When we were still too young to waste our time in bars, my punker than thou friends and I would drive up to Portland and buy LPs and smoke delicious cigarettes and annoy the girls we brought up but still see them again the next weekend because they liked it. Life was like that once, when I wore backwards hats with band buttons on them and worked part-time jobs that didn’t matter. My friend Bill and I would try to say the weirdest things we could think of as we walked past “old people” – the ma’s and pa’s of society out for an ice cream or something. Perhaps we were talking about index funds that day, or he’d start yelling in the best fake Russian ever – garnering stares. Maybe his hair was dreaded and his Crass shirt and black jeans exposed just a bit too much boxer from all the tears. Once we stood outside of a show and some old drunk guy tried to pick one of us up – one of us, I don’t even remember who, started acting like “Oh, he’s with me” and we skipped merrily into the dark, ditching the old drunk before he could keep up. Once we handed out flyers for a show our band was playing and Bill decided to stick one into the hands of a grampy, who looked terrified, confused, and pissed off. He dropped the flyer onto the carpet of the strip mall we were in – and we asked ourselves, why are we here anyway?

On one of our many drives up to Portland – the culture capital of New England, also the home of the coolest homeless bums with names like Claudio and Scummy Man – Bill bought a record by the punk band Japanther called Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30. The great big album cover was a smoked-up script over a hazy red background. “When you’re a kid everyone tries to tell you what to do,” I hear a young girl yelling at the beginning of the most energetic track on the LP – so much fuzzy bass and heavy toms. “Well we say f*ck that, you’re not the boss of me!” She’s yelling to all the parents and teachers and assorted suits who swirl around as if in some sort of authoritarian toilet bowl.

The album tells the story of the youth taking over by electing a hipster rockstar president. It opens with a song I feel sums up my 20’s rather well:

Jump out of your living grave

F*ck those neon lights

That’s just how I behave

Riding my bike

There are so many monsters

Traps they set so well

Tear your flesh from bone

And they’ll drag you straight to hell

…Baby, the gravy’s run out

I’ve even flipped my bike a few times headfirst riding down Woodbury in Portsmouth, I was f*cking every neon light (plus I probably drank something that got me there). “Baby the gravy’s run out!” sings Japanther and every kid in whatever basement they’re playing in. If only we knew what we were singing…

I’ve liked the quote “Don’t trust anyone over 30” ever since I first heard it. “Old people” – I saw a world of puppet John McCains, telling me to get off his lawn. I saw my high school principal with his too-groomed moustache tapping his loafers like Fred Astaire into the fancy financial advisor office every day after school. I saw dads in recliners eating Taco Bell and watching Spike TV. I saw guys my age who were in bands go soft (usually around the belly, before I figured out how to do such a thing myself) and start writing more emotional music, opting to wear those checkered shirts with pre-rolled up sleeves that every single dad wears on a date. Your LL Bean Boyfriend? Check. I would be as opposite-as-that as possible, I insisted. So through my twenties I went a-barreling, sometimes half in the bag, sometimes half in my car, sometimes both at the same time.

18-yr-old me doin' my thing...

me in my hey-day…

“Old people” – to me, it means that when you give in to society’s expectations of you and you play along. To the benefit of society, no doubt. As the hipster president of Japanther’s LP tells his listeners in a song, “You and I know what’s caused all this trouble in this world. It’s those who are sick with age, and fat with money and power.”

It wasn’t until I was about to turn 30 that I became curious as to what the quote meant, or where it came from. Once after being shot out of a cannon, Homer Simpson told a crowd of fuzzy-minded Sonic Youth fans, “Remember, don’t trust anyone over 30,” so we figured that Japanther’s album title must have been a Simpsons reference and that was that. Bonus points for hipsterness!

Actually, it was first uttered by a New Left activist named Jack Weinberg in Berkeley, California in 1964. He was the founder of the Free Speech Movement on campus, in order to promote the right to discuss different political ideas that the John McCains of the 60’s disapproved of.

Weinberg was once arrested for refusing to show a police officer his identification when he was accused of breaking campus rules concerning activism. Weinberg sat in the police car for 32 hours after thousands of students surrounded the car, preventing it from whisking him away to whatever creepy jail cell in Berkeley they wanted to stuff him in. People gave speeches from the top of the police car, and eventually Weinberg’s charges were dropped – but the county charged him a week later when all the commotion died down.

When a newspaper asked him why anyone should pay attention his movement – we all know you’re just taking orders from the Communist Party (those favorite ad hominem boogie-men!) – Weinberg spouted off his most famous line yet, “We have a saying in our movement, don’t trust anyone over 30.” Weinberg clarified his meaning in a later interview, “It was a way of telling the guy to back off, that nobody was pulling our strings.” And that’s all he meant.

Never let your strings get pulled. Pretty easy, I think. I look back on the three decades of my life – following orders, whether directly or through schooling and conditioning, through societal and cultural norms. I see the “old people” in charge telling us the same things old folks who were in charge told them forty years ago. There will be “old people” in forty years telling my kids what to do. And I won’t do it. But will my kids trust me? Time will tell.

Weinberg

Jack in his hey-day…

When I turned 30, I was sitting in an airport bar drinking a tasty Perrier. It felt like any other day, really. I’m sure many people become anxious about turning 30. When a slightly-older friend of mine turned 25 she felt like she was having a mid-mid-life crisis. I bought her a Rogue pale ale aged in a whisky barrel for a birthday present. I followed with suffering of my own, living in an unheated third-story room watching Shakes the Clown on Netflix and having to bear with the experience of the pretty girl who was dating the cool drummer guy stumble into my room and think it was the one across the hall. Nope, get out. Give me Bobcat and this Schlitz please. Brr, nice and cold from the closet just like I like it.

25, that was only half the battle. Turning 30? “I won’t even be able to trust myself!” I joked to cope. But as my twenties wrapped up their lap around the track of life (and I was huffing and puffing) I decided that I would embrace turning 30. I won’t don the McCain mask and hold a big knife, singing “Bomb Bomb Bomb Yer Mom” or whatever sick tune he croaks. I won’t tap dance right through the door of a mutual broker, ready to “invest.” In fact, I don’t even want a 401k. As a newfound untrustable person, I’m as wily as I ever was, a more educated radical who can reject the mindset of the “old people” more effectively. It’s like being in an elite club and refusing to appreciate it. I’ll always be the Al Czervik in every Bushwood Country Club. “You buy a hat like this, I’ll bet you get a free bowl of soup,” I will say to some schmuck in a schmucky hat, but maybe not with Rodney Dangerfield’s patent shtick. I’ll keep ’em guessing…

Surely I’m getting myself more than just a Perrier for my birthday, right? I think I’d like something every old coot likes to tinker around with: tools. Tools are necessary to build things, maintain things, and of course, detach strings that you are being pulled with. Oh look! I got myself some presents, how thoughtful, what a nice guy. You didn’t have to do this, Rich – actually, I really did. These are some crucial tools for never navigating the wasteland our forebears have left us.

Oh wow here’s my first one, what could it be? Oh look, it’s a big box full of mindfulness! “Old people” are often zombie-like in routine and habit. They are hardly present in the situation they’re in. Watch them: you’ll go crazy. Go stand in line at the grocery store and wish you had something to numb the pain. They raised their kids the same way, too. A bunch of old coots in training. And worst, they often think they’re right. Not everything is time-tested and true, and no your grandma’s recipe isn’t healthy. If I sense advice from an “old person” smells fishy – put as much money as you can in your 401k and work for 60 years wishing you were dead so you can be just like me and tear all your hair out over your mortgage and health issues and feel anxious every time your boss doesn’t give you a treat, etc. – I just do some research, then I make my own opinion. Sometimes the “old person” is right, sometimes they ain’t. Usually they ain’t. Never accept rhetoric without doing the research and logic yourself, that’s what I tell myself.

The second tool – this is a gift that keeps on giving – is an also/and mindset. This is also called an abundance mentality. Someone might call it thinking outside the box, but if I may paraphrase a CEO of times past, F*ck the box, there is no box. To think there is “in a box” and “out of a box,” is an either/or mindset (or scarcity mindset). Republicans or Democrats, that’s either/or. To vote or not to vote, that’s either/or. Also/and accepts all alternatives, and can even find room for them all to exist together. Voluntaryists get this, and can practice politics and agorism. A glass can be half empty and half full. The point is to find a win/win opportunity. So often I get typical either/or responses from all the “old people” – you’re gonna be working in a gas station at 85 if you don’t have a retirement fund, sucker! If I have access to gasoline at the age of 85, I’ll sell you a gallon for your entire pension, how’s that sound?

The third tool I am giving myself – and I’m exited about this one, it’s a tiny box with a lot of value inside, kinda like a gift card – is selective ignorance. “Old people” must read the papers and watch the evening news and see what John McCain is up to these days (I hope he’s busy being dead). I’ve already dabbled in selective ignorance, opting to ignore as much of the presidential election as possible, reading Marcus Aurelius on my porch instead. “’You have reason?’ ‘Yes, I have?’ ‘Why not use it then? If this is doing its part, what else do you want?’” Enough said! I turned off the election cycle and did my best. Its hard to ignore when Donald Trump’s hair is blowing in my face, but at least I tried.

With simple realizations – it really doesn’t matter who the next president is – I am anxious to become even more selectively ignorant. We all have a sphere of influence – any efforts outside of that have high-risk opportunity costs so I must take care when considering them. I’ve unsubscribed from magazines and deleted blogs from my RSS feed, I’m downsizing my personal library and forgetting about projects I haven’t gotten around to. But will I be another rube, another old coot with a shut-down brain following my well-trodden habit paths? Precisely the opposite: I can simultaneously not know anything I don’t need to know or have any control over, and also dominate in the areas I wish to know everything about. It’s interesting how people react when I tell them I haven’t heard about the person in the news everyone is talking about, even though it is a big deal right now. And more beautiful still, we don’t just talk about the sports or weather (we can’t, I’m selectively ignorant of both!) – we’re forced to talk about things that are real, our lives and our interests and hobbies. Things we can control. Life is more interesting that way.

The best presents are the ones you knew you needed but didn’t realize until they were sitting in your lap on top of a pile of torn up wrapping paper. And you look up to the person who gave it to you and you give them a big smile that they know is the realest thing and best thank you they can get. I can’t see myself smile, but I know what I mean. What once was anxiety over becoming one of them has been resolved with some thoughtful, beautiful gifts. I know myself well – I think I can trust myself now, especially since turning 30. I think it’s time to cut the strings, snip, snip. Here’s to 30 more years of a 401k-less – and adventurous – life, jumping from my living grave, and never running out of gravy, baby.