What the hell is that?
It sounds vaguely like music, but it's after nine on a thursday.
Did I leave my car radio on?
Are the neighbors having a party?
What the hell gives?
I'm here in Mattapoisett where it's usually whisper quiet. There's nothing but vacant land-trust property on one side as well as across the street. There's a big backyard, followed by more forest on the other side, and one small house a good hundred yards away, and those guys don't make a peep.
But I could swear a dance party is in effect right down the street.
I gotta see what's up.
So, I get in my car. I blow into my interlock device, pull out of the driveway and drive my fly ride (read: Subaru Forester) down to the gazebo near the beach.
I see them one at a time, then two or three, walking together, wearing baggy shorts and baseball caps. Then I see that the park is teeming with them ...
There apparently is a full-on teen dance extravaganza going on on the dock, complete with DJ, ice cream stand, light show, and probably the whole of the Mattapoisett police force.
That would be about four.
This is just weird.
As I get closer I see that there's literally hundreds of teenagers there. Some of them are milling about. Some of them are sprawled on benches. Some of them are sitting in their cars trying to look innocent.
I'm sure there are some occupying cars that the casual observer cannot see.
Giant groups of them are amassed in circles jumping up and down with their hands in the air to the music, happily entranced, almost as if it were a Baptist revival.
I don't recognize the music, but that doesn't surprise me.
I do, however, recognize something very familiar.
I recognize something that is pervasive and all-encompassing; something that is inevitable as it is imperceptible; something that many of us, at the time, wish we were availed of, and oftentimes, when it finally does leave us, its space is filled slowly by a longing for its return.
I recognize youth.
I see the innocence and mischief in the faces of teens who--if they are anything like I was--are enveloped in their own world of "true-love-always," phone calls, passed notes, name brands, pop idols, video games, and curfews.
I'm sure plenty of them are caught up in the age-old ritual of early, easy, and almost never-to-be-matched inebriation.
It seems so natural.
It seems so off-limits.
And challenges don't come much more fervently undertaken than when someone tells you you're too young to be doing something.
When I was 16, I was so busy trying to look old enough to buy beer, I didn't even know how or what I needed to do to pass as legal.
I must have looked pretty pathetic.
It certainly didn't stop me from trying. And the more I tried, the more--every once in a while--I'd win the game and walk out with a six pack of Haffenreffer in one hand, and a clenched fist of victory in the other.
It all seems so long ago.
I distinctly remember thinking that I couldn't wait until this awkward time in my life was over so I could do whatever I pleased. I wanted to be given free reign of my world and unlimited access to anything that I had the time, money, and inclination to do. I wanted my youth to be over quickly, because if I had to be reminded of how young I was one more time, I was going to freak out. And it seemed, back then, that everybody was freaking out.
The playing field was a bit more leveled when I was sixteen or so. It wasn't what job you had, or what kind of car you drove that gave you your identity. You took what you could get. It wasn't like you had to pay the rent, but you had to do something, because weekly allowances went out the window with the G.I. Joe action figures.
So, you work at the Extra-Mart. And you drive the car your parents could have traded in but didn't--and, for them, it was the first year since you were born that they had an option. And you spend a half hour extra in the morning trying to cover up that new pimple, because that girl you like smiled at you yesterday when you picked up her pencil from under your desk, and you just know she's going to say yes when you ask her to go to the Newport Creamery after school. And when you carefully walk into homeroom--with a practiced look on your face and your shirt tucked in just right--you wonder why she's not at her desk already, because she's never late. And, halfway through homeroom, you begrudgingly accept the fact that she's out sick, moping through the rest of the day, wondering if she played hooky with that jerk from the polo team who's out sick too. And you spend the money you had put in your pocket (so you didn't have to fumble with your wallet) at the Pinball Wizard downtown, and you come home to have pork chops with your mom who tells you to cheer up because someday you'll forget all about this silly girl. And you tell her that it's not that easy. You tell her that this is serious.
You tell her that she doesn't understand.
And you mean it.
And she just smiles and says ... "Sweetheart ... you're young. Girls will come and girls will go. Just enjoy yourself while you can. Someday your world will be filled with things you have no control over, and you'll look back and wish you were sixteen again. I guarantee it."
And the she tells you she loves you.
And she means it.
And you put your steak knife and your fork down on the plate and sigh. You hastily get up from the table, throw your crumpled napkin on the plate, and run into your room. You put on your headphones, turn up your stereo and close your eyes so tightly they hurt.
And you just tell yourself that she's wrong and that she doesn't understand, and you just wish you could be older--god damn it!--so people would take you seriously, and you could do the things that everybody tells you you can't do yet.
And you turn on your stomach, put your pillow under your chin, and punch each side, as you listen to the music of your generation.
"Thump-thump-thump-thump ... "
And twenty years or so later you pull up in your hatchback. You stand against a telephone pole, watching as the very essence of youth jumps in the air, oblivious to the hazards which lay ahead. Because the challenges to come are real and they will inevitably confront each and every one of us who choses to continue growing ... for better ... for worse ... forever.
And everybody dances.
"Thump-thump-thump-thump ... "
And you drive back home, put your computer on your lap, and try your damnedest to write how it makes you feel.
And you admit that your mother was right.
Because she knew, when she told you what she told you, that someday you would understand.
You were just too young at the time.
And the party at the beach eventually ends.
And it is quiet once again.
Thanks for reading.
PS: Special birthday wishes go out to my good friend and musical accomplice, Mr. J. Scott Brandon. Happy birthday to you.
And a mighty Sto-lat, too.