There was a pause between puffs. Jamie looked at me like he was going to ask for a favor, overextending his eye contact. The sticky summer heat mixed with the weed glued every word he said to me in a way that felt permanent. The crickets created their own symphony in the trees outside the car. Their background music didn’t help make the moment seem any less trivial.
“Can you do me a favor?” he asked. “Can you drive me around tomorrow for something?”
“Drive you around? Where the hell am I gonna drive you around for?” I blew out smoke and coughed. At 16, I was already sick of the way boys tried to get me to do things for them.
“Well, see I have this idea. You know Kayla?” He hits my weak spot. Kayla is my best friend. I’d do anything for her. “Her birthday’s coming up and we have this thing–this thing about how many gates there are around Greenwich. Whenever we smoke we talk about how we’re going to make a book one day full of photos of them. So I was thinking for her birthday gift I could take photos of all of these random gates in back-country Greenwich and get them printed into a book at Staples or something. But you know I don’t have a car and I don’t have a license yet…”
My tone changes. “Of course I’ll take you around,” I say. “Of course. Wanna another hit?” I pass the bong his way and we turn up The Doors.
The gates in Greenwich are often white, wooded and polite. They’re typically mended to either end of a stone wall. They’re never chipped or chain-linked. They’re only high enough to not see the lawn inside while also allowing people to see the tips of crafted hedges that are planted behind. Sometimes they are a steel lace pattern so you can pay witness to the mansions they guard, decorated in a very special kind of iron curtain.
One thing is for sure – the gates of Greenwich are made just as much to keep people out as they are to keep secrets in.
I called Jamie the next day, but he didn’t answer. I waited a couple of hours. Still nothing. Finally, at 3 p.m. he called me back. “Hey, sorry I was asleep and then I was with my brother smoking a blunt and then I didn’t totally pass out on a lawn chair. I didn’ttttt.” Jamie developed this thing of doing ‘backwards talk’ where he says the opposite of what he means every single time. It started during a dare when he started telling his friend, “You wooooon’t,” about doing a shot of cinnamon. Then everything he said turned into “you won’t,” (you would) or “I didn’t,” (I did) or “we aren’t” (we so obviously are).
“Well, do you still want to go photograph the gates of Greenwich?” I asked, hopeful.
“Nah, just come over, we can do it tomorrow. We have all summer.”
That’s how most things go for teenagers who have three months off in the suburbs with a car. They can do everything and nothing all at once. They have all the power and no power at all, debilitated by their own right to be completely unproductive.
I arrived at Jamie’s house behind a Wendy’s. Jamie’s dad was a cool dad who wore wife beaters and had a pet bunny that roamed the house. In fact, Jamie’s whole family was cool. They all played electric instruments like guitar and bass. His older brother, Jared wore band sweatshirts and had posters in his room of girls with thick eyeliner and tattoos. He loved heavy metal and had an eyebrow ring. Jamie’s mom wore muumuus and furry slippers but didn’t care if he had a couple of Coronas in the backyard. As long as both Jamie and Jared worked on their music careers they were free to do what they pleased.
I headed to the backyard without knocking or entering through the front door to sit in the white plastic chairs where I’m always welcome. Jamie and Jared were there already, as well as this kid George. George was a cool kid who was by far the richest out of all of us. At the age of 10, he was adopted by two men with a lot of money, so he was down to earth but with the luxury of being loaded.
As I sat down Jamie commented on the dress I was wearing, which I made. It was scraps of fabric I had patched together. “I can picture you years from now,” said Jamie, “like all in a pink wig and suit, being the editor of Vogue, or some big fashion girl. You won’t. You wooonnn’t.” Jamie’s phone buzzed. “Ugh,” he said, “it’s Kaylee.”
“Invite her over.” I say.
“I should. Because she can chill for even a day. She caaaan. Seriously though. I just need a break.” I rolled my eyes. “What?” he retorted. “Why do you always give me that look? You can’t force me to like a girl.”
“I know, but you lead her on,” I said.
“You do though! Like, you want her attention, but then you don’t want it. It’s super obnoxious. Then you always pretend you’re going to do something special for her. Like today, with the gates of Greenwich. I bet we never take those photos.”
“We won’t though, and you know it.”
“We won’t thooooough. We won’t.”
I roll my eyes again. Backwards talk was really getting on my nerves.
“Let’s do something really fucked up tonight,” offered Jared. “Like crazy.”
“Like what?” asked George.
“I dunno, it’s hot as balls. Why don’t we go swimming?”
“We do that every night in the river.” I said. “Let’s go in a pool. It’s fucking Greenwich. There’s tons of jerks with pools that live here.”
“Yeah because we know themmmm,” said Jamie. “Because they don’t hate ussss.” He said this but Jamie’s the only one who actually had rich friends. His talent in music granted him an all access pass to be a stoner, a weirdo and still be cool.
“Okay, let’s fuck shit up then. Fuck them. Let’s go pool hopping. Let’s go in their fucking rich ass people pools anyway,” said Jared.
“Hahaha, yeah,” says George. He’s stoned out of his mind. George also, I’m almost certain, has a pool, but doesn’t really care about anything.
“Let’s make it even better,” I offered up now into the excitement. “Why don’t we wear war paint. Like, we can get face paint and shit from Party City, and wear it while we pool hop so we’re warriors. Warriors against the assholes and their fucking pools.”
“Also,” said Jared,”Let’s take a piss in each of their pools. We’re gonna be drinking anyway. We should try to make sure at least one of us takes a piss in each of the pools.”
“Fuck. Yes.” I say. “Let’s get to Party City.”
At Party City I texted Pierre- the love of my life. Pierre was literally Swiss royalty and spoke French fluently. He knew about things like WWII history and cheeses. Such wordly understanding provided him with a level of class that was inherent and something I knew I would never in my life live up to. “Are you busy later?” I wrote. At this stage in the world people were still writing out text messages with full words.
“Maybe. I might hang out with Jess.”
I know he’s in love with Jess. I know it. I can just tell, but it doesn’t stop me from doing whatever it takes to be with him. I put a squeezy tube of red in the basket.
“Well I have something super cool, but there’s only room for one in the car.”
I added a tube of white as well. I thought it would be interesting to make red and white lines beneath our eyes.
That evening, I did the math on who would be coming. I could fit one person in the trunk which would be Jared or George, probably George since Jared was older and cool. Then Kayla and Jamie would be in the back. And then there was one shotgun seat. Pierre always got shotgun in my car.
We all met at Jamie’s for drinks and do our warpaint. From there we piled.
“Where are we gonna go first?” asked George.
“Let’s head to to that kid Paul’s,” I offered. He had a huge house in backcountry past Glennville. I went there once to buy weed from him but he gave it to me for free since I let him hit on me. He definitely can’t get it though.” I chuckled.
We drove in the dark in my sister’s Jeep. She had been off to college in Florida so I now had two cars – hers and the ’92 Toyota Corolla my mom bought me for $1,000 from a woman who worked at a cashmere boutique on Putnam Avenue. My mom gave me a $5,000 budget for a car, but I knew I destroyed things. I was responsible and irresponsible all at once as a kid, and I didn’t care about money, so knowing I was irresponsible, I was responsible enough to say no to nice gifts. Really, I just hated getting in trouble. So I picked the Toyota.
To make it my own I drove all the way up to some head shop called Utopia that sold pipes, posters of Jimi Hendrix and concert tickets in Norwalk and bought strips of Grateful Dead bear stickers. I patched them on the side of my car so there were bears dancing against the deep teal on my old beater. I was essentially asking to be pulled over.
But that day I wanted to be cool because Pierre liked Jeeps and we needed the trunk space, so we were not in the Toyota. We also needed to remain as inconspicuous as possible and teens crunched into a car of Grateful Dead stickers don’t help accomplish that.
We snuck into the backyard after I parked on the side of the road. We ducked down and whispered, “KEEP QUIET” to each other when someone stepped on a branch. “SORRY!” someone would shout back. “SHHHH!” someone else would say and then someone would whisper louder “Dude SHUT THE FUCK UP,” which would be echoed,” Shut the fuck up,” “Shut the fuck up!!!” until we all finally did, just shut the fuck up. From the back we could see Paul sitting in his den, full of a wrap-around mahogany bar, watching Star Wars, drinking bourbon from a Swarovski glass, a huge square cube glistening in the reflection from the panoramic TV. He paused, stared deep into the glass like some charlatan from the 60s, swilled it and then sipped with his pinkie up.
“What a fucking pervy nerd.” I muttered.
“Ssshhhh!” someone else shouted.
“Oh like he can hear us. Look at the surround sound on that big ass TV.” We shot across the yard, one by one into the pool. We waded in the dark, the odd spectators to something that all of us had come close to, except for Pierre and George, but never had. It was the ultimate revenge – to have a party in Paul’s own pool, without him, staring at his sad life he viewed to be so elite while he was shut out of his own home. “I’m peeing,” said Jared. We all snickered.
“Alright,” said Jared, “let’s go.”
“Oli oli oli oxen freeeee!” I shouted. Then we cheered and hooted and hollered running back to the car. From the darkness we saw Paul shoot up out of his couch and try and tell what was out there, in the darkness.
No amount of money could buy speakers loud enough to drown out the sound of people having fun without you.
DALLAS ATHENT is the a writer and artist whose work has been published and/or profiled in At Large Magazine, PANK, Buzzfeed Community, BUST Magazine, Packet Bi-Weekly, Luna Luna Magazine & more. She’s a board member of Nomadic Press. She has two books published titled Bushwick Nightz (fiction) and Theia Mania (poetry). She lives in The Bronx with her adopted pets.