SEASON 4, EPISODE 41

I have forever wanted to fill a room with past versions of myself. Sit us all around a dinner table, and let each one spew his perspective on the world, whatever his banner outlook is at that stage in life. Each year, the current self would host, soaking up all that he has learned, all the ways that he has changed. It would provide this overhead view of things—very “Boyhood” actually—and I think I would feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude toward each of them for getting me here, for being dynamic enough to experience so many ups and downs. Probably best to seat the youngest versions at their own kids’ table, and let the 14-through-30 crowd enjoy the adult company. At this table, there are a lot of bad haircuts and pimples, but plenty of proof that this Eric guy will grow into his own. After each one highlights his year and summarizes his outlook, the host—and oldest—says “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.” Then all together, very cult-like: “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”

Fourteen-year-old Eric is naively confident and unshaken. His worldview is landlocked, and he’s still in the closet (though, despite his efforts to find a girlfriend, is starting to get called “faggot” at soccer practice by some dipshit, most-likely-to-get-a-girl-pregnant-before-graduating teammates). He is sure that he will land in Chicago—as an athletic trainer for the Chicago Bulls, of course—but that ultimately he might move back to Kansas so his kids can be near their grandparents. But he’s got a good 10 years before that point, so for now he’s focusing on getting into a solid athletic training program for college, even though he’s just 14. “I like to plan ahead, since you can make anything happen if you plan it out,” he explains. There are a few eye rolls from the others. … “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”

Seventeen-year-old Eric is proud to be gay and his parents don’t make him go to church anymore. He painted to them a really good argument about how he isn’t even wanted there as a gay person; so why should he have to go sit with a bunch of people who judge him when he is only being himself? Plus there are probably 50 closeted gay people in the congregation anyway. Also, Kimmy Ellingson’s parents are swingers and everyone knows it so why are they at church celebrating the sanctity of marriage and family and everything? “Everyone is hypocritical,” he says. “Nobody lets you see who they really are, and everyone seems ashamed of who they actually are.” The highlight of the year is that he got a blow job from another soccer player in the bathroom stall after practice one night, but the guy dates a hot cheerleader so it was just a one-time thing, and now that guy ignores Eric, but it was still pretty cool and Joanie and Talia were jealous because they always had a crush on that guy. … “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”

Twenty-four-year-old Eric is the most optimistic of the bunch, and not blindly so. He’s two years removed from college, and he’s finally going to get out of Kansas. His entire life has been spent within an hour from home, and having broke the news to Mom and Dad, he’s packing up for New York City. He just put in his notice to the small commercial production company where he’s been working, and couldn’t be more excited for a new life with Talia and Joanie in Brooklyn. “I’m very scared,” he tells the table. “But I think I will regret not doing this, not challenging myself and not experiencing more than just…Kansas.” I wish I could tell this eager young man to hug his mother every day until he leaves, to say “thank you and I love you and you were only ever supportive of me.” She’ll be gone soon, and so will the optimism. … “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”

Twenty-five-year-old Eric is a study in how much can change in one year. His ambition has never been lower, and he wonders if he should just move home to Kansas, to be close to his widowed father. But money is good at the bar lately, and he would hate to sacrifice that and go back to his lame production job in Kansas City, much less turn it in for some shit-paying PA job here in New York. “It’s good to have friends who understand where I’m at in my life,” he says of his nightlife crowd. “Joanie and Talia are great and all, but they don’t know what’s good for me.” He’s started dating an older friend of Talia’s named Yates—apparently she thinks Yates would be good for him—, but he feels inferior in the relationship, and judged for his youth. He hesitates before admitting his addictions to the group, disclosing that he has tried nearly every drug. There is a drastic difference in how the older Erics react versus the younger Erics: compassion versus disapproval. I say it loudest this time, very stern and supportive: “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”

Twenty-nine-year-old Eric is in a steady rhythm. He’s well into his talent management career, and hopes that his boss Sam will let him take on a few clients soon. Eric works many 12-hour days, but “that’s all fine since these are the years when I really need my hard work to compound into something great,” he says. “And plus, I’m surrounded by the best friends I could possibly ask for: Bart, Peter, Joanie, and Talia.” He spends a few minutes talking about Jack, too, and how he thinks he now knows what it’s like to be in love, based on the range of emotions he is finally tapping into. “I want to freeze time, and soak this year up forever,” he beams. The other Erics have an expression of relief, as if this is the happy ending toward which they’ve worked. I’m the only Eric in the room who finds it all a bit naive, but it’s a necessary reminder yet. … “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”

A gathering like this would be emotionally overwhelming for the current self. He would sit through dinner wishing he could scream “Don’t waste your time!” or “Hug your mother!”, trying to protect all of the younger versions, wanting to make things easy for them. But really, their errors and lessons are important parts of the trajectory, so above all, he feels a huge sense of gratitude. Then, of course, is the obvious fact that there are many more dinners to be had, where 30-year-old Eric will be but one perspective in a long series of them. He’ll have to highlight all of the things that have happened in the past year. If he—sorry, if I—had to summarize it now, I think the disappointments would overshadow the good things. “No achievements will come without pain,” I would say. “For you, or for someone else. There is an emotional equilibrium in this world. There is also one in your own mind, so all you should care to do is keep that balanced. I recommend blocking it off to the outside world.” I hope future Erics will appreciate that wisdom—whether they agree or not—and be grateful for this year.

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