4 Words That Take On New Meanings When You Get Older
The biggest (perhaps obvious) thing that no one ever tells you about getting older is that it happens a lot earlier than you think it will. It sneaks right up on you, and as much as you'd like to think that you'll handle it efficiently, gracefully and with some level of dignity, like a Gentleman Ninja, the reality is that you'll spend a few years awkwardly stumbling around like an embarrassing baby deer learning how to walk for the first time, (except also the deer has a lot of knee pain from an old basketball injury). You will not be good at it, because it's a brand new life for you, and while there are a lot of really awesome things that go along with that life, there's also a terrible, brand new vocabulary. Words and phrases that either didn't exist to you or had a completely different meaning when you were in your teens and early twenties. Here are some of the ones I've learned so far.
When you're in high school or college, a "cleanse" just sounds like a pretentious version of "wash." You'd hear someone say "I'm going to take a shower and cleanse myself," and you'd hate them, and you'd be right to.
But cleanse has an additional meaning, one that most kids in their teens and early twenties have no reason to know. When I was a freshman in college I did know the alternate meaning because, for a few months, (to help pay for school), I worked as a telemarketer selling an all-natural Bowel Cleanser over the phone. It was a kind of juice that you were supposed to drink every single day. The goal of the juice was to flush absolutely everything out of your system, via your butt. It is not, (my employers would have me stress to potential clients on the phone), a simple laxative. It is a cleansing agent designed to rid your body of all its dangerous and unhealthy toxins that would otherwise build up in your colon and stay there for years. It was supposed to make your skin healthier, your energy higher, and your bowel movements smoother and more pleasant. In my training session, my managers told me that, when he died, 25 lbs of human fecal matter was found in John Wayne's colon, and while we weren't legally allowed to say that using a bowel cleanser would have saved his life, we were encouraged to casually bring that story up and let our customers draw their own conclusions about the magic, healing power of bowel cleansers.
But, at the end of the day, yes, I was selling a juice that made you poop harder, faster, and forever to a bunch of strangers, over the phone.
"Mrs. Johnson? Hi, Dan O'Brien here, quick question: How ya poopin'?"
I thought the entire concept was hilarious. I'd go back to my dorm with my nineteen-year-old friends and tell them all about this stupid, wacky product people were actually paying for. "Can you believe it? These folks will pay real, American dollars for a product that will 'wipe out toxins.' Uh, hello, toxins aren't even a thing! Those people are so dumb. Being 19 rules. Isn't it great that we're going to live forever?"
But Now ...
You say it'll wipe out all of my toxins?
There are plenty of cleanses nowadays, the most popular probably being The Master Cleanse. They all revolve around a special diet of juices and water, and spices or teas, and all of them are designed to rid your body of... just everything. I mean, mostly toxins and excess fat, but due to the nature of any cleanse, (the nature is it makes you poop), you're bound to get a lot of non-toxins involved, too, it is a non-discriminating bowel evacuator.
And don't get me wrong, getting older doesn't mean you suddenly have to do some kind of cleanse every few months. I don't. But being older does mean that "cleanse" will enter your life. It's a word that meant nothing to you, and suddenly you'll hear it everywhere. A bunch of your friends will try it, you'll see ads for it, and maybe you'll even read up on it. Because one of the things most cleanses claim to give you is buttloads upon buttloads of healthy, natural energy. And you'll seriously think about doing it because, when you get older, all of that excess energy you had in high school and college is the very first thing that goes, precisely at the moment when you finally have enough money and intelligence to know what to do with energy. You suddenly won't have it anymore, and you'll do absolutely anything to get it back.
"You say this'll give me just as much energy as the Master Cleanse but I DON'T have to shit myself for ten straight days? Well, this is kind of a no-brainer."
Back in college, a buddy of mine once stumbled into my dorm room and asked me if I wanted to see how many days in a row we could both stay awake, and even though it was the middle of the week, I said "Yes," because I was 18, and because coffee was a thing, and because I was 18.
18-year-olds are stupid.
And we did. We stayed awake all night for the sake of staying awake, then went to class, ate food, watched movies and played whichever Tony Hawk game was out when the band Goldfinger was really popular. Then at night, we drank more coffee and stayed awake again. And again. We did this until we were bored, and then we slept for a couple hours and felt fine. In a few months, we'd forget how boring this little experiment was, so we'd do it again. (And, eventually, someone would give us both pieces of paper that said we were full-fledged adults and totally ready to enter the real world. For no reason.)
But Now ...
No one ever asks me if I want to stay awake for several days in a row anymore, thankfully, but every so often, someone will ask me if I want to go to a midnight screening of something, or hang out on the beach late at night, or go to a ... like a ball, or gala, or whatever it is mature and reasonable people are supposed to do at night.
"Yes, thanks for the invite, this has been a truly wonderful cotillion."
And instead of saying "Yes, I'll do that, because coffee exists," I'll say "Well, let's see, I need to make sure I get a solid eight hours of sleep tonight ... I do have to get up at 7am tomorrow ... Usually takes me 12 minutes to get home from the beach, and I know I'm gonna wanna spend a few hours there ... It's already 9 now ... It doesn't- Yeah, it doesn't look like I'll be able to get my full eight hours. Even if we left right now, I'd be cutting it close ..."
What I'm trying to say, (other than "Try as hard as you can to not to fall in love with the wild party animal and man-about-town that is Daniel O'Brien, Women-of-the-Internet,"), is that, when you reach a certain age, the majority of your decision-making will revolve around maintaining your sleep schedule. Sure, you'll deviate once in a while. You'll stay up all night with friends, you'll drink too much, you'll only get four hours of sleep before work. It'll happen. But it's not like in college, where you can wake up after two hours of sleep, drink a Red Bull and then be absolutely fine for the day, (and, in fact, the year). It's real life, where getting a few hours means you can physically prop your stupid body up in your cubicle, but you're still not quite "at work," mentally or emotionally speaking. You're a red-eyed, headache-ridden zombie typing seven words a minute and waiting for the clock to strike 6, so you can go home and get the eight freaking hours you desperately need. You don't prefer eight hours, you don't choose it, you need it so you can function the next day. It just happens. You reach a point where your body says "That's enough. I've put up with everything you've done to me for 25 years without a word, and now I'm calling the shots. It's time for you to start taking care of me.
For the first 20 years of my life or so, "Diet" was a word reserved for people who wanted to lose weight. My buddy wanted to be thinner, so he'd go on a diet. My friend wanted to look good in a bathing suit, so she'd stop eating shitty food for a month. I ran around like an idiot enough that it technically counted as "exercise" and my young metabolism was a beautiful engine of rage and perfection, so I never thought about diets. "A diet is what overweight people go on," Past Daniel thought.
Your "Diet" refers to every single thing you eat, how much of it you eat and when you eat it, and when you get older, you have to monitor that shit. As you get older, it's not as simple as "eating lots of food makes you fat" or "eating less makes you skinny." You have to make sure you're eating the right foods in the right portions. In part, you do this to stay in shape, but not the easily-attained immaculate shape you were in in college that required absolutely no maintenance; a different shape. Imagine, in your late twenties, you just look like an average person. Not overweight, but not covered in huge muscles or anything. Maybe you've got a bit of a beer gut. You will have to maintain a steady, healthy diet for the rest of your life just to not look any worse than that. When you get older, eating right and working out is just about breaking even.
You need to work out every day to stay like this.
But monitoring your diet isn't just about staying in shape; you also have to do it to keep yourself from feeling like shit all day. (Apparently everything you do when you get older is based around having enough energy during the daytime to contemplate more ways to cultivate and maintain energy.)
For over two decades, I didn't think about what I ate at all. I never counted my meals or recognized when I wasn't getting enough protein or water. I'm the guy who would eat a meal of Steak-Ums and Twizzler Nibs at 4am and wash it down with a nugget that could have been of the Chicken Mc variety or could have just been some other nugget-based treat. I'm the guy who would go a whole day without eating a thing and then make a burrito full of pasta and mustard, because that's what I had in my apartment. Not only am I the guy who knows what a filthy, disgusting chili dog from 7-11 tastes like, I'm the guy who knows that there's a price break if you order more than four at a time, that's who I am, that's what's going on my tombstone. Different foods didn't have different functions to me, it didn't matter what I put into myself-- carbs, red meat, protein, fiber, iron, sugar, salt -- it was all just handfuls of things that went in my mouth and made me powerful. That's it.
But now it's the future, and eating one thing, (like a meal with lots of red meat), means that I have to deprive myself of something else, (beer, french fries, a fist-full of sugar), to balance things out. That's just a thing you'll probably have to do at some point.
Here's a neat little exercise that I would never recommend doing under any circumstances: Graduate college, and then wait. After a few years have gone by, track down your frat brother or sorority sister, or whoever it was that you did the bulk of your reckless living with, whoever it was that ordered pizza in the middle of the night with you, drank beers till six in the morning and then road a bike to class. Invite this person out with you. Spend the entire night recreating an evening from your college days; eat the greasy food you ate at 19, drink a lot, eat a second dinner, the whole nine yards.
It will destroy you for the next 24 hours. My old roommate and I did this not too long ago. We went to one of our favorite places, ordered several plates of the best buffalo wings on the planet, drank beers out of giant glass boots, yelled at things and had a wonderful night. The plan was to go for a hike the next morning, but not only did we not go, I never even called him to cancel, and he didn't call me. We both just needed to spend a day recovering, not from a hangover, but from a general I'm-Too-Old-for-This-Shit-over, (or "Murtaughver"). We stayed in all day, basting ourselves with the juices of our shared shame. The late night buffalo wing game is one designed for younger men.
"We can't hang out at college bars anymore. Riiiiiiggggs!"
You'll be slower, greasier, everything will hurt, you won't feel motivated enough to do fucking anything, and your toilet bowl will forever look at you as if you'd killed its brother.
"Hey man, I just want you to know, whatever relationship we had going on before? That's done now. We're through."
There's no reason to be coy about this. When you're a kid, there's only one thing that "joints" means. (Or, I guess, two if you're the kind of kid who read a lot of children's books written by people who love olde timey language.)
For most people, "joints" refers to Marijuana cigarettes. Reefers. Depending on where you fall on the spectrum of party animalogy, you either never think about finding joints, or you're constantly going from person to person asking if anyone knows "who's got loose joints?"
But Now ...
You're going to do a thing. Like anything, like some random, boring thing that you do every day. And you'll wake up the next morning in pain and you'll have no idea why. No one punched you, you didn't over-exert yourself, and there aren't a bunch of knives sticking out of you. It can't be that thing I did you'll think. I've been doing that for years, and it's never caused me any pain before. And yet, you hurt.
It's your joints. Your joints hurt, because carrying the weight of you around has become too much of a burden. Your body is now rejecting you.
I've highlighted the parts that will shut down in red, and I've highlighted the parts that will never work as well as they did in high school in skeleton.
Joints form the connections between bones. You don't need to think about them when you're younger, because for many, many years, your relationship with your joints is so good that you're barely aware of their existence. But then they turn on you, and they're all you can think about. There's some medication and physical therapy you can use to treat some forms of joint pain, but for the most part, it's just a thing that starts to and will always happen when you get older. To everyone who doesn't wake up with random pain every once in a while, just prepare yourself. When you're young, a sharp pain means something's wrong, and you need to go to a doctor and he'll fix it, because you're supposed to be immortal. Eventually, you won't rush to the doctor every time something aches. You'll just wake up one day saying "Oh, my elbow hurts? Sure, okay, I guess that's life, now."
Well this ended up being a lot more depressing than I'd intended. Some day in the future I'll write a companion article that's full of words that take on a new awesome meaning when you get older. Until then, I'll just do something to lighten the mood.
(Though, I'd feel weird if I didn't point out that, when that dachshund gets, its adorable wiener-shape is going to cause a ton of back problems, as that has historically been a problem for that breed. And actually since I have no idea how old this picture is, it's possible that the puppy we're looking at has since gotten older and died.)
(I'm so sorry.)
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's Senior Writer (ladies), and he stayed up so late finishing this column that he didn't get his full eight hours so please speak quietly and stay away from him (fuckin', everybody).
For more from Daniel, check out Genius or Insane? 8 Rejected Cracked Photoshop Entries and My Brief Time as Encyclopedia Brown's Partner.