He rubbed the bald spot on his head where he’d been applying the generic Rogaine for the past three years. Little tiny white hairs struggled and gasped to find purchase and obtain the spark they needed to become something other than casualties of the next close buzz cut. One of his so-called friends had told him in college that the early white hairs were due to masturbation, but he didn’t believe it. After all, he’d had two older brothers who’d been assigned to shower cleaning duty on Saturdays and had claimed they knew he was a chronic shower pee-er. It was all bullshit shots in the dark to get a rise out of him, and most of these gambits failed, but the ones that did hit, often turned him into a shrieking, whiny subhuman that confirmed for many he was probably a girl in a boy’s body or even an outright homosexual.
He was born too late to reap the benefits of any latchkey kid parenting and Gen-X cool that brought the world characters like Ferris Bueller and Kurt Cobain. But, he was born too early to gain any of the access to true helicopter parenting, shared by all of his peers, and other Millennial windfalls, like trophies for participation and opportunities for attention simply by uploading a short video made on the phone with the click of a button. In fact, the year he was born sits at the nadir of American birthrates from the past seventy years. From 1945 to the present, where a new nadir now begins, his is the minima on the curves of birthrates–the nadir of boomers and GenXers and the very start of a second high growth curve for Millennials.
Another way of looking at it, of course, is this: he received the best of all worlds. He was born the year after the Vietnam War ended, and so he missed out being old enough to fight in Desert Storm, and could have gone to the Second Gulf War if he wanted to, but he was a mess of highest proportions, both in terms of selfishness and lagging adolescence during the years following 9-11. He had a computer in the house at the age of four, thanks to his father’s desire to better his income at the age of 40, and had the WWW at his fingertips the first year of college. He missed the worst of the downturns of the economy, and was never laid off. Some would say he was one of the luckiest SOBs to walk the planet in the history of SOBs. Depending on his mood, he might agree with some who say that, or he might lapse into convincing himself that he had received the worst of all possible timing in terms of any life following 1945.
Of course, such thoughts of his and words of others were ludicrous. He had his share of personal ups and downs like anyone, and if there was any superlative to be applied to him, he was the most middling, middle class, WASPy Mid-Westerner from the last middle part of the history of the USA. He was exceptional only at being middling. Which is to say, there was nothing exceptionally positive or negative at all to say about him.
Though, of course, such considerations of his existence would likely miss the mark, as there is no such thing as an unexceptional human being–all of us have something about us that makes us exceptional, even if we die before we ever find that thing.
The voice inside his head almost got him mixed up in a Mathematics BS program some eighteen years after that first day of college, but he chickened out–he became convinced that he would fail and he wanted to hold on to a dream rather than learn whether or not that dream was anything more than a dream. So, he decided a few years later to go to Seminary instead. He liked Hebrew and Greek and learning about Assyrians and Sea Peoples and Babylonians and Egyptians, but the teachers didn’t like him very much, and he realized he was never going to be nice enough to other people to be a pastor. So, he returned to the world of internet fads, learning about NoSQL and Mobile Apps and a lot of crap that didn’t matter much except when he was in an office being paid to convince himself and others that it mattered much.
Instead, a voice kept calling–a return to the first day’s worth of PreCalc homework, and how no homework was ever done–this is what was to be done. PreCalc merited a D back in the college days, and he snagged a B in basic College Algebra the next semester just to get the lowest possible Math requirement required to get a basic Liberal Arts Degree of no account whatsoever. This never prohibited him from having a basic interest in Math, as his PoliSci teacher turned him on to Chaos Theory in a way that Jeff Goldblum hadn’t from a passing mention of it in Jurassic Park. Then, came a personal foray into Quantum Physics, Relativity Theory, and Fermat’s Last Theorem, String Theory, Georg Cantor, Euler, Riemann, Gauss, Erdos and any other popular Math and Physics book he could get his hands on.
Yet, time and again, the best he could do was develop a rudimentary understanding of what Calculus was and how it worked, as well as a perfunctory ability to work his way through a Pre-Calc book snagged from Half Price Books.
So, what of any of it? At it’s best, it was the absolute Elixir of Truth. He had glimpses of it–a world where people lived and breathed mathematical equations inside worlds of books, chalkboards, Gothic Architecture, and never had to leave their perfect university bubbles. They had exquisite conversations about Godel and Einstein and Feynman, and perhaps joked about the foolish undergrads they occasionally had to come in contact with, or the exquisite undergrads they occasionally got to come in contact with while cheating on their spouses.
He researched the PreCalc professor from his first year of college, and discovered to his dismay that the man had gone on to get a law degree and practice law in San Francisco, instead of devoting his life to banging undergrads under clouds of chalk and book and pencil dust. What a shame, a real waste of a mind. Somehow, his own mind didn’t seem to have been wasted as much as that PreCalc professor’s. After all, he at least bumped into code, Boolean logic, database queries, and other quasi-mathematical stuff on a regular basis, while the PreCalc professor used his mathematical mind to rigorously argue cases concerning patents, divorces or whatever garbage law specialty the man had chosen.
While he couldn’t resurrect his brothers and mother who had died too soon, and he couldn’t tap into whatever Internet fad like Blockchain, IoT, AI, etc. would make him billions, he somehow still believed that he could still, given the proper mixture of motivational videos and music and altering of his brain chemistry, wake up one morning and open up a college pre-calc book from Half Price books, and begin a slow and plodding course over a decade or more to master it before plodding through another decade of Calculus, and then perhaps dying with the same mathematical knowledge as anyone whose received a BS in Math in the past 100 years. The only thing that stopped him was the slightest of nagging doubts in his own mental acumen, as well as a slight nag concerning the fact that perhaps Math wasn’t the Absolute Truth, and Jesus really was–ie, the real Jesus and not some Seminary professor’s Frankenstein monster cobbled together out of Schleiermacher, MLK, and Levinas who kind of looked and sounded like Jesus should look and sound, but was clearly not quite Jesus.