The Youth

One of the early signs of aging I have noticed is that I can’t stay up for two straight days anymore. Another is that I harrumph into my newspaper when teenagers make noise on the train. I ride the train with a lot of teenagers, since I go to work when they get out of school. I snap my newspaper in irritation, glaring at them as the celebrate the daily event of being sprung from jail. “Harrumph,” I grumble. “Some people who work are trying to enjoy their newspapers in peace.”

The only people more exhibitionistic and loud than high school students are college students. The only college students more exhibitionistic and loud than the average college student are those in performing art school. The only students at performing art college more exhibitionistic and loud than the average theatre undergraduate are the female ones. I think that’s who was sitting next to me the other day as I ate my lentil soup at Murray’s Bagels.

The two girls at the neighboring table were extreme versions of themselves, whoever it is they were. One had a clever t-shirt and a trendy Afro, the other a mane of dyed red hair falling in her face and a pair of striped armwarmers. They spoke so loudly, so confidently, with so much emphasis on so many of their words that they turned English into a whole other language, a language of capable of portraying shock and dismay and revulsion and detachment and scorn and most of all, bravado, at a speed and volume for which I believe the technical term is “fortissimo.”

“Ugh, sometimes, I’m just like, okay, we hooked UP, now it’s the morning, can you please just GO.”
“It’s like, you didn’t have the decency to take off your SOCKS last night, can you just put the rest of your clothes back ON? Now?

“You know Jake?”
“The guy who had fleas?”
“Yeah, the one who gave everyone fleas. Wasn’t that SO GROSS? Anyway, Jake…”

“Well, I was living with Chloe.”
“The one in the wheelchair?”
“Yeah. But she was so demanding. She thinks I abandoned her, but like, whatever. She hates me know, but I was like, I am NOT going to live with you so fucking FAR from campus. I have to get up at, like, SIX to make a class at NOON.”
“How was she getting to class?”
“She. Was. Driving!”
“What the FUCK?”

“Most jazz guys are so weird. They’re nonsocial. Like that guy Tom.”
“Oh, God, he wears basketball shorts EVERY DAY. It’s like he was on the basketball team and one day he said, ‘I think I’ll go to jazz school.
“But Joey’s cool.”
“Oh, I LOVE Joey. He’s so funny. We were like sitting around, and Joey said, we’re being animals in improv, and I’m a dog. And then he got right up in Michael’s face and said, ‘WOOF.’ It was SO FUCKING FUNNY.”

What struck me the most about these girls was that they were so world weary. That had seen it all. They were so sick of having to talk to guys after sex. They had everyone pegged. Everything that happened to them was kind of a HUGE DEAL, but also kind of completely ridiculous and hysterically funny. And I knew they were faking it, because I was them once, and I faked it. I faked bravado, I faked knowing what lay in the deepest recesses of person’s soul because he wore basketball shorts. But somehow these things became true. I acquired some of the world-weary wisdom and ennui I was only faking as inside I lept puppylike at the idea of getting laid or passing off a witticism. Now I really do know what it means when someone wears basketball shorts. I really do take things with a grain of salt. Sometimes. Kind of. I really have seen it all, or at least some of it, before.

I wanted to say to these girls all manner of horrible cliches, like, “don’t rush it!” and “Just be yourselves!” or “If you must invent a personality, above all things, be original!” and also, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” and “There is life after theater class!” but also, “Enjoy it while it lasts!” and “Everything won’t always be new!” and “One day very soon you’ll stop pretending you’re older than you are!” and “Oh my God, you are yelling in my EAR!”

In some ways, these girls were awful. But in other ways, they were thrilling. Kind of like being 21.

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