Have you heard my joke about the Roaring Twenties? Never mind, the ending is too depressing…see what I did there?
On my 20th birthday, I stood on top of my neighbor’s car holding a beer and then proceeded to scream, “I’m on top of the World!!”. Oh, did I mention my neighbor was a cop? And the car I was standing on happened to have red and blue lights under my feet? What a way to start my Roaring Twenties (sorry, Mom).
My 20’s were an absolute blast…and mess. You name it, I probably did it. There wasn’t a party I missed in college. Between binge drinking, chasing girls far out of my league, and nightly California burritos – you could say I had a roaring time.
Before I shame myself too much, let’s take a brief history lesson into a decade filled with glamour, endless possibilities, and rapid growth.
The 1920’s, or the Age of Wonderful Nonsense (as I like to call it), was not only a decade of dramatic social and cultural change – it was a roaring time to be alive. For the first time in American history, people decided to ditch the farm and live the thriving city life. New and exciting fads took the world by storm. Wealth in the nation doubled, flappers raced to fill new jazz clubs, skirts rose above the knee, and The American Dream was alive and well.
One of the strangest fads of the Roaring Twenties, in which perfectly describes why I refer to this era as the Age of Wonderful Nonsense, was flagpole sitting. Yes, you read that right.
Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly, who was born in Hell’s Kitchen in 1893, became famous in the 1920’s for flagpole sitting – making as much as $1000 a week. Who knew that sitting on your butt doing absolutely nothing could result in $1000 a week? What a time to be alive.
Hard to believe that a guy who lost his mother at childbirth, father shortly after, would then go from sailor and failed boxer to world-famous stunt performer. Alvin, who referred to himself as the “Luckiest Fool on Earth”, claimed to have survived five shipwrecks (including Titanic), three car crashes, two airplane crashes, one train wreck – and a partridge in a pear tree. I think we can all agree that Alvin is a different breed of human.
Though Alvin was able to survive countless years of poleing (I think that’s what the kids call it) and numerous crashes, there was one crash he was unable to survive – the stock market crash in October of 1929. Flagpole sitting, among many other exciting new fads, slowly faded away with the dawn of The Great Depression. As Alvin tragically put it, “the stock market crash had killed pole-sitting…people couldn’t stand anything higher than their busted securities.” It was a sad day for Alvin, along with the rest of American Dreams in the Roaring Twenties.
So, why on earth am I sitting here (pun intended) talking about some weirdo who sat on a flagpole in the 1920’s? I’m glad you asked. The Roaring Twenties, and Alvin, can teach us a lot about navigating our own Age of Wonderful Nonsense.
Though we may be unaware, our twenties are a defining decade of our lives. It’s a season of transition filled with endless possibilities, forward momentum, self-discovery, and if you’re not careful – self-destruction.
Before we get too carried away, lets recap. Life before your twenties was relatively straight forward. You went to school, kept your dog from eating your homework, played a few sports, tried not to kill your parents, and inevitably got your diploma.
Then, the options are, go to college, join the military, attend a trade school, or find a job. You meet tons of people, learn new perspectives, hit a beer bong or two (sorry again, mom), and laugh your ass off with all your new friends.
Then, out of nowhere, the storms start swirling in.
Your car breaks down on the way to the job you absolutely hate. The laundry is piling up in front of the door in the one-bedroom apartment you can barely afford. The girlfriend (or boyfriend) you invested all your time into turns out to be a total psychopath. You become that old weirdo still going to the same clubs and bars you went to when you thought you were cool. You watch Netflix all day Sunday trying to avoid the anxiety of Monday morning. You pound coffee in the breakroom dreading the voice of chipper old Jan who sits in the cubicle next to you. The only exciting part of your life is Friday at 5 pm when you sprint out of your office calling every human in your contacts for happy hour. Sound vaguely familiar?
We’re all the same, in one way or another. We buy the same goods, listen to the same music, get the same cubicle jobs, binge watch the same Stranger Things, and seek the same approval from our peers.
For centuries, humans have always searched for a sense of belonging, an identity to call our own. This longing for purpose exists in all of us and serves as our compass for navigating through life. I believe we, as humans, are always curiously inclined to push the limits and see what else we can do. We have a knack for always wanting more, even if it means forgetting who we once were.
It’s interesting how one decision, good or bad, can alter the direction of your life for years to come. One minute, you’re surrounded by countless friends in a thriving world filled with new fads and endless opportunity. You’re ambitious that the world is yours to conquer and hopeful that the future will always be this exciting.
The next, your ego and need of approval rip apart your American dream of doing something remarkable with your life. You allow outside influences to force you into being someone you’re not. You lie to yourself and claim you are doing the right things to better your life. You lose yourself completely, and the saddest part is you don’t even realize it at the time.
At least that’s how it was for me. To be fair though, I’m not the only one who didn’t have it all figured out. No one actually knows what the hell they’re doing in their roaring twenties. There’s too much pressure on us to have it all figured out. The moment we slip up or don’t know exactly what the next move is, we’re made to feel like we’re worthless and incapable of achieving our dreams.
Society has this image of who we’re supposed to be and what our lives should look like. So, what do we do? We slap on a fake smile, snap the picture, mock it up with a few pretty filters, post it on social media, and wait for the dopamine hits with every new like. Sounds like a recipe for another Great Depression if you ask me.
But don’t worry, it’s only as depressing as you make it. There is a flagpole out there waiting for all of us to climb up and pop a squat on. Though my Roaring Twenties resulted in a similar Great Depression, I finally decided to take control of my life and create my own American Dream.
And so will you, we’ve only just begun.
When you’re up, it’s never as good as it seems, and when you’re down, you never think you’ll be up again…but, life goes on.” – Blow