I’m 36 years old and I’m still afraid of teenage boys roaming around in packs. It’s not that I’m afraid of being cornered in a dark alley, beaten and raped.
No. I’m afraid these heckling packs of teenagers will look at me with those dead seen-it-all teenage eyes and they’ll critique my make up and clothing (kind of like the dread I feel when there’s a group of gay men nearby; I just want to disappear because they know fashion and shit). Since I apply make-up with a trowel and go around wearing Doctor Who t-shirts and jeans, the fear of appraisal feels like a legitimate worry.
The “hardened” gangs of teenagers that hang out at the library where I work aren’t there to fall in love with books or check out DVDs. They come in for 20 minute internet passes, chase each other from one end of the library to another (I’m always hoping that one of them will trip down the stairs so I’ll really have something to write about other than the gigantic dump somebody unloaded on the basement stairs) bum cigarettes off people and say fuck every other word as if they invented it.
A couple of days ago I was walking to my car after work. It’d been a long day full of the same boring shit. SSDD: same shit different day. My foundation was giving up the ghost and I’m pretty sure my face’s oily sheen was blinding people at the stoplight. And I’ll be honest. I wasn’t thinking about how to end world hunger. I wasn’t thinking about sending good vibes to the people in the Philippines. I was thinking about stopping by Safeway to get a cake. I had been obsessing on it pretty hard for the last 8 hours. And I was about to make that dream come true when I realized I’d be waiting for the WALK sign with 4 shoving and mouthy teenaged boys, one of which had a dog. They looked like a meth-riddled version of The Little Rascals. Knowing teenagers can smell fear I hung back, resigned that I’d have to wait another 5 minutes for the light to change.
Donuts? No. Éclairs? No. Red velvet cupcakes? All of them? Fuck yeah!
My craving for baked goods sent me lurching across the street, not caring about the cursing, spitting (what’s with the spitting? Do teenage boys just have an over abundance of saliva?) teens. I held my keys poking through my knuckles like I was Wolverine just in case they turned on me and screamed “You’re tacky and we hate you!” Teenagers can be so vicious.
One boy whose jeans were losing the battle with gravity turned and said something very unexpected and weird: “You know you’re very gorgeous.”
He was obviously high as a kite. I coughed out a “Thanks” but said it in a way that if they started laughing and pointing at me I’d look like a good sport, like ha-ha, I know I’m goofy looking, you kids and your witty jokes.
So I’m thrown by the compliment and the desire to get cake and go full-tilt boogie on junkfood. I don’t get a lot of compliments. I’m not pretty, not even close. But I wondered how it came to be that when someone compliments me I take it as an insult. When I feel like someone’s been staring at me a beat too long I look back and them and mouth “What the fuck are you looking at?” Not out loud because I don’t want to be beaten to death with a tire iron. Or vicious words. I can’t take a compliment without thinking that someone wants something in return.
And God damn it, I never get compliments from sober people. Mom’s don’t count. They make a contract with the Universe when you’re born saying that no matter how ugly their kid is they have to convince said kid that they’re cute. I get WEIRD compliments from alcoholics and high people. A couple years ago I was again walking across the street to my car after work. A woman in a jeep Cherokee leaned out her window while waiting at the light and battered me with random questions while I was walking in the cross-walk:
-Is that your real hair?
-Can I have your number?
-Do you want to eat my pussy?
That last question was a loaded one because I was once again thinking about eating a cupcake. Just not hers.
She was a pretty lady, her voice pleasant (and not crack head crazy voice) and she was driving a nice car. I was raised to be polite so I just gave her a thin lipped smile and said “No thank you.” That was the longest red light ever.
I would love it, if just for once, somebody sober really looked at me and gave me a compliment. Not someone tweaking and jittery, not someone who probably has a crack pipe in the glove box of her jeep Cherokee and beer bottles clanking together in her trunk. Not someone who yells at someone walking by “Hey, you want to eat my pussy?”
Then again, if a sober person told me I was pretty I’d just think “What the fuck are you looking at?”