Biff America: Never shake a teenager |

Biff America: Never shake a teenager

Jeffrey Bergeron

An adult should never grab an unknown teenager by the shoulders, and shake them.

And while shaking said teenager never look them in the eyes and say, “How dare you be ashamed of your parents. Those two people who you shun love you more than life itself. Yes they are a little out of their element here in this mountain resort town, but so are you. Those same people, for whom you show such obvious disdain, clothe you, feed you and, I would guess, paid for that stupid pink hair and the iPod which you so rudely don’t bother taking out of your ear when they have the temerity to ask you if you would like them to buy you something to eat.”

That is something that a well-mannered, responsible adult should never do to a total stranger; but oh how I wish I could.

I was sitting on the deck of a local coffee shop playing chess with my pal, Curley Mullet. While he was pouring over the board about to make the next crucial blunder that would lead to his eventual doom, I was people watching.

Approaching was a family of four – mum, dad, young boy about 7 or 8, and a teen-age girl.

The family smacked of middle class and Middle America; both father and son wore matching T-shirts supporting a pro football team, tube socks and sandals. The mother was a little overweight – more stout than fat – and she was wearing baggy shorts, comfortable shoes and a permanent smile.

Taking up the rear was a young lady who looked to be mid-teens: She had poured herself into a pair of shorts that I’m sure was designed to drive her parents crazy. Her hair was spiked with pink tips she also wore an iPod and a permanent pout.

I imagined this as their summer vacation, which was long planned and saved for. The mother carried a plastic bag with the name of one of the more affordable shops on Main Street. The three of them – mother, father and son – were blocking pedestrian traffic, rubber-necking and window shopping. The young girl kept a safe distance behind as if to disavow any connection to her family.

Mullet fell into my trap. I forked his queen and rook with my knight, causing him to swear. While he was deciding how to respond, I heard the mum say something to the effect, “This is a cute place – let’s sit down and have snack.”

Both husband and son seemed delighted. The young lady ignored her family and pretended to read the flyers hanging on the wall. The three of them were sitting deciding what to order when the mother asked her daughter if she would like a muffin or ice cream. She had to ask a few times before the child decided to take out one ear bud to answer. She said she wanted a falafel, which wasn’t on the menu.

Curly Mullet was determined not to go down with out a fight. He responded to my forking knight with a bold move of trading queens, which caught me off guard but only postponed the inevitable.

Hoping to distract me he asked, “Are you staring at that angry-looking girl with the pink hair? You’re gross. She’s only about 15.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on that young gal. For generations teenagers have been embarrassed by their parents. It isn’t until we reach adulthood ourselves and often become much like our parents that we gain perspective.

When I was a teen, my mother and father were older than most of my friends’ parents. For their generation, most any function – even a high school football game – was one to dress up for. While other parents would show up in khakis and casual jackets, my dad would be there wearing a shirt and tie, threadbare top coat and a fedora. I was ashamed and hated myself for it.

It wasn’t until I grew into manhood myself that I appreciated my parents’ work and sacrifice, which provided me that earlier luxury of self-importance. My mother and father, like most parents, were far from perfect. But also like most parents, they did the best they could and were mostly unappreciated until long after the fact.

Perhaps in my fantasy of yelling at that ungrateful teen with the pink hair I was really yelling at myself at her age.

I was about to say all that to Curly Mullet – instead I put on my dad’s old fedora to protect me from the sun said only, “checkmate.”

Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at

Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or from

Support Local Journalism