That lucky old sun has been acting like a real pretentious son-of-a-bitch lately.

Always hiding behind the clouds, poking out every once in a while and giving the snow a few minutes of hell. But he doesn’t want to seem so obvious so he returns to his hiding place, waxing all mysterious and aloof-like, and there I am, standing on some stranger’s muddy front yard, feet soaked and pruned, hips and back throbbing with pain, digging in the pockets of my work pants for a map (which I’ve apparently dropped a mile back) and then my flashlight (which, damn it, I’ve also misplaced) and all I can do is glare at the sky, into that perfect white disk of light shining through the eerie flow of gray, and challenge him to come out and stay out.

And when begging for mercy obviously changes nothing I have only to belittle him. I say to him, “Straight to hell with you if you’re too good for earth!” After all, that lucky old sun, as the song goes, has nothing to do. Why not come on out and defrost my working conditions, my work pants, my goddamn soul, huh?

What I need—what we all need—to alleviate these winter blues is not light therapy, but direct action. You and I, we need to work on beating a good hard path out of our current slumps.

Some of my blues are of a regional variety, eloquently addressed by some guy named Greg Olear. Last June my wife and I uprooted from Illinois and moved to Kentucky. I’ve lived in Illinois for 28 years and now—all of a sudden—I am a Kentuckian. I’ve got the license plates; I drink the bourbon; I bask in the brilliance of John Wall.

But it’s still a little unsettling. I don’t talk like them (though I do love the way they talk); I don’t follow college basketball; and I’m intimidated by horses and Ashley Judd movies.

Even more unsettling is I don’t know how long I’ll be here in Kentucky. Could be another year. Could be another twenty-eight.

All the same, I recently turned 29 years old, which is the real reason I’m bitching. 29 has thus far been a kind of transition period for me. The year in which I should probably figure out some way to grow up just a little more.

The recent moping, the bitching, the self-hatred—these are the natural side effects of what I’ll call youth decay.

As I write this I am imagining more than a few readers (over 30, to be exact) rolling their eyes, cracking their arthritic knuckles, and saying something like, “You’re just a kid” or “Wait till you’re forty”. Well, I understand that perspective, and I willfully acknowledge how precocious and shortsighted complaining about 29 seems. But I don’t care; getting older sucks. I’ll put it plainly: I don’t want to grow up. Not ever, dude.

And what does that mean anyway, to “grow up”? Do the males of the species ever actually grow up?

Can we switch gears, talk some baseball? Major League baseball players statistically (well, sabermetrically) have a window of time wherein they perform at their peak level. This period of time is roughly four years, ranging from 29 to 34. After that, a player’s stock drops considerably. Unless he is preternaturally talented or completely juiced on steroids.

All the great ones defy sabermetrics. At 29 years old, Babe Ruth completed his fifth season with the New York Yankees, wrapping up the year with 200 hits, 46 home runs, and 121 RBIs. He batted a none-too-shabby .378. Ruth’s last year of formidable production occurred in 1932, at the age of 37, when he swatted 41 homers, drove in 137 runs, and batted .341. In the Babe’s subsequent three years—the final years of his career—Ruth’s numbers dropped considerably. The Babe just ran out of juice.

It gets me thinking: have I peaked? (Yes.) Is it all downhill from here? (Maybe.) Will I really be wearing Chuck Taylors and backwards trucker hats at 30, 35? (Of course you will, dumbass.)

Truth is, I really don’t know. And perhaps comparing my intellectual/emotional “career” to that of a professional baseball player’s statistical career is slightly unreasonable. But only slightly. Baseball is all about rules and repetition. Such is life.

29. That’s how old former Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa was when his juicy production blossomed. Sosa’s home run total in 1997, at 28 years old, was a paltry 36. The following year a 29-year-old Sosa belted 66 home runs. 29 was Sammy Sosa’s peak year, arguably the greatest year of his playing career, clean or not.

Allow me to revise my mantra: I need to take direct action toward happiness and I need to consider cheating as a short cut.

Cheating is really the only way to persuade friends and family that my youth decay is not as bad as it seems. How cool would it be if all it took was a simple drop of the drawers and a quick jab at the buttock with a needle? One shot to grant me the power to get away with wearing ironic T-shirts and unkempt hair well into my late thirties! Juice me up!

Are anti-depressants to the game of life what performance-enhancing drugs are to the game of baseball? Unfortunately, self-medication has never worked for me. Which is not to say I’m anti-drug, but I can’t help it; I love to suffer.

“Hi. My name is Justin Benton and I’m addicted to feeling bad.”

There’s no point in masking my bellicose malcontent. The moping, the bitching, the self-hatred, all of it works for me. Whereas getting loaded on fifth of Jack and creeper weed doesn’t really do the trick.

When I think about 29 I am always reminded of Prince Hamlet. Some undersexed academics with nothing better to do have suggested that Prince Hamlet may have been a teenage boy. But I prefer to think of him as a mercurial and whiny 29-year-old Manchild. The kind of guy who is supposed to act his age and step up to the plate, but is not entirely sure if he’s up for it. And, of course, Ham asked the greatest question of them all: what the hell’s the point?

Every hard-thinking, self-hating twenty-something has wondered if to-not-be is better than to-be. I’ve been there, pondered disappearing, suicide, whatever. Wondered—why me? But at some point you’ve just got to grow up and accept that you are here, you exist. So, now, what are you going to do about it?

Me, I’m going to stop pondering not-being and start thinking about what to be.

TAGS: , , , , , , , ,

JUSTIN BENTON has written for the Nervous Breakdown since 2009. He co-authored Board with Brad Listi, a literary collage released by TNB Books in 2012. He is now a father and is currently writing an ongoing pantoum poem you can find here.

41 responses to “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy and I Don’t Want to Grow Up”

  1. Jude says:

    I’m with you Justin – growing up sucks!

  2. Judy Prince says:

    You’ve got the syndrome, Justin, the thing that can’t be faked, that never fades: *BRILLIANT CREATIVITY*.

    You’re inventing outa pure 29-year old air, slamming concept into weird concept: “youth decay”, “sabermetrically”, Prince Hamlet as a “whiny 29-year-old”, “Are anti-depressants to the game of life what performance-enhancing drugs are to the game of baseball?”.

    Ya got it goin’ on, as they say in some parts of Chicago. Keep playing with words; keep us posted; keep us aware; keep us thinking. You’ve got plenty of time, after all…..you’re just a kid [Judy cracking arthritic knuckles].

  3. Greg Olear says:

    I didn’t realize you were 29. Like Simon, you’re going through your Saturn Return. That’s the cause of the blues and the introspection. It’s in the stars, man. Send me your stats and I’ll show you.

    Also: your 20s suck ass. Everybody knows that. Allow me a quote from H.L Menken:

    “The best years are the forties; after fifty a man begins to deteriorate, but in the forties he is at the maximum of his villainy.”

    Great piece, as usual. And thx for the shout-out.

    • Anon says:

      “The best years are the forties; after fifty a man begins to deteriorate, but in the forties he is at the maximum of his villainy.” Greg, I had not heard that before. It explains much and you have improved my mood this morning dramatically.

      Justin, wallow. No, seriously, wallow in the misery. Getting older does suck and there’s only so much ground covered by “youthful attitude”. I was much older when I was younger and, looking back, it pisses me off no end. I resisted the instinctive urge to be wretched about it and instead convinced myself to embrace the decline. Bullshit. Rage! Rage against the barely perceptible dimming of the light! At least then, when you reach your decrepit dialysis-wheeled-walker-and-iron-lung forties like me, you can look back and say, “Yeah, I could see it happening and couldn’t stop it but, by God, I gave it the finger every step of the way!” Cold comfort is better than no comfort. Even when you’re already cold.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Yeah, it’s one of the great lines, although Mencken has them in spades. “Maximum of his villainy” is brilliant.

        That said, fifty is the new forty.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Nice quote, Greg. Now that you’ve linked the 29 year olds, Justin and Simon, I’ve been wondering why they seem heavily into thinking about their age, about what they’re doing or not doing at age 29. P’raps it’s Saturn Returning, indeed (I don’t know enuff about astrology), but it also may be that the “9” part of 29 that has them seriously weighing what their lives are all about, if their goals are on some kind of track now that they’re on the close edge of 30. Age 30 sounds old to them, not to mention the fact that 29 year old females’ clocks are ticking louder than before, and there’s just so long a man can play deaf. That’s enuff to scare a man into being 40 and villainous, nah?

      • Anon says:

        Or into getting a vasectomy but keeping the news to yourself. The scar is small enough that you could probably convince any procreationally-predatory females that “maybe if we just try a few more dozen times…” before they move on to more fertile fields, so to speak.

        Hm. That was villainous, wasn’t it?

        • Judy Prince says:

          WOH, Anon, is your brain registered with the CIA? You might be the incarnation of Don Juan. Have you written a Guide to Straying (I mean “Dating”!)? It may be best to keep busy, Anon (Devil’s workshop, and all that). Eminently quotable, you!

        • Anon says:

          Every aspect of your response has made me laugh out loud. Thank you, Judy.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Awwww, Anon. It’s what I’m here for–humor therapy. BTW, when does Brade (I mean Brad, dammit!) send out our checks? And who’s the Union Grievance Chair? My guess is that you’re on the side of admin; they can always afford to pay more than the grunts can.

          Me always laffing at your bons mots, too, Anon. You’re a definite sinus-clearer.

        • Anon says:

          In that case, I am most certainly on their side. I am not much of a movie buff but my all-time favorite (and most influential, the more I look back) is, of all things, Casablanca. Perhaps if I ever abandon “Anon”, I will adopt “Louis Renault” as my next nom de plume (I don’t brood nearly enough to pull off a “Richard Blaine”).

        • Judy Prince says:

          I found the movie’s romantic parts boring–no chemistry between Bogart and Bergman. If any relationship clicked in “Casablanca” it was the one between Renault and Blaine. I think Renault carries the movie; he’s complex enough so you can’t be certain of his actual motives; and he has the most memorable lines of which, “Round up the usual suspects” is the most wonderful.

          Something about Bogart’s style (“frozen”, I’d call it) and several other male leads in the 40s through now, makes me wonder if Hollywood equates “strong” with “unmoving” and “inexpressive”.

        • Anon says:

          There was no finer moment for me – and none to which I conversationally and mentally return so often – than Captain Renault collecting his winnings in the midst of shutting down the cafe for illegal gambling.

          “Rick, I am shocked – shocked! – to find gambling going on here.”

          “Your winnings, sir.”

          {sotto voce} “Oh! Thank you.”

          Such gracious manners…. (:

        • Greg Olear says:

          “Better make it five thousand. I’m just a poor corrupt official.”

          [I could go on all day]

          Claude Reins is amazing in that movie. Everyone else is wooden and acts like they used to, like cardboard cut-outs. Reins could be in a movie now. Every line he utters is great.

          And yes, the romance between him and Bogie far exceeds the more celebrated Bogie/Bergman.

        • Anon says:

          “Reins could be in a movie now.” Now there is a screenplay – “Renault Remembers”! One of France’s oldest living veterans recalls his time in Africa, fighting with the Resistance, perhaps working with the O.S.S., his adventures in IndoChina and narrow escape at Dien Bien Phu…. Who knows what-all else?

        • Anon says:

          Realizing the importance of the screenplay, this site should round up twice the usual number of writers.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Yep, I think we’re onto something. Have any of you written a play or script together with other writers? I’ve had a couple experiences of trying to playwright with others’ input, but I really wanted to do it myself, get it done, and then hope for some audience reaction at readings.

          Just occurred to me, Anon, that I’m talking to someone who has a fedora face and no name! It’s like the cow munching on grass that looks up and says: “I’m eating grass—-GRASS!!”

          Time to start calling you Renault.

        • Anon says:

          Call me what you will, Madam. I remain myself, fedora or no.

        • Judy Prince says:

          My eating GRASS moment’s over, Anon. Besides, I actually *like* the name Anon. It’s stands alone very well, no need for a first and last. Further, there’s TNB consensus on your fedora being haberdasherily handsome.

        • Anon says:

          Judy, I’m quite flattered but does this mean you all have been talking about me behind my brim?

          Greg, I like the modification. Very subtle. (:

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Greg’s new Gravatar is very good, isn’t it?

          Judy: like in the Far Side comic?

        • Judy Prince says:

          Anon, may I dub you Brimbo, then? OK, not. We haven’t all been talking about you behind your brim; it’s that female commenters raved about the fedora. I wonder what makes a fedora sexy?

          Simon: I agree about Greg’s gravatar, but never knew his old one. BTW, Greg, the chair looks like the Eames chair (designed in the 1940s by wife/husband team, Ray and Charles Eames) that’s on U.S.A. postage stamps.

          And also, Simon, the cow/GRASS cartoon? YES, Far Side! It’s three cows munching grass; one looks up and says: “Hey, wait a minute! This is *grass*! We’ve been eating grass!”

          Here are three more from Gary Larson:

          1) A couple comes home after an evening out. The husband angrily says to the witch-looking babysitter who’s watching tv: “Now let me get this straight . . . we hired you to babysit the kids, and instead you cooked and ate them BOTH?”

          2) Accused killer, a crocodile, in court responding to the prosecuting attorney: “Well, of COURSE I did it in cold blood, you idiot! . . . I’m a reptile!”

          3) A dog in the back seat of his owner’s car leans out the window and says to the neighbour dog: “Ha ha ha, Biff, Guess what? After we go to the drugstore and the post office, I’M going to the vet’s to get tutored.”

        • Anon says:

          My favorite “wordless” Far Side was the farmer’s wife walking back from the henhouse with a basket of eggs and a shocked look on her face because the hen was walking back from the farmhouse carrying her baby. (:

        • Judy Prince says:

          Total HOOOO-HAAAA, Anon! Ya gotta give me the ref so I can get that Larson book. Love it!

      • Greg Olear says:

        Excellent point, Judy. I always emphasize the nine, because it’s funny to do so. I say “29” like a little kid counts, with an upbeat, making you want to hear “30.”

        Also, I should add that I’m looking forward to catching up with your posts…between the power outage and pressing work on Book #2, I’ve been more absent from the boards than usual.

        • Judy Prince says:

          HA! I must warn you, though, Greg; I’d squash you like a bug if you did that lilt thing on the end of my “60”. [Note: I did not say I’d squash you like a spider; whew!]

          No “mea culpa’s”, please. I’m so far behind reading stuff, I’m actually ahead. Light years.

    • JB says:

      I thought my 20s were fairly rad.

      Stats: 5’11”, 200 lbs, blue eyes, fingers, toes, and genitalia in tact. Sign: Capricorn. Loves: Beta, sax, and long walks in the ocean.

  4. Irene Zion says:

    You can write some terrific stuff centered on feeling bad.
    If that’s what you do well, why change?
    Oh, and people don’t crack arthritic knuckles.
    It hurts.

  5. I missed the feel-bad 29; I was in LA and teaching at SC, and there was nothing bad about that. Except that whole couldn’t-wait-to-get-out-of-LA bit.

    I think it’s all about how you look at it.

    Have you seen the Louis CK bit about everything being amazing, or was that allusion unintentional? I didn’t see you link to it, so I’ll toss one up:


    Which is some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. “Give it a second! It’s going to space!”

    You mention the argument about Hamlet’s age as though there’s much difference between a teenage boy and a 29-year-old man. Or an any-year-old man, for that matter. Ha!

    Personally, I think the important thing to remember is it’s never about growing up or old but getting better. As long as you’re doing that, life’s good.

    Nice piece, Justin. Oh, and I’ll note I’ll be 32 in a couple months, and everyone makes a big deal about this side of 3, but it ain’t so bad.

  6. Joe Daly says:


    Good piece and very well-articulated feelings. Having harbored those same emotions, coincidentally when living in Chicago, I now understand that uncertainty was the cause of my malaise, and it sounds like it might be in your ingredient list as well.

    I will refrain from preaching, predicting, or offering any sort of pithy forty-something world view. Just keep writing and you’ll get where you need to be.

    Rock on, brother.

  7. Matt says:

    I know the feeling, man. But it really gets better.

    I turned 30 last June. And while it’s a bit of a cliche, 30th year has been far, far superior to my 29th. It was honestly such a relief to have all the awkwardness of my 20s over and done with.

    • Oh man, I expect the awkwardness to carry on, flapping clumsily into the sunset, forever and ever.

      Anyway, truthfully, I hear ya. I definitely feel…cooler. Like, relaxed. Patient. Which is nice.

  8. D.R. Haney says:

    I’m honored to have had my piece linked to yours, JB.

    I’m sick with a cold at the moment, so I’m granting myself the privilege of not having to read the comments others have left for you, but I’m figuring that a lot of people are probably offering you advice, so I’m not going to offer you any advice. I will, however, conspire to buy you a shot of whisky when I’m next in your part of the world, which isn’t as unlikely as it may sound, seeing that my family is from nearby Virginia. Whisky trumps advice every time, I’ve found. If only I had some at the moment.

    • JB says:

      Honor’s all mine. That piece has stuck with me for a while.

      Whisky’d help you forget about that cold real quick…

  9. Simon Smithson says:

    JB: No one ever wants to peak. Certainly not me. I like to think it’s somewhere in the undefined future.

    Somewhere real close.

    I feel ya, brother.

  10. […] will prevail in this battle of the ages?  We’ll find out anon.  (Or, if you prefer: We’ll find out, […]

  11. Marni Grossman says:

    Whilst watching the winter olympics this year, it occurred to me that I’ll never be an olympian. Not that I was going to be. I mean, I haven’t been training or anything. But still, now that I’m 24, any chance of winning that gold medal is gone. I’m officially old.

    Which is to say: I feel you, brother.

  12. […] wonders if the world is going the way of Hong Kong.  *We make noise.  *Justin Benton has the 29-year-old blues.  *Darian Arky hears voices, doesn’t like […]