Joe Dellosa

The Alligator Columns

Holidays create 'Garden State moments'

Notes & Context

This was my noble attempt to jam the phrase "Garden State moment" into the lexicon. (Why not? The phenomenon it describes is very real, and it needs a name!) It's also part two in a three-part series of pep talks to first-year students at UF.

Oh, and Tila Tequila was a MySpace quasi-celebrity of whom some people enjoyed seeing naked pictures. I'm delighted that this now requires explanation.

The text below is the version of the article I originally submitted for publication. The print and online versions contained stylistic edits.

For many first-years, the Thanksgiving holiday is the first real opportunity in the semester to go back home. And thus, it's often the first real opportunity to have what l call a "Garden State moment."

(An obligatory disclaimer: Even after the post-"indie flick becomes popular" backlash and the trendy hate for Zach Braff, I still unabashedly love the movie "Garden State," and it still means a lot to me. I know, that doesn't make me unique — at least half of all your friends born between 1986 and 1991 probably feel the same way.)

One of the more resonant scenes in the movie for me is when Zach Braff's character talks about the point in your life when you realize that "the house you grew up in isn't really your home anymore." And that's the Garden State moment — the moment where you feel that something with which you grew up that seemed so significant, comforting or protective just isn't all that relevant to your current life anymore.

That can certainly involve your home. Living away in your own place (even if "your own place" is a tiny dorm room lined with Tila Tequila posters) creates a reasonably close approximation of being all grown-up and independent (even if you're not paying your own cell phone bill). The feeling of going back home can resemble that of going back to your old high school after graduating: it's familiar and nice, but it seems like it's an artifact from your personal history. You might not even take off your shoes at the front door.

But more often than not, Garden State moments involve seeing your friends for the first time back home and wondering if they're still relevant to your life — or if you're still relevant to theirs.

It sneaks up on you — you call your old circle of friends from high school and figure out who's coming home for Thanksgiving break, and you make plans to hang out, just like back in the old days. Then something goes awry.

You might try to recreate an old tradition — Friday movie night, followed by midnight bowling! — only to find yourself wondering why you thought this was fun enough of an idea to do this every damn week during senior year as you halfheartedly chuck your bowling ball down the lane with a plastered-on smile.

Or you might grab some coffee with a friend with whom you've always had long, meaningful conversations, only to discover that the only things you have to talk about are memories that you've hashed and rehashed several dozen times — in the same conversation.

Or you're just hanging out with your best friend as they talk about their college experiences and how many cool, new people they've met, and you realize, with creeping minor horror, that they've kind of moved on from their old life and, despite their insistence to the contrary, you're not their favorite friend anymore.

Or, you know — none of this could happen and you'll have a really nice holiday catching up with some good buddies.

But Garden State moments do happen, and it can be a really awful feeling when they do. Nobody usually expects to be someone's best friend forever, but the hazy phase of quasi-adulthood can be intimidating enough without having to go through it in the middle of an uncertain economy and an unsure future. Old friends are supposed to offer stability in unstable times, and the notion of friendships becoming vestigial — "being friends only because we're friends" — can be scary.

It's very easy for a friend to slip out of relevance — time and geography has a way of doing that — but fighting to protect a friendship means finding new relevance if it's there, and, appropriately enough, being thankful for what the friendship was if it's not.

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