Growing up, there were certain guys that I idolized. And I wasn’t the only one. There was often a dude older than us that me and all my friends looked up to. A lot of those guys had their shit together. A few of them have become doctors, lawyers, and youth ministers. But then there were some other guys we looked up to that turned out to be total burnouts. The funny thing is that they were burnouts back then, but it’s only with growing up that I realized it. I’m willing to bet that there’s some overlap with guys you thought were the cat’s pajamas who were actually just turds.
The Go-Kart Guy
Who didn’t want this dude’s job? He was the boss. The emperor of the tire-walled track. He told you which kart you could use, how to put on your seatbelt, and most importantly, the rules about bumping. What made him so cool was that because you were a regular during the summers, he always made sure you got a faster kart, and looked the other way when you tried to Earnhardt your buddy in the third turn. Hell, he’d even strap in and do some laps with you guys if things were slow. All of this to say, the go-kart guy was probably a genuinely nice guy. But looking back, he was also in his mid-late 20s, working for MAYBE ten bucks an hour at a place that specialized in shitty pizza and laser tag. So yes, thank you go-kart guy, for always being there for us. And I hope you finally graduated from community college and have a salary job now. Because I’m now the same age you were then, and I’d cry myself to sleep every night if I had your job.
The College Mascot
This really just goes for mascots in general. But the college mascot was always a big deal. You’d see him all over TV, and he’d take pictures with you when you went to games. He had to have been the coolest dude on campus, right? I mean think about it. Everyone wants that job, but only one guy gets it. He’s on the screen as much as the quarterback is, and he gets to hang out with the cheerleaders all day. COLLEGE cheerleaders. Well guess what? That dude was probably a dope. I’ve known several guys who were mascots. Most of them were relatively nice guys, but I don’t think anyone would ever make the mistake of calling them cool. First of all, the mascot job is not nearly as competitive as you might assume. And all the guys going out for it are the same person. High energy, sandal/necklace-wearing dudes with spiked hair and a penchant for bandanas, who take the job of the mascot way too seriously. I can guarantee you that none of them are banging the cheerleaders.
For me, it was at the country club pool growing up. Every kid my age had a crush on one of the lifeguards. The dudes would walk around with their “actual” muscles and whistles in their mouths, carrying their stupid rescue floaties, while all the girls our age fawned over them (I still harbor some latent anger if you can’t tell). To be fair, us guys spent our fair share of time staring at the female lifeguards, who had to have looked to Wendy Peffercorn for inspiration, because they never seemed to put on tanning lotion while on break, only when they were up on the stand. Here’s the great thing. I later went on to work at that pool when I was in high school. So did several of my best friends growing up. I managed the Teen Room, which basically meant that I told the younger employees to cook the food for pool guests while I played ping pong with whichever of my lifeguard friends was off-duty. Lo and behold, I noticed that all of the kids looked up to us the same way we did at 12 years old. The only difference was that we were only 17. So these superhuman, untouchable lifeguards me and my friends were so in awe of were actually just idiot high school kids. I had a fling with one of the lifeguards I worked with. Guess what? She was Stage 5 bananas. I ended things with her mid-summer. If you would’ve told preteen me that I was gonna break things off with one of the Country Club lifeguards, he would have gone for the nearest baseball bat to take to my head. Perception is reality, my friends.
The Trans-Am Guy
So here’s the thing. You could probably substitute any 70s muscle car for “Trans-Am” and it would be accurate for hundreds of these guys around the country. But my idol drove a Trans-Am, and thus that was the car I wanted growing up. He had been the starting quarterback at our high school for three years while I was in middle school. Anyone who gave a shit about sports idolized him. And he went to a D1 school on a scholarship…which he promptly fucked up by not making grades and getting busted for pot. So he came back to our hometown in that awesome, black Trans-Am he drove all through high school. And we all thought that was a good thing. We’d see him driving up and down the main boulevard with a different girl in his car every time. He was living the life the rest of us could never hope to have. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized he was a total fucking joke. Those girls in his car? High school girls. He was David Wooderson except without the McConaughey charisma. I went back home a few weeks after I graduated. My parents and I went out to a steakhouse for dinner, and I saw a familiar Trans-Am in the parking lot. Granted, the shiny black paint had faded and chipped, and the driver’s side door was just grey primer, but it was definitely that car. But when we went inside, I didn’t see him sitting at any of the tables. That is, until he walked up to ask us for our drink order. Now, I have no qualms with postgrads in their 20s working as waitstaff. There’s decent money in it, and some of my closest friends do it. But it was really just the veil being lifted. He wasn’t the coolest guy my town had ever seen. He was just another person who used to have a lot of potential, threw it away, and now has the loaded baked potato toppings memorized just in case someone asks.
There are two things that I’ve learned from these experiences. 1. Pick your idols carefully. 2. Never put them up so high on a pedestal that you aren’t able to view them objectively. There are probably some kids who looked up to me for one reason or another. Which is dumb, because I’m so terrible at making responsible life choices that I’ve actually told people who ask me for advice that they should always “Costanza” me. Anything I suggest, just do the opposite. How’s that for “role model”?