I recently bumped into an old schoolmate (my first girlfriend, in fact, although I'm not sure that it counts given we were both six years old at the time) and, flailing about for things to talk about, I pointed out that 2006 is the ten year anniversary of our finishing school. "I don't want to know about it!" my Grade One paramour said. "It just makes me feel old."
I nodded agreement, but in fact I find the thought of being a decade out of school cause for celebration rather than despair. Grey hairs, weight gain, disintegrating cartilage, crumbling teeth, wrinkles, brittle bones, dementia, shoes with zippers, agonising death - the horrors of swiftly encroaching decrepitude are almost totally offset by the knowledge that high school is just as swiftly receding into the past.
(Cue flashback, replete with dry ice fog, “hilarious” wigs and appropriate musical cues, preferably something by Sonic Youth.)
There was just so much wrong with high school: the teachers, the curriculum, the dubious sausage rolls in the canteen. Particularly distasteful was the forced daily contact with the school’s complement of psychopaths, sluts, stoners, bullies, flashers, boozers, wankers, geeks, freaks, and people who brought samples of their ejaculate to school in jars. Teenagers are no more endurable just because you happen to be one, and I would gladly trade my memories of high school for, say, memories of a holiday on Mars, during which I became embroiled in a conflict between the planet’s corrupt government and a rebel organisation run by a mutant with a sentient baby in his stomach.
The problem with teenagers is that, to quote Matthew McConaughey’s uber-sleazy character in Dazed and Confused, I get older but they stay the same age. Callow, obnoxious, smelly, spotty, stupid – teenagers are bloody awful and they are bloody everywhere. Public transport is a nightmare because they always seem to want to sit next to me, particularly the girls, thus proving that either I (or my deodorant) am possessed of enormous sexual magnetism, or that I am so wizened and unappealing as to be virtually invisible. Callow, obnoxious, smelly, spot—…oh, I’ve already done that bit. Anyway, the point is that teenagers are pretty horrible, always have been, always will be. Case in point: today I saw a teenage boy put a plastic bag of rubbish on his friend’s car’s bonnet, then he got into the car and they drove off, the car’s motion flinging the bag onto the carpark of a 7/11 where it broke open, spilling garbage everywhere. Then they almost ran me over, cackling at their jape. The fact that this is typical teenage behaviour in no way disqualifies it as evidence in favour of the reintroduction of stockades and public whippings.
Grating as this kind of thing is, I find myself getting even more annoyed when teenagers do things like not acting like grade A free-range dickheads. Having been a callow, obnoxious, spotty (etc.) teenager, I feel somehow betrayed when I see a teenager assisting a disabled person or putting rubbish in a bin. Hypocritical? You bet, but whatever. (You will observe that the teenager is still strong in me.) It seems to go against the natural order of things to see a teenager actually contributing to civil society. It’s like watching a gorilla suckle a parrot – sure, she’s helping and all, but it’s still fucking sick.
A particularly egregious example of teenage goody-two-shoes-ing occurred yesterday when Carey Grammar student Stephen Battaglia gave the Prime Minister an impromptu birthday hug. I’ll repeat that: he hugged John Howard! What’s more, he reckons the experience “awesome”. Awesome? You hugged the Prime Minister? I think I need to pause for breath, otherwise I’ll end up rendering the remainder of this post in disbelieving italics.
[Calm blue ocean…calm blue ocean…calm billy ocean…]
Now, let’s give young Stephen some credit, as he did manage to “scare” the PM with the screwdriver he happened to be holding when he went the geriatric grope yesterday. But still – he hugged the Prime Minister! And he pronounces it “awesome”! I’m fully aware that many people, teenagers included, reckon John Howard a top bloke and a great leader, but who – seriously who – describes the experience of cuddling up with a 67-year-old – any 67-year-old – as “awesome”? It’s difficult to imagine circumstances in which clasping such a body to oneself could be considered anything other than disturbing. The fact that it was the 67-year-old body of our benevolent leader makes no difference. Stephen Battaglia, you are sick! Couldn’t you have done something relatively normal, like bring your come to school in an old Vegemite jar?
An example of the correct way to handle such an encounter is provided by my Year Eleven class who, on a school excursion to the city, spotted then-Führer Jeff Kennett striding down Springstrasse. We duly gave him a rousing chorus of "Jeff is a wanker!" (Kennett, waving: "Hello children!"). It didn’t get us media coverage or any brownie points with our conservative parents, but at least we maintained our dignity. Of course, Jeff responded by closing down our school, but at least we didn’t have to touch him.