Whenever I am asked the question “How can I become like you, Tom?,” I am compelled to confess that this is not a question I get asked very often. If you had asked me instead “How did you get like this?,” I would have been better prepared to answer your question. But regardless of my obvious discomfort with extemporaneous rhetoric, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

My identity is centered around my Sweater-Based Wardrobe. Most people immediately say, “What about the Khaki + Sneakers combination?” But I have to be honest. I don’t think Khaki + Sneakers has anything to do with it.

A lot of kids these days are looking for answers. And whether or not they see me as someone who has these answers, they are looking for a role model. And maybe that’s what you’re thinking. And I am someone who successfully manages to have a Sweater-Based Wardrobe, so I am qualified to speak on this. And this wardrobe is a good and important thing to know about. So I am happy to tell them about it, although it’s not easy for me to say this. I sit them down, I give them a cold drink of water, and I say, “Who am I? Who is God? How are we to live?”

These are difficult questions for people to ask themselves, and to most kids these questions probably seem like a lot of boring nonsense. But on the answers to these questions rests, young cousin, your entire fate. I first encountered them in a Houghton Mifflin religion textbook we used in grade school. If you are thinking of these questions in the context of the Sweater-Based Wardrobe, you are on the right track. Just write the questions down in your best penmanship, put the loose-leaf pages in a letter-sized file folder, and put the file folder in a box in the basement of your mother’s house.

And then forget, at once, about ever answering these questions.

Go back to playing video games, listening to adult-contemporary stations on your Walkman, crying, and hiding from people. And start realizing that you will never be able—I mean never really be able—to talk to girls, or anybody, for that matter. If you don’t know what I’m talking about now, just wait for the day to come when you do know what I’m talking about. For on that day you will be on your way to the Sweater-Based Wardrobe lifestyle of your dreams.

Life … wonderful, mysterious, and sad. We have a plan for ourselves, and for a few months at a time things seem to work out fine. We’re going to learn and improve, study, grow, and one day instruct ourselves and others. But there’s no fooling Time. Time is the lecturer of truth. And pretty soon you’re back to that Walkman and to those songs that fat women sing to themselves as they’re falling asleep. And pretty soon you, too, are back to crying.

What you’re going to find, kid, is that there’s no heaven anywhere. And all of a sudden you’re in the sweater aisle at JCPenney looking for something to go with the baggy pants you wear to work all the time. You’re going to wear the same sweater every day in the winter because it’s warm, and warmth will be the only reliable reality you have. You’re going to have to pull up those pants a lot because of the weight gain, but the sweaters help because they cover things. There will be takeout, Blockbuster nights, and the lifelong ambition for things just to get quiet in your mind.