The first manhood skill an adolescent learns is the fine art of skulking, and it never really leaves us. It is encoded on our male genes. Somewhere around 12 or 13, you will discover overnight that cool look of utter disdain for everything, and the skill to lean against something...anything... in a public place somewhere way too late at night, hoping for all the world that somebody, preferably a female-type somebody, will notice you.
The phase is usually good for four or five years of frantic effort to appear uninterested, desperate attempts at detachment, studied effort at complete uselessness, and a heavy investment in hair products to achieve the desired I-don't-care do.
Then from our latter teen years up until retirement, we generally get too busy to properly skulk, but if all goes well, in retirement we can find a warm bench in the sun and skulk away just like we did when we were 14. Full circle, baby, full circle.
Tell you why this springs to mind.
Stroll down Lake Avenue on a given midnight dark and dreary this season, and you see skulking at its finest all over the place, more so than I've seen in past years.
Little knots of barely-middle-school slackers with skateboards, BMX bikes, or just plain lounging around. (Little knots, because too many people, and you have a crowd, which would be a different social dynamic and not given to good skulking. Alone, and you're an outcast, not to mention there's too good a chance somebody will come along and kicketh your butt.)
My first thought is - and how very unpolitically correct of me - where in the heck are the egg and sperm donors of these owly hooligans, and what types of narcotics are they employing to not know where their little lads are at in the wee hours of the freaking morning, during the school year no less.
Oh yes, I have seen all of the talk shows, and I know how uncool it is to suggest that grownups actually impose those arcane things called rules on their little wunderkinds. Why, it stifles creativity, cripples the psychological bonds between the generations, and gets in the way of mommy and daddy dearests's own constitutional rights to behave like addled adolescent themselves.
Somehow, in all of that cerebral spam, it has become okay for kids even below high school age to wander the streets downtown all night long, along with the stranggler barflies and vampirical-looking insomniacs.
Oh goodness help me, I have turned into my parents.
Look, I'm not against the young orangutans lounging around on the streets trying to look tough and playing Bam Magera with their Wal-Mart skate decks.
I'm sure I was probably one of them at some primordial ooze stage of life that I have conveniently forgotten. I even smile when I hear the police scanner calls periodically to come and chase them away just for looking like trouble. For the most part, I can only assume that what they need isn't waiting at home for them.
I don't see any moves to get that skate park built for them, so maybe we could close off a parking area downtown on evenings and weekends and maybe drag out a little ramp or half-pipe for them to screw around on their boards and bikes - it isn't a replacement for a parent, but it might keep a juvie Johnny Knoxville from accidentially turning me into fodder for an episode of "Scarred" someday as I'm out running.
If we are to complain about skulking, it seems only fair to offer some kind of alternative.
For the time being, it seems skulking is going to stay with us as a low-impact nonaerobic exercise, so dudes, you might as well get it right. Let me dredge my memory here:
1. The Uniform - Back in the day it was tight Levis with the knees ripped out, a leather wallet with a chain, Air Jordans, one pierced ear (right is wrong, as I recall) backward baseball caps and tee-shirts from some obscure heavy metal band. These days, it seems to be black hoodies with some antisocial message on it, a silly knit cap yanked low even in August, the piercing in your nose, eyebrow or somewhere else we don't want to know about, jeans baggy enough to show a hint of refrigerator repairman rear cleavage, a belt about two feet wide, and clod-kicker thug shoes. In short, about $400 worth of high fashion urban mall crap to make you look like your parents shop for you out of the rejects dumpster behind Salvation Army. And just like every generation before you, you won't realize how stupid you look until you have kids of your own doing something else just as goofy.
2. The Girls - You don't get them this way, but it'll be a couple years before you figure that out, spanky So, until then, you lean and scowl hormoniously and studiously try to appear to ignore them while practically bursting a forehead vein hoping so hard they will stop and talk to you. This my friends, is an old, old dance.
3. The Place - You are looking for a spot near a bar (oooh, edgy) but not so near that the liquored-up college guys might decide to use you as a handy javeline. You really don't want to hang out in front of the plus-size dress shop your mom frequents with the granny undies in the window, that's wicked uncool. It has to have streetlight, but no too much so, 'cause skulking is a waste of time if nobody can see how shadowly cool you are doing it.
4. The pose - I like the arms crossed over the chest, the hip cocked carelessly. Perhaps the imaginary cigarette or 40-ouncer for style points (careful kid, even imagining that stuff'll kill your wind.) Don't look too needy - your most enthusiastic greeting to anyone is a barely-perceivable gruff nod and a growled "'Sup?" And don't break stuff, that just makes you look lame. Aloof, brooding, a little dangerous with no wasted effort while doing absolutely nothing - yeah, that's what we're going for.
5. The reason - Ah, who knows. Boredom, rebellion, apathetic parents, the concept that otherwise you might be faced with something as numbing as homework, getting a part-time job, helping out around the house, or going to sleep at a decent time.
So, until you all get driver's licences and can move up to driving aimlessly around and burning up the globe's supply of fossil fuels to supplement your posing, it looks like you all will be sharing the sidewalks downtown in front of my place of work.
While you are down here, perhaps I'll go to your place and lounge and scowl in your parent's living room, while I ask them. Do you even wonder where they are?