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Entry filed under: college, Family, New York City. Tags: , , , , , . Heal thyself, Breitbart!

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pesha  |  July 19, 2010 at 8:23 AM

    Every generation grumbles about the upcoming generation. Yes, it’s a highly distracted generation and their humor arises from movie and YouTube parodies. But I am more than a little jealous that they are growing up with Facebook!

  • 2. Rukhl  |  July 20, 2010 at 7:13 PM

    I loved this piece! The way Max socializes reminds me of my boys, who watch the Super Bowl or the World Series each year with their friends as a social event, even though they never watch sports games on TV during the year.

    As for Facebook, it’s a great way to draw up a guest list for a party: Menachem posts that he’s having a birthday BBQ and over 70 people arrive! No time, money or energy wasted on invitations…

  • 3. Brother Sol  |  July 23, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    Once a week, mentally, I must be nephew Max’s age. My favorite Sunday TV programs are Family Guy, The Simpsons, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. For the rest of the week the Peter Pan syndrome is gone and I pretty much act my age. Now, what’s on the Sci-Fi channel this weekend?


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