As we vault full speed, and head long into our peak season, I’ve already noticed the telltale signs that summer is here. Still in the formative weeks of the summer of 2013, the sights, sounds, and even smells are already omnipresent and overwhelming. As I limp into my twenty-fifth year in our cute little beach town, I’m reminded of a few things that come to me about this time every year. The first is that, as each new summer is unique in its own way, for the most part, each summer is really the same. The cast members change, but the show pretty much sticks to its annual repetitive script.

The second is that as fun and wonderful as Ocean City is, to some it can prove to be a vast bog of emotional quicksand. If you’re not careful, this could be the place where sound decisions, rational thoughts, clean records, innocence, dignity, pride, good judgment, hopes, dreams, and bright futures can sink and disappear into a gaping abyss of nothingness. While others may find that their time spent in OC provides them with the impetus to embark on a bright and fruitful future.

It’s really all in how you approach it. It’s mid June now, so a large portion of the visitors to town are recent high school graduates. Having now been on Senior Week for twenty-five years, I consider myself the foremost authority on the subject. I’ve done it all; I’ve seen it all. I was ashamed of most of it, and a lot of it I just don’t remember. There were many years where for every step forward, I took four steps back. But all of it ultimately brought me to where I am today. I may have always pushed things to the edge, but I never actually jumped off.

I am fully aware that as a recent high school graduate, you are in fact the smartest person in the world. Hell, everyone knows that! You are the only person on the planet who knows literally everything, and is profoundly cognizant of the fact that all of the rest of us are idiots. I am eternally envious of both the omniscience, and the confidence that you possess. You inspire me to wish that I weren’t so stupid. I know that the last thing in the world you want or need is a little advice, especially from a weathered old fart like me. But, if only for the sake of entertainment, perhaps you should at least take a quick gander at this string of pearls I’m about to lie down before you. Just humor me for a moment, and you may come away even wiser than the genius you already were.

You’ve now conquered the perils and complications of high school and in your mind at this moment THAT is the most difficult thing that anyone has ever had to do. I hate to be a speed bump on your victory lap, but you might want to tap the brakes. I’m not one to be a downer, but it’s going to get a bit more difficult. When you hear seasoned old vets of reckless life like myself say things like, “high school is the best time of your life,” in many ways it has some merit. I’d slay a herd of angry, doped up Minotaurs using nothing more than a ping pong paddle just to go back to high school for one month. I was young and in shape with a bright future that I didn’t realize. I was the starting quarterback who never had much trouble finding temporary companionship. I did exactly just enough work in school to get by, and nothing more. I was a waiter in the best restaurant in the area making obscene money for someone my age. And the list of things I had to pay for with that money consisted of gas for my awesome car, condoms to stock that car with, cheap beer purchased with my fake ID, the occasional bag of herbal substance to unnecessarily enhance my already dangerous personality, and late night munchies at the Hardee’s drive through window on Reisterstown Road.

Now, a quarter century later, I’m working three times as hard, making half the money, and with the exception of gas for my car, none of the above mentioned items are even on my grocery list, let alone priorities. Things change, they change fast (not necessarily in every case, but maybe in yours), and they sometimes change drastically. It’s not a bad thing; you just have to be prepared. Live like the ant and not the grasshopper to a point, so you’re prepared when great things come your way. Keep your eyes, your mind, and your heart open or you might miss out.

You may have noticed, I mentioned condoms earlier. They are without a doubt the single greatest, and most useful creation associated with mankind – more vital than the discovery of fire, and more useful and necessary than the invention of the wheel. Don’t be afraid to take full advantage of the existence of this product, at least for the next several years. Have them, use them! Because whatever you think you can handle right now, I can pretty much guarantee that you can’t. I can also say with conviction, that if the concept of you spawning right now were brought to a vote, not one single person would be lobbying for you to procreate. So wrap it up and put that project on the back burner for awhile. I don’t really think that the unfortunate by-product of a chance encounter initiated by several cans of Old Milwaukee, and $6 handle of shitty bourbon would have a super bright future at this juncture. The offspring of a relationship that spanned about six, “I think I’m gonna puke” hours more than likely would not have a future void of self esteem issues. I’m just sayin.

Oh now, come back Catholics. It’s all just for entertainment purposes. Lighten up a bit. It’s OK to laugh at this crap. No one takes me seriously anyway. Besides, did you forget that I’m the guy with four kids created in three different decades? Anyway, back to the Senior Week kids. If I can save but one soul…

Throughout your stay here in the land of perpetual fun by the sea, you’ll be faced with many decisions to make. Some may be complete minutiae, and so seemingly trivial that they go unnoticed. Others may be a little more complicated because this is your first time ever away from home and off of the proverbial leash. These are decisions you’ve never had to make for yourself before.

I wish there were a way to type in the voice of Yoda, but there’s not, so you have to read this next part with his voice in your head. CHOOSE WISELY. You can fight it, and try to deny it all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that “IT” is there. The “IT” I’m referring to is that tiny little voice in your head. It’s that faint little echo in the gaping quagmire that is your mind. It’s the subtle voice that reminds you about right and wrong. It’s the one that you may not hear for decades and suddenly it says, that’s a bad idea. We all have it, but some people are better at blocking it out than others. I like to refer to them as Short Timers, because if you ignore that voice enough times, you won’t be here for very long. Please trust me when I say, that when you hear the voice, no matter how faint and distant it may be, it is in your best interest to listen to it. I promise you that the shame associated with turning down a double dare that involved a lot of booze, a third story balcony, and someone questioning your testicular fortitude will diminish long before the subsequent injuries that would have come along with you ignoring the voice.

These are the opening days of your adult life. The future is bright, the world is your oyster (whatever the hell that means), and there are some really fantastic things to see on the long road of life. Don’t let a single bad decision made during a less-than-coherent time effect the entire rest of your life. I know it sounds like I’m being melodramatic, but I’ve seen too many instances. It could end a life. It could cause you or someone else serious injury. It could end with damaged property. It could end a relationship, or friendship. Or it could end with you having a police record attached to every job application for the rest of your life. So just listen to the voice.

And just a quick reminder of some facts that you may have forgotten: You are NOT bullet proof, you are NOT invisible, you cannot fly, you are NOT as silent as you think, you cannot defy the laws of physics, and gravity, you are NOT flying under the radar. You are NOT of legal drinking age. Things are NOT as bad as they may seem. And someone WILL miss you if you’re gone. Despite what you may think, the girl who dumped you, or blew you off earlier tonight, wasn’t the one for you. She’s not even nearly as hot as you and she think, and in a year you won’t remember her name. Believe it or not, your parents are worried sick about you right at this very moment, and are questioning themselves for allowing you to be here. Just because you run into the middle of Coastal Highway, doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the cars will be able to stop in time. You are NOT wearing a suit of armor nor are you wrapped in several layers of bubble wrap. Or, maybe you are, but either way, use the cross walks. They are there for a very good reason.

And finally, if you are walking down the middle of the road after 11:00 PM, and you are shirtless, still wearing sunglasses, screaming at the top of your lungs, and making obscene, and/or threatening gestures to every vehicle that passes, your night is going to end in one of two places. Neither of them bode well for you. The police station and the hospital are not listed in our pamphlet of local attractions and fun things to see and do for a reason.

Well I didn’t intend for this one to be solely geared toward recent grads, but I guess it morphed from diatribe to public service announcement before I even realized it. I hope it helps. Upon further review however, the 17-20 market isn’t exactly my usual target demographic. Oh well, I tried. Thanks for playing along everybody.

On a personal note, one year ago this week I found the final piece of a really fantastic puzzle. Placing this piece and finally completing the puzzle was possibly the most rewarding moment of my life. I can now go on knowing that I am whole. The puzzle piece came in the form of a beautiful, 8 pound 2 ounce blue eyed little cherub. She would immediately become Daddy’s Little Flower. The puzzle, of course, was my life. Happy first birthday Fallon! Daddy loves you. You complete me.

Until next week,

Syd Nichols

Editor’s note: Last week’s Shorebilly’s Swill was written by Syd Nichols; it was initially misattributed. You can read that column again, right here