News publications went haywire over the news that Justin Bieber (you know that Bieber fever is an actual sickness) peed in a bucket before cursing former president, Bill Clinton. It was a landmark day in the career of the former tween pop star who made his mark offering slick rhymes over processed beats and landed straight in the hearts of young girls worldwide, like a wayward arrow from Cupid himself. Now I should admit here and now, before I continue further, that I've never listened to a full Justin Bieber song. I've heard snippets here and there, said “That's enough!” and changed the station without a moment's hesitation. But if you like his music, more power to you. Maybe you can explain it to me. I'd love to hear it.
Moving along … after hearing this story, I became even more intrigued with the idea of youth culture. Granted my generation was only a decade ago, I find myself sympathizing and coming up with excuses for our nation's youth all the time. And I think that's just an adult mentality in general. You witness people like Amanda Bynes, Lindsay Lohan and the like, and find yourself either not paying attention (like me) or you find yourself constantly perusing the headlines, trying to see what trainwreck has blow-torched its carcass across the fine print of the day. And for those that don't pay attention, you simply say “Where the hell are the parents?” Because back in our day … they were the answer, if not the reason. So I ask, where are the parents? Where are those people that protect their children against the tyranny and selfishness of the world and raise them to be little warriors that think and feel and make good decisions?
People act as if this lapse in youth judgment is a recent tip of the scale. Has the trainwreck/stupid phenomena not been going on for generations? Was the late Corey Haim not going to clubs and bars, getting loaded and having his image splashed in every tabloid that had enough space to welcome it? So, why are people so critical of today's pop stars and young actors? What makes them so special in regard to past generations in terms of who did it worse? By the time I was a teenager, Macaulay Culkin (who I revered as the coolest, loudest, weirdest child to fend off burglars) was already having his mug shot taken. I didn't fret because I figured if you're going to be interested in celebrity, you should read the tell-tale signs, if not follow the comebacks. Robert Downey Jr. anyone?
And the only sane words of advice I've heard being given to these young Hollywood dilettantes were from Helen Mirren, who simply said, “Don't be up your own bum.” Simple as that. Get your heads out of your asses, get to work, cash your checks, rank up those vacation days and go about your business in a calm, leisurely manner. Unless it is your ultimate goal to look like a buffoon every time the cameras are rolling and there's a tartini to sip. Or maybe it's just a teen angst-inspired rhythm that keeps them dancing the dance of dangerous paths only to find solace in the American courtroom while hearing a judge tell them they've had it all wrong. To them, maybe authority is the answer—but also the cause. One can only wonder. But it's like that saying goes … youth is wasted on the young. Maybe there is some truth to it.
But like any grown-up just barely skimming the headlines, you can't help but feel some sort of pity for these lost Barbies and Kens who think convertibles, clothes and coke make for one hefty recipe of a good time. Don't get me wrong, clothes are nice (and essential at times), but where's the weight of such extravagances? And who does it fall on? Everyone else, unless these celebs get better tax people to straighten out the numbers. But as long as these youngsters keep doling out good tabloid headlines, selling issues of papers that usually get the facts wrong, and still make time for red carpet appearances to promote that B-movie that almost went straight to video but managed to find decent distribution, then I'm sure we have even more spicy headlines coming our way. Who knows? Justin Bieber may poop on Mt. Rushmore and say he did it all for the nookie. Or was it the cookie?
Years ago I knew her only as Ann, the dolled-up secretary at a South Valley elementary school where I used to translate some language into another. Just last month, egged on by two pooch-faced drug addicts begging for a hamburger and twenty-five dollars, I met “Bella Banana” smiling and smelling of Jimmy Choo over an Arby’s cashier counter. We promised to meet for coffee sometime but never did. We opted for some boba tea and a bus ride, all around a sweeter deal.
Her heroes were all fabulous: Verónica Castro, Thalía, Susan Lucci, Lucy Lawless (the most bella of the bellas). She tried to follow in their footsteps, modeling and schmoozing in the world of entertainment. But it was a truncated emergence, both for her and for Albuquerque, and before long the window to stardom had shut. “Beautiful sixteen year-olds are born everyday, and how do you compete with that?” she says, at peace now with her resignation to less fab fates.
Bella had enjoyed working at the South Valley school where I first met her, but she felt she did not fit in. She and the other office staff used to sit together at lunch and chew the fat over low-grade public school pizza and something like lettuce salad, but one day, a discussion of real and dream weddings drove a wedge between them. Irene had gotten married in a Best Western hotel room. Janette’s parents forced her to marry her Juanito after she got pregnant at sixteen. Erica was at New Futures at thirteen, and being far too young to marry, simply never got around to it. Bella, on the other hand, had bigger plans:
“When I get married,” she told the girls, “I want a 64-carat Chanel diamond ring, a Vera Wang vintage wedding dress, and oh my God, the wedding has to be somewhere just perfect, like the Sistine Chapel!”
“Tu te crees mucho, eh?” (“You think you’re all that, eh?”), the humble-dream girls chided. A nasty sort of ideological abyss soon left Bella sitting alone at lunch. It pervaded more than just the feelings of the girls, for its implications weighed on the futures of the children they were there to serve.
“It’s okay if you don’t want anything special for yourself,” Bella told me. “But it’s not right to teach the kids that they shouldn’t dream big.”
And speaking of “not big,” Bella’s $11,500 annual salary at Albuquerque Public Schools was simply not compelling enough to stick around. Eventually she decided to leave education for the private sector, and was hired to manage an Arby’s fast-food restaurant for three times her previous salary. There are drawbacks, however. Today she puts in seventy-five-hour workweeks at the sandwich joint, managing a fluid and constantly changing stock of some eleven employees who might be more invested in their job were it not for the policy of the franchise to limit their hours to twenty-seven per week. Apparently, Arby’s found a loophole out of paying Obama Care through that age old trick of screwing over one’s destitute labor force.
All of Bella’s employees, incidentally, regularly use the bus, which today is bustling, indeed. At the corner of Harvard and Central we meet 17-year-old Gabi, a CNM freshmen on her way home from a Summer session class on criminology. Unlike her two brothers, both of whom “do nothing at all,” she wants to be a probation officer when she finishes school. As Bella digs into the details of the more juicy aspects of life, we are all nearly trampled by a one-legged man in a wheel chair bellowing his claim to being the second cousin of the one and only Elvis Presley, whose name is tattooed on his forearm. “I’ll do anything to get my picture taken!” he says. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, he decides to ride along with us, subtly suggesting we might all wind up at a cheap hotel somewhere with a bottle of party-all-night. It doesn’t happen. We part with a sweet and anti-climatic handshake at Louisiana and Central, and Elvis rides into the sun setting over the flea market.
On the way back, we meet Ben, who makes all of his own fetish leather gear, and Adolfo, who is the brother of Alfonso and the son of Alonso. Ben is heading downtown to see a show. Adolfo just lost all his money at the casino, save for some change for bus fare. Bella and I get off at Yale and Central. After a golden hug goodbye, I thank her for the lovely company, and for introducing me to the bubbly world of boba tea. Another day slides off the horizon, and the coolness of the desert night saves our baked souls once again.
Michael Jerome Wolff created albuquerquebusstops.com to get intimate with the lifeline and underbelly of the place he calls home. With critique and compassion, he explores public space and those inhabiting it through photographs and real human stories.
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