This weekend I went to a 17 years old’s house party. It was an accident, I swear.
I probably should have left once I realized the reason all the men were clean shaven was because they were boys. The adult thing to do was to leave the keg and head to a nice wine bar, but the opportunity to revisit my teenage years again, now that my hormones had stabilized and I’ve realized low-rise jeans don’t work on me, was just too tempting.
I had come with my boyfriend’s alternative punk band. They say a friend’s friend had set up the show and needed another band on the bill last minute, so the band loaded up their equipment and made the 99-mile journey from Brooklyn to the city of Brotherly Love with groupie girlfriend in tow.
The venue was called Maggot House (a pretty normal name for a place that puts on alternative punk shows), but as we pulled up to a crowd of kids in flannels and ripped jeans smoking cigarettes, the only people on an empty street of mostly boarded up apartment buildings in West Philly, I realized this wasn’t a venue or even a bar. It was indeed a house, and probably a house with maggots, as the name suggested.
When we got inside it was apparent that the average age of patrons at this Maggot House was 17, though there were a few outliers in either direction: the very young girls sipping from Solo cups as big as their faces, the two older men in leather trench coats (I could tell their age by their full beards), and me, in a blazer, suddenly alone at a teenage house party as the band went to set up in the basement.
First thought: I need a cocktail. Second thought: Do I know how to pump a keg anymore? Third thought: Am I liable if this party gets busted? I ignored 2 out of the 3 questions and focused on trying to fill my plastic cup with half as much beer as there was foam.
I pressed myself against the basement wall painted with a mural of a naked old man riding a yeti type creature and tried to blend in as much as possible as the room began filling up with young whippersnappers ready to get weird. I tried to lean in a laid back sort of way but I was so conscious of my age, that someone might think I was someone’s mom or worse, one of those kids who goes to high school parties long after graduation, that my body contorted into an awkward wide legged slump. A naked man on the yeti probably would have looked more inconspicuous then I did.
The first band, a group of boys with shoulder length hair and tight faded jeans called something along the lines of Whore Toast, began playing a strong beat behind feedback that was louder then their electric guitar. I felt like I had been transported into an episode of My So Called Life but immediately realized that everyone here probably had no idea Jared Leto didn’t always have a mullet/wear eye liner/attend fashion shows in a lot of shiny material. I thought of the many cultural references that I associated with being a teenager and how I would have to explain every one. I watched these mini Jordan Catalanos and Donna Martins dancing and pushing to the music as the exposed wires on the ceiling dripped condensation onto my hair. I wanted to shout: “Jared Leto used to wear flannel and have dyslexia just like you!”. But no one would have heard me. By now a pile of intertwining youth was writhing in the middle of the crowd, pulsing with the beat as the drummer took off his shirt and I spilled beer foam on my blazer. For the first time in my life, I felt old.
I am not old. I realize that referring to people less than a decade younger than myself as “whippersnappers” and “youth” makes me sound old and like a condescending ageist. I am only 25 but have probably always been a condescending ageist. I didn’t want to judge these people based on their lack of facial hair and overactive pituitary sweat glands. I wanted to be free and young and open. I wanted to get weird in the beer and sweat, too. But at that moment, watching a sea of teenagers head bang in a rhythm of glistening sweaty hair, it didn’t matter how many years were in between us, 17 was miles away from anything I could even pretend to be.
I climbed around the heap and made my way upstairs for fresh(ish) air. Looking around the apartment as groups of boys with skateboards smoked things out of pipes and girls in thick eyeliner talked low on a couch missing half its stuffing, I got this hunting feeling I had been here before. Not this house, but this party, and not these people exactly because I was probably buying Nirvana CDs the year they were born, but close. The resurgence of late 90’s fashion, floral dresses with lace up boots and flannel shirts, created a space-time party continuum and I could very well have been 15 at this party instead of 25 at this party.
I went outside looking for someone I could bum a cigarette off without feeling like I was encouraging the addiction of a minor. The two bearded older men were there and I ran to them, never happier to see facial hair.
“Did you realize this was a high school affair?”
“Oh. That explains why none of those girls will talk to us.” One of the men said between drags, “But it’s a good party. I don’t think I would have been invited to this in high school.”
And then I got it. Yes, I was older then all those pretty young things mashing together in the mildewy basement, but that’s not why I was so uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable because I’m an uncomfortable person. I don’t really like parties or rubbing up with people I don’t know. I never have, even at 17. If I had been invited to a party like this when I was a teenager I would have taken one look at the scene and made my getaway to talk to the weird older men (there are always a few), just as I did here. I would have pretended to stay the whole night but really I have snuck out at midnight to make curfew.
Now that I was old, I was free to be my lame self! I didn’t have to go to big parties and drink warm beer from a keg and pretend to have an awesome time.
I said goodbye my fellow seniors and headed back inside. I found a wineglass somewhere and poured in the rest of my foam. My boyfriend’s band began playing and the kids gathered again into their fleshy pile dance. I sat on the moist couch with wine glass in hand, looking happily like a mother, or maybe a big time executive ready to sign the next teenage punk band, but most likely like that awkward post graduate who would be leaving at midnight.