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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Students inquire about same insanity as parents did

Jamie Tobias Neely The Spokesman-Review

I overheard my college students talking about their favorite authors the other day. Hunter S. Thompson’s name came up – in those adoring tones only a college kid can muster.

My reaction: “They’re still reading Hunter S. Thompson? Will college life never change?”

And once again, I fell into a familiar time-warp, an experience that began back when my own daughters hit preschool.

They sang “I’m a Little Teapot” and “The Itsie-Bitsie Spider,” drank Kool-Aide and cut out construction paper triangles, circles and squares to learn both shapes and colors.

Just like I had 30 years earlier.

Elementary school was even eerier. The artwork taped to the elementary school windows – autumn leaves, Thanksgiving turkeys made of handprints – were just the same. So were the Pledge of Allegiance, the spongy, maroon playground balls and the salty, gluey taste of the Tater Tots.

On to seventh grade: Kids there still passed notes, still fretted over every strand of hair and every adjustment of the braces, even bought Clearasil and Noxzema.

Stranger yet, the guidance counselor still had a crew cut. Kids seemed to mysteriously rediscover platform shoes.

This was all too weird. They kept reading the same books I had. They trudged home with copies of “Romeo and Juliet” and “On Walden Pond.” One daughter’s favorite during her junior year in high school was “Catcher in the Rye.”

They wore bell bottoms, and long, straight hair, and filmy shirts made in India. What they called “grunge” looked amazingly like “hippie” to me.

They bought old ‘70s clothes at thrift stores. My J.D. Salinger fan painted her room avocado green. She listened to Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles.

Would the madness never end? My entire life, right down to the fashions and the fads, seemed to repeat itself before my very eyes.

Surely college life would bring a startling batch of novelty and innovation to their days and mine.

I showed up on campuses with my daughters. Students posted peace symbols in their windows. They went to keggers. They popped popcorn in their dorm rooms and heated up Top Ramen in their Hot Pots.

One daughter graduated, and we celebrated by joining another set of parents at a local college bar. It was called The Green, I believe.

And it was exactly like every college bar I’d ever set foot in. The smell of smoke and beer and heightened hormones wafted through the room.

The music. Flirting. The tangible sense of exhilaration that can only come from finally setting foot into the long-forbidden adult world.

It was exactly the same.

No, we didn’t have navel rings, lower-back tattoos or hip-hop when I was young. But so little else has changed.

This year I ventured back into the classroom, teaching a journalism writing course. The students looked reassuringly familiar – identical, in fact, to the crew of adolescents that until recently was piling into our TV room every Friday and Saturday night to watch videos, eat the pizzas I stocked in our freezer especially for them and help themselves to Diet Pepsi from the kitchen window seat.

I knew Gen Y to be particularly energetic, bright and ambitious. They were raised to have high self-esteem, to be leaders and achievers. This generation loves to see themselves much as we did — individuals. Originals.

And they are.

Except they’re reading Hunter S. Thompson and poring over Rolling Stone magazine, for crying out loud.

Last week Thompson shot himself. He’d always been a bad end waiting to happen. Brilliant. Insane. Addicted. One tortured, violent genius.

When I was a college student, those wild geniuses of the ‘60s and ‘70s seemed so cool, so much braver and smarter than I, who followed a less adventuresome path. I actually believed my parents about so many things.

I followed their example, whether on purpose or in spite of myself, and wound up with a life of routines, challenges, marriage, children and career. Not a gonzo journalist.

A feature writer. Not Gloria Steinem. An everyday feminist mom. Not a Rolling Stone. A reluctant homeowner whose back steps do indeed grow moss.

I wanted to tell those students something. To tell them insane brilliance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. To warn them away. To try the line I fruitlessly interjected between gales of laughter whenever my daughters and I watched NBC’s “Friends” together: “That isn’t as much fun as it looks.”

A bitingly original rebel who embraces drugs and sex and guns like the rest of us seek love and friends and family can’t show us the way to that which lasts. His words were enduring. His approach to life was not.

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold,” Thompson wrote in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” His wild, fantastic ride hides in its glove compartment a map of the road to nowhere.

But you know what? The students in my class will figure out those lessons all on their own. Life will explain it better than I can.

Some things never change.

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