Cream Cheese and Wannabes


A crowd of high school kids swarms in the door of the bagel place, and my first instinct is to cringe. High school was relatively painless for me. I don’t feel traumatized or anything. Yet still, there’s something about a large group of adolescents that I find, for whatever reason, inherently menacing. Like they’re going to make fun of your shoes or break your glasses or something. I don’t even wear glasses. There’s a high school just down the block, and my friend has dragged me to this place to get food with him around noon, pulling us into a danger zone of kids grabbing lunch off campus. A group of four laughs loudly, with no concern for propriety, and I wince. 

Maybe what I find so intimidating about these students is that I can’t find any way to relate to them. My high school memories consist mostly of driving around in my friend’s car, going to Wal-Mart just to walk around, and smoking cigarettes by the train tracks. I distinctly remember eating a lot of Taco Bell and exchanging “What do you wanna do”s in endless loops of contented boredom. It was decidedly unglamorous. These students look like various ads for acne medication commercials—the “after” footage of perfect skin and shining self-confidence. When did bad complexions stop being a thing? Everything I’m wearing probably costs less than one of their down-stuffed coats, and there’s both an effortlessness and a self-consciousness to the way they flip their perfectly blown-out hair that I know for a fact was foreign to me at their age. 

I can practically smell the money and the privilege wafting from their direction. A boy near our table is complaining to his friend, and though I’m not paying too much attention, I’m pretty sure the heart of the grievance is that his parents have decided to take the family to Paris again this summer. I wonder if this kid has even tasted Taco Bell. 

I urge my friend to hurry up and finish his bagel before one of these kids senses my fear and pounces. My hair? My clothes? An effeminate mannerism? What will they latch on to, and how many years of therapy will it take to fix whatever it is that breaks in me during this inevitable confrontation with 16 year-olds in a bagel joint? How could I even begin to know how to defend myself from someone who has been bossing around nannies since age three? Will I ever escape this hellscape of Canada Goose and cream cheese?

My friend finishes his food, and we get up to leave. No one pays us any attention. A girl squeezes past me toward a table of her friends, and as she does, she says, “Excuse me, sir.” My whole body relaxes.