Filed under: Chapter 17 | Tags: Azerbaijan, basement party, beer pong, Diet Sunkist, dirty nicknames, eHarmony, futon, Genesis 32, Grapico, Hulk Hogan, Jay-Z, Jim Varney, Josh Bates, Kevin Wilder, making out, McPheerson Manor, Neoclassicism, Some New Trend, Spanish moss, T.I. feat. Rihanna, wrestling
AS I REFLECT ON THE BIZARRE chain of events that have led me to this place, I realize the limitations of my still-young memory. I can’t even remember the pre-upgraded, before-summer version of Josh Bates. At what point my social status reached the juncture where I could park my Eagle Medallion in front of Bryanna Summerson’s, then ride in her convertible to a girl like Rose McPheerson’s is beyond me.
Bry steps out of her car and straightens her dress. She licks her hand and presses it to my forehead, fixing my bangs. “Very nice.” When she turns around I mess it back up.
The first thing I notice about the stately neoclassical revival home—or, McPheerson Manor—is the columns. Fit for a mini-Parthenon, they spiral to the heavens, or at least to the roof above the attic. Fresh mulch is spread around the trees and flowerbeds, and like other homes in the neighborhood, there’s corner boards, louvered shutters, distinctive dormers, dentil cornices, and several other touches I might integrate into some blueprints at a later date.
Rose’s dad, otherwise known as McPheerson, is the longtime business partner of Bryanna’s dad, the successful Mr. Summerson. Over the course of Bryanna’s life, Summerson & McPheerson have dominated the southern states by providing electronic commerce solutions (and I thought I was geeky). These men shower their daughters with love and gifts, which might be why the families happen to get along so well, most of the time. Thankfully, neither dad will be present tonight.
Again, Bryanna insisted I join her, this time in a house filled with strangers. At first her invitation left me ambivalent. Would my grand entrance into the elite be a big, sloppy disaster? Of course my migration would require a few minor adjustments. I’d need a haircut, and to rework my less-than-dapper Macy’s getup. Good thing the Secondberry Community Church secretary happens to be a retired seamstress.
My date rings the doorbell. And knocks. I look at the little London dress she purchased the day we went shopping together. It’s black, reminding me of the funeral service I got out of. And the way it shapes her frame tells me everything will be okay.
I ask, “So I take it the bird poop washed outta your hair?”
Bryanna looks at her shoes. “It took like four shampoos. And I can still sort of feel it.”
She rings the doorbell a second time. I imagine a herd of teenagers surrounding the peephole denying my access. Eventually, a non-teenage, pre-intoxicated Heavy Metal George answers, dressed in a ripped flannel shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows. “C’mon in,” he says, adjusting the plastic wrap around his latest arm tattoo. It’s of a swallow, with a dagger piercing through the tiny bird’s heart. The swallow has X’s instead of eyes, with the word “DEPARTED” etched in Old English letters around it’s wings. George takes a swig of beer and licks his lips.
As we enter, I whisper, “Didn’t you say this was gonna be a high-school house party?”
Bryanna shrugs. “Rose doesn’t discriminate.”
Before I can argue that this is a most profound lie, the three of us are standing in an otherwise-empty living room, staring at each other. I ask, “Are we early?”
Heavy Metal George laughs, says, “Right this way,” and throws a finger in the air, nearly tumbling down the corridor, then the stairs.
“I get it,” I say. “A basement party.” Bryanna searches the room for familiar faces. I look around to survey the types of crowds my youth minister has warned me about. I grab my date’s hand tightly, and quietly beg, “Please don’t leave me.” The words come out sounding vulnerable, not to mention lame.
“Oh Josh,” she says, patting my cheek. “There’s nothing to worry about in here. No one bites at Rose’s. Just don’t try too hard to fit in, mmkay?”
In the corner, a female DJ is bent over two turntables and a laptop, no microphone. She’s wearing headphones, and spinning a remixed version of a song originally by the band Heart….covered by Fergie…and mashed-up with a Tom Waits guitar-solo. People are shaking their asses. Hard.
Much to my relief, and surprise, Bryanna doesn’t start dancing, nor does she ask me to. Instead, we find a spot big enough for two sober people to stand, and on our way there get packed in between a wall and a plus-sized valley girl dancing by herself. “This will do,” I say.
Beside my face is a giant TV…playing scenes from some bootlegged action film…yet to be officially released on DVD…sans volume, or closed captioning. The only other people in the room not dancing are passed out on opposite halves of a futon—one a junior Waterboy, and the other, his Cinnaslut-turned-Bath and Body Worker-girlfriend. Until tonight, individuals like these have been merely fixtures of Twin Pines Mall, like the statues of children playing baseball near the pay phones and ATM machines. I wonder how did they find their way here? As far as I know, they’ll be wondering the same thing about me—after they wake up, of course.
I try to imagine what June would’ve worn, had she come along to Rose’s. Will would’ve dressed to impress in a trench coat, fake spectacles, and nineteenth-century hat. He talked about doing this briefly, drawing inspiration from a teen horror flick where some unknown killer looks for house parties to stalk young prey. It’s a tough thing for a guy like me to envision, since my parents forbade me from watching the movie with him.
Like Jacob with the Angel in Chapter 32 of Genesis and Book 12 of Hosea, I’ve vowed not to wrestle my friend, or myself any longer. I’ll admit, it’s sometimes difficult to remember there are other things in the world apart from girls. Now that the summer’s nearly over, the rest of Bryanna’s friends will return from their expensive multicultural vacations. Her summer fling experiment will end, and I’ll be replaced, to go back to working part-time, able to finish my pre-architectural education in peaceful tedium.
Rose sprints over. I can hear her loud and clear, not because she’s giving out signals, but because her voice sounds like a freight train…colliding with six others…in the middle of a thunderstorm…with passengers shooting Roman candles at one another.
“OMG!” she says.
Haven’t I heard this before?
Her voice eclipses the sound coming from the basement speakers, currently playing a downtempo Jay-Z song…mixed with Jungle/Techno drums…and some Trappist monk chant. “You guys finally made it,” Rose says, honoring my attendance.
“Totally,” Bryanna says. “Took us a while to wash up.”
She rubs her hair, where poop used to be, and while the two spend a moment catching up, I start walking around, in awe of the basement’s size. There are a few people to say hello to, which tells me this quote unquote party isn’t as overwhelming as I’ve led myself to believe. Sure, people change when they’re drunk, but as long as they’re not completely hammered, even the mean ones start to seem almost nice. I come back, to take a crack at entering Bry and Rose’s conversation with: “Hey Rose. What’re you gonna do if your basement gets destroyed?”
They both frown, as if simultaneously asking Why are you such a downer?
Bryanna slouches, and presses her elbow against my shoulder to explain. “Todd and Cindy McPheerson don’t care what happens tonight.”
Rose spells it out even further. “Basically, my Mom and Dad are cool as shit.”
I let Bryanna’s arm fall, and tell her I’ll be in the bathroom.
“Which one?” she asks. “I don’t wanna lose you, either.”
“Not sure,” I say. Then, “How many can there be?”
I don’t know much about Rose, apart from her name being ironic. I mean, she’s pretty and all, but less like a rose and more like a hydrangea, or some equally-pompous deciduous plant. She wears more makeup than the senior citizens in church, and as far as morals are concerned, she doesn’t have any. Her purity is equivalent to that of a public pool, to put it lightly.
Squeezing between tall and short people, then skinny and fat (though mostly skinny), I find myself shuffling into a line. It winds down a hall, and ends at an eight-panel door painted in warm earthtone red. Seems like a good place to call Will. When my friend picks up, I get the sound of bleeps and bloops, louder than before.
“New speakers?” I ask.
“Nevermind,” I say. It’s hopeless to make my voice any louder than the noises on each end of the connection.
“Oh, yeah. Just hooked ‘em up. When you comin’ over to help me calibrate ‘em?”
“Maybe tomorrow,” I say. “Right now you should come to this party.”
He pauses the game. “Which one? Rose’s?”
“Like there are two.”
“Since when is that my crowd?”
“I’m not sure who your crowd is, Will, but you’re right. They’re not. These people are definitely nothing close to what a crowd of yours might look like. Which is precisely why they need you here.” A few cheerleaders look my way, literally turning up their noses. The last person exits the bathroom, and I slam the door shut. I run sink water, splash some on my face, and take a seat to finish our conversation. “Wait a sec. Are you playing video games with…?”
“Who? Marley? Not a chance. I tried calling her, but the chick won’t answer. She’s just not into me, dude. Told ya she’s got it bad for Master Bates.”
Even though I still long for this information to be accurate, and for Will’s permission, I say, “No she doesn’t. And stop calling me ‘Master Bates.’ It’s embarrassing.”
“Whatever. June practically has blood in her eyes for you.”
I look around the room for better bait. How can I get him here without lying about the presence of survival equipment and weapons? “Hey,” I say. “Know that girl from school who drank too much milk, and ended up vomiting on Coach Henley?”
“She’s here,” I say. “And I think she’s switched to vodka.”
Will presses pause, and staggers. I interpret this as him checking his watch. “It is a little early,” he says. “I normally like to come to parties in the middle of the Danger Zone.”
“It’s a window of time where women can’t…forget it, long story. Look for me in seven.”
Bryanna converges with me once again in the kitchen. We stand over a crystal punch bowl. “Just what I need,” I say. “Kool-Aid.”
She grins mischieviously, and slowly whispers, “That’s not what this is.”
“It’s not? Grapico?”
Bryanna dips a ladle into the purple stuff, and like a million after-school specials asks, “Care to try some?”
“No thanks,” I say, shrinking.
“Aw, c’mon, Joshy.”
I look at Bryanna and say, “I thought we already talked about this. Alcohol leads to meth addiction.” I sigh. “And do you think you could just call me Josh from now on?”
She huffs for a second, looks like she might start to cry, and strolls out of the room alone.
Though I want to follow her out, the little voice inside me says wait a minute. Before a minute actually passes, James walks in. It would be the perfect time to converse with my old busmate the black Black Metal kid, if he weren’t so tied-up. Some premature supermodel is leading him necktie-first. I crouch behind what might be the biggest dishwasher known to man.
James says, “Theresa Stanley, I want you. I’ve wanted you for a long time. Ever since you came to school wearing that anorak in 90-degree weather, I’ve wanted you.” I’m surprised that his Norwegian accent has faded along with his consumption of alcohol. He continues: “I’ve wanted you since you flicked me off for almost running your best friend over. I wanted you the time you slashed Taylor Gonzales‘s tires for no good reason. Theresa Stanley, I Want You.”
“Thanks,” the girl says. “But are you sure that’s not my identical twin sister you’re thinking of?”
I’m not sure what provokes it, but the two of them press their lips into one another, then press their hips into one another, then start making out while shoved against the microwave. Theresa’s mouth seizes James’s, and while the back of his head hits AUTO DEFROST continually, I wonder when it will be my turn.
Back to the basement. DJ girl is taking five. And at the Twin Pines varsity soccer league’s request, she’s left an R. Kelly slow jam playing on repeat so they can finish up a final round of beer pong. I dial Stephanie. “Sorry for using you, sis. But this call is really just so I can have someone to talk to for a second.”
“You’re a bastard,” she says. “But it’s cool. Am I missing out on anything? Is there…alcohol there?”
I scratch my chin, then look at a college guy with a beard juggling whisky bottles. Thankfully, they’re empty. “Of course not. But not like I’d tell you if there was.”
“I heard a lotta people were going. You haven’t seen…Dylan, have you?”
I laugh. “No, Steph-Infection. Your barista in shining armor is nowhere near the parameters to my knowledge.”
“Hey Josh,” she adds. “If you promise not to tell Mom about my first cigarette, I’ll make sure not to mention you went to a party to do drugs and hook up with girls.”
“Wait a sec, I’m not—Hey—” Click.
My date rubs her arms with her hands. “I’m cold.”
Maybe you’ve forgiven me already?
The Turntable Princess starts playing that horrible T.I./Rihanna song people can’t get enough of, so they filter back in to dance. I take off my coat and put it around my date’s shoulders. “This should help.”
“Just. Don’t,” Bryanna says, handing me my coat back. I drop it on the ground, and she picks it up to drape over a loveseat. “Don’t take offense to this,” she continues reluctantly. “But one of my ex-boyfriends is here. And if the past is any indicator, he’ll be hitting on me.”
I think about it for a moment, then say, “That’s cool. No offense taken.”
Across the room, Mindy has made her way in, along with a few friends of the older variety. I leave Bryanna to find my fellow Macy’s perfume counter ally. “I’m so glad you’re here,” I say as she hugs me. “Who’d you come with?”
“George invited me.” Mindy says his name like an apology.
“You mean Heavy Metal George?” I ask. “Wait a sec. Didn’t I warn you about that skeez?”
“Oh Josh,” Mindy says, “look past the tattoos and plugs and he’s not that bad. Get to be my age, and you’ll see. There just aren’t any twenty-something versions of boys like you to be found.”
I try not to blush, and against my wishes, visualize running off with Mindy to Colombia, or wherever it is that she’s from. She takes sips from her martini glass, and I start filling her in on my experiences of changing light bulbs in Men’s Formal Wear. “Dave and Ray hoisted me up,” I say. “And I was all like, ‘Can’t we just find a ladder?’”
She tells me that Todd has started telling her all about his eHarmony escapades, leaving in nauseating details about each of his “intimate first-time encounters.” She starts laughing, unable to stop, probably a little drunk off whatever ingredients are in a martini. I start laughing too, drunk off nothing but good spirits. It occurs to me that Bryanna has no idea of how Mindy and I are connected. This most likely annoys her tremendously. But for me, it feels awesome.
“Okay,” I tell Mindy. “Maybe I should return to my date now.”
“You’re date?” she says cheerfully, grabbing my ears. “So the cologne worked?” She fixes the knot on my tie, and says, “By all means, go get her.”
I notice on my way over that it’s too late. Bryanna has found some Wrestler with a capital W to flirt with. The ex boyfriend. While he shotguns a Coors Light, she looks at me, then tenderly pats his chest with her hand. He doesn’t flinch, and why should he?
“Uh oh,” Mindy says, coming behind me. “She’s awfully cute. And that guy moving in on your territory certainly isn’t.”
Will appears instantly, in a tank top and cutoff jean shorts, right away asking, “Where’s the hot tub?”
“Not that kind of party,” Mindy says. She puts out her hand. “I’m Mindy.”
“Ay si, señorita Mindy. Me llamo William Ernesto Sharp.”
“Got it,” she says.
Because Will has reached the limitations of his Español, he says, “Any idea where the chips and salsa are at?” Mindy looks at the DJ girl’s equipment to focus on something other than him. She doesn’t seem to appreciate it when I leave the two of them alone.
“Excuse me,” I say, tapping the wrestler’s shoulder.
“Yes,” he answers. With a single word his voice conjures up several similarities to a drunken Hulk Hogan impersonator…after generations of inbred genes that’ve gone haywire…with a significant amount of timber wolf blood thrown in for good measure.
“Danny,” Bryanna says, ill-at-ease. “This is my friend Josh.”
He puts out a hand and says, “The name’s Danny. Danny Quidmelle. Now, what was I tellin’ you about my carburetor, babe?” He rolls his eyes, and I tap his shoulder again. He asks, “Uh, how can we help you, little guy?”
“You can help me by leaving,” I say. “I came here with my date, and I’d prefer it if we left together. And furthermore, I don’t appreciate the fact that your hand is on the small of her back.”
Bryanna moves aside, brushing Danny’s hand away. His face turns even less tame, as he now starts taking on the likeness of a resuscitated Cro-Magnon…with veins popping out of his forehead…and where any normal person’s neck might be located. “Yer funny,” he says, getting closer to my face, spit flying in every direction. “But ya ain’t gonna be funny after I—”
“Danny,” Bryanna interrupts.
He points at my face. His breath smells like a seventy-five year-old man’s, or a person who’s eaten nothing but ballpark pretzels for his entire life. “I had ‘er before you did, little guy. Now how would ya like to see me cram that Sunkist down your throat?”
He shoves me, and I bump into what might be the only bigger nerd at Rose’s party: the guy kid who broke last year’s state records for the PSATs. The boy loses his glasses, and craws on the ground to find them. When he does, he says, “Whoa, Joshua! Crazy seeing you here.”
I look at him on the ground. Orange soda is everywhere. I think, How many times will this happen? While I expect the wrestler to follow through with more abuse, Rose hotfoots over and yells, “Please don’t kill him on the rug!” She bends down and throws a stack of napkins on the orange puddle. “It was made in Azerbaijan, oh-kaay?”
I grab Bryanna’s arm. “Let’s get outta here.”
She pulls away. “Just leave me alone.”
Danny tries to put his arm around her too. She denies this, and walks out the door with everyone watching. The DJ digs through records, puts something on no one has ever heard, and the dancing starts back up. Dancing seems to solve everybody’s problems except mine.
Will and Mindy are waiting on the porch to check on me. “We’d better hurry up,” I tell Will. “Once Rose finishes scolding him for the rug damage, he’s gonna annihilate us both.”
Instead of answering, Will throws karate chops at the wind, slicing some Spanish moss hanging from the roof. “I thought you were gonna punch that dude in the face. I’m glad you didn’t. I’d hate to think you were cheating on me.” He rubs his eye, and I notice the bruise is gone.
“What about your coat?” Mindy asks.
“I don’t need it,” I say, walking down the porch steps. “My life’s pretty much over, anyway.”
Will says, “Later Mindz.” I look back, surprised to find her blowing him a kiss. “It’s just B.S.” he tells me, looking for his keyless entry. “And i’s still early. Let’s go to the arcade.” He holds out his hands: a challenge to see who will drive.
“No Rock Paper Scissors.” I explain, “You’re driving. I came here with Bryanna.”
“No sweat,” he says, letting me in the Honda so we can pull away.
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