There are, as a general law of the universe, only a handful of chances that life allows us to look really unequivocally cool.
Not just everyday-cool, where you’re, like, stopped at a red light or something, and you’ve got your windows rolled down and a pretty quintessential classic rock song just happens to come on the radio that, like, more or less defines you as a person, or whatever, and your hair looks really great/cool in the rearview, and your sunglasses were actually in that little compartment above the center console of your Jeep for once, and you just noticed that you’re wearing your best and most quintessential cool-guy T-shirt that, like, more or less defines you as a person, or whatever; and this girl pulls up next to you, just before the light goes green, just in time for you to give her a quintessential cool-guy nod that totally doesn’t make you look like a total jerk or anything, and then you sort of peel out, kind of, thinking, “Yeah, she totally digs me,” and crank up the tunes while fighting the urge to put your hand out the window and let it kind of roll with the wind since, let’s face it, that would be totally un-cool.
No, I’m talking the real kind of cool. The James-Dean-Levi’s 501-and-a-pack-of-unflitered-Chesterfields kind of cool. The Fonz one-tapping a jukebox and then walking away unfazed kind of cool. The other-dimensional side of the pillow kind of cool.
I haven’t gotten many of these chances in my so-far lifetime, but somehow I got, like, three or so in the same 24-hours last week, when I decided to take a day off from the Little League Softball World Series in Roxana and go surfing down at Assateague for the first time since breaking my collarbone in, like, three or so separate pieces almost a year ago now.
Sure, I got plenty of stoplight opportunities on the way down, and even instinctively reached for my sunglasses while hoping to hear the opening riffs to “Riders On the Storm” or “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (The Doors, The Rolling Stones); and not freaking out about the ponies or trying to, like, take selfies with them nearing the parking lot, I’m sure, helped my case; but my real shot didn’t come until I paddled my way out, at Assateague, a slight soreness in my left clavicle that I was doing a pretty good not wincing about, and casually found a spot in the lineup right next to my first boss from my days at the Fenwick Bike Shop, Jay Sommers.
Jay was on his standup paddleboard, and after making him aware of my first SUP experience in the bay a few weeks prior (the whole falling in front of Harpoon Hannah’s Happy Hour thing), and him then, in turn, having a good laugh and informing me that real SUP’ers SUP in the ocean anyways, I got my chance at redeeming my cool-ness when the next set rolled in shortly afterwards.
This was to be my first wave in hundreds of days and thousands of hours, and I had both (a) an audience and (b) a “Rebel Without a Cause” type statement to make.
So I go taking off, with everything ego-relative to lose, on my brand new 9-foot bright orange Odysea Log, with my brand new shoulder, and get just a few paddles in and feeling good when I realize that I am pressed much too far up for a board of that size, and the nose starts to take on water like the RMS Titanic just as I begin to feel a sharp ping in the area that a large metallic screw currently holds together two previously separated pieces of collagen and calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate and whatever else bone is made out of, and before I can say Harpoon Hannah’s Happy Hour, I’m back underwater, wondering where it all went wrong and if maybe I should put some more consideration into just staying down there this time.
So, but anyway, I rationalize the embarrassment and blown opportunity with the whole shoulder thing and new board excuses for a few hours until I’m ready to go, and I’m walking up the beach toward my car and pondering what song might be on the air in time for me to roll my windows down for a quick ego-type Band-Aid®, when amongst the thousands of perfect beach-going strangers, and thousands of elderly folks in high-waisted pants wielding metal detectors, on that same beach, I see my Aunt Karen waving at me and pointing to the water where my Uncle Pat is teaching my cousins Parker (14) and Kaitlyn (9) how to surf.
Obviously, I decided to stay for a while after that, forgetting about the whole Cool Quest, and instead opting to see if I can maybe help and prod around for answers about whether they had seen The Fall earlier or no.
They hadn’t, I’m pretty sure, and the next several hours passed in an undetectable blaze as Parker caught wave after wave on the same bright orange Odysea that The Fall had occurred on, and Kaitlyn stood up on her first wave ever, leading to a lot of hooting and hollering and pats on the back and high-fives (my Uncle Pat and I had more or less completely missed on one of them but totally salvaged it with one of those half-hugs that you always see rap artists do).
Eventually I had to go, because the other part of this day off was going to see American Band at Coconuts, and the whole ordeal had me running late (getting places on time is totally lame anyway though, obviously).
But little did I know that, when I finally got there, to Coconuts, this day would bring one last redeeming shot at unequivocal coolness, when the band’s lead singer, Eric Bomhardt, shouted out before the last set, in front of a completely packed house: “Hey, look — my buddy Tripp is here! How you feeling tonight, Tripp?” or something like that.
I stood frozen there for a second, the realization of the somehow second chance at a jukebox-tap-type coolness, and trying to think of something to say. I could almost see the windows rolling down; my reflection in the rearview. I could have yelled out “Free Bird!” or “Rock n’ Roll will never die!” or something like that. I could have yelled out “I am the Lizard King! I can do anything!” or “Jim Morrison is alive and living in Ames, Iowa!” I could have yelled anything remotely cool and probably gotten the ego-boost I’d been waiting for all day.
But I didn’t.
Instead, after much shuffling and contemplating, I very self-consciously stammered: “uh… I’m uh… I’m doing uh… great…”
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t get much of a response, and it most certainly wasn’t very unequivocally cool. But after thinking on it for a moment, and after all the events of the day, I came to the realization that it was most certainly unequivocally true.
Then I couldn’t help but smile in hearing the opening riffs to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” while allowing myself to roll my fingers through the incoming breeze and not really caring who saw.