Back and Better Than Ever

OVER Thanksgiving break I got a lot older. Suddenly events and people conspired to make me feel less like a boy and more like a beginner grown-up. Part of it was fun, like moving from the kiddy table to the Big People's table during Thanksgiving dinner. But most of it was unsettling, like the subtle change in my uncle's standard question from "So, what are you going to be when you grow up?" to the more threatening, "So what are you going to do?" I experienced what an understanding senior in my hall calls "pre-life crisis."

To begin with, my bedroom is now a study. With great cunning, my parents waited until my junior year before they erased all vestiges of my memory. They packed away my weight set, tore down the basketball net and worst of all, gave my NFL bedsheets to charity. My pennants lay in a forlorn pile at the bottom of my closet. In their place, my father's diplomas hange with mocking pride. His desk rests serenely where I used to shoot Nerf hoops. My bed, remade and reeducated, is now his couch. It's not that I wanted a mausoleum, but did they have to paint over the height lines marked so carefully years before on the back of my door?

But my parents now have different priorities. Late that first night when I was back, I went to the kitchen to get a snack. For the only time in my memory, the fridge was empty. No longer did cold cuts spill out of the meat drawer. Gone were the two gallon jumbo containers of orange juice and the six packs of vanilla pudding. Lost forever were the leftover pieces of peach pie or the cold chicken.

My heartless mother had banished all high cholesterol, high fat, high taste products from her refrigerator. In their place were interlopers like cottage cheese, lean cuisine meals, prunes and something called "eggbeaters." I suddenly realized that my parents had stopped worrying about me and were beginning to withdraw into their own special high blood pressure diets.

As I considered booking two places in a local retirement home, events came along to remind me of my own mortality. First, my previously annoying little sister now sported a set of contact lenses, a bustline, a pair of car keys and a linebacker-boyfriend whose neck was larger than my thigh. One night while I sat watching David Letterman, my sister and her beau-immense stumbled into the house after a night out.

Clutching the TV clicker fiercly, I told my sister that the late night showing of "Heidi" (her old favorite) was forbidden; Letterman would stay. Immediately I could tell from her glare that neither Heidi nor Dave would be tuned in and that I was supposed to go upstairs to my bedroom a.k.a. study.

THE next day, Saturday, my friends came over for our traditional weekend basketball game. With the net temporarily back in place, we looked foreward to displaying some of our old skills. Unfortunately, the game did not go too well. The shooting was horrible, the play was sloppy and not all of it could be blamed on the cool weather. Once graceful pivot moves were now disturbed by grumpy beer guts. Previously intense rivals were content to catch some air away from the basket. One of my friends pulled his back going for a rebound and another twisted his ankle on a layup. When the word floated out that the Notre Dame-USC game was on, none of us were disappointed to rush inside and settle in by the TV.

I sat in the living room nursing a beer and a stiff elbow. My friends drank their beers, munched on potato chips and bragged about jobs they had lined up for themselves. I kept quiet, thankful only that I avoided the necessity of serving "egg beaters" by convincing my mother to get some last minute snacks and beer for the game. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad. The night before, desperate for food, I broke down and gave the "egg beaters" a try. The package was just about right; they almost did taste like real eggs.