Living With The Lost Boys

Cover of
Cover of The Lost Boys

The sudden pivot in the meteorologist’s forecast was highly displeasing. Having already missed an opportunity for a white Christmas, I was now fixated on our imminent four day mini-break to Orlando where we would achieve some old fashioned family time with our increasingly oversubscribed teenagers.

Boxing Day was spent sluggishly cleaning up from Christmas and nervously watching the weather channel as the predictions of a winter nor’easter were confirmed.  A perfect storm of airline emasculating, zero visibility winds and tarmac snarling snow had descended over the entire region. With snowfalls predicted to entomb the tri-state with levels of up to three feet, I started to understand why native Northeasterners have come to loathe the romantic notion of a late December snowstorm. The woods may be lovely, dark and deep but snow means no flight out to find some heat.

Our flight had an ETD of 6am Monday — during the peak of the storm. The question was not whether our flight would be delayed,  it was simply whether we would be able to book a later flight once the airline came clean and cancelled our morning escape to Florida.

At 11am Sunday morning, Flight 987 was officially cancelled. The 800 number provided by the airline was overwhelmed to a point where any ticket holder tenacious enough to cling to the queue was being asked to call back later – and then uncerimoniously dropped from the call. Logistical certainty was in short supply on this day. We continued to badger the airline to determine if a late Monday or early Tuesday departure might salvage our best laid plans.

After finessing our way to a customer service operator ( I do not recall how we found this trap door – perhaps we indicated that we had “ special” needs ), we were told that we could get five tickets to Orlando late Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning. The understanding agent did not seem to divine that this new itinerary would afford us less than 48 hours in the Sunshine State.  Given that 30 of those hours would be either dark or with temperatures less than 50 degrees, I was skeptical of a decent return on investment.

The agent offered to reschedule our return but this would require rebooking my tickets for an additional $150 penalty per ticket.  I did some quick napkin calculus and determined this vacation would cost us around $100 for each hour of potential sunshine. I could save $3500 if I bought everyone their own jar of Vitamin D and three free sessions at Savage Tropic tanning salon.

We peacefully euthanized our vacation late Boxing Day afternoon. Our teens temporarily mourned the passing of our trip the way one might lament the death of a distant relative. After five minutes of self-reflection, they shifted their attention to the living and began rapidly pinging their friends for sleepovers, parties and any other forms of nocturnal activity.

My wife would require more time to recover from our vacation’s sudden cardiac arrest.  She was facing the grim reality of an entire week with a thoughtless quartet of the undead – creatures of the night who would conspire to overrun her best efforts to keep a clean house, avoid endless meal preparation and hourly carpools.

As a stay at home vacation Dad, I am at best,  a weak surrogate and at my worst, a human sinkhole of mixed messages undermining my family’s carefully negotiated routines and boundaries regarding curfews, chores and accountability. I am like wildlife in the garden – a novelty that is glimpsed at dawn and at twilight but rarely during day. It seems only mad dogs, Englishman and the unemployd venture into the noonday sun.

Instead of pushing everyone to bed at an early hour for a December 27th 5am departure, we stayed up until 2am playing poker and watching old movies. Our cancelled flight allowed us to dive into a week of freshly fallen snow and a clear calendar.  I quickly took the cue from my teenagers and began a slow transformation into a vampire.

My first mistake was suggesting the XBox 360 be moved upstairs from the basement into the family room so we could enjoy a big screen version of FIFA 2011 soccer, NCAA football, Tony Hawk Underground and of course, the culturally enriching Call of Duty – Black Ops.

Most of my “black ops” activities are confined to eating unhealthy food late at night and frivolous purchases on eBay. However, I was now being recruited into an adolescent band of brothers whose motto was “leave no man behind – alive.” Aside from their annoying habit of shooting me in the back for sport,  my boys drew me into hours of  constant violence in some of the poorest nations around the globe. Other than learning how to operate an automatic Famas gun, throw a ballistic knife and engage cross-bow explosives, I was beginning to show signs of PTSD and was not improving domestic policy at home.

Later that evening, my wife realized the open week was not trending in her favor. As she laid down the holiday rules and regulations ( she had just discovered that the dog had urinated by the door because none of us had noticed his whimpering ),  I stood by her side with genuine disdain for my teens. “Look guys, mom is right. You need to pull your weight around here.” She turned and looked at me incredulously. “Really?”

Falling in with these slacker vampires had been so easy. It was reminiscent of college — late nights,  sleeping in until noon, occasionally venturing out to a movie, ordering take out, and groaning with exaggerated inconvenience when asked to do anything where there was nothing in it for me. It was an amazingly rapid metamorphosis from parent to parasite.

Two days into my Twilight regression, I had my moment of clarity.  I glanced up to survey a hoarder’s landscape of squalor – – Cheez-It and Goldfish boxes, empty bottles of diet coke and empty Nutri-Grain wrappers. The evening before, I had stayed up until 3am to finally defeat my eldest son in a barn burner football game that went into double overtime.  The dog was asleep on the couch while two teens sat in a digital stupor on separate computers watching reruns of Modern Family on Hulu. To the shock of my fellow primates, I pushed the “save” button on my latest game of NCAA Football.  I was now into my third season of the Dynasty segment of NCAA Football 2011.  I was no longer a contributing member of society but I was virtual head coach of the USC Trojans. I had also developed an almost stenographer type dexterity with my fingers – using what felt like 12 digits to work every A – Z button on the controller.

My son glanced up, “Dad, where are you going? You just unlocked a new level in your game” A new level?, I thought.  I was suddenly very afraid that if I descended deeper into this artificial gridiron matrix, I might never return.  I had to escape from the underworld of the undead and return to the surface of the living – and I had to leave right now.

I showered and shaved, glancing at the unimpressive image of a pale, blood shot-eyed baby boomer. I emerged into the crisp air and sunshine of a gorgeous winter afternoon.  I had to get away from my home and drive – – anywhere.  My car seemed to guide me into town where the sidewalks were likely to be alive with adults and responsible people – presumably others who had missed their flights or did not live in a sarcophagus of teens.

Suddenly, I spied my wife’s car and spotted her moving slowly down the street – presumably window shopping for post holiday bargains or a family practice attorney. “Hey” I said breathlessly as I caught up to her. She was pleased to see that I had escaped the iron grip of the Lost Boys.   We lingered over a latte fueled lunch and made plans for the new year.

The afternoon was dying and yielding to purple twilight. Suddenly, the streets were beginning to empty. The human beings were slowly returning home to prepare meals, read books, rest by a fire and contemplate the next days and all of its possibilities. A knot of new shadows appeared outside our café window. Six young vampires wearing cotton hooded sweat shirts, shorts and high top sneakers were moving across a frigid street on a restless roll. Two boys yelled into the cell phone of a third as he held his phone back and shoved the nearest vampire. They had all temporarily abandoned their computers and XBoxes to roam the town in search of a source of entertainment.

I felt a Call of The Wild stir as I surveyed the aimless, rudderless spill of hormones as they splashed on to the sidewalk. They would soon end up at a new safe house, retreating by the light of day, waiting for another restless night. My blackberry suddenly buzzed and a message appeared from the world of adults – – a misguided colleague choosing to work the graveyard slot between Christmas and New Years. I put away the blackberry and returned to my partner and to our  plans.

I smiled realizing that I did not make a very good vampire. Vampires did not understand the difference between living in the moment and living as if there was no tomorrow.  Vampire’s consider the past an empty bucket of ashes, the present an endless horizon line road and the future as something that happens to other people.

My wife and I were thinking about the future, about our new year and about things we needed to do to make a difference. I felt my chin, freshly cleared of a 48 hour goatee of vampire stubble. They had almost pulled me in – into their red pill world of artificial intelligence and the insatiable craving for constant distraction.

I had survived my time with the Lost Boys. As I sipped my coffee, I wondered how it was possible that I had ever survived the purgatory of my own youth. For all of its challenges and responsibilities, it was good to be above ground and among the mortals ready to take on another new year.

Welcome to The Teen Behavioral Network

teen titans
Image by istolethetv via Flickr

How strange that the young should always think the world is against them – when in fact that is the only time it is for them.  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960

Tired of late night cell phone debates with your teens over dubious sleep-over locations and questionable acquaintances?  Worried what kind of den she is calling from ? Unsure whether those red eyes are really from studying or fighting forest fires?  Does your teen make OJ Simpson look truthful? Consider joining The Teen Behavioral Network (TBN)

At TBN, our mission has remained the same, helping teens avoid self sabotage.  During your child’s transformation from adolescence into adulthood, they are statistically at greater risk from a host of acute physical and mental illnesses ranging from situational retardation syndrome (SRS), serial mood swings (SMS), poor peripheral vision (PPV) and episodic events such as auto accidents, broken bones and ruptured relationships.

We want to take this opportunity to socialize you to the benefits, provisions and clinical protocols of our program.  TBN is an incentive based care coordination program underpinned by an exclusive network of friends, acquaintances and families.  Under a typical TBN program, your teen’s activities will require them to call an 800 number to obtain preauthorization for certain risk based activities. Our goal is to help direct them toward people, places and activities that are most likely to reduce their risk for catastrophic events which could sidetrack their progress in life.

Based on decades of evidence and outcomes based data, we have designed a comprehensive physical and mental health program that incorporates the following:

1)      Biometric, academic and psychometric baseline testing – At TBN, we believe you cannot improve what you cannot measure. Periodically, your teen will submit to a basic biometric testing administered by a primary care physician.  We will test key biometric markers such as fasting glucose (blood sugar), weight, blood alcohol and banned substances to baseline overall health status.  We triangulate this data with your child’s grade point average and a two-hour annual psychotherapy session to determine an overall risk score. The lower a teen’s risk score, the less likely they are to commit a monumentally stupid act which could irreversibly impact their future.  Our goal is to reward good behavior and to limit at risk activities to within our preferred partner network.

Based on each child’s risk score, we develop a customized plan to assist them in moving toward “first quartile” social stewardship and personal responsibility.  Our assessment may uncover abnormally high glucose and insulin levels from consumption of sodas, fatty foods and empty carbohydrate diets.  The absence of lactic acid in your teen’s muscles may suggest they are leading too sedentary a lifestyle. 

Our initial baseline risk assessment will graph your member teen’s risk status against local, regional and national peer risk groups to drive toward improvement.  As he/she achieves milestone events, our incentive plan rewards them with behavior points which can be converted into a range of valued rewards such cell phone minutes, PC and phone upgrades, sleep-overs at approved in-network homes and iTunes purchases. Failure to achieve agreed targeted benchmarks results in a series of compulsory physical and behavioral remediation programs offered through affiliated local law enforcement and armed services partnerships

2)      Preferred Partner Organization (PPO) – Every teen member will be provided a customized approved network designating “in-network” friends, family and institutions.  Members may participate in a range of activities in network with no out of pocket expense or preauthorization. 

TBN has gone to great lengths to develop a process for screening and stratifying in-network friends, families and institutions. We pride ourselves on the little things. Our “family” reviewers perform on site inspections and are sensitized to the most subtle signs of laissez-faire oversight such as the absence of alcohol or medicine cabinet inventory controls or content blocking on cable and computers.

While our criteria is kept extremely confidential, each network is unique based upon your teen’s risk profile and the risk factors attributable to other teen members. Certain low risk places or people such as a local church youth group, YMCA or deli are likely to be shared across multiple teen networks.  Certain “in network” friends may receive additional performance stars for characteristics such as intellect judgment, civic responsibility, home supervision and number of text messages sent in a 24 hour period. Five star friends are considered “centers of excellence” (COEs).  COEs are eligible for subsidized activities such as inclusion on family vacations, movies, deli and coffee coupons.

Given the extreme variability of teenagers, our PPO network guide is updated hourly

3)      Out-of Network PPO Access – A teen attempting to access out-of-network friends or institutions must submit an out of network request at least 24 hours prior to the planned event.  Our 24 hour authorization line is staffed with retired teachers, clergy, grandparents, animal trainers and clinical psychologists expert in dealing with pathological behavior.

 You will be provided five micro-chip GPS patches that can be surreptitiously  inserted in your teenagers phone, purse and/or high top sneakers.  The “soft perimeter” tracking device allows you to instantly access your teen’s location via any personal computer or cell phone.  

 Unauthorized Out of network PPO activity may include penalties such as chore deductibles and/or community service co-pays. Each teen must submit location information that includes a JPEG photograph transmitted via cell phone for verification. 

We have retained several per diem private investigators to assist the out of network approval review process.  For a few extra dollars a month you can receive full individual and family background checks and a risk dossier outlining of all public domain information of every person and institution with whom your child may be attempting to affiliate..

4)      Appeals – Teens desiring to appeal out of network denials can request a supervisory appeal from our verification team. Our appeals teams are composed of recovering alcoholics, parole officers and social workers – – all bi-lingual in text messaging and English.  We have recently contracted with Apple to introduce “ iTruth”, a polygraph based wireless application for the iPhone where teens can  attach sensor pads from their phone USB port to their temples. Through an ASP server, users can be evaluated to determine if they are telling the truth. Future programs include iBlow, a breathalyzer app and iBrain, a dopamine and serotonin measurement device.

5)      Final Appeals – Some determined teens may refuse to accept appeals as a basis for final resolution. In these cases, we have designated a “final appeals” protocol. A teen may invoke two final appeal challenges within a one year coverage period – similar to professional football’s red flag challenge.  We employ retired juvenile court judges on 24/7 retainers to arbitrate specific appeals.  Appeal overturn rates for 2010 were less than .005%.  Problematic or disrespectful members will be automatically redirected to a payphone at Bellevue Hospital for the Criminally Insane where teens can attempt to reason with equally irrational people.  These calls are recorded and forwarded to the member parent for entertainment value.

At TBN, our program is simple – – we seek to improve the health and well-being of your teen and to assist them as they navigate a period where they are physiologically and socially incapable of distinguishing risk and consequences.  Youth participants are socialized to understand that in a small town, one’s reputation is easy to lose and hard to recover.

Our motto: “Trust But Verify” reflects our mission to establish guard rails characterized by mutual respect, honesty and consequences for behavior.  We will leave no teen behind and our goal is to ensure that any misstep is minor ……………….(no pun intended).

A Brief History of the Promenade

A typical gathering, with boys in tuxedos, and...
Image via Wikipedia

 

Telling a teenager the facts of life is like giving a fish a bath.  ~Arnold H. Glasow

It is a night unlike any other in America.  It is twelve hours of paradox with one generation holding a candlelight vigil terrified by the combustible fusion of immaturity and immortality.   Off in the distance another generation dives headlong into a mosh pit of tuxedoed kings and gowned queens eager to erase eighteen years of privation.  It is prom night. 

Prom is a seminal life event for most American teens.  For some, the memory of a prom is a private scar or missed opportunity.  For others, it is a wistful breeze of emotion that floats in on the scent of a gardenia.

Most academics contend the origin of the prom is British and relates simply to the concept of the promenade – a long parade of guests who would parallel into a ballroom or gathering area at the beginning of a social event.  Escorts and debutantes would arrive in six horse carriages, the 19th century equivalent of a stretch limo, to socialize and dance.  It was a patrician affair where one would exhibit their breeding, etiquette and possibly end the evening donning a Victorian lampshade for a few cheap laughs.   

Anthropologists dismiss Anglo claims of the United Kingdom as the epicenter of the prom.  Researchers have traced the actual first prom back to a period dating to the Pleistocene and the lower Paleolithic periods when the first members of the family of man walked the planet. The term “prom” was actually a collective noun used to describe a gathering of mixed gendered adolescent Homo erectus.  

Reconstructing these gatherings has proven difficult, as the teens seemed to gather in one place and then move unpredictably – usually to the leeward side of a granite outcrop or thicket of trees.  “We surmise” muses Timothy Pimthwaite of the London Anthropological Society, “that these proms of juvenile hominoids would gather, secrete some sort of pheromone which would in turn, arouse the group and attract more hominoids causing a frenzied series of interactions and mating behaviors.  Within minutes, the groups would move out of sight of the adult Cro-Magnons – as if hiding or experimenting with brief independence.  The youth would seek protective cover from prominent landmarks such as caves and thickets. A few industrious ones even climbed trees.  What they were doing has never been documented. 

It was in these thickets that one anthropologist encountered discarded hollowed out gourds which male researchers assumed were primitive cups that held some sort of nectar.  One female researcher, who also happened to be a mother of five teenagers, quickly surmised that these were in fact, the first Stone Age beer cans.

Researchers theorize that the formal pairing of adolescents to celebrate prom as “dates” was a relatively recent phenomena dating back to the 1890s when British men got tired of attending dances with other British men  — as no self respecting Victorian woman would actually be seen “ dancing”.  This was also the golden age of British pantomimes where male actors would dress up as women to entertain audiences with silly skits and stories.  Given that the Queen Victoria resembled a man made all of this same gender activity remarkably good form. 

However, it took a nudge from the continent to move the Brits off of same sex proms. The first co-ed prom took place in the Austro-Hungarian Alsace in 1914.  The teenage graduation party was a smashing success.  Unfortunately, many of the youths got drunk at a local Hofbrau house and in a fit of patriotic fervor, the boys and girls carried their party into neighboring France and occupied a French village for a week, escalating tensions between the Hungarian Empire and France.  A week later a Serbian shopkeeper whose windows had been broken in the post party melee, shot arch Duke Ferdinand, whose son was one of the lead-offending vandals, sparking WWI.  It seems even then, kids did not understand the consequences of their actions and adults ended up footing the bill.

The prom disappeared for a few years as most kids graduated and were immediately sent off to Flanders to fight.  For a few years, only girls and flat-footed, deaf men were attending proms.  In 1919, the prom entered its golden age as returning soldiers and high school sweethearts were reunited in church halls to give thanks for the end of the global conflict.  The prom became a dignified and respectful affair with ballroom dancing, fruit punch and prayer.  Other than the occasional Catholic sneaking into an Anglican church to spike the punch or bribe the bandleader to play “The Vatican Rag”, things moved rather smoothly into the early 20th century.

In the 20’s, the prom became immensely popular among elite colleges and finishing schools.  In industrial America, most teens bypassed higher education to work and as a result, the prom went private.  In the era of F Scott Fitzgerald and Jay Gatsby, tuxedos and fashionable gowns gained a foothold – transforming the tame Puritanical dance into a patrician orgy of celebration. It was during this decade that teens started to wear increasingly outrageous ensembles as a form of misguided self-expression.   This unfortunate period is now classified as the “ dark age of fashion “ and at its nadir, the purple tuxedo was born. 

Proms carried on.  There were triumphs and tragedies as generations gathered for a fraction of a lifetime – one night – and then went off to college, work, wars and distant hard lives that would carve deep lines in the faces of these young adults so full of life.  There were auto accidents and drug overdoses compelling parents to leave their homes and anxiety-ridden vigils and engage to help shape the evening’s festivities so that the teens might enjoy their rite of passage but make it safely home the next day. 

Fifty years later in the 70’s, there would be nostalgic revival of late 20’s fashion fiascos. In one instance, critics described a black polyester and chiffon gown as only fit for someone “dressing like a centerfold for Farmer’s Almanac Magazine” and abused another rhinestone ensemble as a “ truck stop fashion tragedy. “  Combining these sartorial train wrecks with mullet and feathered hairstyles hijacked the prom into a new territory.  It was no longer a tradition to be meticulously honored but a generational annual rite of self-expression.  

Certain accoutrements have resiliently survived the years of metamorphosis.  The fragrant corsage and the boutonniere known as the “man flower” remain important accessories even into the 21st century.  The prom is now a well-oiled machine where communities and parents organize to build safe environments where teens can roam and forge a personal album of memories.  Text messaging, cell phones, helicopter parenting and electronics have supplanted word of mouth, massive amplifiers, speakers and telephone trees of overly paranoid parents.

Yet time waits for no man.  Each prom, like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Present has a life span of 12 hours. The early morning light enters somewhere off in the distance like a theatre cleaning crew reminding the actors and actresses that their passion play is concluding.  A young man sits exhausted as his date lays her head on his shoulder and falls asleep.  The smell of her perfumed hair and warmth of her breath on his neck stir a restless flutter that grows and seeks to express itself – – out of his body, out of his town and beyond his adolescence. 

There is a swirl of lights – a merry-go-round of time and motion.  The chrysalis breaks with the dawn and the butterflies are released into the wild. They float off into the morning mist – graceful and invincible.  Some may not return to this place.  Others will faithfully return like swallows every five years to remember.

Yes, it was the prom and it was their time.