What I’d Would Tell the 16 Year Old Me

Some time ago I had a strange conversation between myself now and the 16-year-old me from 1980. August 1981 - 17 Years old, 181 lbs.

This farcical conversation was wide sweeping and dealt with the changes in the world that include the introduction of the home computer, cell phones, cable television and 24 hour news and sports programing, and the fact that nuclear weapons have not been used by anyone anywhere in the time since 1980 when such a good revelation would come as a bit of a surprise.

We talked about our mutual love of sports and the pain and joy it has wrought like the fact that my local Seattle teams have never won a single championship in the 34 years since the Sonics won the 1979 NBA title, and the fact that the Sonics no longer exist.

Sonics game, probably 1978

Sonics game, probably 1978 (Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives)

But the most important part of our conversation had to do with my advice to him as he gazed into an unknown future.

“So what have we learned? What can you tell me?”, the 16-year-old me asked. 
“You want to know what I’d do differently?” I responded.
“No.” he said wisely. “I figure what you’ve learned will answer that question. I just want to know what you’ve found out; how you’ve grown.”
“First” I said, “I’ve learned to happily accept friendship wherever it’s offered and never worry too much if the person offering the friendship is the coolest, or the best looking, or even the most fun. Friendship is a treasure under any circumstance.”
He asked, “Are you saying I’m a bad guy because I’m not friends with everyone?”
“No. But you are unfulfilled because you have turned away from possible friendships for any number of reasons ranging from not thinking someone was cool enough, or pretty enough, or they were too cool or too pretty and you somehow didn’t think you could measure up.” I answered. “Friendships color your world, your life. And you can have more of them.”
Secondly I said, “I’ve learned to move past disappointments. I’ve learned they are inevitable and that if you embrace them too hard they become part of you. If you let them go they’re only part of the past.”
“Anything else?” he asked.
The Author in 2013 age 49 I told him, “I’ve learned to do what makes me happy.” I said, ”Time between where you are at age 16 and where I am in 2013 at age 49 has been a short period of time. And now I know that the time between now and the day I die, whenever that may be, will be even shorter. The time we have is fleeting and valuable. Spending it being angry, worrying about money, or stagnant with immobilization caused by fear or procrastination is a waste of time and a detriment to your happiness.”
“All that seems so simple.” he said.
I closed our encounter by telling the sixteen year old me, “It is simple. And it’s hard.” 

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1980 meets 2010

This post was written and posted on my Facebook Notes in February 2010. – M Schuett

My H.S. Senior Class Portrait

M Schuett at 17

Long lazy weekends like this tend to lead me to daydreaming. Such was the case yesterday.

I was in the shower enjoying the warmth of the water spraying down. After spending an hour reading and relaxing in the hot tub my Saturday morning showers serve as a great opportunity for thinking about what there is to do for the remaining two days of my weekend. My mind was drifting into the chores that lay in front of me when I heard the bathroom door slide open. Hearing no one and deciding I’d soaked myself sufficiently for one day I shut off the water and opened my opaque glass sliding door and reached around for my towel. Finding that I was not alone wasn’t surprising. But finding who was standing there in my bathroom was a surprise.

As our eyes met I wasn’t the least bit embarrassed, though I stood in front of him dripping wet, with nothing but a towel between what God gave me and my visitors emotionless gaze. Though I’d not seen him in 30 years I knew him immediately by the pimpled face, the slender build, and the casual jeans and t-shirt. He was me. He was 16. And he somehow seemed perfectly just and proper being here in this place, at this time.

He said, “Hey”, as a sort of friendly but not too friendly greeting. I said, “Hey” back at him, not wanting to seem uncomfortable. His blank expression turned nervous as I stepped toward him out of the shower. And he looked like he wanted to say something. Towelling off is never a long process for me as the water seems to evaporate off me as it does when a wet skillet is placed on a hot flame. So I hung my towel, squeezed my naked body by him in the doorway and proceeded across my room and got dressed. While I did so he kept glancing at me with an increasingly uncomfortable appearance.

I asked, “What? What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing.”, he lied.
“What?”
“Don’t worry about it”, he said in the typical annoyed voice of a teenager.
As I looked at ME I remained comfortable with the oddity of the situation. And feeling comfortable stated what I was thinking, “Man, I forgot how bad your acne was. It’s a shame Dad never took you to a doctor.”
Obviously hurt and defensive he finally revealed what had clearly been on his mind, “Ya…well I can’t believe how FAT you got!”
Even at a young age I’d mastered the over-the-top biting insult when I felt slighted. Some day I’ll write a manual on the fine art of killing a house fly with a sledgehammer. When it comes to intra-personal relations it’s a skill I’ve sadly perfected since the time in my life when I finally grew out of being a naïve child. At this time I was just staring at that age.
“Woe.” I said, “Take it easy. Being me I thought we could express ourselves openly. I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“Ok, but since you are me perhaps you can be a little more sensitive and remember how embarrassed I am by my pimples?”
He was right. I was insensitive. Trying to lighten the mood I tried to be jovial about his comment and only came out sounding defensive. “OK. Sorry. Ya know at my age I’m really not that fat. You have nothing to worry about. Women love this manly body.”
He hesitated then said, “How can you let yourself get this way? I swore I never want to look like Dad.” He spoke in the present tense, oblivious to the fact that our father had long ago passed away.
I could tell he was uncomfortable with what might be laying ahead of him in the next thirty years. If he hadn’t seen me getting out of the shower maybe he would be more at ease.
I led him out of my bedroom and led him into my office at the bottom of our stairs. My family was gone running errands. So I was alone with myself. In my office he observed my Mariner’s bobble heads, my collection of baseball cards, my miniature Seahawks

Wage the Seahawks Fan

helmet and my cougar painting all decorating my bookshelf.

“What’s wrong with you?” he demanded, “No Sonics’ stuff?”
“I packed it all away when they left town.”
“They left town? Come on?”
In 1980 when this person, ME, was sixteen the  Seattle Supersonics were the defending NBA champs

The final logo of the SuperSonics

The final logo of the SuperSonics

and more important in my life than girls, school, Friday night, or absolutely anything else. It would have to be nearly impossible to grasp that the team he’d dreamed of playing for and later shifted his dream to being the team’s play by-play announcer; was now the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“You know the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl”, changing the subject while I settled into my desk chair.
Wanting to demonstrate his sports acumen he confidently retorted, “I imagine with that Kingdome crowd cheering them on they went to the Super Bowl a few times.” He was smiling now and had moved past the discomfort of the earlier acne comment upstairs. I didn’t want to bring him down again by mentioning that the Kingdome’s demolition was now more than ten years in the past.
The sixteen year old me asked why I had so many Mariner collectibles. “They suck”, he opined. I told him he was right. Then I told him how Dave Neihaus on the radio had been my only friend through lonely summers nights away from home, by myself, in small towns trying to build a radio career. I tried to explain in terms he could understand that former Yankee Lou Pinella came to town in the 90s and turned one of the all time sorriest sports franchises into a winner. I told him of perhaps the greatest player of a generation having created his stardom in Seattle.
“Ken Griffey is the greatest player of a generation? How old is he? He plays for the Reds. He played for the Big Red Machine.”, he was excited and confused.
OK, I’d missed a spot. “Wait a minute, wait a minute.”, I said,

Ken Griffey Jr. (1997)

Ken Griffey Jr. (1997) (Photo credit: iccsports)

Ken Griffey JUNIOR, JUNIOR. He’s the son.”
With that thought followed the realization of how little this kid knew. For instance he didn’t know that he was a kid. At the age of sixteen he knew as much as any adult, or so he thought. As he fiddled with my bobble head collection and quizzically viewed my collection of business and self-help books he tried to hide all the contempt that was welling up inside him. Without saying it I knew he couldn’t understand why I had embraced the more-or-less typical middle class upwardly mobile life that best described the house that the sixteen year old me had just walked through and the room he was now observing. For him at that age my life as he had preliminarily seen in these first few minutes was far from the various dreams he was envisioning for himself in what was his sophomore year in high school at Bellevue’s Sammamish High School. He was still dreaming of being an architect, like Frank Lloyd Wright. He had only recently understood his athletic limitations and realized he would not play in the NBA or even the NFL.
Mini-me interrupted my thoughts pointed to the LCD computer monitor on my desk and asked “What’s that?”
Of course he wouldn’t know. “It’s a computer monitor”, pointing to the PC under my desk.
“Woooooe! You have your own computer?”
Gesturing to the chair across from my desk, “Sit down”, I said, ”I have a lot of ‘splaynan to do”
Obediently he sat and looked at me as I began to explain my life; the stops and starts the failures and what I considered the successes.
“You dropped out of college? Why’d you do that?”
“You were a radio DJ?” With this I seemed to impress him.
“What do you mean country music?” He was no longer impressed.
“Married? Twenty three years? Is she a fox?”
“Wait a minute…I’m married when I’m 23 years old? Do I know this girl?”
Just then the phone rang; my cell phone. My ring tone song filled the room and the young me jumped out of his seat in a startled reaction. I held up my hand and instructed him to sit back down. After quickly dispatching the friendly caller I explained to ME what a cell phone was and that it went with me wherever I went. I then retreated to his computer question and explained that almost everyone had at least one computer in their home. He then asked, “Why?” He caught me by surprise with this one. I couldn’t adequately answer this inquiry.
I decided to leap outside the small world of my existence and tell him what else had changed.
“I married a black woman only you don’t call her black. You call her African-American
“The richest man in the world lives in a house on Lake Washington.”
Ronald Reagan became President and amongst many other things is credited with ushering out the existence of the Soviet Union.”
“We impeached a President in the 90s.”
“Homosexuals want to get married, legally. And in some places already have. And, oh by the way, two of your cousins are gay.”
“No nuclear weapons have been used on anyone, anywhere at any time.” This stymied him. At his age at his time in 1980 thirty years passing without anyone using a nuclear bomb on someone else must have seemed highly unlikely.
“Iran was still an enemy; though we did get the hostages out.”
“Terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center and crashed them to rubble on the ground.” “You mean those two tall buildings in the King Kong movie?” “Ya, those buildings.”
Michael Jackson of the Jackson Five was perhaps the biggest entertainer of the previous 30 years. And he recently died.”
Then I said something that really surprised him, “We have a black President. And his name is what?”
He asked about his friends from that time; Bennett Barrick, Lee Gilbert, Jeff Christianson. He was dismayed that I’d not seen Lee or Jeff since graduation night in June 1982, and that I’d not seen Bennett since our 1987 wedding day.
His queries were what you would expect under the farcical situation taking place; and he didn’t seem too uncomfortable. The more we talked the more I realized the truly surprising aspect of now versus then. His worries and want of friends, his insecurities, his enthusiasms and his dreams were the same. They were mine, still. His explosive excitement and displays of annoyance even anger were familiar but largely replaced by a more restrained demeanor in today’s me. The worldly differences, and the technological trickery that we call advancements were momentarily interesting then lost in the fascination of the more personal changes in me and my friends. In summation he was much like my son. He was innocent. But largely the same person. This thought brought a smile to my face. And then he asked the big question.
“So what have we learned? What can you tell me?”
“You want to know what I’d do differently?” I asked.
“No.” he said. “I figure what you’ve learned will answer that question. I just want to know what you’ve learned; how you’ve grown.”
First I said I’ve learned to happily accept friendship wherever it’s offered and never worry too much if the person offering the friendship is the coolest, or the best looking, or even the most fun. Friendship is a treasure under any circumstance.
He asked, “Are you saying I’m a bad guy?”
“No. But you are unfulfilled.” I answered. “Friendships color your world, your life. And you can have more of them.”
Secondly I said I’ve learned to move past disappointments. I’ve learned they are inevitable and that if you embrace them too hard they become part of you. If you let them go they’re only part of the past.
“Anything else?” he asked.
I told him I’ve learned to do what makes me happy. I said, ”Time between where you are in 1980 and where I am in 2010 has been a short period of time. And now I know that the time between now and the day I die, whenever that may be, will be even shorter. The time we have is fleeting and valuable. Spending it being angry, worrying about money, or stagnant with immobilization is a waste of time and a detriment to your happiness.”
“All that seems so simple.” he said.
I closed our encounter by telling the sixteen year old me, “It is simple. And it’s hard.”

Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.