Monday, April 30, 2007

Sunday afternoon in the park

An older kid, about 17 or 18 years old, is hanging out with a trio of younger kids who look about 14. The older kid is wearing a sleeveless shirt to show off the fact that his arms and shoulders have been obsessively weight-lifted into a crowded, muscular state. His hair is thick and curly, but has been oiled and combed down so that it holds tight to his scalp, almost like Josephine Baker’s. He speaks with a muddy lisp, but compensates for this by talking louder. He sits on a small rise while the three younger kids stand around him in a rough semi-circle. He keeps taking sips from what looks like a big bottle of malt liquor.

He talks and acts like an alpha male, a mentor to the younger kids, but its clear that, whatever affection they have for him – and they seem to have some – it is mixed with very little respect. They barely even fear him physically, guessing that his muscles are mostly for show. He should be with guys his own age, but has probably been shunned. Maybe because of the lisp; maybe he’s just a loser. The younger kids have figured out that much, at least: they talk about him in the third person, making fun of his hard-assed anecdotes even as he’s telling them, giggling openly at his threats against them and others even as he’s making them.

“He always does shit like that,” says one of the younger kids, a fat one wearing tearaway pants and an XXXL T-shirt that hangs off his greedy torso like a poncho. “He was trying to take a piss and he almost pissed all over his fucking cell phone. Ha ha.”

They all laugh. He just shakes his head and smirks, taking the abuse like an old dog being harassed by yappy puppies with harmless teeth.

I lose track of them while trying to keep my daughter from killing herself: she insists on climbing on the built-up BMX course in the corner of the park that my son and a dozen other boys are hustling themselves over on bikes that are always threatening to fall away beneath them. I can hear the occasional hoots of laughter from the younger kids and the echo of a long, boasting story from the older one, but that’s it.

From the top of the highest biking hill, I see the older kid jump up and jog across the park and into the alleyway to take a piss. A group of boys playing soccer nearby start laughing: the fat kid is huddled against a low fence, pissing quickly into the older kid’s bottle. When he reveals the bottle, it’s perfect – he has added a couple of inches of liquid that is indistinguishable from what was there before.

The trio of younger boys set themselves into parodies of nonchalant poses as the older kid jogs back, already in mid-anecdote. He sits, finishes his story, and – as I, the younger kids, and the soccer players watch – takes a long drink. The soccer players start laughing first. The older kid looks like he’s going to puke. He jumps up and takes a few quick steps toward the other kids, who are a quiet for a few seconds, but then burst out laughing once they realize that even now his threats are empty. He is well and truly beaten. If anything, they like him more now.

(I don’t laugh, because I’m a grown-up, and I’m not supposed to have even been watching. If I was watching, then I, being a grown-up, should have prevented it from happening. But how often do you get to watch such a perfect and complete demonstration of social dynamics get played out in such a compressed period of time? The laughing soccer players should have come together right then to form an impromptu Greek chorus that could speak of betrayal and of the price man pays for his vanity.)

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