Sunday, January 29, 2006

Turnabout Is Fair Play

The irony of the human condition is that we spend our youth in a hurry to grow up and our adulthood in a series of vain attempts to recapture our youth.

I turned 39 on January 17. Such is my nature that I will spend this entire year anticipating 40 and yearning for 36. Of course, I spent my 36th year yearning for 31. But this game of Beat the Clock has a terminus, and it is 18.

I paid a little visit to the past last night, chaperoning the Turnabout Dance at the high school where my husband teaches. Our duties were so vague as to be almost non-existent. I had envisioned myself standing next to the punch bowl, waiting to pounce on any young ruffian with the temerity to pull out a flask in an attempt to spike things up. There was no punch bowl. I saw a couple making out on the dance floor. “Are we supposed to break that up?” I asked my better half. He turned his back to the action.

Much has been said of the current Xbox generation. We are to believe them some collective version of the Six-Million Dollar Man, “bigger, stronger, faster” than anything we’ve seen before. I do not challenge their supremacy when it comes to text messaging. But they are not a breed apart.

Because boys are largely an accessory at any event where girls get to wear fancy dresses, I focused my attention last night on the females. Like a couple of D-list Isaac Mizrahis, M. and I positioned ourselves at the Arrivals entrance. The predominant fabric was “clingy.” Necklines plunged (in a couple of cases, I imagine some double-sided tape was involved), hemlines soared. I thought I was in the presence of J. Lo herself when one young vision in white strutted her way into the gym, halter top scooped down to her navel, silver-appliqued skirt cut up to her hip bone. “Oh my good lord,” was the best I could muster. “Did her father see her before she left the house?”

The lace and taffeta and puffy sleeves that dominated my own Homecoming and Prom were nowhere in sight. But the to-ing and fro-ing of packs of girls to the bathroom—very familiar. The high pitched squealing and hugging and kissing of your Very Best Friend—been there. The awarding of King and Queen—done that. The sense that this is the most important night of your life—déjà vu all over again. They may be geniuses with their opposable thumbs, but kids today are still just kids.

“I’m trying to remember the purpose of these dances,” I said to M., my husband’s colleague.

“It teaches them how to act like adults,” she explained. “They get to practice going out on dates, getting dressed up.”

(Ah yes, I thought, going out on dates, getting dressed up, no curfew, money in your pocket. I believe it’s called “the twenties.”)

I did not envy these girls, tottering in their heels, tugging at the tops and bottoms of their dresses to limit their feelings of exposure, betraying the million little insecurities being held at bay. I watched them dance, grinding away at their dates in an approximation of sexiness, their faces screwed up in expressions that looked more like constipation than ecstasy. I saw the bleachers packed with wordless couples, boys with their hands in pockets, girls with their arms wrapped around their shoulders. This was their idea of life at the Big Peoples’ table.

It looked boring.

We bona fide grown ups retreated to the Chaperone’s Lounge, a history classroom adjacent to the gym. We sipped our bottled water and diet pop and munched on crackers and nachos. We talked about the state of secondary education in the city. The inhumanity of hand-to-hand combat vs. the inhumanity of precision bombing. Free Speech—why were Americans so afraid to exercise it. That article in The New Yorker about the truck driver.

It felt good to be 39.


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