Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Boys to Men

Piano Boys

Nora and Mia and I walk to Homer’s for ice cream. The seventeen-year cicadas are calling out to each other high in the trees. My neighbor Susie says they sound like thousands of elves beating tiny drums; I hear a music like an empty aerosol spray or waves of approaching benevolent aliens.

We are standing in line when the two teenage boys behind us, floppy-haired, probably a little young to drive yet, surprise me by breaking into song.

“It’s five o’clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in,” begins one of the boys and my eyes go wide. The other kid chimes in quietly, “there’s an old man sitting next to me,” and I’m amazed. This is 2007. Kids today know who Billy Joel is?

Their song is no louder than conversation. They are singing for no one but each other, for fun. What uneasy confidence and unsure joy these two sweeties have, trying on the new clothes of adolescent identity, trying out their private selves in a public place. I think about turning around to give them a smile, but attention from an anonymous mom doesn’t usually encourage those who are not children or adults. This special animal between the ages can spook easily if the cool is tainted by adult appreciation. So I keep my smile to myself, satisfied with the rare sighting of young adult males emerging from their chrysalides.

Boymen. I taught them for eight years at a single sex high school and I left still bewildered by the unpredictability of the beast. A boy vomiting in a hall trashcan, then matter of factly shrugging off my offers of help. An occasional propensity for drama I would have found extreme in young women. Tolerance where I didn’t expect it, unmocked gentleness. Gleeful mobs celebrating OJ’s verdict. A crowd watching a fight in the hall, their arms crossed, their faces passive. The shocking stillness of six hundred boys at the memorial service for one of their own, some weeping openly.

Without a doubt, my very favorite part of the job was watching them grow over the four years I was part of their lives. Chubby puppies transformed into hirsute thin-faced adults. I witnessed slow motion waves of maturity that crested for me at graduation when they disappeared into the open sea of their lives. An occasional reappearance, at a toll booth, tableside in a restaurant, on a city street, on the masthead of a magazine, always makes me happy, leaves me feeling traces of nostalgia, pride, affection.

Date Night Double Feature

I spent last Saturday night in the good company of three men who still trail the clouds of their adolescence as their sweet heads still bear their childlike curls: my cute husband, Seth Rogan and Glen Hansard. Look at these men carefully and you may find an adolescent vulnerability, disguised as carefully as a wiseguy’s lisp.

Rogan, the lead of Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, was only sixteen years old when he appeared on the show Freaks and Geeks but already had the resigned mien and gravel voice of a life-weary grown man. Now he’s funny and loose in this new hit movie playing Ben Stone, an adult with the lifestyle of a child.

The movie’s zillion dollar premise is how scruffy responsibility-phobe Ben will deal with a surprise pregnancy after a drunken one night stand with A-type Alison Scott (the impossibly pretty and very funny Katherine Heigl.) Ben reacts to this bomb with a combination of horror, uneasiness, and measured excitement that is both funny and moving. I loved his little “yeah!” at the end of the phone call when he agrees to support the frightened Alison any way he can.

Before his lightning quick makeover into a responsible adult (Bam! A job! Bam! A lease!), the movie revels in showing Ben’s other possible route – that of his wayward and hilariously wasted friends. My favorite bit in the whole damn film was an incomprehensible exchange between Allison and a stoner girl played by Charlyne Yi about fighting babies for food. This has to be seen to be believed.

Did any other moms wonder how the acute olfactory powers of a pregnant woman could have allowed Allison to set foot in the icky stoner house?

Glen Hansard, the lead singer of the band The Frames, wears his heart in his eyes as well as on his sleeve in John Carney’s little independent movie, Once. Playing a street busker with hopes of something a little bigger, Hansard plays guitar and sings with fearless and wild anguish, while his shyness with a new friend is that of a boy. When he watches the lovely young Czech musician, played by Marketa Irglova, sing at the piano, his mouth hangs slightly open in awe.

The two gather a rag tag group of musicians, haggle their way into some studio time and create a demo tape. That’s about it for the plot of this slip of a film, but it was as thrilling to watch them create music as to witness the beginning of their relationship.

Is it a spoiler to say that I had such a good cry at the end? Nice long satisfying sobs that faded by the end of the credits.

P.S. One of my favorite movies, Killer of Sheep, directed by Charles Burnett is coming to the Music Box August 3. Check it out!


Julia Buckley said...

Cindy, My 12 year old son loves Billy Joel and has a bunch of his songs on his MP3 player.

I think it's actually a sign of OUR narcissicm, us baby boomers, because we made our kids grow up with our music. :)

Most of my students claim to "love" their parents' music from the 70s, but I wonder if it's because they never had a chance to discover their own.

Jenny said...

Ooh! Thanks for pointing out your review! I'm always looking for great bloggers who review media to link to over on BlogHer. I'll be back!