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Southern California's Young Faces : Cover Story

Maturity

Geri Sadek Is a Grown-Up in a 16-Year-Old's Body. L.A. Has Taught Her to Be 'Ready for Anything.'

April 22, 2001|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | Times fashion writer Michael Quintanilla last wrote for the magazine about Mary Ortiz, matriarch of a five-generation Boyle Heights family

What's it like to come of age in a place defined by outsiders and their cliches: surf, gang turf, Hollywood, Vine, the land of milk and honey? Do our children grow up too soon? Is Southern California the great springboard to a life of opportunity? On the following pages you'll find 17 children who are moving toward adulthood. Their stories are not the stuff of headlines or extremes: young criminals, star athletes, child movie stars. Rather, we went in search of "typical" kids. We talked to teachers, parents, tutors, coaches, counselors and school officials. Scores of names tumbled out. We then asked a dozen writers to spend time with these kids, and to try to find the small slice of each one that said something about their lives in Southern California. It is, we hope, a telling collage.

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Geri Sadek has her dress for the dance--a black cocktail number reduced from $138 to $49.99--paid with money earned from her Haagen-Dazs job at the Glendale Galleria. Before the Silver Lake 16-year-old meets her blind date--her first--she'll blow a chunk of change on getting her wavy hair straightened and layered.

Her parents aren't too happy about the blind date. It's for Gatsby's Masquerade, a gymnasium dance at Los Feliz's John Marshall High School, where Geri is a junior. Her parents want her to go out with boys, which she does. But this blind date thing? "I know his name but never met him. Goes to Cathedral High School."

Are you excited?

Not really.

Are you anxious?

I can take a peek from the halls. If I don't like him, I could just say, 'I'm not Geri.' It would be very easy to lose him.

You would do that?

I would. Not to be rude, it's just that I don't want things to happen.

Like what?

I don't want to get too serious. I'm interested in having a boyfriend, but if I have a boyfriend I wouldn't let him get in the way of my future. If he wanted to do things I didn't, then tough. With a lot of girls, if they are too into their boyfriends and something happens, it's the end of the world. I'm not like that.

How are you then?

I'm focused on other stuff, like my education. And my job. If my grades slip, then work could be coming off the list. I have A's and B's, a 3.3 grade-point average.

So you must make some sacrifices, such as . . . .

Not going out with my friends. We can go out whenever we want, but sometimes work--schoolwork and work-work--takes priority. I'll put friends on hold and do my work first.

When you think about your life in L.A., what comes to mind?

That L.A. is hectic. You have to be ready for that when you're growing up. Ready for anything, because anything can happen. That's not a bad thing, it's just that L.A. isn't slow-paced.

Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?

I think kids are cheated out of a "normal" childhood because you're rushing through life, through your day, through school.

How have you dealt with picking a crowd to hang out with?

I was clueless when I came to Marshall because I had been at a private school from kindergarten to eighth grade, and everything had been strict. When I came to this school, I was cautious. If you hang out in a bad crowd you might get into bad things. But if you hang out with a good crowd, maybe you'll stay on the safe side. When I first got into Marshall, I was hanging out with a nice person. But then everything changed for that person. It was for the worse.

Drugs?

Yeah. I told this person I wouldn't talk to them until they stopped. So this person stopped. We became friends again and then this person started up again . . . then it just all drifted apart . . . I'm very close to my mom. She's always talking to me. My parents were brought up in Egypt. My mom is from Alexandria, my dad from Cairo. I was born here. I think that's why sometimes they'll overreact. My mom will be driving around and see young girls who are pregnant. It sends an alarm to her head. So when my mom finds out I'm going out with someone, she'll start giving me the drill.

Why do you work?

To help my family financially instead of asking them every few days for money for school.

What have you learned about work?

To handle more responsibility, to be stable, to be patient. And to try to save. I clear about $200 every two weeks, 15 hours a week, but I'm trying to divide my check 5 million different ways.

What's your schedule?

I get up at 5:30. I get to school around 7:15. School is out at 3:14. My mom picks me up, takes me to work. I work from 5 to 10 and wait for my mom or dad to pick me up. I get home by 10:30, eat and do homework 'til midnight.

Is work important to kids in L.A.?

Everyone is trying to get jobs. They need money. I think L.A. does that to you even at a young age.

What's the best thing about being 16 in L.A.?

I'm able to understand things better than when I was 12 or 13. I understand more about life. It's like I've found my place. I'm not perfect and I'm not trying to be perfect, just like L.A. isn't perfect. No place is. You'll never find a perfect place to grow up, to live. You'll only find that place in yourself. That's how it should be.

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