Teenage Transit Math

The 2/3 line. Above ground is the Eastern Parkway, a boulevard.

Two girls on the F line, 5pm on a Friday. Both were tall and dressed in jeans and light sweatshirts. They weren’t of the make-up, gum-smacking, handbag, -cell-phone-out variety; they were more of the athletic, long-hair, yell at boys and trail them (avidly) types. My guess is one was Dominican and the second East New York by way of Harlem. They’d deliberately chosen seats across from each other; across and two over, so they’d have to shout and gesticulate in order to be heard. The car wasn’t crowded when they got on; they could’ve sat next to each other. But had they done that, they would have drawn virtually no attention to themselves. If they’d sat next to each other, most of us would have made a quick scan, noted they were just young kids – not drunk, not yet – and gone back to our e-devices.

This is entirely their point.

My girls yesterday were probably fifteen years old . Their conversation was full of lumps. They’d gathered a few recipes for adulthood, but were combining them in ways that just added up to a sticky mess. Tall, strong and physically looking like women, each girl was yet tentative and neither listened to the other. Statements were declared by the first and the second clicked and nodded, but was mostly waiting for her turn to speak. True to high school form, they’d review evidence, make pronouncements and assign pass-fail grades based on dress and appropriate humor. Speaking in still awkward slang, they were in effect running down a list of compatriots and pronouncing each as “pretty.”

That evening I was reminded of a young person’s initial tools of assessment: outward appearance, which, if you are fifteen, is a true North indicator of social and human worth. (And even if it isn’t true, that she’s not really pretty, you can at least relax a little, having united with another using the same ingredients.) These girls may be loud and mumbly, but they know hair, they know pretty, and they know what works in the hallway.

Being still young and reluctant, this is why the girls firmly planted themselves at a distance from each other. They needed to rope in the grown-ups. From such a position, they could draw from our energy, even if it was mostly annoyance, impatience and frustration over not getting to concentrate on solitaire. Triggering grown-ups is the crux of the equation, especially before 10pm. It’s also a safe way to feel protected. When you’re fifteen years old and conducting tests, you still court adult supervision. Not directly, mind you; but nearby enough, just in case something gets burned.

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