Dear Teen Bruce,
You’re going about the deadly-serious business of being a teenager all wrong.
I mean, take a hard look at yourself. Boys-regular haircut. White dress shirt. Drab Sears Roebuck suit jacket. Skinny tie. And not just for the class picture, either. You’re wearing that same uptight get-up to high school every day. You’re a carbon copy of carbon copies. Yawn.
Come on, kid! It’s the sixties. Rock’n roll. The Watusi and the Hully Gully. The British Invasion. Anti-war protests. Bell-bottom jeans. Explosive tie-dyed shirts. Mop-tops a la John, Paul, George and Ringo. Sure, the uptight principal is sending guys home for showing up to school that way, but the cool kids don’t give a crap what that square dude thinks.
So get with it.
Okay, that’s better. Not good, but better. The huge aviator glasses are a bit much, so get yourself some small wire-rims like the ones John Lennon wears. And ditch that ugly floppy-collared sweater. But keep those natural curls for as long as you can. I hate to be the one to break it to you, kiddo but you won’t have those springy locks forever.
Sorry for starting my message from the future with something as shallow as fashion, but people—especially girls—will forever judge you by the way you look. And you’d better look cool in high school because you’re going to end up spending half of your life there.
Yeah, I know it’s only four years; but even when you’re in your sixties, it’s going to feel like you spent half of your lifetime inside those sterile walls. So try to make the best of it.
Stop loathing your first name. So what if the other kids call you Bruce the Goose? They call your pain-in-the-butt brother Dennis the Menace, and you don’t see him slitting his wrists over it. Besides, there are a couple of younger kids growing up in New Jersey who are going to make the name super cool someday. In time, you’re gonna be a big fan of Bruce Springsteen and Bruce Willis.
- When your mother insists you take up the clarinet instead of the guitar, do not give in. I don’t care how much she loves Benny Goodman. Nobody listens to swing anymore. I don’t know why anybody ever did. If you let her have her way, you will live to regret it.
- Whatever you do, don’t play that stupid licorice stick in the high school marching band. The green and yellow uniforms couldn’t look more ridiculous if they came without pants. You’re gonna hate tromping through the mud and snow at halftime of every football game. And the band sounds like thirty tone-deaf clowns playing off key in different rooms. High school is hard enough without subjecting yourself to that humiliation.
- The next time that jerk, Francis, gives you a hard time, give him two black eyes and toss him in a Dumpster. You know you’re up to it, and if you don’t give him what he has got coming, he’ll haunt your dreams.
- Don’t let your mother throw out your baseball cards. They’re going to be worth something someday. And one day, you’ll have kids of your own. Grandkids, too. Seven of ‘em.
- And when your English teacher, Mr. Dwyer, pulls you aside and tells you that you’re eventually going to find yourself writing from compulsion, don’t roll your eyes and say you’re going to be a geologist. That man’s a wizard. He can see the future.
Okay, that was the easy stuff. Now we need to have a heart-to-heart about Daphne.
Yes, I know she’s beautiful. Just look at her sitting beside you at that high school dance. I get why you’re so obsessed. You lose yourself in her eyes. But you know deep down that she’s bad news. Dump her, buddy. I know it’s hard, but do it now, before it’s too late.
If you don’t, she’s going to smash your heart into so many pieces that it will be years before you recover. Why not ask that little spitfire, Peggy, out? She digs you. Too bad she’s not going to tell you that until your twentieth high school reunion.
You’ve got some big surprises in store after high school, my man. The world is a lot bigger than your tiny Massachusetts hometown. Your career as a journalist is going to take you from Washington, D.C., to Beijing, China. And when you’re done with that, you’re going to write books—hardboiled crime novels like the ones by your favorite writers, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Despite the way you feel now, you’re going to end up digging the Rolling Stones way more than the Beatles. And your childhood heroes—Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell and your Dad—will still be your heroes when you’re collecting Social Security.
So let me leave you with three final bits of advice:
Don’t eat so much pizza. Your arteries with thank you.
Always have a big canine or two in your life, because nothing in this world keeps your head straight like a good dog.
And marry your third wife first. She’s perfect for you; and by the time you buy a house together near where Bruce Springsteen grew up, nobody’s going to be scandalized that she’s as black as the President of the United States.
Bruce DeSilva grew up in a tiny Massachusetts mill town where the mill closed when he was ten. He had an austere childhood bereft of iPods, X-Boxes, and all the other cool stuff that hadn’t been invented yet. In this parochial little town, metaphors and alliteration were also in short supply. Nevertheless, his crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; has been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry Awards; and has been published in ten foreign languages. His short stories have appeared in Akashic Press’s award-winning noir anthologies. He has reviewed books for The New York Times Sunday Book Review and Publishers Weekly, and his reviews for The Associated Press have appeared in hundreds of other publications. Previously, he was a journalist for forty years, most recently as writing coach world-wide for AP, editing stories that won nearly every major journalism prize including the Pulitzer. He and his wife, the poet Patricia Smith, live in New Jersey with two enormous dogs named Brady and Rondo.