#634: Streetlight Manifesto

May 16th, 2016

The line of punk rockers snaked back and forth along the barricade of candy Walgreens uses to file the customers.

Past the gamut of Snickers and other impulse buys, the line of punks continued back through half the Walgreens, petering out by the premade turkey sandwiches.

“Did a show just let out?” I asked four sweaty white teens whose brand-new Streetlight Manifesto T-shirts hung limply over their scrawn.

“Yeah,” they said in unison.

“I picked the wrong day to need toilet paper,” I said.

They laughed.

Streetlight Manifesto is an American ska punk band from New Brunswick, New Jersey formed in 2002, Wikipedia tells me because I’m 36 and stopped caring about bands at roughly the moment they formed. I listened to an album of theirs on YouTube once I got home. I would have liked them, when I cared.

As I picked up the most on-sale toilet paper, dish soap and dishwasher liquid the Walgreens offered, I had to dodge little spots and clusters of sweaty punks raiding the Gatorade and eying the six packs they wished they were old enough to buy.

Lavender hair and red lipstick for the girls. Scrawny bowl cuts for the zit-clad boys. Dabbles of conversation heard in the air about how to head home, about pulling fast ones on parents, about good nights had and good nights yet to come.

Earlier in the night, I had been sipping middle to highfalutin ginger ale at a backyard barbecue birthday party with some of the roughest scumbags I know.

I don’t mean this in the way that everyone thinks their friends are a rowdy bunch. (“Did you see Tony? Man, he once stayed out until eleven!”) I mean that these are fascinating, complicated people whose stories might blow the little ska punk kids’ minds. Various levels of sin, various levels of legality, various levels of how much each of these people could physical hurt you.

We talked about gardening. We talked about the marinade used on the chicken. We talked about plans for the future now that we realized that rougher days are past and we actually do have futures.

My nasty, tattoo-clad bunch talked about ways to keep bunny rabbits from nibbling at the lettuce.

I’m not putting on airs over the children swarming the Walgreens after a show. I don’t know them, and I’m sure some have struggles and depth not immediately apparent while rushing for sports drinks in matching band shirts.

But what’s next, little ones, is a few years of sin. You’ll make your parents worry, you’ll break some hearts, you’ll lose your taste for novelty. You’ll never in your life care as much about bands as you do right now.

And someday you’ll be the one getting toilet paper at a Walgreens, the taste of natural ginger ale still on your tongue. And you’ll look on a crowd of kids wearing shirts from a band you never heard of, and you’ll shake your head thinking, “If they only knew what’s coming.”

Just like someone a bit down the path is shaking their head right now, looking at me.

Read about some teenagers who gave me hope

Read about others who took my hope away

Join my campaign to declare myself a sandwich

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