NEW YEAR’S EVE 2002, PART 1

Interstate 5 was dark. Tall trees loomed large on either side of the freeway. Rows of silent sentinels hanging over the tops of the gray sound barriers. Off-colored marks of buffed-out graffiti marred the ridges of the cold gray walls. Flashing blue lights illuminated a state trooper and the car he had pulled over. DUI patrols were out in force on New Year’s Eve. We zoomed onward. A man on a crotch-rocket style motorcycle raced past me, his clothes billowing back on his body. Recklessly, he careened on. Allan sat shotgun navigating from directions printed out in black and white from MapQuest.

“Take this next exit.” He said, pointing.

I guided the car onto the off-ramp into the “city” of Lynwood. The darkness of the freeway was no more.  I looped under the freeway onto a broad thoroughfare gaudily lit like a shrine to American Consumerism. McDonald’s. Shell. Chevron. Taco Bell. Babies’R’us. Toys’R’us. G.I. Joe’s. Best Buy. I followed this road awhile until Allan directed me again to turn, and the broad road gave way to dark, windy streets with no sidewalks and streetlights and mailboxes dotted here and there. Houses strung with Christmas lights sat back from the tree-lined roads at the end of gravel driveways. We drove a little while longer before Allan spoke again,

“We’re about to come up on it right now.”

The verbal directions proved to be unnecessary. Cars packed the driveway of Rob Lutz’s house and the street in front. Dead giveaway.  A group who had arrived right before us was unloading beer from the trunk of their car. Another trio was walking up the driveway,18-packs in hand.

                                                                ***

Students stood clustered on the front steps of Roosevelt High School. School had just let out for winter break. Rob Lutz walked from cluster to cluster flanked by two of his friends giving verbal invitations to his New Year’s Eve party. Rob was skinny and slight.  He had acne that he covered up with girl’s make-up. He wore baggy jeans with a loop that in theory was made to hold a hammer; in reality the loop was purely aesthetic. Rob wore his stringy, greasy brown hair combed flat and forward, the bangs pressed flat hanging over his forehead like a helmet. He wore a puffy black South Pole jacket and clunky Timberland-esque Lugz.  His friend Latoine, a multiracial kid, wore a dingy yellow doo-rag with the raggedy ends of his fuzzy cornrows hanging out the back, adorned with white and yellow beads. His skinny frame was engulfed in a yellow FUBU sweater many sizes too large, covered in cartoon characters. The sweater had been worn too many times and was covered with minute balls of lint. He was the kind of boy wiggers enlisted to be their black friend. Rob’s other friend was a stocky boy who sported similar ill-fitting garb.

What a bunch of goofy-ass motherfuckers I thought. An open house was an open house though. My friends and I were long in the habit of befriending people solely for the purpose of using them for their house and then forgetting about them after. Rob Lutz would be no different. I imagined that he thought having a house party would make him cool. I’m sure his primary motive was that he thought having the party would get him laid.  He was right in thinking that having a party would be a surefire way to get a ton of girls to show up at his house, whether or not he could successfully woo any of them was another story altogether. I wouldn’t bet on it. It made little difference to me. I was completely caught up in the world of “kicking it” and nothing delighted me more than the prospect of open houses, and in the winter it was an attractive alternative to drinking beer in a park.

                                                               ***

The front door of the house opened into the landing of a stairwell. One set of stairs down to the left, and another up to the right, a layout I have found to be common in the suburbs north of Seattle. Bumpy amber-colored window panes surrounded the door and extended up to the ceiling of the main floor. The living room sported a L-shaped sectional couch; its back against a large picture window that stared out into the darkness. A large fireplace was on the far wall of the room. There was no wall separating the living room from the dining room, and at the edge of the dining room the carpet gave way to linoleum into the kitchen. A sliding glass door led onto a deck crowded with people smoking cigarettes. A keg of beer in a garbage can full of ice sat in the middle of the kitchen. A blonde lady in her mid-30s held a bag of red plastic cups. This surprised me. I assumed it was Robert’s mother, though he had failed to mention this to us.

“Car keys.” She barked at me, holding out her hand.

“Huh?”

“You gotta give me your car keys if you want a keg cup. I don’t want any of you kids driving drunk.”

“Oh.”

I gave her my car keys and she handed them to a man in his early 20’s in a grey Seahawks hoodie who put them into a bowl he appeared to be guarding. They were both holding cups of beer. Rob’s mom handed me a red cup.

“Here ya go, sweetie. I’m Rob’s mom. Tammy. This is my husband Phil.”

Husband? The guy was not much older than us. Tammy was pretty young to be the mother of a 16-year-old, but Phil was still at least 12 years her junior. Weird.

I filled up my cup and began to drink.

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