Autumn and Puberty in New York

The following is inspired by true events

Dennis and Elliot stood at the corner of 86th and Lexington, waiting for the school bus in clothes that were much too big for them. They were ill-fitting, the clothes, because both Dennis and Elliot had made it very clear to their mothers that they wanted XL hoodies, baggy jeans, and oversized boots to wear to school. These items could have fit grown men — which neither was even close to being — so the two teenagers were effectively swimming in cotton and walking in clown shoes to and through the halls of PS 167.

The year was 2003, though, and such things were considered to be in style (it was a strange and terrible time for fashion). Nelly was king of pseudo-rap radio stations, and thus the gratuitous wearing of Band-Aids was somehow deemed acceptable. As was listening to R. Kelly, who could still be publicly known to urinate on underage girls and manage to sell records in the millions. Usher was making panties drop of all races, ages and classes; while 50 Cent’s debut album “Get Rich or Die Tryin” was absolutely dominating the charts, enabling white middle-class youth to delude themselves into feeling at one with the ghetto.


Enter our boys at the bus stop.


Autumn in New York is just about as good as it gets this side of the Atlantic. Changing of the leaves and all that, of course, but there’s something else to it. A crispness to the air translates into the city’s energy, reflecting its vibrance. The metropolis feels alive in a different way than the rest of the year, not quite as lackadaisical as summer, abrasive as winter or blissful as spring; it’s just different. But that was totally lost on Dennis and Elliot, who were smack dab in the middle of the hellacious transition into puberty, which is just about as bad as it gets this side of old age and incontinence.

Their ill-fitting clothes were the only things that succeeded in making them feel less self-loathing, although that was soon to change. The hoodies made their facial acne feel slightly less obvious, just as the baggy jeans made their developing genitalia feel slightly less miniscule. More important than any other accessory, however, was headphones. Apple’s First Generation iPod had recently been put into mass production, and being the sons of wealthy white lawyers living on the Upper East Side, they both owned a brand new one.

Tuning out the world with constant music was crucial both to Dennis and Elliot, and anyone else their age, in fact. It’s worth pointing out that an ability to hide from reality with the pocket sized soundtrack of your choice is a distinctly 21st century privilege, one for which not nearly enough of us are sufficiently grateful. What seems like a simple walk around Manhattan can be a different beast altogether depending on the playlist. Dennis preferred Biggie and Jay-Z, while Elliot was partial to Tupac and Nas.


Both joined the ranks of white middle class angst in being completely obsessed with Eminem.


So the two were at the bus stop, going back and forth on the Golden Age of Hip-Hop’s demise and Gangsta Rap’s subsequent rise with opinions that were actually pretty informed for listeners of their age and demographic. Dennis was a firm believer in the 90s’ musical supremacy (despite not having been cognizant for most of them), and had yet to shake a jaded sense of nostalgia. Elliot, on the other hand, believed that hope yet remained for hip-hop, that music always has its ups and downs no matter the decade; he was right.

This dialogue carried on in a relatively friendly but heated tone due to their raging hormones. Until, at one point, a very striking woman walks by — there are a lot of these in New York — and derails the whole thing. Teenage boys are totally incapable of composing themselves around someone they’re attracted to, although so are a lot of grown men, in truth. There is a moment, somewhere between twelve and fifteen, when you start to notice women and covet them, but not be able to do a fucking thing about it. Dennis and Elliot would each be fourteen in February.


To fight the good fight against puberty is to accept certain defeat.


It was at this moment, as she was walking by — and man, was she walking by — that their baggy pants started to tighten uncomfortably, mortifyingly. Both immediately noticed (it’s hard not to) and went silent, turning the other way, waiting for her to pass, for it to pass. When she had cleared the block, they looked around to make sure no one was watching, then performed the all too familiar and universal “dip-and-tuck”. If you are female and unsure of what this maneuver entails, give it a moment’s thought and you’ll work it out.

But so the boys were wearing belts, old belts, their fathers’ belts; and as the dip-and-tuck was being performed, the belts, these goddamn belts broke on them, right there on 86th and Lexington. So their jeans — Sean John and Rocawear, respectively — started abruptly to slide down, because a 34-inch waistline simply will not cling to a 26-inch waist. And but the front of these jeans, they were still tight, indeed the only force holding everything up was the tightness; so now of course the school bus makes its way around the corner (because why wouldn’t it be then?) lumbering towards the duo with ominous lethargy.


The pair’s aforementioned taste in music had bestowed them with a vast arsenal of profanity for just such an occasion, one which they made copious use of in the brief, horrid moments before their big yellow chariot arrived.


Going up the steps of the school bus, the boys found themselves more thankful than ever for their oversized hoodies, which they used their right hands to stretch over it, the tightness, while using their left hands to hold up the baggy jeans. Their boots — size 11 Timberlands, both pairs — clunked with each awkward, shuffling stride they took to the back of the bus, which was mercifully yet unoccupied. The headphones were turned up to max volume as they both faced directly ahead, mouths sealed tightly shut, and knees pushed up against the back of the seat in front of them to camouflage the bulges.

By the time they got to PS 167, the tightness had faded, but the jeans remained maddeningly loose. Pants meant for obese adults do not suit toothpick youth, a lesson Dennis and Elliot learned by being relegated to manually suspending them for the remainder of the day. Neither’s hand ever left waistline, and the two spent more time pulling up their pants that day than speaking, a task made slightly less humiliating by the headphones blaring beats and bars through it all.


Thanks be to Apple for headphones and iPods.


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