It felt like a brick had been launched across the restaurant and hit me in the head. Or a sledgehammer. Or a bunker-busting bomb.
That was the effect as I sat with my college students — members of the student newspaper, journalists, many soon-to-be graduates heading out into the world.
Going to dinner with college students is surreal as it is. Similar to visiting another country where you don’t speak the language or understand the unique customs. I found myself nodding, smiling and politely saying over and over things like, “Yeah, I have no idea what you’re talking about … but it sounds illegal!”
I will miss them, those who graduated this weekend. I was thinking about this at dinner — memories, their accomplishments, how they eat like ravenous dogs who have been starved for weeks — when the conversation turned to a topic that is tough to stomach when it comes to college kids.
The year they were born.
Maybe I asked it. I don’t remember how it came up. I just remember the hammer blow. How the room began to spin and everything turned blurry. The walls melted like a Dali painting. Did they put something in my water?
It was all thanks to one answer to the birth year question: 1991.
None of them knew what had just happened. It had been spoken so nonchalantly. They wondered why I was calling the waitress to ask for a defibrillator. Was he choking? Should someone give him the Heimlich?
“1991. 1991,” I mumbled over and over. “Do you realize … that was the year … I … I … started … c-c-college?”
“Wow, that’s cool,” someone said, unfazed. “My uncle, too! Want to take a selfie?”
No, 1991. How could this be? Some were born even later. When I was a sophomore, a junior.
When I started school, I came with a word processing typewriter. It had a narrow little screen like a ticker-tape where the words appeared while you typed. Today they write papers on their phones. And watch TV on their phones. And Facetime on their phones. And pretty much do everything but eat — although they’ve tried it! — on their phones.
It felt like some kind of time warp I had been propelled through. Who were these strange beings? I thought I had known them so well.
How could this be? It was the age divider I hadn’t been prepared for — the great enlarging gulf that exists between you and them. When you work on a college campus, it becomes more and more pronounced. More obvious. More like a brick to the head.
We hugged. We said our goodbyes. We took more selfies. I wandered off to find my car, my head still reeling. I had to write a column. Boy, I thought to myself, if only I had that word processing typewriter again.