This tale was performed at the International Tom Hanks Day Your Stories event, presented by The Nerdologues, in March 2016. You can listen to it here.
I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say most of the people in the audience watched their first Tom Hanks movie when they were a kid. And, since we were all likely between the ages of six and twelve when we first caught The Burbs or Big or Sleepless In Seattle, Tom Hanks first appeared in our individual and collective subconscious not as the young, affable movie star he was in his first heyday but as someone kind of…old.
Boyish, sure. Charming, yeah. But old enough to be a young dad. Or young detective. Or young vague sort of businessman. He was young enough to have what my middle-aged fifth-grade teacher mysteriously deemed “presence”, but old enough to wear suits, buy plane tickets, have sex, and be mad at his neighbors. Plus, he was the cinematic embodiment of something rarely existent in movies, or even life today:
The reluctant but reliable romantic.
Could you count on Tom Hanks to pull out all the stops on a first date? No, but you sure as hell could count on him to pull together a really winning montage of eleventh-hour, get-the-girl romance once he pulled his head out of his ass and realized this. Was. IT!
Because of the cinematic antics of “young” (old) Tom Hanks, we pre-aughts kids knew at least what the movie version of grown-ups did or ought to do. They were funny and grumpy and did big things for love when it came down to it- while wearing a rumpled, slim-fitting grey suit.
Sometimes there was baseball. Sometimes there were mermaids. Often there was Meg Ryan. But always, always, always there was Tom Hanks being the good guy, the real guy, the old-enough-to-be-your-dad guy.
Tom Hanks was the face of adulting when adulting was just called being an adult.
And, when we were all kids, we knew it would take us sooooooo super long to become our version of Tom Hanks-level grownup. By the time we did, we’d probably own two houses with the love of our lives (one in New York and one in London), and all be successful marine biologists with a rainbow tie-dye fashion sideline. When we weren’t also being an actress. And a writer. And an independent but effective private detective. Who owned ponies.
Yet, here we all are.
Tom Hanks was a movie star in the prime of his youth, and we…
We are all in the subprime of our youth.
People freak out about this.
Yet a unique group of people tend to freak out about it this in what is an at best, entertaining, and at worst, teeth-gratingly obnoxious way:
If you are or have met a creative type, you know a fortunate-slash-unfortunate side effect of being one is an impressive but soul-sucking desperation to leave some mark, any mark, of yourself and opinion on the face of the world forever until the heat death of the universe and perhaps beyond.
By the time you’re 25.
When this in all likelihood doesn’t pan out, said creative types can turn to strange outlets to achieve some semblance of satisfaction in the search of their fool headed goals.
One of those outlets is the Internet. More specifically, Twitter.
And before I get into the meat of this, I want to let you in on a little secret. I, myself, am a “creative type.” One of my best friends, Katie, is as well. And though we may look not a day over 18, we are in fact more than a smidge older than 25. We don’t own houses. We don’t own ponies. We don’t own our own independent but effective detective agency or rainbow tie-dye fashion sideline.
But what we do own and did, even in the early years of our friendship, is an endless love for each other and an endless desire to make something of ourselves.
And what we did own, along with a few other creative type friends of ours a few years ago, was a shit-ton of free time to make fake Twitter accounts.
It started as a bit between the two of us in 2013. A bit is what comedy folk call a joke, but the joke is usually only funny to the ones making it. But this bit went a bit …beyond.
In 2013, I was running an afterschool program and Katie was an assistant to a millionaire asshole. We carried out both jobs with mixed satisfaction, and a running joke for us both was our love of the movies of our youth and her fanatic devotion- and sexual attraction- to young Tom Hanks. One way or another, we ended up each creating a fake Twitter account. Her, one as Young Tom Hanks. Me, one as Young Meg Ryan.
There are few ways more bizarre or satisfying than acting out your own deep but platonic same-sex friendship than by role-playing as young Tom Hanks and young Meg Ryan on Twitter, and we played this oddity to the hilt. At first, our playful Nora Ephron-esque Twitter banter just struck our friends as “another weird thing Larissa and Katie are doing to amuse themselves.”
The tweets mixed “real” reality with movie reality, and our Young Tom Hanks and Young Meg Ryan fell in the same strained and sassy sort of love their characters did again and again onscreen. Until Young Meg Ryan met Young Dennis Quaid, of course.
Until other “Youngs” started adding themselves to the conversation.
The bit between Katie and I became a bit between a small group of our friends…we thought? We didn’t know who anyone was “playing,” and our Twitter notifications became a surreal blast from a past we never actually lived as Young Julia Roberts cropped up. Young Keanu Reeves. Young Michael J Fox. Hell, even Young Eric Stoltz showed up. And Young Teri Garr. A panoply of movie stars who were young in the 80s/90s of our youth were suddenly young again, and on Twitter, talking about getting stood up or coked up or traveling back in time.
It was a strange- very strange- fever that was spreading throughout a group of twelve or fifteen of us. It went beyond a shared bit quickly, as people “chose” their “Youngs” because they matched some aspects of who the tweeter was, or wanted to be. People “played” multiple “Youngs,” as well, and I found myself falling in love with my own creation of a Young Chris Walken, who tweeted odd non sequiturs and pointed observations when he wasn’t showing off his tap skills. On Twitter.
I found some small part of myself becoming the awkward man with a dancer’s body and psychopath’s brain I have always suspected lives inside my own awkward human woman body- and I was loving it.
Other people were loving it, too. The shy friend who found ease and grace in being a witty Young Robert Downy Junior. The bigger guy who got to be handsome Young Chevy Chase. The private, remote friend who got to weird it up as Young Keanu Reeves. The loveless lass who got to tear up the night as Young Teri Garr, banging her way through The Old New Young Hollywood. On Twitter.
In the dead of night, before the real people went to sleep, in the pink of morning, as we all groggy and giggling checked our phones, in the lunchtime crunch we all started to feel less alone, less not-so-young anymore, together.
If it sounds like I’m talking about a cult, it SHOULD sound like I’m talking about a cult. Whatever strange fire burns in the hearts and minds of cult members just before they drink the Kool-Aid or put on their death Nikes, Katie and I and our friends were feeling our own. We weren’t just pretending to be the young old young versions of our childhood movie stars anymore.
We were becoming them.
Until the Twitter feds shut the Young Tom Hanks Twitter account down.
Before the collective “Youngs” could recover from the shock, so, too, Big Brother struck down Young Meg Ryan. Young Val Kilmer caught some static, too, but really. What surprise was that?
The real surprise was that a handful of joke Twitter accounts with nay but twenty followers between them really posed a threat to any of the real celebrity brands we were co-opting. The fever to “free the Youngs” now supplanted our fever to be “the Youngs.”
We hashtagged #FREETHEYOUNGS, we at tagged, we begged the nameless, faceless Powers That Be to spare our dreamtweet versions of ourselves.
And perhaps, within two weeks of this strange phenomenon of feeling like we were our childhood movie heroes born again, some ageless legends returned to roam the Twitter-earth in full guts and glory…
…The fever broke.
And we weren’t The Youngs anymore.
We weren’t fake famous. We weren’t fake in love. We weren’t fake legends.
We were just real.
Boyish, girlish, yeah. Charming, sure. But old enough to buy plane tickets. To wear suits. To be mad at our neighbors. To have sex. Reliably. Romantically. Old enough to be funny and grumpy and do big things for love when it came down to it.
To leave that of ourselves, at least, on the face of the world forever, until the heat death of the universe, and perhaps beyond.
Hashtag Free the Youngs.
Thank you. Goodnight.