I wrote a bit yesterday about cultural milestones that teenagers pass on their way to adulthood, or really, young-adulthood, or really, “larger, hairier kids still misbehaving.” I also indulged in some baseless blather about the differences between girls and boys in choosing these markers, but also pointed out at least one shared adolescent hurdle to be overcome by both sexes: not being horrifically killed by murderous telekinetic outcasts at the prom, whom you may or may not have drenched in pig’s blood, but she frankly isn’t making any distinctions any more. But there is one more significant activity that crosses gender lines: underage drinking.
Nearly every kid does this at least once, except for perhaps the aforementioned kooky homicidal telekinetic, and look how she turned out: blood-wet, orphaned, and dead, with finally nobody to reach out to except for Amy Irving. If that’s not solid anecdotal evidence supporting the practice of getting boozed up in your teens, I don’t know what is.
So to pick up the narrative thread from yesterday, that’s what pretty much everyone did that day. I allowed myself to be herded whitely into Bill’s car, where we were joined by Kendall–he was the second person I had told of my prank-cum-federal offense–and we immediately found a senior who would buy us beer for ridiculous amounts of money. (Idaho at that point had recently grandfathered the 18-year-olds into the newly raised 21-and-up law, which immediately catapulted those who made the grandfather into a kind of Divine Elect status, which of course they thoroughly and mercilessly abused. In a just world, they would have been the first up against–or lodged in–the wall in Carrie White’s slaughterama, but most likely they were out in the parking lot fumbling with a drunken 16-year-old’s bra.) And off we went, whooping and hollering things like “Afternoon at the beach!” and “Pass me a beer!” and “Oh my god, I’m going to jail!”
I had calmed down a bit by the time we arrived at the river, thanks mostly to our friend Beer. The beach was by this time fully occupied by what appeared to be the Seventh Half-Naked Regiment, who were performing their drinking maneuvers with proper military precision. Wanting, as all teenagers do when no adults are around, to be a good soldier, I joined them. Specifically, I joined a particular person named Tracy. Tracy was a junior, in fact was my partner on the debate team (look, shut up, okay?), and I had a white-hot crush on her, because she was (a) pretty and (b) talked to me. Of course, being my debate partner, she kind of had to talk to me, but one doesn’t make needlessly fine distinctions like that when one is a dorky teenager whose hormones some time ago started Incredible Hulk-ing all over his glandular systems. Tracy, I was wholly delighted to see, was pretty wasted.
We talked for a bit, I guess, about nothing, because Tracy like I said was plastered, and what the fuck am I going to talk about? Debate? I don’t think so. I probably unentertained her with some close analysis of the semiotics of socklessness on Miami Vice. Now those guys were cool. True, they may have a looked a lot like why Betsey Johnson sticks to making women’s clothes, but at the time, they were cooler than deep space, and I most certainly was not. And then Tracy said something very important. It was the first of two very important things she would say to me that day. It was: “I wish I knew who was responsible for this, so I could thank him.”
Suddenly . . . I could be cool. Tracy would think I was cool. This was inconceivable. It was also the worst possible thing she could say, because it surgically removed pretty much every shred of self-preservation that I had left remaining, which was nearly nil anyway, because hey, teenaged boy.
I heard myself as if from a great distance, say ten yards or so, because I was half in the bag and I think a volleyball had hit me in the head at some point. But you should have seen me. I was nonchalant. I was low-toned and debonair. I sipped casually at my warm Rainier can and said a bit throatily, “You can thank him right now.”
Tracy’s eyes widened in a way I still remember, and she froze. I smiled winningly and acnedly, and sipped again. Around us, unimportant people did pointless things and yelled uninteresting words. We were figures in a Vermeer painting: perfect, timeless, and pretty much ignored by the world at large. But it was, for me, perfection. I was, very briefly, cool.
“Oh my god,” breathed Tracy. “Really? You did that?” I nodded, still savoring this new sensation, that even then I knew couldn’t possibly last. “OH MY GOD!” she yelled, and hugged me, a sensation I mentally locked into a tight vault with a sign on it reading “PRICELESS OBJECTS.” And then Tracy said the second very important thing of that day.
She stood up on the beach and shouted in her best debater’s voice, “Everybody! Everybody, listen up? You know who did this? You know why we’re here? It’s because of SKOT! SKOT DID IT!”
That’s when I stopped feeling cool. Now three-quarters of my high school non-chums knew Who Did It. And I’ll admit it was nice being the hero for all of about thirty seconds as they cheered me on the beach and ran over to clap me on the back and chummily drip beer on me, sure. But in my mind, I knew: I now had not even the slightest chance of coming out of this one unscathed. High school students keep secrets about as well as radiation victims keep teeth. I figured I had about twenty-four hours.