Column: 21 Going On The Real World
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
A few nights ago, my roommate turned 21. As an underage senior living in the Mods, he endured an unrelenting stream of insults and pranks relating to his under-21 status. Once, after driving to a liquor store to pick up beer, I solemnly informed him that minors were not allowed inside, reminded him not to talk to strangers, and locked the car doors as I went inside. At the housing meeting for Mod residents, I helpfully pointed out how the disciplinary matrix contained much harsher penalties for him and recommended that he be the sober contact for registered parties, since of course he wouldn’t be legally allowed to drink anyway. As the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, and he triumphantly shot down my last half-hearted underage joke, I paused to reflect on what being 21 actually means.
The war against drinking restrictions is over, and I have won. During freshman year I would have had to move mountains just to obtain a handle of vodka. Now, I can simply walk to the liquor store, show my ID to the skeptical cashier, and purchase enough beer to fill a bathtub, though I’m not allowed to actually pour the beer into a bathtub, since that would violate the perfectly logical central source restrictions. With this newfound freedom, though, comes responsibility. As a Mod resident, I can no longer rely on others to throw parties and supply alcohol. Instead, I must make weekly runs to the liquor store to purchase what seems like metric tons of Natty Light, only to watch in horror as party guests guzzle all of it by midnight and then devour every scrap of cereal and microwavable food in sight. Being 21 can be hard work at times– but on the bright side my wallet fits easier in my pocket now that those pesky wads of cash have been removed.
Turning 21 is the last significant birthday that brings complementary privileges as a present. The 18th birthday brings the ability to vote, serve in the military, buy scratch tickets and cigarettes, and legally watch porn on the Internet. The 15th or 16th birthday brings the ability to drive under various draconian junior operating restrictions. One of the first times I felt like an adult was when my mother finally allowed me to ride in the front seat on my 13th birthday.
After turning 21, though, these milestones become nonexistent. Renting a car for the first time on your 25th birthday doesn’t carry the same excitement as buying your first, surprisingly strong, rum and Coke at Mary Ann’s. Just like some of the excitement of Christmas faded away once I grew older and (spoiler alert) learned that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, birthdays will slowly become less exciting as I move farther away from the thrill of buying my first scratch ticket or beer on my birthday and closer to the horrifying prospect of receiving an AARP invitation as a birthday present down the road.
As ridiculous as it sounds, at 21 years of age I feel old. A couple of weeks ago I was watching a European soccer game on an excruciatingly slow online stream. As the announcers introduced the starting squads, I learned that one of the superstars playing was only 20. My jaw dropped as I pondered the difficulty of climbing to the very top of competitive soccer before turning 21. I then glanced at myself, still clad in pajamas at 3 p.m. while eating ready-made soup from a microwavable bowl, and suddenly felt unworthy and unaccomplished. As a freshman, the real world seemed light years away. Now, as a 21-year-old nervously glancing toward May, I am running out of time. Having left the awkward “legally an adult but not considered one” phase of 18-20 years old, being 21 means above all that I should brace myself, because graduation is coming.