Apr. 30, 2013
TURN UP (Stranded On Third Excerpt)
Below is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir Stranded On Third, which mainly details how I've used writing to overcome both my health and social issues as well as balancing writing and this professional life with a college life. The following excerpt tells the story of a high school party from my sophomore year that the police crashed, leading to a night that would change my life and ultimately lead me to consider writing.
NOTE: No names of people involved in said party are used without their consent, though likenesses are for specific moments.
STRANDED ON THIRD
CHAPTER THREE: TURN UP
To my friends and I, our sophomore year of high school is mostly a blur, though our reasons obviously differ. Believe it or not, the first few months of my sophomore year were spent in the way that a normal high school year should be spent. I attended parties, I bought and smoked pot from janky drug dealers, and I downloaded album torrents off websites that were shut down every other week.
By roughly the end of my first ‘marking period’ during my sophomore year, however, my slow disillusionment with the high school experience - which had begun around the midway point of my freshman year - began to drastically increase. Whether it was because of the ‘old soul’ thing my mom had spent years about or just my being anti-social, I think I always had a limited patience with people in my age group. Even when I was a ‘troublemaker’ in middle school joining my best friend in putting a kid under a massive African drum and beating it as fast as we could, that lack of patience was still in my mind.
I could accept kids talking in class or talking back to a teacher at the time, sure, but the ones who took nothing seriously or tried to act like ‘gangsters’ when they were coming from immense wealth that the Hispanic kids in my grade could only dream of...I was admittedly a loose cannon when I was around them. Having limited patience, though, didn’t mean I had no patience; I was just a bit more inclined to curse them out or threaten to break their jaw.
From what I remember, the turning point involving this ‘lack of patience’ came during a high school party about two to three weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit in the fall of 2012. Sandy was a pain in the ass for a lot of us - and caused enough destruction and mayhem to where we missed more than a week of school - so maybe our young, teenage minds figured that a post-Sandy party was a good way to let some steam off. Honestly, maybe the party was just an ideal way to raise a giant middle finger to the weather gods and tell them, “hey, your puny hurricane can’t stop us.”
Like most high school parties I went to, my memory hasn’t let me down all of these years later as I began to recall the details. This may surprise some readers who believe I’ve always been into writing, but I was initially responsible for setting up the DJ and speakers systems set up with a playlist and everything; I actually moonlighted as a DJ in my early years of high school, doing a party or school event here and there.
(And yes, I had a DJ name. DJ Stout, which came from a nickname my football coaches came up for me when I played offensive line. Had I not gone into writing, some type of music career - being on radio or TV - would have probably been in the future for me.)
The party itself wasn’t anything fancy - not like a graduation or birthday party - and was hosted by a kid who had somehow gone from full nerd who did YouTube videos on Apple products to ‘popular’ in less than a year for three reasons:
1. He was smart, meaning he could get people’s homework done.
2. He knew Apple products, meaning anyone in need of help with a glitch on their laptop or wanting to figure out how to jailbreak an iPhone could turn to him.
3. He smoked weed, meaning that people who either wanted their homework done or some help with their iPhone could also smoke weed with him during that time.
And to be fair, the kids who took advantage of our iPhone-loving friend at the start eventually grew to enjoy him from what I remember. In a way, this was his ‘coming out’ party; the one that would say to people, “hey, remember that nerd from middle school you picked on and tried to level in gym class? Yeah, he’s gone. I’m here now.”
Call me soft, but I appreciate the true poetry of that stereotypical, cliche high school trope even now because I saw it happen. I also appreciated the weed that was in supply that night because, let’s face it, you can’t hate on good weed when you’re still smoking the stuff. Even as someone who, at the time I write this chapter, hasn’t smoked it in almost a year and a half, I can’t bring myself to lie and say good weed isn’t...well, good.
With my condoms, my weed, and a red cup of raspberry Ciroc, our good Saturday night was on with nothing stopping us. Forget my football days or what would come later like prom or graduation; this was the high school experience, sitting in a beanbag chair with a cup of vodka and watching teenage girls dress promiscuously as they blocked the primetime college football game on the TV.
When you’re at a high school party with your peers, it’s one of the few times that the ‘cliques’ can seemingly all get along over a drink or a puff. As you’re sitting by a bonfire in the fall or next to a pool in the summer, you can bond with your ‘rivals’ and the people you’re normally supposed to hate with a passion - and even now, as those who were at these parties with me are fuming and ready to call a lawyer about ‘libel’ and me hurting their name through implications, I’m sure that they can also agree that I’m 100 percent right on these parties bringing us together.
It’s hard to believe those types of parties are the times where you actually can get along kids you have beef with or you want to cold cock in the hallway, I know. But it’s also those little things that, as I sat in a beanbag chair watching Notre Dame duke it out with Boston College, make you appreciate the situation you’re in and think that nothing can get better than this. What you’re seeing right now is heaven, just with scantily-dressed women instead
And then, the boys in blue came.
Whether you live in Bedford or Compton, you know that when you hear sirens, you run; it’s as simple as that. You run, most of the time with no clear destination in mind, and you run until you can’t feel your legs anymore and the blisters are already forming on the soles of your feet. Even then, keep going not until you think you’re safe, but until you know that you’re safe.
All it takes is someone saying, “the police are driving up” to cause immediate panic. Unlike when you’re older and a cop may let you off with an easy warning about keeping the noise down, you do not want to be dealing with a police officer in high school when you’ve been drinking. That paranoia of getting arrested for underage drinking, losing your spot on an athletic team, losing any rights you have at home; all of that skyrockets when you hear that a cop is in the vicinity looking for party goers.
So ignoring all that your parents have taught you about respecting the police and just doing what they want if there’s ever a problem, you run into the woods on a 30 degree tonight thinking they’ll never find you. Hell, if you wait long enough, the cops will go back to their cars, drive off, and you can resume drinking your cold beer. There’s not any shame in that, right? It’s just the natural instinct for a normal teenager.
Me? I stayed in that beanbag chair, greeted the officer when he came in, and told him something along the lines of, “I honestly have no idea where people went, but what’s the point in running? They’ll probably be back.”
I mean, what was I going to do? Keep in mind that I played offensive line and was probably just a bit slow for that position, meaning that there was no way I was going to outrun an in-shape cop with snow and ice on the ground. No way.
Whatever the officer’s reaction was, I can’t exactly remember, but I’d have to think he cracked at least a hint of a smirk. On a Saturday night when it’s freezing and you’re called to a Bedford house only to find out you have have immature brats running from you, having a fifteen year old who’s had a bit to drink be so blunt yet respectful with you is actually pretty funny.
How the rest of the partygoers ended up returning to the scene of the crime escapes me, but I do remember the reason the boys in blue took time from their Saturday night to attend a high school party. Because the party wasn’t an ‘open crib’ and there was an invite list, some people were bound to be left of the list and were bothered by the fact they apparently weren’t ‘cool enough’ to attend one party.
Normally, when this happens, the easiest thing to do is shut your phone off and find other things to do; maybe, if you’re like me, you pray that the party ends up going bad and the general consensus the next day is that it was the worst thing since The Phantom Menace. Unless the person throwing the party suddenly changes their mind, you’re stuck not going and that’s fine. That should be fine, at least.
Unfortunately, some of the females in our grade who were left out of the Facebook page decided to attempt crashing the party. Showing up heavily intoxicated and wearing clothes that were way, way too short and skimpy for a mid-November night, this group of females - the ‘ringleader’ being an extremely skinny girl with a lisp - stood in the middle of the road with bottles of booze yelling and trying to get into the party.
I want everyone reading to imagine this for a second: you’re not invited to one high school party because the parents were home and only wanted a certain amount of people there, so instead of trying to maturely handle it and find another productive way to spend your Saturday night, you gather up other girls - some of whom are a year younger than you - and try to drunkenly crash said party.
Nice job, ladies, you nearly ruined the night for everyone. I say nearly because when everyone who returned (we lost a kid or two) was gathered into the basement, one of the officers (henceforth referred to as Officer Blue) began reading a list of people who were supposed to be there like this was attendance in a high school class. Because our host’s parents wanted a list of how many kids would be spending some hours in their house and who was there (my guess was, and remains, so that if they caught anyone drinking too much, they could call the parents and let them know what the situation was), Officer Blue could go name-by-name and separate the ‘marked’ from the ‘marked.’
In other words, if you weren’t ‘marked’ on the list as you were supposed to be there, you were ‘marked’ as calling your ride home to leave. As the party’s DJ, I was safe, so I grabbed my red cup of Ciroc and just watched in amusement as the girls who were responsible for the police showing up began to crack as the cop went down the list - but not before someone expressed a level of anger that this was what things came down to.
Jake? Here. Michael? Here. Sarah? Here. Officer Blue kept reading names and, at one point, one freshman girl who knew she was never going to hear her name called pretty much said “fuck it” and walked outside. Come Monday, I almost wanted to go up to her in our Spanish class and tell her, “you had balls for walking away Saturday night” but that was a disaster waiting to happen. Even if she was a year younger than me and amazingly beautiful, my gut was telling me her hand against my face would sting badly.
I think we all knew deep down inside that the cops weren’t coming to bust us about underage drinking; they’d been in that position when they were our age and as long as weren’t causing actual trouble like drinking and driving or committing arson, I doubt they were going to really throw a fit about us drinking some booze.
When you’re that age, all the police care about - as they should - is you being safe and you not causing anyone else trouble. Later on that school year, three of us - myself, Will, and Colin - decided to throw snowballs from a vantage point on Colin’s hill with a police scanner app on our phone just in case we accidentally hit a car and they decided to report us to the police. That’s when you’ll find yourself dealing with the police in a negative light...well, that and if you’re caught with drugs in school.
But even then, even with me knowing that I wasn’t going to get into any trouble with Officer Blue, I still felt that jolt of fear run up my spine. As cliche as this may sound, it was a reminder that you’ll have opportunities come up in your life where you need to forgo the decision you want to make in favor of the one you need to make. If you don’t get invited to one party, fine, what’s the big deal? Why would you try to ruin things for everyone else and potentially get yourself in trouble in the process?
Maybe I’m being too judgmental and harsh on something that seems minor, but in the way that Allen Iverson kept ranting about practice, we’re talking about a high school party where the only point is to smoke, drink, and possibly have meaningless sex with a partner who will never call you back about a second time. I just don’t know else to say it other than what those girls did was shallow, shallow enough to where I can still remember every detail of it all these years later.
What amazed me after, though, was just the sheer callousness displayed by everyone else and the defense of those who tried to crash the party. Even now, I find myself wondering how one could even defend showing up to another person’s doorstep with a bottle of vodka in their hand, yelling and begging to be let in like it’s a life or death matter.
And the defenses of it, both that night and in the coming days, made no sense to me either. If this was an open house party, that’s one thing, but you’re coming onto someone’s property and making a scene while their parents are home. It’s because of the parents that this party is even allowed to happen, that the basement can smell like weed and a guest room can smell like sex, and you’re disrespecting them? I don’t get it.
Looking back on it almost five years later, part of that may have had to do with me ‘fading out of the scene’ among my peers. Maybe I was supposed to be in the same “fuck the police” boat as everyone else or have that same blind defense stance of freshmen and sophomore girls who instead acted like children ten years younger than them. Instead, I just sat there indifferent and happy that the ‘pest problem’ had been dealt with, even if that was supposedly a middle finger in itself to the girls who just wanted to drink and relax.
But I wasn't. I was in a separate boat, one that respected the police for how they handled things. And as I sit now, four and a half years later, and think about that weed-filled, cop-attending, high school party, I’m hit with another realization:
That was the last high school party I would ever attend.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter at @JakeElman for all of the latest news on Stranded On Third.
The working cover was made by Will Arvin, or @TwoClutchHD on Twitter. Make sure to follow him...