It’s mid-June in Ocean City and one of the things that means for the locals is that our peaceful beach town is being inundated with seniors. And I don’t mean AARP card carrying walker hobblers emptying the bingo hall for a bus trip to Atlantic City. I mean the dangerous kind…recent high school graduates. I’ve spent the past few weeks introducing this year’s cast of characters in the bar, and I’ll come back to that next week, but I’d be remiss not to do a piece on that time of year that we collectively as locals (and tourists who poorly timed their visit) dread vigorously. There may be points during this segment when I sound like an old curmudgeon who starts every sentence with “these damned kids today” but I assure you, I’m not sitting on my porch swing in black socks and white sneakers with my pants pulled well above my naval shouting at neighborhood children to stay off of my lawn. No, I’m in fact writing this as perhaps one of the foremost local authorities on Senior Week behavior having been on it now for nearly 28 years.

I’ve mentioned many times here with tongue only partially in cheek that I came to Ocean City for Senior Week and forgot to leave. For the most part, that is pretty accurate. Nearly three decades, a small handful of jobs, a couple wives, and soon to be 5 kids later here I still am. I’m pacing myself, I don’t want to rush into anything. My standing mantra during that time has been, “when I grow up, I want to be me.” Admittedly, and without pride, I did spend a large portion of my time here living at least to a point as if I were in fact here for Senior Week. But as a different generation of Senior Weeker.

I remember with vivid clarity and great fondness my very first summer in town as a recent high school graduate. Six of my friends and I had an apartment on 84th street for the summer, so I wasn’t actually just here for the week. Prior to being a father, I used to say that if I lived to be 400 years old, that would still be the best four months of my life. I worked my butt off, but for some reason all I really remember was the fun. I know I worked, because the job I got the week I moved to town I ended up having for over 10 years. But we had a blast that summer.

However, our idea of fun and what I’m seeing from this next generation are monumentally different. I’m not implying that we stayed sober. I won’t say there wasn’t perhaps a law or two slightly bent. And we certainly weren’t heading any ethics committees or hosting weekly prayer group meetings at our place. I didn’t arrive in town with my belongings wrapped in a red bandana tied to the end of a stick propped on my shoulder. That’s not at all what I’m implying. I’m not saying that we were better, or even that we were less stupid. Because let’s face it, there are few things more dangerous than a recent high school graduate. They’re all convinced that they know everything yet more often than not, they’re the dumbest among us.

All I’m saying is that this new breed seems to me more reckless, destructive, violent, angry, and think they are bulletproof. They want to fight more, damage more, take more risks, and push the limits of the human body to the edge. They do so with seemingly no remorse or fear of repercussions. That’s the part that scares me.

I view the behavior of our “future” and it scares the crap out of me. It’s a constant reminder of what I refer to as “the sense of entitlement generation”. I’m 45 years old, I’ve been working full time for over 32 years (do the math), I paid for my own college, all of my own cars, and just about everything else I’ve had in that time. I’ve been one paycheck shy of homelessness and have admittedly been afraid to answer my phone or open my mail at times. But never once did I think that anything was owed to me. I never wanted, asked for, expected, or accepted any handouts of any type. If I screwed up, I took responsibility for my actions and suffered the consequences. I just can’t wrap my head around how or why so many of these kids feel entitled. So I started thinking about it.

Apparently, during my lifetime, some moron came up with the concept of the “self-esteem movement”. This is this fuzzy little world where it’s more important for our children to grow up feeling good about themselves than to develop any marketable skills, knowledge, code of ethics, or sense of human decency. Whatever flowers in her hair, piccolo playing, spritely simpleton pitched this concept made it sound Utopian enough for other non-thinkers to jump on board. And why not, it was a pretty P.C. idea, and what’s the worst that could happen? Take a good look around you and you’ll find the answer to that.

We are now seeing the unfortunate byproduct of this ridiculous concept. This provided the impetus for what is now a tragically flawed education system. Now let me say right now that this is by no means an attack on teachers. In fact, all of my teacher friends (and there are many) with whom I’ve discussed these thoughts agree with me wholeheartedly. They just can’t say it out loud. I look around at these kids making complete asses of themselves and I’m now reminded why. And I don’t mean all of the next generation. There are many diamonds in the rough with very bright futures and respect for others. I’m talking about the ones who I look down on from my perch and see screaming like a banshee and running shirtless into heavy traffic at midnight (when I say perch, that was not a metaphor, I work a rooftop bar and can see all of this.)

These kids have done nothing for the past 13 years but prepare for the next standardized test. And if enough of them did shitty on one, we’d lower the standards and make it easier. They’ve spent their entire lives lauded and rewarded for mediocrity. Everyone gets a trophy, or a certificate of achievement, or a ceremony celebrating the completion of something taxing like the third grade. I’m sorry if I come off like a cynical prick, but we can’t keep letting these kids think that life is like the closing minutes of an episode of Eight is Enough, or the finish line at the Special Olympics. Man up, take some responsibility, learn something useful, behave like a decent member of society.

Who am I to say these things you ask? Well, I didn’t take any of my education seriously and now I’m a 45-year-old bartender at the beach. Again, you do the math. Some of these kids will make a decision this week that will negatively influence their entire lives. And it pains me to see that. Get ready for the real world kids. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re not all ‘special’ like you’ve been told growing up. If you were, than the word ‘special’ by its very definition would cease to exist. Each of my children is very special to me, but I’m not sitting at the dinner table telling them they’ll all walk on the moon one day.

I’m sorry if it seems like I was on my soap box a little too much this week. It just seems like one of those taboos that we don’t discuss and should. Truth is, for each one of these kids acting like a goof, there’s another one who gives me hope for the future. Congratulations to all of you on your graduation. I wish you all the best. Please be safe and courteous while you are here.

On a personal note, the day this posts my youngest daughter (at the moment at least) will turn 3-years-old. Happy birthday Flower, Daddy loves you.

Thanks for playing along. Until next week, Syd Nichols

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