Letter from the Editor

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Fine Art of Skulking

It's really hard work to make it look like you don't care...

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 everyone, 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 to five years of frantic effort to appear uninterested, desperate attempts at detachment, studied pursuit of 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 park bench or a nine iron to lean on and skulk away just like we did when we were 14. Full circle, baby, full circle.

Tell you why this springs to mind.

Spring is arriving, and with the robins and melting ice, come the first scanner calls of curfew violation and school truancy. Stroll down Lake Avenue on a given midnight dark and dreary this season, and you'll see skulking at its finest all over the place.

Little knots of barely-middle-school slackers, carrying around skateboards, standing with hands in pockets in a parking lot, whatever.

(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, even during the school year?

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 dearest's own constitutional rights to behave like adolescents themselves.

Somewhere in there, it became acceptable for kids in their early teens or younger to wander the streets all night long, along with the straggler barflies and vampirical-looking insomniacs.

Eep, 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. For the most part they are doing no harm, except possibly to themselves in the form of sleep deprivation.

We're told there's no money for a skate park let alone any kind of youth center, 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 Pearl Harboring me while I'm walking home. 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 minus laces, one pierced ear (right was wrong, as I recall) backward baseball caps and tee-shirts from some obscure heavy metal bands with names like Bloodletting Alterboys from Hades.

These days, it seems to be black hoodies with some random antisocial message on it, a silly knit cap yanked low even in August, the piercing in your nose like a glittery misplaced booger. (Or the eyebrow or somewhere else we don't want to know


Jeans must be baggy enough to show a hint of refrigerator repairman rear cleavage, with a studded 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 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. It has to have streetlight, but not too much light, 'cause skulking by definition demands that one be see-able, but only in a shadowy cool sort of way.

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 nod and a growled "'Sup?" And don't break stuff or spray paint, 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 where I work.

While you are down here, perhaps I'll go to your place and lounge and scowl in your parent's living room, just to see if they get the point.