“What is this pocket for?” I ask the teenager with the labret piercing and struggling sideburns. I’m in the mall. I have no idea why and I’ve somehow found myself in one of those trendy, hip-hop stores where the once subculture has been mass-produced into mainstream. Skateboard decks hang on one while and breakdancing shoes hang below them.
I didn’t know you had to have specific shoes just for breakdancing. You didn’t when it first came out. Somebody saw the need and told these kids what they want. They don’t know any better.
I’m holding a backpack with a small, triangle pocket on the outside.
“That’s to hold your mask for taggin’.” He says it so matter-of-factly like anyone with a pulse should know this. I think this is the first time I’ve been on the other side of the generation gap.
“And to think,” I begin sarcastically; maybe a little self-righteously, “that, back in the Beatstreet days, Ramo didn’t even have a mask.” I guess, in a way I’m trying to fit in but not conform. I want him to know that I know what he’s talking about but be a little above it. Old School.
“Ramo died, dude.”
“Yeah, but he was electrocuted on the train tracks.” I’m thinking that there’s no way to win this… “argument?” Is that what we’re having?
“It’s not like the fumes killed him.” For some reason, I feel like I need to prove myself to this punk. He needs to know that I was hip - once. I tagged and I breakdanced but it was before we had our own shoes and backpacks with special pockets for our gear.
And suddenly I realize that I really don’t care.
This blue-haired mall employee’s music probably samples my own. The guy who did his piercing is my old roommate. I think that T-shirt he’s wearing was one I bought in Russia and gave to Goodwill after it shrunk in the laundry. Which means I’m probably bigger than him. Even his blue hair is a commercialized version of my own Kool-Aid staining from back in the day.
“Hey, there’s a party tonight at the Nike Pavilion,” he offers, “should be good.”
And for a moment I feel something. Pride? It’s the same thing I felt the first time I was invited to join the table full of cheerleaders during lunch. It was my Junior year of High School and I had been sharing my table with a guy in a dress and black nail polish (Nirvana was still sort of peaking.) I don’t remember if Kurt Cobain was still alive or not. Does it matter? The point, was that cheerleaders were inviting me to their table. It smelled of fruity perfume and chicken fried steak.
Maybe menthol cigarettes.
“Maybe.” I say it flatly even though I don’t try. I’m starting to understand that I’m getting older. I don’t want to be up that late. I don’t like the music or the glow-in-the-dark kids anymore. I’m just not there.
As I leave the store, some thumping, bass-infused techno rattles the glass of the store’s windows and the kid calls after me.
“Peace.” He says it like it’s a question. A blue-haired teenager that’s cooler than me but still looks to me for approval.
Was I ever this way?