It is the end of August and the summer moves closer to its unofficial end. The hours of daylight have already begun to shorten and students are preparing for the upcoming school year. I find myself wondering if anything has changed. I know the classrooms are different. The teachers from my time have all retired. Some of them have passed away. I know the computers are different and the styles from my day have changed throughout the years. I wonder, however, if the core emotions are still the same as when I was a teenage boy. I wonder if the feelings are any different and what the crowds are like.
I wonder what the social strategies are with today’s youth. What are the social draws? What are the crowds likeand who determines the standards between popular and socially stagnant?
I wonder if the feelings have changed. I wonder if like me, there is a young man standing in front of his locker—long hair dangling in his face as he peers to the left to watch a girl walk passed. I wonder if like me, he watches this young girl move through the hallways with a crew of her friends and wishes for the courage to talk to her. But yet, he never does.
I remember my younger days during the close of summer. I remember the late nights and the wishes that summer would never end. I remember the uncomfortable stir that began in early August. This was a trigger because I knew the days were closing in.
Soon, the long hot days would change hands and transfer into the shorter, colder months. The wild nights of young freedom were about to come to an end. I spent nights like these, laying back on rooftops of the seasonally dormant elementary school, or laying in the middle of the football field behind Woodland Junior High School, watching the stars with a cigarette dangling from the corner of my teenage mouth. My eyes were bloodshot and half sunk in response to a drink, drug, or something I smoked.
I was amongst the wild youth of my town. We were anxious and rebellious. We were the longhaired outcasts. We were far from pretty, but still beautiful in our own way. We were eager to taste life a little different from the usual ways.
I was unlike most. I was all in size and weak in muscle. I mostly pretended. I pretended to be strong and acted as if. I tried my best to seem impenetrable, but I was easily transparent at best.
I remember nights in the park behind the town pool. Anthony was there. Pete was there and so was Mike. Craig was there. Tommy Lee was there and Vinny was there too. Then there was Dorian too and a long list of others.
There was a mix to this crowd. Not everyone had long hair. Not everyone listened to the same music. Chris listened to different music. He liked bands like Whitesnake and some of the more glamorous metal bands. This was not my taste, but Chris was my friend. I remember him well. I remember Him and Mike A. during a night I always called “The Ritalin Incident.” Neither Chris nor Mike knew anything about speed. They knew even less about the terrible, cheap high that came with Ritalin, and when mixed with alcohol—I will say nothing else except I remember this night well and there is a reason why I always called it, “The Ritalin Incident,” in my head.
These nights were crazy, indeed. Yes, they were fueled with wild behavior. There was even a petition signed to keep us off a certain block that led to the rear entrance of Prospect pool. To us, this petition was more like a badge of honor than a deterrent. We knew the neighborhood cops by name and they knew us just as well.
There were the town crazies that moved through the neighborhood. Some of whom were less threatening; some were homeless, some were mentally ill, but all of them were certainly interesting.
I remember Pee-Wee very well. He was rather tall and blading with reddish hair, kept close to the sides of his head. Pee-Wee always wore a strange hat. He was mentally odd and certainly peculiar. Pee-Wee had a large hooked nose and a bony Adam’s apple poking from the center of his throat. He dressed somewhat straight but still, if anyone ever blatantly appeared to look as a pedophile; Pee-Wee is an easy fit to this description. He bought us beer and looked too closely at the younger girls in our crowd. Of course, no one ever found themselves alone with Pee-Wee. There was strength in numbers, and in all, Pee-wee was nothing more than a mentally teenage boy in a gangly, adult body.
Sometimes Pee-Wee came through the park to hang around us. I suppose it was wrong that we harassed him. I also suppose that like me, Pee-Wee saw it better to be harassed in a crowd than alone with no one to talk to.
The politics of youth and the crowds are interesting. There is always a level of government. There are levels of cool and stages of leadership in the crowd. The older take the stage first and the younger follow. It’s not what you wore, but how you wore it. It not if you drank or smoked—it’s how you held your cigarette in your hand or if you could hold your liquor.
There was stress in this order. I suppose there was stress for anyone in either level of social politics. You were either in or out. And if you were in—you wanted to be in all the way. You wanted to be “It.” You wanted to be regarded and always invited.
This is when everything was about “The time.” Everything was about the crowd; it was about where we went, and what we did. In the worst cases, or at least in my case, when the crowd was angry with me; I found myself in hiding. I hid in places throughput my town. I hid in the vacant lots. I hid on rooftops because rooftops have always been a big thing with me. I liked rooftops because the ground was below. The sky was above, and everything around me seemed so incredibly peaceful and detached from the world I knew.
I know I was in trouble but some of this trouble is still considered to be some of the best times of my life. I admit to enjoying the craziness. I once ran down Prospect Avenue for no reason other than to grab the attention of an Officer Ude. He was a young cop. When Ude caught up to me, He asked, “Why are you running,” to which, I answered, “Because you were chasing me.”
Officer Ude tried to understand. He was somewhat respectful to us, the misguided youth. He was certainly more respectful than Officer White, or Officer Flowers. Ude was not like them. Besides, Officer Ude was still young. Officers White and Flowers were older. They were less patient and equally anxious to either beat or arrest me.
I knew the streets in my neighborhood very well. They were sheltered and suburban. I knew where to duck and which fences to jump if I was being chased. The streets in my neighborhood were clean but the town was not immune to social illness. You have to understand—I came in during the change of times. There was still a level of trust during my generation. Innocence had not died yet. Eventually the trust faded. Eventually, we lost our innocence. Our nights of mischief became more criminal and we became more desperate—but still, there was a time when these were some of the greatest and craziest days of our life.
I wonder if like me, the youth of today have the same problems. I wonder if they feel the need to run away the same as I did. Do kids today still worry so much about fitting in?
Here it is; August is coming to an end and school is about to open. Does today’s youth have the same fear of classrooms. I wonder if I was to grow up in today’s curriculum; would I have had such a hard time in class. Would my learning disabilities have gone undiagnosed as they were? Would the teachers be like the teacher in my day? Would they have ridiculed me in front of the class or humiliated me and called me “Stupid,” in front of everybody?
I sometimes think of my friend Matt and wonder what my life would have been like had I chosen to hang out with him. Matt above anyone I ever knew has always stayed himself. He never behaved like anyone else. He never tried to be anyone he wasn’t. He often laughed at me while we sat together in eighth grade art class. Sometime he laughed because I was obviously high. Sometimes he laughed because I was obviously disrespectful to the art teacher. Mainly, Matt laughed because he was my friend. Aside from other wishes I have of reliving my youth; I wish I paid more attention to friends like Matt.
I wonder what the hallways of my old schools look like now. I wonder who will have my locker this year. I wonder if the crazy angst and anguish of teenage awkwardness is the same. What about the lust? Is that the same?
What would it be like if I grew up in today’s time? Would I be as I am now, or would I have received the help and attention I needed to become someone different? Who will be the artists of this new generation and even still; will they understand what it feels like to bleed from the heart without ever spilling a drop of blood? Have they lived like I lived? Have they wept the same as me? Or do today’s tears and social anxieties add up to be something completely different from when I was young?
I wonder if I grew up in today’s time; I wonder about the first crush on a girl and the missed opportunities to shine. I wonder about the chance that someone like me, above anything else could be amongst the popular.
I remember a girl. Her name is unimportant. Who she was is irrelevant now. Back then, she was the first girl I ever noticed. I wonder if we grew up together in today’s time—would I have had the courage to walk up to her and speak without the nerves in my heart to steal the words from my tongue.
I wonder if teenage love is the same.
Are kids still this way?
Does insecurity and awkwardness still take hostages like it did when I was young?
I listened to a couple of parents talk about their kids returning school. I always laugh when parents act as if today’s problems are new ones.
I agree the music has changed. Fashion changed and so has the curriculum. The teachers have changed and so have the subjects in some regard. History is still history. Science is still science. Math is different—and I’m not sure why. But the lunchroom is still the lunchroom. There will always be cliques and there will always be different levels of social status. I just wonder where I would fit in today’s classroom. I wonder if I would have graduated, and more importantly, I wonder if I would have been able to find a date for the Prom.
The prom was always a big thing to me. I never went to one.
Someday I might throw a prom of my own. I’ll rent a limo and maybe head down to The Shore afterwards. I wonder who would come along with me. Who go as my date . . .