Don’t you just hate these little bumper stickers all over Facebook? I do a lot of scrolling down because of them. Once in a while, though, they get profound:
Isn’t that the truth.
At 40, I sometimes find myself going to the Urban Dictionary to decipher things that my younger relatives post to Facebook, but I didn’t need any help with swag. I know swag. Boy, do I know swag.
We didn’t call it swag back when I was growing up, but the concept was certainly there. It was there in 1988 when I was 16 and met Riley. Riley, with the long hair and multiple earrings, his jeans and his leather jacket. Riley, who was 19, had dropped out of high school a few years earlier and had no job.
But what he lacked in education and gainful employment, he made up for in swag. Charisma. Riley had a gift of personality, a way of talking to people, entertaining us, making us wish we were as cool as he was.
It’s no wonder I fell in love with him. Or at least, what passed for love in my 16-year-old little heart. As Bohemian as I fancied myself, I was such the little conformist, so eager to please. I wished to be like him and make him adore me. In fact, it’s little wonder that several girls in my group were quite taken with him, this young man with such vigor and charm, and potential that was unmatched by his accomplishments.
Don’t you ever wish that life afforded younger people educational glimpses of the future? Well, I’d guess that even that probably would have no effect on the aspirations of a 16-year-old. Wisdom only comes with age and experience, and even then it is not a guaranteed condition.
Several years back my parents had opened a billiard hall. My step-mother had called and left me a message. “Joyce, give me a call. I just met an old friend of yours.” I called her back. Who? Riley. She had never met him before, but he came into their place, and she got to talking to him and showing him pictures of her kids. And when she pulled my wedding snapshot out of her wallet, of course he recognized me.
He was becoming something of a regular at the pool hall, so of course I had to casually drop by one night. Newly married, I had no romantic interest in him anymore. But I felt compelled to see him, and to have him see me. Look what you missed.
And there he was. I talked to him for a long while. He was despondent over a failed marriage. Caring for two little girls by himself. Working in his father-in-law’s heating and air business. It was a heartbreak to see him.
I’ve seen him a few more times over the years. He’s now haggard and rail thin from years of drug use. Painting people’s houses for under-the-table cash. Hooked up, sometimes, with his off and on 25-year-old girlfriend.
I know about swag. It’s words with no action, bluster with no substance. But you couldn’t have told me that when I was 16. I could only learn it by becoming 30, and 35, and 40. I see the younger girls in my family disregarding good, solid young men in favor of the bad boys. And I think of myself at 16, longing for Riley, never realizing what the future held for him.