I have recently been given the honor and strange privilege to spend one hour talking with the human incarnation of myself at the age of eighteen. I know this sounds crazy and hard to believe. I'm sure many of you will think I have lost my mind or I am making this tale up. But I swear to you it is true, and this is how it began.
One week ago I was in a small empty restaurant in Chinatown. I was on my cell phone loudly complaining to a friend that my birthday was coming up and it was filling me with a great sense of failure because I hadn’t accomplished any of the goals I set for myself when I was eighteen.
I said to my friend, "God, I was such a fucking dreamer back then. I wish I could sit my eighteen-year-old self down and knock some goddamned sense into his head." With that, a small middle-aged Chinese woman stepped from behind the counter and offered me that chance.
Due to an agreement I made with that woman, I am not allowed to share with you the methods used to make this all happen. However, I can tell you what transpired between eighteen-year-old me and current me.
Because eighteen-year-old me lived in Chicago, I decided it best we meet there. Besides he doesn't travel well. He panics a lot during trips, gets lost, and usually makes a grand fool of himself hitting on the woman seated next to him on airplanes.
I sat at a sidewalk café, nervously awaiting his arrival and wondering, “What will I be like? Will I like young me? Will I wish I was still young me, or will I be happy I am me and no longer me?” This train of thought hurt me and made me slightly dizzy.
Young me came strutting down the street, and I must say he looked like a goddamned idiot. There he was wearing a long green trench coat covered in buttons. Most were punk band buttons, but some had political statements written on them like "No Guns for Money-Iran/Contra." I knew at eighteen I had no idea what the fuck that meant. I just was wearing it to seem informed and cool.
I stood up to greet myself, "Hey. Matt. I am Matt." To which young me responded, "You don't look half bad." I was relieved to hear him say that, though I did notice I have put on weight.
"What are you up to?" I asked. To which young me responded, "You forgot already?"
We both laughed, and as he sat down I thought to myself, I like this kid. He's okay.
Young me ordered a coffee. I wanted to tell him to get anything on the menu he wanted, but I didn't have the heart to tell him I was broke. In fact, I knew he made more money than I did. To top it off, he had health insurance.
"You should get your wisdom teeth out," I said. To which he replied, "The dentist says they are coming in straight, and there ain't going to be any problems."
"Well, it is going to be a problem. In fact, it's going to cause you a great deal of neurosis. In about ten years, anytime you feel anything slightly irritating your gums, you'll wonder if it is the beginning of your teeth falling out. Get the things out while you can afford it."
Young me sipped his coffee and said, "Money isn't going to be a problem, dude."
I wanted to tell him, yes, it will be. It'll be the fucking bane of your existence. Sure, at times you'll have it, but then blow it all on CDs, booze, and girls. Girls who will never sleep with you, and – if you do sleep with them – it's not because you want sex, but love. And oddly it isn't their love you seek, but the love of your horribly dysfunctional family that you are currently and unknowingly pushing yourself away from.
Then I realized that’s too much to unload on him. Christ, he's still a virgin, and he will be for two more years.
"You know that friend of Aaron's, Kim?" I asked. "She wants to sleep with you."
Young me got uncomfortable. "No way. She's twenty-seven. Why would she want to have sex with some kid?"
“Because in ten years she'll tell you drunkenly in a bar that she wanted to pop your cherry. All you would have had to do is ask her, and she would have taken you home."
Young me got flush in the face. I continued, "However if you don't take my advice and, in ten years when you have that moment in the bar, don't go have sex with her."
"Why not?" young me asked.
"Because her boyfriend will stumble across you two in the back of an old Volvo station wagon and beat the hell out of you."
"I'll remember that," young me said.
"Please do," I responded. "It is never fun to explain how you got a black eye, especially when there are two of them accented by a fat lip and stitches."
I reached over and took a cigarette from young me.
"I have quit these, but this is a special occasion. So what the hell, right?
Young me reached over the table and lit my cigarette. We had a long look in one another's eyes. I wondered what he was thinking.
"So kid, what is it you want for yourself in this life?" I knew what the answer to the question was. I just wanted to hear me say it again. I wanted to hear myself be full of hope and optimism again.
"Well," young me said, clearing his throat and suddenly getting uncomfortable.
I interrupted, "Don't worry, Matt, you don't have to fain humility in front of me. In fact, I know the answer to the question. I just want to hear you say it. Tell me as you honestly believe it."
Young me flicked an ash from his cigarette and nodded, "In a few years I'd like to get hired at Second City as an actor. I am hoping that while I work there, I can meet my soul mate and get married before I am hired by SNL and become the next Bill Murray. I want to meet someone I really love before I get famous because I imagine it is going to be hard to trust people after that point. Then eventually I want to write and direct movies. As I get older, I'd like to work towards being a more serious actor."
I looked at young me and thought, fucking Christ. This could happen for this kid. He believes it and wants it so badly. Why not him? Why shouldn't he have his dreams come true?
Then I realized, it doesn't happen for this kid. As badly as he wants it and as close as he may get to his dreams, there is something in him that keeps him from achieving it. In fact, it takes him almost half his life to overcome his crippling self-doubt.
I sat there for a moment. I didn't know whether to feel bad for the young kid or for myself.
"So does it happen?" he asked.
I dropped my cigarette to the pavement and put it out with my shoe. Before I could answer, the waiter approached and asked if we cared for anything else. I ordered the two of us some whiskeys. I figure it couldn't be illegal to order young me a whiskey since technically he doesn't exist, or perhaps in this dimension, it is I who don't exist, and in either case, I won't get arrested for contributing to a minor because one of the two of us doesn't exist.
I looked up at the kid and saw him sitting on the edge of his chair, wide-eyed and waiting for my answer.
"Yes, it all happens," I said.
"Really?" young me asked in disbelief.
I nodded in agreement, "All of it." And with that, the whiskeys arrived
"I am going to be on Saturday Night Live?" he asked.
"Yes. You are."
"Holy shit! I can't wait to tell my mom."
"Well, you have to wait six years, and you have some work cut out for you. It doesn't just happen, you know."
"What else am I going to do?" young me asked. "Is there anything that happens that I am going to be surprised by?"
"Hey, kid, if I tell you it won't be a surprise. You want me to ruin your life for you?”
"Right. Right," young me agreed.
I lifted up my whiskey and clinked his glass.
"Here's to it all, Matt." And with that, I threw my glass of whiskey down like it was a glass of water. Young me shivered and choked his glass down.
"So what do you think of me?” I asked young me. He looked me up and down.
"You seem tired. Tired and sad."
"Does that cause you concern?" I asked.
"Why should it? You probably have been very busy and over worked."
“Yes. I am busy. Very busy and overworked."
"Well," young me said as he stood up. "I have to be going. I got an improv class tonight."
There is an awkward silence between us. I felt guilty for not telling him the truth, but I also didn't see the point in it. If he knows now, he may just give up and lose all hope, and I don't want that for him.
So I just gave him a hug. I wanted to whisper something in his ear. Something of wisdom that he'd carry around with him and ponder anytime life got too hard or he thinks he can't take it anymore. But then I realized, I have no idea what those words are, so I just said, "I love you, kid. All in all, you'll be all right."
Young me didn't say anything. He just shrugged his shoulders and gave an awkward wave and then walked off.
I wish I could tell you I had some major revelation from this whole experience. That it profoundly changed the way I view life, but it didn't.
As I watched him walk away, all I felt was a tinge of pain in the center of my being, and the only thought I had was, here I am and there is nothing I can do about it. So I better make the best of it, and I will never talk on a cell phone in a Chinatown again.