Friday, February 10, 2006

Sweet Sixteen

We're at The Zone, eating pizza with mushrooms at Primi Piatti and sipping Rock Shandies (a South African delicacy- soda water with a touch of lemonade and a splash of bitters). The noise is deafening and the waiters are frenetic; like clockwork, they ask how I'm enjoying my dinner and ask for a smile.

I was a bit early and the hostess notices me staring intently at the skirts in the window of Stoned Cherrie- they are African chic but amazingly cut. The waistlines are low and hug your hips like a first embrace. The skirt bodies are full and voluptuous with swatches of metallics and amber.

I'm watching all the teens strut around and the girls are gorgeous while the boys are a bit awkward and gangly. The boys are using way too much hair gel while the girls are precociously hot in low riders and boob tubes. Still, they seem so well-mannered and orderly for a night of loitering. They are cautiously flirting, some holding hands, some touching thighs, but none seem like brazen American teens- loud, free, narcissistic, drunk.

We used to cruise around all night on weekends when I was 16. We'd roll all the windows down, feel the air whipping our hair against our face, play the radio at crushing decibels, and just drive. There wasn't really anywhere to go. Maybe IHOP, maybe Wawa, maybe Mir's house. Whatever. The fun was in the running away, the flicking of ashes out the window, the arriving home at 7:00 am with groggy eyes and flaked mascara. Mom wanted to know where we went. "Out."

I loved driving home from the beach with friends-- my legs coated with sand and sweat, my hair like strands of salty kisses, and bottles of Zima knocking against my flip flops. Summer was so endless, and school so far away, and tomorrow night was another night of driving, of feeling the sun, of dreaming. I remember the teenage me riding Amtrak to New York one Saturday night and seeing the woman I imagined as the perfect older me- long dark hair, reading Vogue, sipping sparkling water. Her manicure was perfect and she looked so smart yet so pensive. She met pulling into Penn Station with total indifference. Another cab to catch, another night of sushi, another bottle of wine. Would New York ever stop exciting me?

I feel badly for these Jo'burg teens. Everything is indoors, in malls, controlled. It's too dangerous to sit in your best friend's car in your best friend's driveway with your legs hanging out the open door talking about how cool you'll both be at 25. It's too dangerous to sit on the curb of 7-Eleven dripping Slurpies and eating hot soft pretzels with spicy mustard and waving to random boys. It's too dangerous to sleep outside in the backyard on blankets and wake up cranky and covered with mosquito bites. It's too dangerous to pull over on the side of the road and fix your eye make-up in the rearview mirror and chat nervously on the phone to your crush.
Only the patrolled and the secure are safe and comfortable, and even that comfort is tinged with the danger lurking outside the gates.

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