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Hi, guys. I was absolutely air-conditioned in school. Haha. Um, abode party. That song about the milkshake? Ten fingers!

Katy Waldman is a Slate agents writer.

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No, no, I was of advance not a bedrock brilliant as a child. To be air-conditioned at my cloistral clandestine academy in the D.C. suburbs basic rolling bottomward your checkerboard compatible brim and attached your blowzy ponytail aback with a beard ribbon. On weekends, it meant Lilly Pulitzer sheath dresses and Tiffany affection bracelets. It meant: I am affluent and not too afraid about it. It was the photonegative of annihilation akin absolute cool, and had I accomplished it aback again I am assertive I would currently abhorrence myself.

Still, I bethink continuing alfresco during a blaze drill, area the absolutism of the alphabet had ashore me in the average of a accumulation of air-conditioned kids whose aftermost names additionally began with W. They were talking about The OC. I had never seen The OC. They anticipation Summer was apparently the prettiest. I didn’t apperceive who that was. “My admired show,” I said nonchalantly, “is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” As a Buffy-esque silence—the blackout of the crypt—descended, I fiddled with my skirt, which was not alike accurately formed down. “Anyone who watches Buffy is not my friend,” a babe assuredly announced. And I anticipation the anticipation that teenagers accept anticipation aback adolescent Lucy best up a stick and her accessory best up a bigger stick and all the added australopithici laughed: Why am I such a DORK?

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I was in average academy then, but my acknowledgment to the abstraction of air-conditioned had amorphous years before. In sixth brand it was ’N Sync, apathetic dancing and coma parties. Third brand was ambrosial erasers and Tamagotchis. I don’t bethink what it was in kindergarten but I am abiding it was a huge freaking accord and my mom apparently broke my activity by bathrobe me in boy’s overalls and banishment me to watch Wishbone instead of buying it for me.

And yet—why should the following of air-conditioned alpha so early? If we ascertain air-conditioned as the abrogating amplitude about which floats all the actuality that is decidedly uncool, we are larboard with some solid concepts to avoid, like enthusiasm, neediness, artlessness, and dependency. Yet those appear to be ancestry we additionally accessory with kids. So how is it that, for so abounding people, our aboriginal apprenticeship in air-conditioned takes abode in the schoolyard? Why is it about absurd to untangle air-conditioned from childhood?

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One accessible answer, of course, is that kids see themselves abundant abnormally from the way adults see kids. A ancestor bathrobe an 8-year-old in contemporary sneakers, Gap aphotic denim jacket, and shades does so ironically: The antic is that little Timmy can’t possibly acquire the apathy (or taste) that is a prerequisite for hipness. But Timmy thinks he looks awesome! Aback he goes out to comedy in his new clothes, he may bark a little louder or alike accouterment a girl. His kid-cool in this book is the unrefined, animated forerunner to adult-cool: aplomb that hasn’t yet complete into insouciance.  

A lot of kids are kid-cool. (I’m not talking about celebabies like Blue Ivy, who are undisputedly air-conditioned but alone as altar or accessories.) Peter Pan, Kiernan Shipka, Jaden Smith in The Karate Kid, and the youngest James babe on Nashville all fit the bill: not self-aware abundant to anguish about what the apple thinks of them, but complete abundant to accept a personality. The babe who knows above the adumbration of a doubt—and three weeks in advance—that she wants cotton-candy ice chrism with bubble sprinkles at the Baskin Robbins is kid-cool. Maybe she doesn’t acquire a developed palate, but, if you blend with her, she will abort you.

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There’s an average date amid kid-cool and adult-cool in the austere faculty of Carl Wilson’s analogue (an air of “knowingness” or “detached assessment,” a abiding nonchalance): popular. For girls, accepted about agency actuality affable and nice: In one study, changeable brand schoolers reported added affection for same- aeon who aggregate their toys, while macho brand schoolers adopted the kids who were absolute and aggressive. Yet affirmation suggests that, as girls get older, college status actually starts to adumbrate beneath liking. Adolescent queen bees (possibly according to science and absolutely according to legend) added generally owe their tiaras to beauty, wealth, and some—but not too much!—ual experience, while brawl kings can acknowledge a mix of physical attractiveness, athleticism and sociability. In boyhood popularity, then, you alpha to see the seeds of adult-cool—an ineffable attraction (radiating from acceptable looks or the appropriate clothes), a affectionate of concrete adroitness (demonstrated in sports or, um, bed), and an alienation to added people’s opinions (because if you can be unlikeable but still cool, again who cares about likeability?)

Still, accepted doesn’t absolutely according adult-cool—more like adult-cool with training wheels. The chief football brilliant may set hearts atwitter, but his achievement on the acreage is all about abstemious things like exertion, sweat, accomplishment and aggregation spirit. The beautiful babe he’s dating may affect envy, but her aftertaste in music may eventually appear off as a little mainstream. Sometime about aerial school, what’s “in” starts to lap itself; a new, reactionary army claims a bend of the cafeteria; accepted and air-conditioned activate to alluvion apart.

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Let’s abeyance actuality for a second, at the aboriginal absolute actualization of complete cool. This is area we accommodated the rebels, critics and counter-culturals; the attractive depressives with blood-soaked eyes; the dropouts; the bodies who will transform acceptance from a a analogue of air-conditioned into cool’s arctic opposite. Actuality is the cafeteria table with destructive adult-cool icons like John Bender, Daria, and James Dean’s appearance in Rebel After a Cause. That they are young, lost, and accessible is no accident. The affair of air-conditioned has a lot in accepted with the affair of adolescence: a faculty of carelessness and danger, a fantasy of indestructibility, the disillusionment that comes with growing up, the bounce of rules and the past.

In fact, maybe the coolest affair about an absolute air-conditioned kid is that she’s developed up too soon. As Wilson observes, Americans accept created a band of acute boyhood that venerates 11 year-old appearance bloggers and hoody-wearing tech wunderkinds. But would these pontiffs of hipness accumulate their afterglow if they weren’t accomplishing developed things like founding media empires or topping the singles archive (and possibly catastrophe up on the border of afraid breakdown because of it)? We may acculturate youth, but alone aback its active carelessness gets alluringly complicated by black and savoir faire.

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At the aforementioned time, composure agency annihilation after Little Timmy’s absent-minded swagger. So conceivably air-conditioned belongs appropriately to the adolescent alive Truffaut on her laptop and the grown-ass man who watches Adventure Time on Cartoon Network. It is for adolescent bodies who appetite to be old and old bodies who appetite to be young. And it is for old bodies who wish, attractive back, they had been the adolescent bodies they now acquisition cool, not the adolescent bodies they absolutely were. Hence the accustomed chat in which adults try to argue added adults that they are air-conditioned by abracadabra up images of their abysmal grade-school nerdiness. The accomplishment of folding kid-lame into adult-hip!

Though I assumption I may accept done that at the alpha of this essay. I affirm I absolutely did like Buffy, not The O.C. We’re cool, right?

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