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Hot White Trash

Apart from the equation of patriotism with militant tribalism, the other thing I noticed at small-town, middle-America Kirkwall was the chicks—more specifically, I noticed which chicks I noticed.

I’m a girl watcher. Have been since before puberty; will be after all the relevant biomachinery ceases to function. Actually, girl-watching is a lot more fun in middle age. Somewhere along the line, my hormones calmed down enough for me to look with appreciation instead of desire, which removes an unpleasant strain from the pastime. Plus it opens a broader range of beauty to appreciate: cougars and even a few over-50s don’t merely look “as good as I can hope to get anymore;” they look good, in a way I could never have appreciated at the age of 17.

So I found it strange to realize, as I scoped out the chicks in the crowd, waiting for fireworks or attending the small carnival attached thereto, that I was only admiring the teenagers. Reflexive reaction: ewww, that’s creepy. But no, teaching high school I find myself thinking of the kids as kids. The Lolita thing isn’t my thing. And again, I wasn’t really looking with desire, anyway. Okay, truth in advertizing: one gal who couldn’t have been over 17 was hawt with a capital “awt,” but that doesn’t explain why I wasn’t scoping out the thirty-somethings. So what was going on?

Well, for one thing, we were in Illinois. The esthetics are different in a hundred tiny ways from those of NYC and its satellites. I grew up in suburban Elgin, so the teenagers here looked like the teenagers of my own high school days; in part, I was reacting to cues I had forgotten exist, insofar as I was ever consciously aware of them in the first place.

But perhaps more important was the aging. Also like Elgin, Kirkland is a working class town. The strains of lower middle-class living—long hours, cutting corners on diet (for convenience or cost), money worries—they add up. Women in their twenties looked tired; women in their forties looked positively haggard. The men, too, though it took me longer to notice. It’s not a rural/urban distinction; you see the same thing in urban working class environments. It’s a rich/poor distinction. One of many.

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