An Oracle Speaks
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OUT BY A POOL ON THE WEST SIDE OF L.A., the adults have been discussing the evils of materialism: the historic excess of the SUV and the spoiling of children. All the while, a 12-year-old girl has sat listening impatiently. Suddenly, she interrupts: "Everyone complains that kids want too many things," she says. "But you have to have all those things if you want to fit in. And if you don-t fit in, you get teased." We-re taken by her careless confidence and she gets our full attention. It-s late afternoon, and the sun rests low behind her head, glittering through her sweet blond hair and giving her the look of an oracle.<br><br> "I-ll lay it all out," she says. "If you don-t fit in, you won-t have any friends. If you don-t have any friends, you won-t have a life. If you don-t have a life, you can-t be that wonderful person everyone wants you to be. And you-ll get teased."<br><br> To fit in, one apparently needs a new and very specific kind of boots, along with fine blouses that end above the belly button. But being concerned adults, we want to know more about that teasing.<br><br> "At school," she says, "you-ve got the kids who are like up here and the kids who are like down there. The kids who tease are usually, like, just below the top. They see teasing as a way to get to the top."<br><br> Like most in the metropolis, the Urban Man worries about the disappearance of innocence among our young, even as we-re charmed by their precocity. In real life, as on TV, we often ask kids to speak grown-up truths we-re not allowed to speak ourselves. <br><br> Someone asks, "What if a group of really popular girls, your close friends, were teasing one of the girls -down there?- Maybe she wore the wrong boots today. What would you do? Would you step up and defend her?"<br><br> The oracle hardly pauses: "No, that wouldn-t do any good. I-d probably wait until I could take the kid aside and explain to her how she needed to act and what she needed to wear to start fitting in!"<br><br> We don-t laugh, for her truths are self-evident. Without any boring textbooks, she has grasped the fundamentals of our civilization. Who can dispute that success in the city comes from choosing friends wisely, from tolerating their sins, from dressing and acting exactly like the successful? <br><br> The sun sets behind the pool, and a certain melancholy creeps in among the adults--but it is distinctly tinged with envy.<br><br> We know that, however briefly, this innocent daughter of L.A. can revel safely in our truths. Sitting there frank and well-dressed, self-possessed and popular, we envy her the temporary flush of joy that comes from living at the top.
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