When I was in elementary school back in Wisconsin, I remember flexing my arithmetical prowess (actually, the concept of subtraction reduced me to tears in first grade and required special tutelage from my classmate) and realizing that in 1997 I would be 20. I remember that it felt much the same way that 1980 must have felt like in Sci-Fi terms to people in the 50s. Certainly by then there would be space exploration, flying cars and cloud cities. Beyond that, I had no idea what "20" would look like, feel like, mean, or anything beyond the fact that it would occur in the year 1977 + 20 (I was particularly proud of not needing a calculator to figure that one out). It has to be the adult equivalent to when you reach those glorious and mythical "double digits" when you are child. It certainly must be twice as cool as turning 10 (merely a turn of phrase, I was not so bright to recognize that 10 x 2 = 20).
Then something unexpected happened. I'm not talking about leaving Wisconsin, moving to Guam, figuring out I was "different," dad losing his job, the discovery that certain chemicals make you feel "different" and "less different" at the same time, discovering punk, discovering that punk mostly sucked, dropping out of college, or any of the other unexpected turns my life took. It was something that happened at a County Fair. Amidst the funnel cake-peddling booths and funnel cake-ejecting rides, there was a purple tent with stars and moons and hands (and no greedy Lucky Charms Leprechaun to chase down as the kids did in the commercials). For something like a dollar (it could have been more or less... my math, as we have established...), I could get my fortune told. I don't remember too many particulars of the experience, other than walking away with the understanding that I would not live to see 20. Strangely enough, on another occasion at a different County Fair, another "fortune teller" confirmed this. These are not necessarily the nicest things to tell a relatively well-behaved boy from solid Mid-Western stock.
These events may be where the word fortune took on a sinister connotation in my book. I was the kid who'd get the fortune cookie at the end of the meal that would read something like "Rome wasn't built in a day, and you're no brick-layer." Fortune became something to be made or had for other people. For me, it was something that was coming to get me.
As most children do, I took the news as if it really had nothing to do with me, and I went about my life. There were more pressing matters than 20, after all (see above). Still, in the back of my mind, there was always this sense that the flying cars and space exploration should really get here early if I was to enjoy THE FUTURE.
After I dropped out of college and moved back to Guam, my life had settled into a surreal mundanity. Work, sex, drinking, art, etc. sort of became a mainstay of a life that felt simultaneously on hold and coming to a close. I felt a bit like someone had told me, "You've got 6 weeks to live, what are you going to do to make the most of it?" but had a such a bad case of ennui which prevented my bothering to care.
Over a drunken night at Denny's, our sober-up-enough-to-drive-home haunt, while I was lifting silverware and my roommates were "grocery shopping" (a nice way of saying we stocked many of our sundries by lifting condiments from restaurants), I confessed this back story to my roommates. They sat listening with awe (they may have been drunk and impatient for their side orders to arrive) and incredulity. Augmented no doubt by the effect alcohol has on my ability to express my feelings, though, it soon became apparent that this pending (if not impending) doom was bothering me just a bit. Therefore, it soon became settled that live or die, my 20th birthday would an occasion to remember. I may not live to see 20 years and a day, but my roommates were certain to tell the epic and heroic tale of me turning 20. I remember approaching it with a sense of giddy anticipation and dread.