Five Skidmore students, two males and three females, stood in the road in front of us wearing nothing but their birthday suits and sneakers. It was Fun Day at the college. My son, Eddie, was driving me, my wife, and his girlfriend, Ramsey, back to his dorm from dinner in Saratoga Springs, New York. My wife and I had come from Boston for a last visit before graduation. Saratoga is beautiful in the spring, and we wanted to begin carting home some of the clutter our son had accumulated. Just after Eddie explained it was a tradition for students to run naked across campus on Fun Day, one of the girls in the group spotted him driving our car and yelled out “Eddie!”
With a great shout, the nudist mob charged us. Eddie stopped the car, and the group climbed onto the hood and reached in the windows.
“Noooo,” cried Eddie. “These are my parents!”
Glancing over, I could see he was really embarrassed. Meanwhile, my wife and I were laughing. The models in the SI swimsuit issue wearing next to nothing may be erotic, but five naked college students in running shoes are ridiculous. I suddenly got an image from 30 years before of playing nude Wiffle ball on a beach on Martha’s Vineyard. It also reminded me of something else, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The primordial clan climbed off the car and Eddie drove on to his dorm.
Two weeks later, his mother and I returned for graduation. We had dinner with Eddie and Ramsey; my wife’s sister and brother and Ramsey’s parents and grandmother joined us. Afterward, we were all invited back to the dorm to hear Eddie’s band, Gung Ho, play one last school set. When we got there, crowded into the room and hanging outside were the parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and a few grandparents of the band members, along with about 30 students.
Most of the parents had already heard the band’s songs. Some sang along to “Another Shot of Whiskey.” This experience, this mix of generations and ages, suddenly felt so different from the boomer experience with our parents. It reminded me of something else, too — what I’d been trying to think of before — a feeling of being united by music that my generation knew for a short time in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Now we boomers share that connection with our kids, who grew up listening to rock ’n’ roll. Rock contains a Dionysian element of wildness and rebellion, and that musical link helps create a sense of community between boomers and millennials.
Then I thought back to all the conflicts I grew up with: fights over long hair and music and independence and women’s rights and race relations and Vietnam and censorship and, of course, sex. Boomers and the “silent” generation were like rams butting heads and locking horns.
In the coming years there will be generational conflicts over Social Security and Medicare. Young people may get tired of paying for baby boomers who refuse to die, but for now, the two seem to be getting along pretty well. Millennials may be tribal with their tattoos, text-speak, and Facebook friends, but they seem happy to hang out with the elders now and then. Maybe because we have a few experiences in common, among them, wild parties, skinny-dipping, and rock music.
Not long after graduation, Eddie moved to New York with his band to look for day jobs and nighttime gigs. I’ll miss him. But any time I want to retrieve that feeling I had outside his dorm, I just have to slide Gung Ho into the CD player and sing along. I know all the words.
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