The Young and the Clueless | Essay | Chicago Reader

The Young and the Clueless 

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For a long time--into my teens actually--I was convinced that when you became a grown-up, you were invited to a special meeting where all life's mysteries were explained. This was why adults always knew everything, and why I was perpetually perplexed.

For example, cruise ships: I couldn't understand how they could have swimming pools on them. I could only picture a big hole cut out on the ship, which meant if you dove into the pool and the ship kept moving, you'd be left stranded in the ocean.

I asked 25 of my friends what confused them as a child, and I'm relieved to report that just about everyone recalled an insurmountable mental hurdle. The following compilation can best be summed up by that famous line from Anna Karenina (altered slightly here): Every clueless child is clueless in his own way.

"I couldn't understand the difference between a sound track in a movie, which the actors supposedly couldn't hear, and if there was a radio on in the movie, which the actors could hear. Music would be playing and I'd say to my mom, 'OK, can they hear that? OK, now can they hear that?'"

--Rudy Heigel

"You know those information maps at the mall, with the arrow pointing 'You are here'? I was blown away by this. 'They're right--that's exactly where I am! How do they know?!'"

--David T. Jones

"I always got the words 'pedestrian' and 'Presbyterian' confused. I didn't understand why Presbyterians always had the right of way. I could understand the nuns, but all of them?"

--Joe Krouse

"If it was raining out and a fire truck went racing by, how could there be a fire? I mean, if it was raining, wouldn't the water just put it out?"

--Jason Rosenthal

"The term 'gay demonstration' really threw me. I couldn't picture what that would look like. Like do they really demonstrate it?"

--Spike Jonze

"I thought that one day we would breathe up all the air."

--Tammy Semmer

"I remember seeing construction going on and wondering when everything would be finished--that one day all the construction everywhere would be totally done."

--Andy Jenkins

"I thought that when my parents were little the world was in black and white because all the pictures of them were black and white."

--Pat Durkin

"I didn't get what was so controversial about youth in Asia."

--Charise Mericle

"I thought that the basement of department stores would fill up with steps from the escalator pushing them down all day."

--Matt Konicek

"I remember watching my dad and another guy fight over the check and thinking, 'Dad, why don't you just let the guy pay? He obviously wants to pay real badly.'"

--Scott Wojahn

"I used to think I could see atoms, but it was just dust."

--Mike Durkin

"I was so amazed how little foreign kids could speak a foreign language so well. 'He's only four and he speaks perfect French!'"

--Roger Wojahn

"I couldn't understand how people could be so stupid to die in plane crashes. If they knew the plane was going down, why wouldn't they just jump out on the wing and jump off?"

--Greg Wojahn

"I didn't understand that grandparents were your parents' parents. I just thought that every family got nice, old, unrelated couples assigned to them. They would then bring you presents and come to Sunday dinner. All the other kids had them too, so I figured it was some kind of rule."

--Mike Leary

"I used to think that all men's trousers came with change in them."

--Jessica Weiss

"Whenever I saw those tiny planes that leave streaks of white in the sky, I thought that it was someone's job to do that. And that's what I wanted to do when I grew up; I thought I would revolutionize the field by drawing more creative things in the sky than just straight lines."

--Keith Carollo

"I was with my dad and he bought me a Hula Hoop. When it came time to pay the man, my dad gave him the money and the cashier gave him money back. I could not grasp what this was all about. 'Money back and a Hula Hoop! Wow!'"

--Steve Brodwolf

"Whenever I asked my parents for something, the answer was almost always 'Ispose.' I thought that was a word that meant 'Yes, you could have it, but we as parents aren't really happy about it.' "

--Kevin Gammon

"I understood that at a stoplight when there was a green arrow pointing left, the cars could go left, and on a right arrow, you could go right. But when the arrow was pointing straight ahead--which is really pointing straight up--I thought that meant any airplanes that were around were now clear to go up in the sky."

--Marty Stock

"We were driving past a hospital once, and my mom said, 'That's where you were born.' I thought she was pointing at the phone booth on the corner, so for the longest time, whenever I saw someone enter a phone booth, I thought they were going to come out with a baby."

--Lena Garvey

"I told everyone in second grade that my father had two penises. I saw him run to the bathroom once without his underwear on and saw two appendages hanging there. I had no idea about scrotums."

--Linda S. Coleman

"My earliest memory of having a bath with dad involved him covering his private parts with a washcloth. When it came time for the discussion about sexual parts with mom, I thought that a penis looked like a washcloth."

--Vicki Smith-Williams

"I remember going to the symphony as a child and getting a glimpse of the music on the conductor's stand. I thought the little marks on the page--the notes--were what showed him how he was supposed to move his arms around."

--Todd Lief

"I thought babies came out of boobs."

--Scottie Larson

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