How Do You Know You’re an adult?

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The growth cycle of a man, depicted as five silhouettes

I remember the exact moment I became an adult. In truth, it wasn’t a moment, but rather a grueling, all-night metamorphosis. I can’t tell you the day, but the year was 1994, late summer. That would make me 29 at the time. I’m not saying you know you’re an adult when you hit 30. I know plenty of people who are over 40 and, either literally or figuratively, haven’t escaped their parents’ house.

I’m also not espousing the virtues of adulthood here. As I watch my kids grow, I both marvel and grieve at some of the things they’ll sacrifice for inevitable adulting. Namely, free time. “Dad, I’m borrrred,” they whine, and off I float into blissful reminiscence about what it was like not to have Life’s Jackboot up my ass 24/7.

And I know the time will come, as it comes for most of us, when they pause and say, “Oh my god, I’m officially an adult now.” My moment came on a wave of both liberation and melancholy, in a situation where I least expected it, at about 3:07 in the morning.

You Know You’re An Adult When Your Apartment Isn’t A Piece of Shit

At the time, I was living in Westwood, California, in what I must describe as a pretty awesome apartment. Westwood was the last stop on a 7-year westward migration from the slums of Echo Park. Think of The Jeffersons, but for a college-educated, privileged, white Gen X’er with half-baked adolescent fantasies of being a rock star. As my financial situation got better, I continued my trek west: towards the ocean, ever closer to that mythical place where homeless people didn’t sleep in your car.

I was living in my cool-ass apartment with She Who Would Become The First Ex Mrs. Taylor. We’ll call her FEMT, because that’s really easy to say. FEMT was my girlfriend, and we’d started living together a few years previous. I had a pretty nice job as a producer in radio syndication; FEMT had a trust fund. This made Westwood affordable.

Or at least, marginally affordable. You see, Westwood is a college town. UCLA was only three short blocks from where we lived. And though tuition was a lot less expensive there than at my alma mater and historical rival, USC, the campus gave landlords reason to jack up rents. But hey. The neighborhood was great, my apartment was huge, I was about the age of a doctoral candidate (so I fit in enough) and I never found a coffee can of excrement on my patio. This was living large.

And this is the scene of my transition.

You know you're an adult when you live in a luxury apartment
Ok, not exactly like this. At all. But I did have furniture.

Adulthood often starts when the party stops

Though I had this cool job and a girlfriend with disposable income, I didn’t really care about my job at all. I was going to be a rock star, and this was a certainty. FEMT was equally certain she’d be a working actress. Our pursuit of these dreams kept us busy and vampire-like. Club shows for rock bands don’t even get started until at least 10PM, and the party doesn’t stop until 2AM. Then it’s back to work at 8AM. When you’re in your late 20’s, this still doesn’t kill you.

It was Sunday night. The band had actually played two shows that weekend. An acoustic gig at this surf bar in Marina Del Rey that went from sundown to only 9PM, and then a Saturday night gig at Nomads, another west side haunt where the gin & tonics flowed like rivers down yon mighty mountain. And I had opened my mouth like a fucking Pez Dispenser to take in all the gin, the side effects of which still haunted me that Sunday evening.

The ‘hood, however, was filled with kids. I can use that term now because I’m nearly fossilized, but even at the time, I understood that my neighbors were between the ages of 18 and 22. And when you’re that age, Sunday night does not get in the way of absolutely polluting yourself three days in a row (four days, if you’re one of those “I didn’t take Friday classes, so I could get wasted Thursday” people). So as I drifted off to sleep that night at an insanely early 10PM, it was to the sound of the ‘hood partying as usual.

But I was not drifting off to sleep.

Ren & Stimpy together in bed, unable to sleep

Adults Also Like To Sleep

The sound of people partying is basically the human version of white noise – the fan of fun humming in the background. I was used to that fan being on all the time, so it was almost as though I didn’t hear it anymore. That, and I was still childless. Having kids is a crash course in the torture of sleep deprivation. Parenting alters your brainwaves forever, so that the slightest rustling of leaves outside is perceived as the sound of your child being abducted by aliens.

But on this particular night, there was a sound from the neighborhood that rose above the level of white partying noise. A sound louder than the rest. A sound that poked by frontal lobe like a toothpick. Some guy was playing his guitar on his balcony.

Yes, it was loud, but it wasn’t that loud. And yes, he was bad, but he wasn’t that bad. He played all sorts of cover songs, though most were the alt-rock hits of the time. He did an Ok job with a few Nirvana songs. Pearl Jam was a little more difficult, causing him to start and stop a lot. For the first few hours, I just lay there and critiqued his work. I wondered if he had a captive audience, or if he was on the balcony because his friends were so sick of Brad coming over with his fuuuuucking guitar and getting wasted and trying to impress the bohemians in the group.

Yeah, I felt for Brad.

After another hour, Brad stopped, and like a switch, my brain shut off. But as it turned out, Brad had simply run out of recent material, so out came the classic rock playlist. I turned and looked at the clock. 11:37PM. Past legal noise ordinances for sure, but not past the invisible but magical barrier of midnight, when shit like this has to shut down. Let Brad have his last 20 minutes to seduce Courtney with some Cat Stevens. I know I’d appreciate it.

By 1:30AM, Courtney had still not given in.

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You know you're an adult when you drink wine with laundry
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You Know You’re an Adult When Your Patience Wears Thin

To say I was conflicted was an understatement. If I had a dollar for every college party I played guitar at, I could…well, I could buy a big ass slingshot and take Brad out with one shot. Also, he was my neighbor. I mean, I didn’t know the guy, but we’re all sharing this space, trying to live together. Right? Calling the cops or campus security was nothing but a dick move. Just let the guy have his fun, don’t be a downer, and he’ll stop soon enough.

2:30AM. And off he goes on The Beatles catalog.

He was also really drunk by this time. I know this because his playing sucked harder and harder with each passing moment. Also, he forgot pretty much every other word in each song. So any semblance of the pleasantness of listening to music was toast. It was The Lolaposuck Festival, live from Westwood. Courtney had since gone home with Biff, had sex with him, went back to her apartment, and went to sleep. Courtney was asleep, for god’s sake, and I wasn’t.

Bars had shut down nationwide, but Brad was the fucking Energizer Bunny, wailing on and on unabated. I had to work in the morning. I had to get up in a few hours. But Brad and I sped headlong to the zone where no amount of coffee and bong hits were going to make me functional on Monday.

I got out of bed and went to the balcony window. And I stood there for another 20 minutes, agonizing. Was I really going to do this? Was I really going to pee in this guy’s Cheerios, when I myself had enjoyed endless bowls of the same tasty cereal throughout the years?

And then, like magic, he stopped.

drunk old dude lying on the street with his guitar
Brad as he appears today…

Adults Have A Tipping Point

With great relief, I turned away from the balcony window and headed back to bed. I was so exhausted I was tempted to just fall on the couch and sleep there, as the bedroom felt like it was 30 miles away at this point. But I also felt this incredible relief. It was over. Brad was dead. Or maybe not dead, but dead was fine, too. Best of all, I didn’t have to be the dick. The guy who shut down the fun. The grown-up.

And that was the moment Brad fired up again. Like A Rolling Stone. Out of key and twice as loud.

I rocketed to the window and practically tore it off the hinges.

“HEY! BOB DYLAN! SHUT THE FUCK UP!!”

It worked instantly. Sweet silence filled the early morning air. I popped Brad’s Fun Balloon like I swung at it with an ax. And I knew. Knew it deep down to the very marrow of my bones. I hadn’t told him to stop playing guitar.

I had told him to get the hell off my lawn.

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