I think I’m cool. “With it”, as we used to say. I’m not sure my friends are on board with my assessment, but my bae would agree, if he existed. I may fall back on decades-old vernacular, but I do know what’s going on.
Why would anyone doubt my coolness? Could it be my compulsion to use full words and proper punctuation when I text? Yes, I’m one of the few people who still enjoys phone conversations on a land line. And my smart television is connected to an antennae on my roof. But that doesn’t change the fact that my vocabulary is on fleek.
My use of hashtags is #proof.
I admit there is a rocky cliff of nerdness running parallel to this cool stream, not that nerdness is a word. Me in a bike helmet? Let’s keep that vision on the down-low, a tight secret between you and me.
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Thirty years ago, as a working professional and living on my own, I mentioned to my parents that I’d like a proper dictionary for Christmas — not a flimsy paperback version like the one that got me through high school and college. They complied with cash so I could pick what I wanted, as if I was choosing a pretty sweater or cute purse.
I purchased the modest Webster’s from a cozy bookstore on the northwest corner of Bullard and Palm avenues. I wrapped it myself. The morning I unveiled my gift, I handed my father a black pen with purpose, asking him to inscribe the pre-printed lines on the first page. Sitting on a shelf near the desk where I write, its red cover long faded to coral, that dictionary remains one of my most cherished possessions, a mausoleum of words.
A few years ago, I sent a quick email to my team at the hospital, praising their efforts in “beating the bush,” pleased with their exceptionally hard work that week. I was stunned when a 20-something nurse later walked into my office and questioned the propriety of my remark. Bushes? Bush? Did it really matter? My idiom meant something vastly different in his world.
Folks of my vintage can’t help but have one foot in the present and one in the past. No one buys dictionaries anymore. We check our definitions online. Some consider bookstores anachronistic.
I refuse to buy my bestsellers from Target, even as I remember paperback copies of “Valley of the Dolls” and “Love Story” swirling on the display racks of the small-town pharmacies of my youth. I suppose that makes me a hypocrite. Or at least a little bit cray-cray.
Six months ago, I gave a presentation to a cafeteria full of tweens and teens. My goal was to assess the kids’ learning needs while having a little fun. A few parents were present.
I began by asking the group what they might like to learn about their bodies and their health. I passed around small slips of paper on which they could write their answers. To protect their privacy, I collected the responses in a brown paper bag.
I returned to the front of the room and pulled out the first slip of paper. I looked at the word, an acronym. I had no clue what it meant.
In a split-second decision, I determined that I couldn’t take a chance in reading those three letters out loud. What if this was a WTF moment on my hands? I explained my dilemma and moved on.
I read the second response. No problem. I was able to springboard a comment, proceeding through the sack. The kids poked at it all. Nutrition. Exercise. Depression. I riffed a dozen replies.
I stuck my hand into the paper bag again. The mysterious acronym reappeared.
I had been broken. Shakespeare warned, “I am that I am.” Or was it Popeye?
Now it was me who had something to learn. The millennials held the answer.
“I don’t know what ‘IDK’ means,” I announced, clueless to the irony.
A wave of laughter passed through the crowd. I smiled as a few kids responded back. They were teaching me as I was teaching them. Hella cool it was.