2006-03-31 / On Second Thought

It's not a criticism, it's an observation.

Protected, pampered, and pasteurized

Mike Cox

Nick's is located in a retro brick building in an old industrial section of Tuscaloosa. When I was young, they had the best steaks and atmosphere in West Alabama. As places like Applebee's and O'Charley's came to town, Nick's became less popular. I thought it had long since closed.

Five old friends met there on a recent Saturday evening. We were the oldest people there and met at Nick's to drink liquor, eat red meat, and swap lies. Mostly, we were there to reconnect with each other and our former selves.

Our group primarily discussed things we did as teenagers. For a while it was 1966 again. You could almost hear The Four Tops, The Hollies, and The Righteous Brothers in the background.

Temporarily we forgot how hard getting up in the morning is now, how many pills we have to take, how few friends and parents are still with us. The old days came back quickly, and very easily.

Most of the stories we shared won't be repeated here. Some are too private for anyone's ears but ours. Others are a little naughty for newsprint. And I'm not sure the Statute of Limitations has expired on a couple.

One of the subjects we did discuss was how much of what we did, most of it harmless pranks, would land kids or their parents in jail today. I hate to sound like some old timer criticizing the latest generation, but the youngsters of today have been sheltered from any harm, spoon-fed self-esteem, and banned from living a normal life. I have to wonder what their reunions will be like in 40 years. What will they discuss? How can they relive old times if there are none?

In the three or four generations of teenagers since I was one, the world has slowly become a place where screwing up isn't allowed. Six-year-olds are being charged with sexual harassment. Butter knives are weapons. Hazings and fistfights over girls are causing lawsuits, and cheerleaders' moms are killing off the competition so their precious darling gets pom-poms.

Kids are protected, pampered, and pasteurized. We have tried to legislate any remote chance of trouble out of their lives, while overreacting to any misstep. No one is allowed to be a teenager anymore.

Ironically, two days after our little night on the town, USA Today ran a front page article showing how all this sheltering is making our kids more susceptible to disease and allergy. Those who are trying to protect their children are now making things worse. And that doesn't include one's emotional state.

Looking around the room that night, I realized our parents did all right. Cliff, George, Glenn, and Pete are no longer with us, but we should have dropped in on Speed, just to thank him for how we all turned out. We could have had a group hug.

On second thought, he would have called us a bunch of sissies and grounded us for a month. Some things never change.

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