One of the most disturbing things about the passing years is that you suddenly realize that you’re not the youngest person on the bus. There I was on the 105 to Toa Payoh the other day when it occurred to me that I was a good deal older than half the bus population.
“Oh, I can’t stand her!” cooed the 14 year-old SCGS girl to her owlish bespectacled friend. (I know she was 14 because before I really tuned in to eavesdrop, she was regaling one and all about her recent birthday bash at Carls Junior.) “She’s so old, like my grandmother and she’s still jumping around like that. And I think it’s so weird that she can wrap her right leg around her neck!”
“I think she’s amazing!” said her friend.
“But act your age lah, aiyoh! You’re a mother now, you know!”
It took me a few more bus stops and enormous concentration to realize that they were talking about Madonna. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell everyone.
Amanda was outraged. “Madonna is not a grandmother!”
“Seriously, you get the best public transport conversations!” Saffy said, shaking her head. “I just get dirty old men who accidentally brush against me on their way off!”
“And not in a good way, either,” I said. Saffy squealed with delight at my feeble double entendre.
“She’s a role model for all of us!” Amanda said, steering the conversation back to Madonna, and still clearly incensed at the insensitivity of 14 year olds.
I thought of this for days afterwards. I remembered my first tutor at law school was 22 years old. And at the time, I thought, with the insufferable smugness of an 18 year old, how old even that was. And now, here I was well past 22 and still feeling 18.
When did this shift happen? When did our role models start shifting from the teenage, cruxifix and torn lace rebellion represented by the likes of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, to young Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse? More importantly, when did Madonna become old?
I still remember when her “Papa Don’t Preach” came out and there was all that fuss about what a terrible song it was, how it promoted promiscuity and glamorized teenage pregnancy. I would sit at the back of the bus trying to concentrate on my homework while that crazy Goth chick from my Chemistry class Janet Wella belted out the chorus at the top of her voice. “Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losing sleep! Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep!” she screeched. (Janet, if you’re reading this, are you on Facebook?!)
All this seemed like only yesterday and we were all clearly the youngest ones on the bus. Now, a continent away, I’m listening to my childhood being cruelly dissected and thrown away by pimply young girls who weren’t even born when Madonna first struck her Vogue pose.
“The little bitches,” Amanda said.
A few days ago, Trevor, a friend from law school, emailed me. “Oh God, I just bumped into Pete the other day. Remember him? He was in our crim law classes. Always walking around in summer with his shirt off to show off his body. Well, he is now HUGE and I mean fat!! FAT face...fat fat...He was with Anna. I went to their wedding a few years ago. She’s so haggard with bad bad skin. I can’t believe they were the glamour couple in school!”
Of course, I immediately Googled Pete and Anna on their law firm’s website. For half an hour, I sat there, mouth open.
“It was like a train wreck!” I skyped Amanda. “I started with their firm profiles and then I just kept clicking on our other classmates. I couldn’t stop. They all look terrible! The guys have started losing their hair and have huge eye bags and the girls look like they have three-dimensional make up on.”
She immediately went online to have a look. “Goodness!” she said after a while. “What happened to these people?”
“It’s stress!” said Saffy later that night. “Your face is the first place it shows. You sit in the office all day and see if the fat doesn’t all congeal around your butt!”
Amanda looked worried. “But, that’s what we do too. Surely, we don’t look like that?”
“Choy, choy, choy!” Saffy spat. “They’re all unhappily married. We’re unhappily single, so the stress doesn’t show. Just in our spirit. Outside, we’re still young and gorgeous.”
Amanda says she’s not taking a chance. The last I heard, she was investigating Botox. “You’re never too young to start,” she reasoned.
“Hail, Madonna!” Saffy intoned.