At age 15, a normal person runs away shrieking whenever a parent alludes to "nice young people your age," as in "Don, Mrs. Pendergast in bridge club has a nice nephew your age who I think you'd enjoy meeting." But at age 45, that same person -- now a dad -- might say to his sons: "I don't understand. There'll be lots of nice young people your age. Good fellowship. Group singing. So why don't you want to go to church camp?" And he really won't understand, because sometime during that 30-year span, major brain changes have taken place, and the boy who once cringed in shame when his father stopped the car to inspect "roadside historic markers" is now the man who mumbles his way around Civil War battlefields with a metal detector.

Now that I'm 30 -- and thus, on paper, halfway there -- I'm always on the lookout for subtle changes in my loathing patterns. Please understand: I'm not trying to avoid the changes. I just want them to happen at a reasonable pace. As an example of a non-reasonable pace, consider my shifting position on raw oysters. When I was 15, you'd have found it very difficult to get a slimy guy down my throat without the assistance of a Bulgarian Greco- Roman wrestling team. Now, I like them. In fact, I've become something of a raw-oyster "buff," so much so that last month I found myself driving around the Eastern Shore looking for a shoppe that sells decorative oyster plates -- you know, the cute ones with the shell-stabilizing indentations and a hole in the middle for your "sauce cup." Obviously, far beyond the acceptable limits for my age/sex group. What would follow? A night at an Easton bed-and-breakfast? An antique-buying run to Ellicott City? Luckily, I snapped out of it (usually I hear a tiny submarine-horn blast in my mind) and, after treating myself to a few brisk facial slaps, I headed for the nearest junky souvenir store.

Constant self-monitoring is the key to keeping a level head. Which is why, on the Sunday afternoon when most of the country was watching the Broncos- Browns game, I was driving to Gettysburg, Pa., to see the international cast of Up With People present its all- new show, "Time for the Music!" What does Up With People have to do with fogy metering? Well, to understand that, let's turn to the official UWP brochure, which states: "The aim of Up With People is to build peace through understanding among people of all nations. Each year, 550 {college-age} people representing 25 countries and comprising five international casts spend 11 months traveling to many lands . . . presenting a two-hour musical show, the medium through which Up With People surmounts barriers to understanding!" As you can imagine, that makes for a pretty handy sappiness barometer. Yeah, I know. Up With People sounds so idealistic and good on paper, but when I first saw the show years ago in high school, I had . . . major problems coping with the performers. Then as now, the 550 cast members are picked from a yearly audition pool of 9,000 youngsters, each of whom (this is just my opinion, it's not said in the brochure) was probably the most enthusiastic pepperpot in his or her high school production of "Oklahoma!," "Li'l Abner" or "Godspell." And as the brochure does say, the 550 are chosen more for their personality than for their musical ability, which means: 1) the people who make it are the absolute perkiest of the perky -- in short, an international all-star team of all the nice young people your age you never wanted to meet; and 2) a lot of them can't sing, but they make up for it with plenty of show-stoppin' energy. All of which forced me into some major grimacing-and- cringing during that first Up With People concert. Someday, I know, that will change. I'll be in the front row, sobbing, waving my Greek fisherman's cap and shouting, "Hey! Up with YOU people! You're WONDERFUL!" The mission this time was to find out where I stand today.

I entered the Gettysburg High auditorium confident that I'd be noticeably moved by the kids' good will and that I'd leave feeling no worse than if I'd swallowed a tire-size sugar pie. Well, uh, there were unexpected surprises. The first came during the opening number, "Sunrise," in which the cast came out slowly in twos and threes, dressed in lederhosen, cowboy suits, Tyrolean outfits and other peoples-of- the-world garb, and sang softly about how "we are all one." Through slightly clenched teeth, I said, "Sigh, if only our real-world leaders had these kids' spirit." That's when the bomb dropped. Suddenly, the stage musicians started wiggling like the Muppet Band, the song went up- tempo, and I noticed that -- Aaaaah! -- there were cast members in the aisles! The dreaded Reach Out and Touch the Audience routine! And one of the cast, a big, boisterous kid, was overdoing his gestures and singing directly in my face: "We got the SUNRISE! We got the MOONLIGHT! We got TOMORROW! And it can be ALL RIGHT!" I avoided eye contact with the kid by artfully wheezing and by fumbling my tape-recorder batteries. Then he went away, and with that behind me, the rest of the show's first half was fairly easy sledding. But there were a couple of rough spots, including:

A poky medieval song during which the singer interrupted himself and said, "Whoa! That beat might have made for a good tewwwn back then, but that ain't gonna get it today," and then gave the tewn a "now" feel with street-smart lyrics and a humpin' beat. A song called "Maybe" ("Maybe we're young, and maybe naive"). A dancing-cowboys-and-senåoritas number. An umbrella dance. A comic Scandinavian gymnastics routine. A Russian song that was performed at Live Aid. A gospel song that began: "Gospel muuuuusic. Heeee-eeey. Whoaaaa. It's sooooo saaaaad. My Godddd." And the big pre-intermission finisher, "Time for the Music," during which I was again terrorized by the Aisle People.

Hmmm, I now notice that I've snidely listed everything in the first hour. No wonder I was holding my head like a cracked egg when my official Up With People friendship liaison, a nice young fellow named "Richard from Hawaii," came up and said, "Hi! Is feature-writing mainly what you, for the newspaper, do?" I don't know why, but very happy people sometimes talk like that. I tried to do it too ("Well, western Kansas, my friend, is where I hail from"), and he promised to introduce me to a cast member, Dan from Kansas, who would be, for me, very interesting to meet.

Throughout Part 2, I kept detailed "reaction notes." During a song about an aging postman who is upset because his bag contains more junk mail and fewer love letters, I assumed a grimace and the fetal position. During "What Color Is God's Skin?" I scrunched up into a tight protective ball. And during "Lift Me Up!" ("Lift me up! Lift me up! Everything's gonna be okay! Lift me up!"), I ran out the door, because that was the next to last song, and somehow I didn't want to meet Dan from Kansas.

At home I plugged the results into a Maturity Quotient formula I've developed. My MQ total was: 22.5 years. Hmmm, too low. I think I need remedial work. Would anybody out there be willing to lend me the new Barry Manilow blues album?