As I came to learn over the years, one of the positives (or negatives, I suppose) of being an only child in a divorced family is the ability to disappear into the void between Mom's House and Dad's House. I am in the eighth grade and recently discovered a route through the woods by my Mom's House that leads to my Dad's house. It is a Friday, around 4 p.m., I am 14 years old with nothing to do. The season is May. My mom's house is full of boxes, for she is getting married to her boyfriend Jeff, and we are leaving, leaving in a week or so. As most of my belongings are packed into boxes awaiting the van, I decide to hop on my mountain bike and ride via the trail to my dad's house.
I do not call my friends over there to let them know; I do not tell my dad; I certainly do not tell my mom. I did not plan to be gone long, certainly not past dark, and more than likely my mom would be working late or out with Jeff. I lock my beagle Sam in the basement and set out. I always feel bad about leaving Sam behind, but she is spirited, especially when let loose in the woods, and I would lose her easily.
The trip is much faster on bike than walking. When I had discovered the trail last Fall, I had walked it through Winter, but now that the weather had turned, I went via bike. This lesson I would take with me the rest of my life: biking is faster than walking and more convenient and proud than asking someone for a ride. The trip takes around 15 minutes, and that includes a stint where I walk my bike up a steep rocky hill on the trail. This is just slightly longer than driving over. Once out of the woods, I bike through my dad's neighborhood in East McKeesport. Most of friends live on this side of the woods, so this is where I would come to be social. Apart from my neighbor Brooke, I don't really have too many friends at my mom's house, even though that is where I live. Brooke does not come around much anymore, as she has fallen in with the smokers clique and I am still a nerd. All is well though, for I enjoy the solidude of my mom's house, nested atop a dead end hill, next to woods and a church and not much else. A few times though, Brooke came over and we would smoke cigarettes in my garage. I would consider asking her to make out, but would never. Mainly, I think, becasue I feel guilty for not being attracted to her because she is overweight and not nearly so smart as I am. All told, I am looking for sexual experience.
I turn onto my dad's street, Wilmerding Ave, and see my good friend Jason Mamrose -- a skater, but an all right guy -- with two of his skater friends. I recognize them as Justin Pitilsky and Scott Harness. These guys are not very friendly towards me on a day to day basis. I think about turning around to go back but Jason waves me down. He is wearing his new K2 skates. He installed a grind rail -- stolen from God knows where, my dad would say -- in his mom's front yard. Jason's dad lives in Monroeville which is very far away. Certainly not walkable or bikeable and inconvenient even by car.
Jason attempts a grind but slips off and lands in the grass.
"You suck dick," Justin says. He is not wearing skates, nor Scott.
"Fuck you," Jason says. "I don't see you trying it." Jason is good at skating. Better, I would surmise, than Justin and Scott.
"I don't have my fucking skates on, genius," Justin says.
"Yeah, that's cause your mom hid them from you," Scott says and spits.
"She's a bitch," Justin says. "She is always hiding my shit."
Jason says to me, "What's up, Ryan?"
I tilt my head up, give him a silent What's up. I am standing behind them, on the street, and have been for the duration of the conversation, but Justin and Scott just now notice me. They both smile as if they are playing a joke on me.
Scott says to Jason, "You know this kid?"
"Ryan DeBiase," Justin says, screwing up his voice to sound like a computer. He is impersonating me, but I do not sound like a computer. I don't think so.
"Yeah, we're cool," Jason says, dismissive. He is a year behind Justin, Scott, and I, though the same age. Jason and I share no classes and don't interact much at school. He is unaware of my low social standing, though I had alluded to it at times early in our friendship. I cannot skate, which is why I ride this mountain bike. At this point in history, mountain bikes are not in vogue.
"We're cool," Scott says, inflecting his voice low, like a Dunce. He turns to me, "Why don't you go do some homework, fag."
I feel my stomach sink. I shrug, consider going back, or making up some lie as to why I came over and going to my dad's house to watch TV. Or maybe going up the street to Gerry's to play GoldenEye on Nintendo. This is a strong option.
"Is Gerry home?" I say to Jason.
"Nah," Jason says, "he's on some boy scout trip with his dad."
"Boy scouts," I say, "what the fuck? That's gay."
"Gay?" Scott says, "Did you just call Gerry gay?"
"Yeah," I say.
"Are you two gay together? Do you have anal sex?" Scott asks.
I do not understand the concept of anal sex, but follow along, "I only do that with your mom."
Justin and Jason errupt in laughter. Scott mutters, "Fuck you." Then he looks at me defiant, and reaches at my chest. He clamps onto my right nipple and tweaks. Pain knifes through me but I keep a straight face. Some time ago, I decided I would make my stand by being impervious to the titty twister. Scott releases, attempts a differnt position with the same result. Frustrated, he eventually gives up.
"Are you the Terminator?" Justin asks me.
"What?" I say and shrug.
Scott goes over and attempts the same move on Jason, who squirms out of the way, laughing. Scott turns back to me, "You're fucked up."
After this, I do not say much to Justin and Scott and they do not say much to me. They attempt to pass each other out by pressing hard on their chests while one stands against a wall. It does not work, for no one passes out. Bored, they decide to walk up the street to track down Kasey Gustey, up on Congress. I do not really desire to travel with these kids, for they are not my kind of people. I attempt to locate that elusive excuse that will separate me from them. I search, but it does not come. For some reason, I am focused on my grandmother, as if she hinges on my staying or going. Any excuse I consider starts and ends with her, and that -- that is just not suitable for these skater kids. I would be laughed off the block. Not that this bothers me, per se, but I had made valuable inroads with the your mom comment and the purple nurple defense. I did not wish to throw that away. I put up a brief fight with Jason about it, but he persists in encouraging me to come along. I do.
We reach Kasey Gustey's house but he is not home, his mom tells us. She keeps the door cracked slightly, and does not invite us in. I remember Mrs. Gustey from the cub scouts, which I was in with Kasey about six years ago, but do not acknowlege her. It would be inappropriate given the company. Instead, I wait behind all of them and try not to make eye contact. With one plan overturned, we instead head for the East McKeesport playground -- the Park, as it's called. My stomach again takes a turn. The Park was not a place for people like me. That is where the skaters hung out and the last thing I wanted was to hang out with more skaters. As we are walking, I hang in the rear, attempt to confer in Jason that I wish to leave. He asks what else I would be doing, other than going to the Park? I begin to say something about my grandmother but stop. I tell him nothing, I would be doing nothing.
On the way, we pass a bar on Fifth Avenue. The door is open and Justin calls someone at the bar a fag. The guy at the bar says that he'll fucking kill us kids. Justin and Scott both stop while Jason and I try to walk on. There is a bit of a standoff, the guy inside comments on our age, how we can't go it, but he does not come out. Justin and Scott, laughing, move on. I think I hear the guy in the bar say: "Fucking kids."
In short order, we are at the Park and there are a few other kids there, some older than me; some younger than me. None are in my grade, which is a relief. Justin and Scott start smoking. They each have a pack of cigarettes. Scott gives one Jason. Jason tells him to give one to me. Scott looks at me confused. Asks if I smoke. I told him I quit. I told him I used to smoke in the seventh grade with Brooke Coolie. This is true, to a point, though I never smoked with regularity even then. The group of skaters shares a laugh at my expense, as if my name-dropping of Brooke suddenly affords me some cred. We continue to smoke. A young girl, most likely in sixth grade, wearing baggy JNCO jeans and a red tank top glances me from head to toe. I am wearing a grey Steelers T-shirt and a pair of Levi's jean shorts.
"Who is that?" she says with a disgusted look on her face. She is smoking also.
"One of Jason's friends," Scott says.
"What's your name?" the girl asks.
I tell her.
"Who do you hang out with?" she asks.
I search through my group of friends, mostly nerds from the orchestra, and cannot really think of one she might know. I take a stab. "Tim Mitchell," I say.
"Who the fuck is that?" she asks incredulously. "I don't know who that is."
Scott and Justin laugh. Tim is a peripheral player, at best, on the stage of junior high. My gambit failed. She asks for another name. I provide Jim Dunston, another of my orchestra friends, with whom I go way back.
"Who the fuck are these people?" she says, waving her cigarette through the air.
I admit that we are in the orchestra together, though I do not say I play the viola. I tell her I play bass. She rolls her eyes, unimpressed.
Jason notices a cop drive past and tells us to put our smokes out of sight. I drop mine to my side but do not toss it. Just as the cop is almost past, Justin takes out his pack of Newports and waves it in the air. He gives the cop the finger. The brake lights come on and my heart stops. Everyone shuts up. Then the lights go out and the car keeps rolling slowly out of sight. A few more cars drive past and I become afraid that someone will recognize me, smoking with a bunch of skaters at the Park. For some time I do not say anything. There is some debate over whether it is illegal for a minor to smoke or if it is just illegal to sell a minor cigarettes. No one seems to know the answer.
Scott asks why I am keeping so quiet. I shrug. He says that I am just standing there with my hands in my jeans, playing pocket pool. To confirm, a make a squirting sound with my mouth, mimicking what I think come must sound like on its way out. I am lightheaded and nauseous from the cigarette and I again consider going home. But it is a long walk to my dad's house and I still cannot think of an excuse. The guys talk about leaving anyway, making our way over to Broadway and trying to track down Kasey again.
After crossing over 5th Avenue, the guys lead me into a narrow alley which cuts over to Broadway. Tucked back in the alley is squat two story apartment building. We stop beneath a wooden balcony. Justin tells us to hold up. He goes up a flight of wooden stairs. Scott gives Jason and I cigarettes. We begin smoking again. Jason asks what is going on. Scott tells him that Justin is going to Ziggy's house to buy some weed. I do not know who Ziggy is. Upstairs, I hear pounding against a screen door. This goes on for several minutes. I finish my cigarette and flick it onto a patch of grass. The alley continues in front of us and we can see a brief swatch of Broadway, all cobblestone and divots. Scott gives me another smoke.
I hear a door open upstairs, and a woman's voice yell, "What is wrong with you? Would you shut up?"
Justin mutters, "I'm looking for Ziggy. Is he home?"
"How the hell should I know?" the woman says. "I ain't his ma, why don't you all go buy drugs somewhere else."
"Fuck you bitch," Justin says as he plods down the wooden steps.
"Yeah, suck my dick you fat bitch," Scott says.
A head, pockmarked and full of curlers, lurches over the railing. "You little shits better get out of here. This ain't no smoker's den."
"It's a free country," Justin says. He lights one up, balls up his empty pack and throws it on the stairs.
"You better pick that up," the woman says. When Justin ignores her, she spits at him. It misses, but splashes near his foot. In retaliation, he flicks his cigarette at her, though it arcs low, striking a board over Jason's head and raining embers on top of him.
"Hey Justin!" he says, clawing at his neck, "What the fuck?"
Through the swath of Broadway, a police car rolls up, slams on the brakes. Two cops get out and walk toward us. Everything is panic. Scott and Jason take off through the alley, back toward 5th. I follow. Scott ducks into a pizza shop on 5th, but I continue to follow Jason around a corner and onto a narrow sidewalk between buildings. We come out in the rear of the Post Office. Jason waves me over to the loading dock, tucked away behind a brick wall. We climb onto the thing. It seems that the plan may work, though I wish there is a dumpster we could crawl into. Something with a lid. Instead, we sit atop a concrete platform and wait. No more than three seconds later, the officer jogs around the corner and sees us easily. He stops and motions for us to come down. We do that, caught as if it is a game of Hide and Go Seek.
"What the hell are you kids doing?" he asked. "Never run from the cops."
"Sorry," I say and shrug.
"Yeah," Jason says.
"Come on," the officer says, "Let's go back to the car."
The three of us march back across 5th Ave. The officer's partner is at the end of the alley by the apartment. The one that caught us says to him, "These two were trying to hide in a loading dock." His partner laughs.
We walk through the alley to the polic car. All the while I am considering the consequences: who I will call (my dad? my Pap? definitely not my mom), how much bail may be, how I will explain this arrest. One of the officers opens the back door and we climb inside. He shuts the door. The two of them converse outside. Justin is already inside. We are pretty well squished together, he, Jason and I. I am in the middle.
"What happened?" Jason asks him.
"Don't ever run from the cops," Justin says. He turns to me and says, "Dude, I'm sorry. This is the first time this has happened to us, I swear."
"It's fine," I say. Honestly, I am not so much mad at him or Jason or even at Scott for getting away. I don't feel much of anything. It is very hot in the car and all the windows are up and we are all very sweaty. A few minutes later, the door opens and the officers let us out. They say they are not going to charge us for anything, as we weren't doing anything wrong. They just say to leave the upstairs woman alone. They also say that they were just coming over to talk to us and not to arrest us. In running away, we were implicating ourselves and we should never do that, guilty or no. So nothing ends up happening apart from one officer taking down our names and addresses. I am sure to provide the one to my mom's house, as I will be out of there in a couple weeks. One of the officers asks how we know each other. Justin tells him that we go to school together but goes out of his way to says that I have never hung out with them before. The cop does not particularly seem to care and they leave us to walk down Broadway.
A few moments later, someone says, "Oh my God, that was fucking crazy!"
We all erupt of giddy thrills, dancing along thae sidewalk because we had gotten away with something, even though we really hadn't. Justin again apologizes to me and says he feels real bad about ruining my impression of them. I tell them it's really not a big deal, as I am moving very shortly, and am a man untethered.
Scott catches up to us and we lash out at him for abandoning us. He has trouble believing that we were in the back of a police car. He also apologizes to me. Along with Justin, he says that they will not give me a hard time anymore, nor join in if others talk shit on me. Once again, I say, "It's cool."
For some time after, we loaf around Broadway and Jason, Scott, and Justin attempt to pass each other out. This time it is more effective, for Scott falls flat on his face. When he stands back up a tuft of grass is stuck to his shoulder. Jason's eyes roll back in his head and he slides down the brick wall, flailing his arms over his head. Justin lists sideways into a bush. I refuse these shenanigans.
Then it is very late in the evening and the streetlights have come on. Jason leaves with Scott to grab a skate tool from Scott's house. Justin and I head back toward my dad's house, talking the whole way as if we were friends to begin with and not from crisis. We get back to Jason's mom's house -- directly next door to my dad's house -- and sit on his grind rail, bullshitting all the while, constantly reiterating the episode with the police. Jason and Scott come back and Jason goes into his house to drop off the tool he is borrowing from Scott. Once he is inside we hear screaming. It is Jason's mom, going nuts on him for not telling her where he was. He leans out his front door and says he is sorry but he can't hang out anymore tonight.
Justin, Scott and I laugh a little bit. It is completely dark by now and I worry if I'll have to ride back through the trail in the dark. Justin tells me to walk my bike through the trail. Then my dad's girlfriend Carol pulls up in her white Camero. She gets out, still in her Chili's server outfit. I tell Justin and Scott that I'm going to try to get a ride home from Carol and tell them I'll see them around. We will never hang out ever again.
Carol agrees quite cheerily to give me a ride home, though I am worried that I'll have to leave my bike behind. But she says there is room in the hatch of her car. I wheel it onto the street and she lowers the backseat. The bike slides in easily. I am home by 9:30, before my mom. I am with my dog Sam, among the boxes of my old toys and junk, when she asks me what I did that day. The previous 6 hours disappear into a void, for she can never know.