A Gen X Craving

As time wears on—and it inevitably does—having a sibling from an older generation than your own can start to feel more palpable. Their decade-specific interests and persistent clinging to things remaining “a certain way” become markedly noticeable. Ava hadn’t seen her older sister, Jessica, in almost a year since the pandemic had kept families and friends apart. And now that they had been able to come together in their hometown for the Christmas season, she had quickly discerned just how much Jessica’s Gen X mannerisms and “tells” were seemingly solidified since the last time they had seen one another. Perhaps while she was holed up alone in her apartment for all those months, all she had watched were old episodes of My So-Called Life, Party of Five and Beverly Hills 90210. That’s the curse of the endless amount of “choice” available in the present: it gives everyone the license and ability to create whatever reality—complete with time period—they wish to tap into. Ergo, reality has never been more subjective.

Except that, in the younger generations’ case, it’s plain to see when someone of an older generation is willfully choosing to stay out of touch with the present (not that anybody can blame them). Ava couldn’t evade seeing that characteristic in Jessica. While “post-boomers” like her had blazed the trail for millennial and Gen Z behavior in many respects, what made them come across as “antiquated” now was their literalness. Their lack of wielding “send-up” irony and post-truth modernism as though it were armor made them read as too naively earnest. Ava was starting to notice that quality in Jessica to the point where it was all she could see. And though she didn’t want to be annoyed by how literally Jessica took every statement, every joke, it was already getting on her nerves and it hadn’t even been a full week spent together yet.

It was instances such as these when Ava wished her mother had given birth to more children. Some “extras” who could take the pressure off the intensity of being part of a “duo.” Well, Ava had been trying to carve out her own place in the world ever since she left for college and was finally free from being under the oppressive thumb of her elder sister. Passing off that oppressiveness as “protectiveness.” But if that were the truth, where was Jessica when Ava got raped? Where was she when Ava was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning? All the things Jessica never did because she was too “good,” too “pure.” And that’s exactly why Ava wanted to do them. She wanted to distinguish herself from Jessica in as many ways as possible. This also meant dressing in a preppy-goth sort of fashion that went entirely against Jessica’s persistent mid-90s Gap commercial aesthetic. Ava had to get tattoos as well. And piercings. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. It was the silent mantra driving her entire existence. An inexplicable need inside of her to never be like Jessica.

Of course, there had been a time in her life when, like many little sisters, she looked up to Jessica. This had been in the heyday of Gen X dominance, circa 1992-1997. But when ’98 rolled around, and with it, the appearance of Britney Spears, it was as though a switch was flipped within Ava and she wanted to run as far in the opposite direction as possible from Jessica.

And so, while she once relished the chance to be “anointed” as the shotgun rider in Jessica’s silver Honda Accord, it was now something she firmly rebuffed. No, she didn’t want to go with Jessica to the 7-Eleven to get a Slurpee. Or peruse through the CDs and tapes at Tower. She wanted, simply, to be left alone. To not have the infection of Gen X’s “values” on her own very separate millennial ones. Jessica, in effect, was no longer “cool.” She was actually “hella gay” by the time 2002 rolled around. And while Ava never used that homophobic turn of phrase herself, it was what she thought. It was her then-current view of the person she had once admired. Funny how becoming a more semi-sentient creature (a.k.a. a teenager) turns one into a total monster. A self-obsessed bitch concerned only with appearances, no matter what generation you find yourself growing up in.

After high school and college, Ava continued to fortify the distance she had long been cultivating between herself and Jessica. The latter ultimately gave up on trying to stay close in the same way that they had once been, all those years ago in Ava’s preadolescence. The era when 7-Eleven was ramping up the “retooled” promotion of its most signature product for a new generation. The one also dubbed “the MTV generation.” As such, they needed “slick editing,” a “gimmick.” So in ’94, there was this Brothers Quay stop-motion animation commercial with a contortionist who bends over backward to drink a Slurpee, only to incur the dreaded brain freeze.

Throughout this blip in Gen X supremacy, there were other, more straightforward varietals of making light of the “dangerous” after-effect of drinking the concoction. For example, a commercial that shows a pudgy kid sitting on a lawn chair in a decidedly typical barren (read: trashy) landscape posing as an American backyard. He screams (in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Michael Jackson in “Black or White” or “Scream”) after taking a sip. Once it passes, he chuckles and notes to the audience, “Brain freeze.” A voiceover then adds, “So good, it hurts.” This portion of the tag line speaking to a moment in history when it was still okay to trumpet the benefits and payoffs of pain, as opposed to avoiding all talk of that in current marketing due to the Gen Z aversion to experiencing anything but pleasure and instant gratification. The voiceover concluded (to images of someone pulling the spigot’s handle to let out an orange-hued nightmare), “Slurpee: the coolest thing on Earth.”

Ava had expunged all of that early indoctrination from her mind; it was still Jessica who couldn’t shake the idea of the Slurpee, firmly implanted as it was in her “upbringing.” While in high school, it was the “activity” to do: drive to the 7-Eleven after the final period and sit in the parking lot doing fuck-all. Except maybe finding another parking lot to do some donuts in. It was all very The Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” video. In the present day, Ava, with no job obligations to fulfill as a result of the holiday break, agreed to go with Jessica on a car ride to 7-Eleven. She figured it was the least she could do after so many decades spent evading it. Pretending she was “too cool” for “the coolest thing on Earth.”

Upon pulling into the empty parking lot, the aura of desolation—complete with some tumbleweed garbage—gave the 7-Eleven a post-apocalyptic feel. It was clear that many Gen Xers had long abandoned their former beverage of choice. Jessica seemed to be, to use a likely offensive phrase, the last of the Mohicans on this front. Hopelessly devoted, tirelessly committed. Entering the shop, the lone occupant, a cashier who had likely been working there since 1994 (the residual acne scars faintly allowing Ava to espy a glimmer of his teenage self), barely glanced up at them in acknowledgement.

After Jessica advised her on getting the cherry flavor, while she opted for the even more ultra-classic Coke flavor, they paid and exited from the time warp. Once they were in the car and in motion, Ava finally surrendered to taking a sip (whereas Jessica had already greedily gulped most of hers down).

The taste sent a shockwave through her body, and she was reminded of what Billy Corgan had once said: she was “bored by the chore of saving face.” She wouldn’t do it any longer, giving in entirely to the delight of the Slurpee. Its cold, synthetic tang (not to be confused with the synthetic drink mix of the same name that was also popular in the 90s) making its way down her gullet as she gave up all notions of having an allegiance to any generation but the “latchkey” one.


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