I have a lot of sympathy for boys who hit puberty relatively late—say, around 14 or 15. I was actually one of them—my voice didn’t change until I was 16; I didn’t reach my adult height until I was 19. I was acutely aware of this and bore the burden of being a child surrounded by young adults for a good two years. There’s a sort of convergence that happened around these boys—they all sort of seemed to be short, tubby, eccentric. They all had huge backpacks, although it might have been a relative size thing. They all seemed to enjoy fantasy novels. They walked the halls of ninth grade, dwarves among giants, developing senses of humor to shield themselves against the hormone-infused muscular angst of their peers. There’s a sort of toxically masculine shame in hitting puberty late, but the benefits are priceless—you get to hang onto the wonder of childhood a little bit longer.
It should be caveated here that I’m making wild generalizations, of course, and that plenty of boys are intersex or trans and never “hit puberty” in the traditional sense.
One of my most treasured memories of high school involves one of these prepubescent little freaks. The image is indelibly stamped upon my prefrontal cortex—snowy pavement, a childlike giggle, a screen-printed tee. The story is this: My friend Kendall and I would walk from our homeroom to our AP Bio class each morning through the courtyard of our school, an easy shortcut that bypassed the hallway traffic. One icy winter morning, we huddled into our coats, fighting the jagged wind as it cut into our bones, when we saw that most unlikely of sights—a freshman, a tiny boy, chubby as could be, wearing nothing more than a t-shirt and some shorts, gleefully sliding his sneakered feet across the ice, yelling out to no-one in particular, “I’m skating! I’m ice skating!” His t-shirt-clad torso was resplendent with an image that has haunted me since:
The combination of the kid’s shirt, prepubescence, exclamation, and general exuberance was enough to send us into fits of laughter, and the moment remained funny to us for many months after.
I haven’t talked to Kendall in years, but one quick text confirmed the pure joy of the memory.
Upon writing all of this down, I’m struck by the fact that it’s deeply unfunny to anyone who wasn’t there, but fear not; I have an actual point. Years later, I saw someone else wearing a similar shirt.
Years after that, in India, another.
I’d like to take a second here to engage with the basic premise of this shirt. This is barely a joke, right? It’s that same sort of annoying “Just think about it, dude!” humor that was so prevalent in the mid-Obama era. It’s the same sort of humor that led to “fan theories” about Patrick from Spongebob being mentally handicapped, or the Rugrats all being dead. It’s faux-darkness being inserted into something that’s otherwise light. It’s exhausting. If you break anything down to its constituent parts, you can spin it to seem messed up. These shirts have haunted me for seven years.
There are so many of these shirts. The answer to the question of their Obama-era proliferation is simple, and I’ll answer it in a similarly Obama-era way—
Indians buy these things by the freaking truckload. And they put them on all their kids too. Little Indian-American kids running around with this shirt on:
The streets of Edison, NJ and Brampton, ON are CRAWLING with these little spelling bee champs. Indian immigration during Obama increased manifold, and they brought their kids, which they immediately clad in shirts like this:
What is it about the collective subcontinent psyche that draws parents to these strange joke slant-rhymes (they’re not jokes, but if you squint hard enough…)? We may never know.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll know that huge segments of our global banking infrastructure are contingent on the existence of a dark economy. Well, I’d like to put forth my theory of the other dark economy—one that consists of purely mid-Obama-era garbage—these shirts, escape room tickets, Upworthy ads, Hammacher Schlemmer Skymall purchases, novelty apps that make it look like your iPhone is a beer glass, and this. Thanks, Obama.
Actually, I want that T-Rex shirt.
Well, folks, I’m coming clean—I’m Indian. You got me! My mom once bought me a t-shirt from Kohl’s that said “Lost Dog and Sister—Reward For Dog!” The worst part about the t-shirt was that it was bright yellow.