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 Do you realize that high-school kids today - the ones shaping our culture, for cripes sake - think of Guns N’ Roses the way we in our mid-20s think of the Rolling Stones?

We are so fucking old. I know a large percentage of the readers of this column are older than me, so, lest you think I’m a kid who’s just whining, let me reassure you that you’re fucking old too. I recognize that if I eventually quit smoking - and let’s not hold our breath for that, so to speak - I could live another 50 years, maybe more. But the fun part is over. I already missed it. I’m not sure what I was doing when I was supposed to be having fun. That’s frustrating. I know I wasn’t studying, or working, or preparing myself for world domination. I was frittering away time, drinking, goofing off. I should have been having more fun. I think I just wasn’t sure where the fun was. I think the fun was avoiding me. I think the fun saw me heading in its direction, then turned and walked the other way, pausing only to pushing my grandmother in front of traffic and flip me off.

Do you realize that Appetite For Destruction, only the cultural landmark for our generation, the first album we ever heard that made smoking, drinking, drugging, cursing and whoring sound, hell, like a whole lot of fun ... that album came out in 1987? 1987! That was 14 years ago. Babies born when Appetite For Destruction came out are having sex already (in Iowa, they’re getting married, and in Kentucky, they’re getting divorced and fighting over custody of the six-year-old). If you were old enough to be driving when Appetite came out, you’re over 30. Guns N’ Roses is now classic rock, the station where your parents used to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Seger.

Tim Grierson, one of our Ironminds staffers, is working on a really cool series for Ironminds. He’s looking at 1991, a groundbreaking year for music. Look at all the albums that came out that year: REM’s Out of Time, Metallica’s self-titled black album, Pearl Jam’s Ten, the Use Your Illusion albums, Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend, U2’s Achtung Baby and, of course, Nirvana’s Nevermind. Those albums - thanks partly to Tim, who, as you might or might not know, is my best friend from high school - laid the foundation for all the music I listened to from then on, and if you look at my CDs, probably about a third of my collection is made up by those artists (hardly a week goes by when I don’t put in Nevermind or Achtung Baby at least once). The albums came out 10 years ago. Ten years.

The first great experience I had in a movie theater was Oliver Stone’s JFK. I was with Tim and a couple of other nerdy Mattoon kids, and we were absolutely entranced. Sure, I went to the movies all the time, but that was mainly just to get out of the house, or, if the stars were aligned perfectly, to find a dark place to make out. But JFK sucked me in. For three hours, I forgot who I was, where I was, what I was ... I was only living in the land of Oliver Stone, a place I was too young to realize probably was not psychologically healthy to dwell. With about five minutes left in the film, right when they’re about to announce the verdict of the Clay Shaw trial, the projector broke, and I snapped back to reality with a jolt. I looked over at Tim and barely recognized him. It took a good 20 minutes to readjust to the world around me. I had been transported, and there was no going back. I devoted almost every waking minute from then on to going to movies. I discovered Woody Allen and found my muse. That was also 10 years ago. (In a side note, do you realize Woody Allen has been making movies for 34 years?)

Next year, my childhood hero, Ozzie Smith, the guy who did the backflips on Opening Day, who made the gravity-defying diving lunges at shortstop, who hit the ninth-inning, game-winning home run off Tom Neidenfuer in Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series and inspired broadcaster Jack Buck’s legendary “Go Crazy, Folks!” radio call (a moment that remains my most beloved in Cardinals history) ... he will be eligible for (and most assuredly elected to) the Hall of Fame.

When I was a kid, my father and I made a deal. When Ozzie Smith was inducted into the Hall, we would make a pilgrimage to Cooperstown on the sacred day. We surely wouldn’t be able to get in the actual ceremony - not unless we were willing to offer up our firstborns for tickets, and I was against that, considering I’m his firstborn - but we had to be there to see Ozzie, the guy whose batting stance I had memorized, the guy who was just below (and sometimes above) my parents on my worship scale for many, many years. Our family vacations every year revolved around where the Cardinals were playing, and one year, in Cincinnati, we stayed in the same hotel as the team. My dad rode down an elevator with Ozzie and his son, Osborne Jr., and Ozzie was cordial, welcoming and accommodating. My father smiled for a week. Ozzie is about to go to the Hall of Fame. He is now a legend. Ozzie Smith, my favorite baseball player ever, is almost 50 years old. I discovered him in 1982, when the Cardinals won their last World Series. That was 19 years ago. Nineteen years.

It was my old friend Andy’s birthday last week. I don’t get to talk to Andy as much anymore. He’s married, lives in Illinois and is in graduate school. We don’t share a lot of common interests these days. I’ll talk to him from New York like it’s Mars, and he’ll talk to me from wedded bliss like it’s Pluto. (Please give me credit for resisting a Uranus joke.) But he was my closest friend from the ages 13 to 16, and those are critical years. We went through That Awkward Stage together (Andy, unlike me, eventually pulled himself out of it), and we would stay up all night sometimes, talking about girls and wondering what, exactly, we were expected to do with them if we ever happened to find ourselves alone with them. Andy knows me as well as anyone, which might be a reason I always feel nervous talking to him. We went everywhere together, which was why I dragged him to my church youth group’s trip to Six Flags on Friday the 13th, 1990.

I was trying to set him up with my girlfriend Barbara’s best friend. Kyla was sweet and funny, and, girlfriend be damned, I found her pretty cute myself. (I would later spend a good four years of my life trying to court her, failing miserably.) Barbara and I thought they’d be just darling together, but it rained the entire day at Six Flags, and even though Kyla was interested, Andy decidedly wasn’t, telling me in an aside that “she looked like a drowned rat.” Three years ago, I told this exact story at Andy and Kyla’s wedding. Eleven years. Three years. Jesus Christ.

I’m on the job hunt now. There’s one I found that, if I do say so myself, I’d be awesome at, and I think they would hire me. It’s outside of this crazy media world, but it’s still in my comfort zone, my sweet spot, right down the middle, I’d smack it into the left-field bleachers. I applied immediately, and then I remembered ...

There was this girl. I won’t get into the particulars, but I had known her for a long time and admired her from afar. Then she announced she was moving to a different city. Almost accidentally, one drunken night, we confessed feelings for each other. Then she was gone, and I never saw her again. I was broken up for a while, but life went on, and I found a whole new set of problems and women to vex me. I left her well enough alone, kept my distance, never contacted her, figured she could go on with her life.

Then I applied for this job. And I realized, with a heavy sigh, that she now works there, a senior staff member, the type of person who looks at all the resumes, and there ain’t a damn way in Allah’s green earth that she’d ever work in the same office with me. I’m a black mark, a tumor. The chaos with her happened almost two years ago, but with all that’s occurred since then, it might as well have been 20. We are old, and we know that we are old when two years is a lifetime. Two years is always a lifetime. It’s a wonder we live long enough to string so many two-year spans together.

Because it just gets worse. They add up, and next thing you know, it’s over. It’s all history, and it never stops, and we leave trails of mud and pus and blood and shit, dragging our entrails behind us, slugs of time. Ozzie Smith retires, Andy and Kyla get older, Kurt Cobain gets dead. And we all move along, decaying, never making sense of a bit of it, wondering how and when, exactly, “Paradise City” ended up sandwiched between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California” on the radio.



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