Through circumstances slightly beyond my control I found myself in charge of two 13 year olds, one a city kid from San Francisco, the other a child of the East Coast suburbs. I was to be their East Bay chaperone for two days. I needed to do some quick, creative planning.
After 24 hours together, I wasn’t sure that things were going well. They didn’t have a whole lot in common besides age and grade level. My friend from the city hasn’t been much further north than Vallejo and no further south than Santa Cruz. In contrast, my niece from New Jersey is practically a world traveler. She’s been everywhere and done everything. It was hard to think of activities that would be new to Bethanie, but not too overwhelming for Jernae.
One is a fan of rap music, the other prefers groups with names like Trapt and Bowling for Soup. One wears tight bell-bottomed blue jeans and blouses that expose her navel. The other mopes around in sweatpants and a T-shirt. One carries a pocketbook with nothing in it. The other has a wallet full of money. All three of us slouched up and down Telegraph Avenue, trying to look cool. Then we slouched around stores like Old Navy and Wet Seal until I thought I’d go crazy.
It finally dawned on me that perhaps the problem was me. Maybe I needed to step out of the picture and leave the two teens alone. “Do you want to see a movie?” I asked on our second evening together. “I could drop you off at a theater and pick you up afterwards.” They seemed to perk up for the first time in hours.
I got out the movie guide and read aloud to them what was playing. “How ‘bout Pirates of the Caribbean.” I said. “Don’t you think Johnny Depp is hot?”
“Been there, done that,” said Jernae.
“Johnny Depp is definitely not hot,” said Bethanie.
“Okay,” I said, “what about Finding Nemo or Bend it Like Beckman?”
“Saw Nemo,” said Jernae.
“Saw Beckman,” said Bethanie.
“Hey, look at this. The Hulk, Sinbad, and Spy Kids are all playing at the same place!” I tried not to sound too enthusiastic. Maybe that was the problem.
Both of them rolled their eyes. At least they were agreeing on something.
“All right, listen up. Have you seen the whale movie or the horse movie?”
“What whale movie?” asked Jernae.
“What horse movie?” asked Bethanie.
I was making progress. I read the reviews out loud for Seabiscuit and Whale Rider. They showed some interest.
“No whales,” said Bethanie. “I don’t like fish.”
“Yeah,” said Jernae. “I like horses better than whales.”
“Great,” I said almost too loudly. Showing any kind of unbridled emotion might turn them against horse movies, just as it had turned them against poor Johnny Depp.
I took them to United Artists of Emery Bay and bought them tickets to see Seabiscuit. Then I left them on their own and crossed my fingers that it would all work out.
“How was the movie?” I asked when I picked them up out front at 9 p.m.
“It was for old people,” said Bethanie.
“Definitely,” said Jernae. “We were the youngest people in the place.”
“By a whole lot,” added Bethanie.
“I mean, there was nobody under at least 20 there except for us,” said Jernae.
“And when the credits came on, well you know how you’re suppose to get up and leave, right?” asked Bethanie. “Well, nobody left. Maybe they couldn’t get out of their seats.”
“It was pathetic,” said Jernae.
“Nobody but old people stay for the credits,” stated Bethanie.
“Yeah,” said Jernae. “Nobody.”
“But how was the movie?” I asked again.
“It was for old people,” they both said in unison.
Finally, common ground. As soon as one flies back to New Jersey and the other heads over the Bay Bridge to Hunters Point, I’m going to buy myself a ticket to see Seabiscuit and stay until every last credit rolls by.