I am at the coffee shop, having been driven out of my normally quiet home by the clatter and bustle of the cleaning people. In four high-backed upholstered chairs that don't match and have, in any event, seen much better days, sit four teenagers. They have the chairs pulled close around a tiny table - one of those short side tables that serve as central tables in coffee shops.
The little table above which the teenagers' chairs loom is crammed with food and drink, and the teenagers are gobbling. This is surprising. I doubt the three boys and one girl combined weigh 400 pounds. They are, all of them, freakishly skinny, drug addict skinny.
Their clothes and haircuts seem to have been chosen for maximum ugliness. Underwear is visible on all - the boys are sporting colorful tight briefs (the kind little children wear) with either jeans or slimy nylon basketball shorts slung on their palm-width hips, defying gravity; a ramshackle bra, which she does not need, pokes out of the girl's skimpy sundress, itself a plaid the colors of jaundice and fresh bruises. Two of the teenagers are dirty blond, two are dirty brunette; all of their hair is pasted greasily to their skulls and none of it appears to have been cut with any sort of plan or symmetry in mind. One of the blond boys wears a red woolen stocking cap. (This is Las Vegas and it is currently 104 degrees Fahrenheit).
The teenagers' skin keeps the drug addict imagery alive: they have no glow, no tan, no ruddiness, not even the slick shine of acne. They are gray. But for their oddly loud clothing, they could be characters in a black and white movie shot by a bad cinematographer.
How do I see all this? They cannot sit still as they gobble. First one, then another, then the first, then yet another pops up, wanders around the shop, texts, makes a quick call, sits back down. Perhaps all this fidgeting is why their food creates no bulk. Standing, the boys look like long-waisted optical illusions. Their legs are skin-wrapped sticks, seemingly nowhere near sturdy enough to support even emaciated bodies. One of the boys slings his arm around the girl. She smiles, but does not look up at him. Both the line of her jaw and the knobs where her arms meet her shoulders look sharp enough to cut glass.
It is impossible to think of any of them writing a term paper, running for public office, raising children, curing cancer, working in an office building (or, for that matter, in the Peace Corps) or in any other way assuming the mantle of adulthood.
There is no denying it: I am old. What a relief. I am giddy with the realization that my own transition from awkward awful adolescence to adulthood is so far in the past as to be all but beyond recollection.