Let me just start by saying that I’m not sure if I’m a shining example, or cautionary tale, but I said that I would write this, and write this I will. Sometimes there are things so important to me that I have to actually get out of bed and put pants on, that I can be taken just a little bit more seriously when I begin my long-winded defense of things I care about. Other times, I just say I’ve got pants on, and sort of go from there. But this is definitely a pants-wearing moment. For some reason, the one place that I actually wanted to spend time during those carefree years before adulthood (aside from in the high school bleachers with my girlfriend) is facing a possible closure due to the fact that… I don’t know… kids these days? Unlike so many other places that adults wanted us to go, back in the day, I still remember that we actually wanted to hang out at the Teen Center. Obviously, part of that was its prime location, not more than a couple of minutes’ walk from anywhere on campus, but more than that, it always held that feeling of being organically cool. No one there came out and stunk of old people trying to “get us.” More, the staff there engaged us like they would with any other human beings, and it engendered a level of mutual respect.
Don’t get me wrong, we were still teenagers, and not above testing the boundaries, and seeing just what, exactly, that we could get away with. I mean, sure, my girlfriend and I were asked to stop sucking face (on a couple of occasions), but we weren’t judged for having been making out. It’s easy to gloss over one’s memories of youth, insisting upon the adoption of a bitterness that comes with growing up, but that’s something that we never had to deal with. I remember always being treated with respect (and more than I deserved most times), and never told what I should do, but rather, encouraged to go out and make the right decisions. I can say that for a fact, I avoided so much more trouble than I otherwise would have, simply by having somewhere to go, and something to do. At home, I faced anger and disappointment for not being the person that I was expected to become, but in that little building, sitting beneath the shadows of those concrete bleachers, I was always warmly welcomed. And now, a couple of decades later, I realize that I really do miss that place, and those people, and I wish that I had something similar in my current life. Maybe what we need is a Wayward Adult Center, with snacks, warped pool table, and an NES.
Sorry, got a little off-topic there.
What really meant the most to me, and allowed me to become the adult that I am today (still alive, and moderately well-adjusted), were the staff members who chose to spend their time there. They were the parents that we wished we’d had, the ones who didn’t judge us. I can still remember Shannon taking time out of her day to sit and listen to me expound upon my heartbreak every time a new girl broke my heart, and she helped guide me through the dark times of my depression when even I didn’t really know what was going on. And it wasn’t just me that she took the time to help, nor just Shannon to offer. I always felt that no matter who was working, I had someone upon whom I could rely to help me through the most confusing years of life. And even though I began complaining about the “kids these days” beginning sometime around 1999, the fact is the Teen Center has somehow managed to maintain its youth connection and remain relevant to kids over almost a quarter of a century is a testament to how badly young adults just want to be accepted, in any generation.
The Teen Center was an exemplary alternative to the plethora of unsavory distractions of which we might have availed ourselves, and so it must remain. Perhaps the taint of time has yellowed in my eyes the character of youth, but I feel that more than ever, a place like this must exist, must reach out and help young adults make the bewildering transition from little kid to productive member of society. Even now the youth have begun to drift away upon the tides of interwebz, and it’s up to us, those who have made it through to the other side and come out alright, to help keep the doors open and get the kids off their internet machines and sat down upon a couch and talking to other people currently in the same room. Using their voices. And maybe even learning what a belt is for.
There are some who will say that maybe the Center’s time has passed, and that the kids these days no longer need an anachronism such as that. And here is where I must disagree. More than ever, we need someplace safe for the kids to go, where they can practice what it’s like to be grown up, before they face real consequence for failure. Those of us who were lucky enough to have had this resource available must stand proud and extol its virtues from the rooftops (or, should one wish to avoid a charge of misdemeanor trespassing, the streets), and help to keep The Center of the Cool Universe massive enough to exert its hold upon those who need it most.
As I have been preparing this, I was also asked to share any pleasant memories of the time that I spent there. Unfortunately, trying to remember specific happy things from two decades past is a little daunting, but I do have a quilt of snippets which I can share with you. The first time I went to the Teen Center, I believe it was following a middle school dance, or something involving Commodore, anyway, and I walked up to the this building nestled into the backside of the high school (how rad was that?) to see a show that some local bands were putting on. I used to spend my weekend evenings (because I was broke and had no girlfriends) at the Teen Center with my group of friends and played role-playing games- out in the open. For a date, I bought Independence Day on VHS and brought it to the Teen Center to watch with my girlfriend at the time, the logic being that the theater was too expensive, and this way, I’d still have a movie at the end of the date. It took me a few years to figure out the look that Shannon had in her eyes when I told her my Master Plan. It was amusement and sympathy. But, to her credit, she didn’t say a word as I sat my girlfriend down in front of the television set and proceed to the lay the groundwork for no longer having a girlfriend. She even gave us the room, though there wasn’t a whole lot of privacy, mainly, I believe, so that my shame would be more manageable. And I still can’t play pool, as I learned on a warped table, and if that sounds like negativity, then you’ve never seen me make the impossible shots, which somehow are the only kind that I can make.
I’m including humorous moments and self-deprecation, but the fact is that I spent the majority of my teen years there, and never once was I made to feel unwelcome. It was always nice to know that there was someone there to be on your side, to listen to your problems and nudge you in the right direction. Let’s come together now, and help out this institution. Let’s re-establish the Teen Center’s Non-Profit Status and get the kids back through the doors once more. It’s not a matter of telling them that it’s cool; it’s simply a matter of being cool. I know that it has been a while since we were cool to kids, as some of our own would most likely gladly tell the world, but these issues never really change, and if there is one thing that I believe in, it’s that the world will always need a Teen Center with someone like Shannon Buxton at the helm.