I am sitting at a long communal table in a new and crowded Near Eastern eatery. I am enjoying a messy pita sandwich that has leaked feta cheese onto my lap. I am next to three teen-aged boys who are laughing too loudly and surreptitiously passing an iPhone to one another. One goes, “ooh.” Another guffaws and makes masturbation motions with his right hand. Two middle-aged women sitting nearby frown and look away. The third boy, the one holding the phone, plunks it in front of me. I look down. On the screen is a photo of a teen-aged girl smiling into the camera. She is topless. The boy allows me a one-second glimpse and snatches the phone back. All three laugh.
Hm. I’m already largely flummoxed by Millenial etiquette attending to email, texting, voice mail, the entire panoply of modern instant communications. The habits of this even newer generation are a mystery. Have I just committed a horrible gaffe by (a) looking at the photo, (b) not commenting on the photo or (c) not summoning someone who knows better than me what reactions are considered correct in such situations? I sip at my coke.
The boys get up to leave. The one with the phone slaps me lightly on the back and says, “Have a wonderful day!” He takes his phone out and waves it slowly in front of me. Same girl, different pose. Now she’s totally nude but her smile is exactly the same.
There’s nothing new about pictures of naked people. Museums are full of them, so there’s a certain hypocrisy to appearing shocked by the boy’s display. What bothers me is the girl’s apparent age. True, she may be over eighteen but truthfully, she looks at least three years younger. I don’t know if the boy is her boyfriend, or if she suspects that he has found it amusing to share her revealing photo with a total stranger.
Outside, the three are passing the phone around.
I get a box for my half-eaten sandwich. I am glad I do not have a daughter. Outside, the boy with the phone turns and faces me as I dump the remnants of my meal into the recycling can. He winks and waves goodbye as if we’ve shared an important moment.
Have we? The entire event has taken less than ninety seconds.