fredag 13 februari 2009

"Young and Stupid"

A few months shy of my 19th birthday, I crawled out on the ledge of a roped-off bridge with some fellow knuckleheads and jumped — falling about 35 feet to the bracing surface of Lake Washington. Cool! - That was young and stupid.
Earlier this week, we saw a lip-biting, brow-crunching Alex Rodriguez, arguably the best player in baseball and certainly the game’s most insincere human being, explain why he took performance-enhancing drugs in his prime.
“I was young, I was stupid, I was naive.”
Whoooaaa, A-Rod. Stop the tape. For the record, he was pumped up on steroids and other drugs from ages 26 through 28, while the highest-paid player in baseball, with a 10-year, $252 million contract. He was a man in full, but wants us to think of him as a boy. He was a corporation unto himself, a very calculated one at that. He cheated to get an edge. Then he lied about it. But if nothing else, the A-Rod ‘roid admission this week — after he famously looked Katie Couric in the eye in 2007 and denied ever taking drugs to help him perform — gives us a chance to parse the oldest of lame excuses: young and stupid. The best-known contemporary example is George W. Bush, who explained away spending nearly half his adult life in a stupor of alcoholic and self-indulgent excess by saying: “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.” After that, no reporter dared to ask about allegations of cocaine use, or try to get him to explain his arrest for driving while intoxicated. But Bush-the-life-story could have been a great teaching tool, or at least the start of a national debate on the young-and-stupid excuse and its consequences. The United States has the world’s largest prison system, with about 2.3 million people behind bars. Most of those criminals enter the system very young, with something very stupid — most often drugs or alcohol in excess — at the base of their crimes. At least one in five people in state prisons are doing time for drug offenses. What must they think, rotting away in musty cells, hearing a president or a celebrity athlete dismiss their mistakes with the hoary line of young and stupid?
The height of absurdity for the y&s excuse had to be Henry Hyde, the late silver-maned congressman who stood in judgment of Bill Clinton while chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. When it came out that the ever-pious Hyde had carried on a four-year affair with a married woman, he called it “a youthful indiscretion.”
Except Hyde was 45 years old, a married father of four, while engaging in this act of tender-age passion. It is one thing to forgive the doomed Juliet, not yet 14 and “a stranger in the world,” as Shakespeare wrote, for taking poison as part of an ill-thought-out plan to be with Romeo. Shakespeare himself married at 19 and understood that reason is no match for passion or stupidity at a young age.
Two weeks ago, readers took me to task for criticizing the teenage lover of Portland’s mayor, who said he knew what he was doing having sex with a middle-aged mentor. I disagreed, saying nobody really knows what they are doing at age 17.
But A-Fraud, George Bush and Henry Hyde were not underage slackers. They were prominent Americans and — dare I say — role models. If anyone deserves a young and stupid pass it’s Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer who was caught in a pose not unknown to anyone his age — snout inside a bong. Phelps seemed contrite in trotting out his young and stupid defense. “I’m 23 years old and despite the successes I’ve had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way,” he said. More like youthful and appropriate. I have a hard time going after him for taking a hit of pot after he spent most of his life as a robo-athlete. Still, for his mostly insignificant lapse, Kellogg dropped him as a sponsor — “not consistent with the image of Kellogg,” the cornflake-makers said — and U.S.A. Swimming suspended him from competition for three months. A-Rod will likely face no legal consequences, nothing from the the toothless barons of baseball. Phelps took his hit for recreation. Rodriguez did his drug to cheat the game and himself. He lied about it. And then he blamed it all on his age and pressure to perform because of his oversized contract. His punishment will come from the Bronx fans, brutal in their daily assessments, people who know that if they put a syringe in their arm while working with heavy equipment nobody will cut them a young-and-stupid break. So, the asterisk will follow Rodriguez to his grave, he and others from an inglorious period of baseball. But at the least, we should use this sorry episode to retire young and stupid as an excuse for callow and cunning.

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