Twenty-one. I sample my first legal beer, the bitter and complicated ale of adulthood. Tastes good but a little frightening. It’s an IPA. Possibilities call me. Writer, actor, so many things. How does one choose? Parents offer advice, but they don’t order you like in childhood. Parents are more like counselors, the so-called liberal ones, anyway. What are you good at? Fill in the blank. Depending on parents, of course. Mom tells me to tap into my feelings. I’m artistic, she says, speaking abstractions into the air. Her right brain baby, she says. I’ve written, played piano, played Captain von Trapp in a modern-day adaptation of The Sound of Music with rappers and neo-Nazis. What does it mean? What does artistic connote? Dad took off with an Episcopal priest when I was twelve, so no help there. He was a lawyer, anyhow.

I relish fellow young adults cruising swaths of street in the evenings, horns honking, speakers maxing possibility. Thump, thump, thump. I waltz through those early days of youth, when the blossoms smell a little fresher, sunsets are a little brighter, and bars and parties unveil their mysteries. Wise adulthood seems to welcome from parties, the smiles perhaps a tad too bright. Meanwhile, geriatrics scowl and yell at people on the street, scowl at me, even. They want quiet, they proclaim. Our generation is Sodom and Gomorrah reincarnate, debauchery abounds. I want to proclaim that grumpiness is irrelevant and I’m still a virgin with a circumcised penis. Want to check?

I vow never to be a curmudgeon. They say change is inevitable, but I won’t change. I will not let myself dissect the world, dissect people’s laughter, the things they wear, the lives they envision. Maybe it’s foolish to envision fame, but better fame than self-doubts. I wish hope for myself, for the others cruising the streets.

A dozen years pass like the cars of a freight train.

Now, I’m thirty-three; on beer number, I’ve lost count. I drink at home, since parties are rife with alliances and cliques. Poets in one corner, fiction people in another, non-artists in a basement corner that smells like an armpit and a fart combined. I’m not invited half the time, in any event. Bills and auto-pays demand. Literary magazines offer rejection letters. This piece is not for us. Just speak truth, magazines. Say you don’t want my fucking piece. Don’t list statistics about how you had X entries and wish you could take them all.

Job applications demand lies. List your teaching philosophy. Truthful answer: stop emphasizing grades and abstract philosophies. Desired answer: adhere to the curriculum and speak platitudes.

Or from service-related jobs: how do you grapple with annoying colleagues? Truthful answer: my foot in your ass. Desired answer: shut the fuck up, don a starched smile, and suppress it. You’re part of a team. The team is bigger than you.

People still cruise down wide streets on Friday evenings. I tell them to shut the fuck up, looking out my window from a third-floor apartment. One night, I crank up Tchaikovsky, try to drown out their rap over a melancholy Valse Sentimentale. There’s something longing in the song, as if Tchaikovsky’s inviting me to pine. In his music in general.

I pine for flight. For a youth, plopped into some other time period, everything scrubbed away. I’d rather be in 1882, a young man astride a dance floor, whispering sweet nothings into some girl’s ears en Francais. There would be a logical order, a hierarchy to things. Tchaikovsky would be alive and we’d talk music and creation. The language of the Russian aristocracy. In this version of 1882, I’d be part of a hierarchy, a young man with the world as his oyster. I’d mingle about the restaurants and salons of Petersburg, recognized, respected, while waiters rushed to provide my favorite champagne. Partygoers would invite me to join them in ballrooms and Grand Dukes would acknowledge me.

I dance across the room, a beer in one hand, emptiness in the other. I can’t even move as fast. There’s a slowness, a deliberation to each move. Once I could jog up and down the streets, especially to bars where fleeting dreams and respite from hierarchy waited. Once I could walk fast, because the world waited. I thought I could be a writer, I thought I could penetrate The New Yorker, tear down social hierarchies. I thought graduate school would offer a kind of camaraderie, a kind of utopia among the divisions and walls. Once I thought curmudgeons were idiots. Now I can’t help but feel fleeting pity. It’s too easy to become absorbed.

I’m a man looking out from a window, words unheard. Trucks cruise faster, laughter rises. They don’t know time is a cruel master. I’ve seen the rise of Facebook, Twitter, electronic gladiators seducing us all into war. Like me, Tweet me. Can’t think of all this, must stay in 1882.

I whisper contrition, even though the partiers won’t hear me. Am I irrelevant now? Am I alone? There’s something hilarious about this. I want to step out of 1882, laugh, cry, lash out, demand relevance. March out and join the partiers. I want to tell the curmudgeons to let me in. But the young move too fast, they’re still moving, moving, moving, the night picking up. My generation is dying; theirs is so alive. They’re moving fast because they must, the exhaust roaring, their trucks sputtering. Soon, their cheer will dissolve too, but now it’s too much, it’s taunting. Stop, stop.

So, I keep waltzing. I keep waltzing, playing the waltz, cranking the volume, but rap assaults Tchaikovsky. I waltz, but draw the curtains shut. There’s still a crack, another crack. More rap. I turn off the lights, try to cover the cracks. Try to slip back into 1882 for this moment.

The cracks never close completely.