Burt Prelutsky

Isn't it odd how commonplace it is to have laws dictating a minimum age for drinking, driving and getting married, but not for selecting a career? How is it that teenagers are not only allowed to make such momentous decisions, but actually encouraged? High schools hold career days just to make certain that 17-year-olds will determine what they'll be doing forty or fifty years down the road.

Am I the only one who finds the practice bizarre? Even terrifying? Most adults, after all, wouldn't trust these kids to pick out a tie or to pre-set even one button on the car radio, but they're expected to have sufficient judgment to select an occupation? In this single, all-important, area, the maturity and wisdom that they've displayed in no other area of their lives is suddenly taken for granted!

Doesn't it strike anybody else as peculiar that one day they want to grow up to be cowboys and astronauts, and the very next day, we're sitting them down and saying, "But, what do you really want to be when you grow up?" One can't help wondering how many 60-year-old dentists and insurance salesmen wake up each morning, leveling curses at their teenage ghosts.

As a writer, what I find intriguing is that when kids are two or three, every bit of creative expression -- from swaying to music to sculpting mounds out of his mashed potatoes -- is glommed onto as a sure sign of genius. However, let an adolescent express a desire to pursue the arts professionally, and his parents will react as if he'd voiced an inclination to take up smuggling or sheepherding.

The single exception, for obvious reasons, is acting -- that being the one form of artistic expression where youngsters can hold their own; and, thus, in accordance with Alfred P. Doolittle's utopian view of the world, support their parents.

Acting is, so far as I can tell, the one thing that grown-ups often do for no better reason than that they were doing it as tots. I mean, you won't run into a lot of four-year-old lawyers or five-year-old accountants, but SAG's roster is full of members who have spent frustrating decades pursuing acting careers simply because they were in a cereal commercial when they were three. When you realize that the profession is rife with eight-year-old has-beens, it's easy to understand why success so often turns them into monsters with the appetites, egos and table manners, of enormous babies.

If it were up to me, I'd reverse things entirely. I'd give Social Security to the young, as they're the only ones who can possibly support themselves on it, and I wouldn't set them on their career paths until they were at least 30 and ready to settle down. Under my system, there'd be no retirement age. Old folks, as we all know, are the only people really eager to serve in the work place, and the only ones who, in response to a customer's complaint, would never think of saying, "Why are you telling me? I only work here!"




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