Another Perspective

In Praise of Yuppiedom

Young urban professionals are what made our country more livable.

By 8.10.07

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We were new to New Jersey and new to our church there when the church announced a men's only corned beef and cabbage dinner to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Well, okay. I took my son Bud, then six, and we went.

As we entered the parish hall, I stopped by the kitchen. One of the men I had come to know a bit forked out a giant, graying, steaming hunk of corned beef from a pot of boiling water and nibbled at the edge of it with obvious satisfaction. In other giant pots heads of cabbage boiled -- just boiled, wafting that ineffably rotten aroma.

Dinner was served. Hunks of water boiled cabbage and corned beef, slices of Wonder Bread, and plain yellow hot dog mustard. The men barked and gruffed at each other around the tables.

I had never eaten worse food in my life, and I didn't eat much of it. I don't think Bud touched it.

That night I was sick to my toenails.

OUR OLD CHURCH IN CHARLESTOWN (MASS.) WOULD NEVER have countenanced such a travesty. For one thing, the men could all cook. We would have had wonderful food: Homemade olive dishes, homemade hummus, fresh salads and pastas, you name it. For another, we would never have held any sort of celebration without the women -- it wouldn't have been any fun.

The locals called us Yuppies, though that acronym was long out of date, and, at least for some of us, the "Y" did not apply. My wife and I and a small core of friends found that church in shambles, about to be closed by the diocese -- either that, or designated a "mission," which would have amounted to the same thing.

Our number included musicians, writers, investment types, doctors, consultants, and the like. We suffered the scorn and opprobrium of the old residents of that tiny Boston neighborhood, who call themselves "Townies," and who looked to us as the despoilers of their traditional way of life -- typical gentrification scenario.

We pulled together and revived the church, and we had a wonderful time doing it. We established ourselves in our professions, we had children, we rejoiced, we listened to and performed ancient music, we talked, we created. We did it following the modern model of the young urban professional, from which the acronym "YUP," or "Yuppie" was derived: women had careers, men helped with the home, men and women alike tore down and remodeled rooms and sometimes whole houses, men and women pitched in together to raise children..

AS A CLASS, WE TOOK -- AND STILL TAKE -- A BAD RAP. It derives from some of the same characteristics we share with 1960s leftists. We are supposedly self-absorbed, vain, selfish, excessively satisfied with ourselves, and too worried about self-esteem. Lots of "self" there, obviously, and some of the rap may be justified.

Nearly 30 years ago, I wrote that "rock and roll has a severe case of middle-aged spread." As with rock, so with the Yuppie. It was a cohort that fit its time. We took hold of the Reagan prosperity of the 1980s with one hand, grabbed the technological revolution with the other, and cruised into the dot-com nineties.

The prosperity still surges, the technology burgeons, but, like the golden age of rock and roll, the age of the Yuppie has passed, spread out, turned into a dozen other tributaries. Is there such a single signifier for present-day young adults?

I won't pass any judgments, because I don't know. For our part, we courted, got married, learned to make a living, and had children. We are mostly still here, doing the same thing. Not bad, my friends, not bad.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.