It wasn’t quite the Summer of 2002 yet; I had just graduated from high school and had a solid job working 50 hours a week doing landscaping and mowing lawn. It was the time of the year when graduation parties were going on every night, some more raucous than others, some more legal than others. It was a late Sunday night, and I was hanging out at my good friend Jenny’s party while her parents were out of town, when the cops showed up to kill the party. Everyone took off running. We were in the garage drinking and smoking, so everyone became track stars and bolted for the back door, including myself, before I got two steps onto the lawn and realized I was one of the only people there who had not had a drink that night. I wasn’t sober…. but I hadn’t been drinking, so I watched my friends high tail it into the bushes and neighbor’s yards and turned around to talk to the cops. They weren’t in the mood to chase down kids so they wrote a ticket to Jenny, the host of the party, and went on their way. My other friend Adam lived just down the road so I knew most everyone was fleeing there. I spent the next two hours rounding up and giving all my drunk, frenzied friends a ride home.
It wasn’t a great big concern to me when I finally rolled up my parents’ driveway at 3am that I had to work at 7:30am, but what did concern me was the little, yellow light burning in the kitchen. I know my old man was still up and a lecture would be in store. At this point in our relationship things were pretty tense between me and my dad. I had grown sick of his oppressive thumb and he had grown sick of my attitude and late nights. As I walked in the door he barked to me, “This coming-home-at-3-in-the-morning-shit has to stop.” He wasn’t going to ask for an explanation, he was the type to get right down to business. However, I had an action plan of my own.
“Well, dad you won’t have to worry about me coming home late anymore, because I’m moving out.”
“Oh really, when?”
“Oh Ok, we’ll see about that.”
“Yep, we will see.” I shut my bedroom door and went to bed.
Within days I’d be all moved out my parents’ house and into my new home for the summer.
The two guys I had moved in with were already evicted from another house just a couple weeks before landing in their new pad. I should have seen this as a warning sign, but I was desperate to escape dad’s watchful eye and they were desperate for a third person. I had partied with them a couple times in high school, but I don’t think they would have considered me a good friend. I knew the real reason they wanted me to move in was because I was making great money and would be able to pay my share of the bills. It was a relationship that would be mutually beneficial for all parties involved.
The better half of my two new roommates was BJ. BJ was also working long hours that summer, scouting fields for a local vegetable producer. Our other roommate Shaun didn’t hold a job all summer, and he mostly paid the rent by selling drugs and stealing from his mom. Because BJ and I were the only ones who worked we forged a unique bond, spending hour after hour on our front porch burning down smokes, whining about our jobs like we were 40 year old men.
BJ might have been the most wild, theatrical, eccentric individual I have even known, due in part to his ADHD. When BJ was on his meds he could be pretty subdued, able to read a book, have a steady conversation or do some house work. When off his meds it was his excuse to be an absolute loon, an unlit firecracker ready to shoot off in any direction. Since we lived on one of the busiest streets in the city, kitty corner from the town’s YMCA, we gained a lot of attention drinking on our porch, sometimes as many as 10 or 15 of us outside. I’ll never forget the second week we lived together, BJ strutting down the sidewalk in only a pair of boxers, posing for, waving at and receiving catcalls from passersby. Some things stay etched in your mind and in my mind BJ is always strutting, always roaring with laughter and always the epitome of youthfulness.
Our house wasn’t an absolute shit hole, but over the next couple months it would become a party palace for hundreds of our classmates. I’d come home from a ten hour work day to find friends already getting high in my bedroom , or other guys half loaded on my porch. I’d shower, run off to the liquor store, procure booze and join them in getting lit. After half a bottle of booze and a pack of smokes, I‘d drift off to sleep, to the sound of the bass bumping from Shaun’s stereo system below me. In the morning, there would be 10 people passed out in my living room, some I remember seeing the night before, some I had never seen before in my life. We were like a big, drunk hostel for young vagabonds that entire summer, and we loved every minute of it.
The parties got much bigger on weekends. Fueled by BJ’s concoction of “Sexual Punch” (basically Barton’s Vodka mixed with juice, served from a big Gatorade container) we burned through the night. BJ’s punch was not for me, but I came to know the ingredients because I had the honor of buying half the city alcohol that summer. There was a little liquor store in town called Charlie’s that never carded me, and boy did we abuse the hell out of that. I don’t know how they didn’t catch on, or maybe they knew and didn’t want to refuse to sell to one of their best customers. I remember one night where I made two trips to Charlie’s for over $80 worth of booze each time. A feat made more impressive by the fact that everyone of us was bargain drinkers, slamming piss beer and terrible alcohol like the antidote for growing old was inside. I was in the midst of a five year love affair with Kessler Whiskey, and at one point that summer had convinced myself that the best chaser for shots of whiskey was, in fact, milk. This myth was destroyed on a Friday payday when I set my goal to be drunk by nightfall, and after accomplishing the goal all too easily, woke up in a rancid puddle of regurgitated whiskey-milk.
Even when every night seemed more savage than the week before, and the three of us living there teetering on the verge of sleep-starved, alcohol-driven insanity, It’s not hard to pinpoint the crescendo of the summer. Like many summers that followed, July 4th produced the climax of summer. That weekend was marked with drama. I was in a car accident where a motorcycle slammed into the back of my car, just blocks from our house, on the way to pick up couple hundred dollars’ worth of party favors. But as always, BJ’s actions would steal the show. On a Sunday night BJ ate some psychedelic mushrooms and hopped on a boat with the girl he was seeing to watch our town’s fireworks display down by the river. He told us he had freaked out, dived out of the boat and swam for shore. With BJ, if it was hard to believe it was probably true. From there he and his friend Rob got in trouble stealing hot dogs from a local gas station. I think it was, at the time, BJ’s 4th underage drinking ticket. When he got back to our house he was still rolling madness, so he decided it would be a good time to shoot bottle rockets off our porch.
There was this old man in our town that drove a bright red, convertible Dodge Viper, which in Stevens Point meant he had to be a big fucking deal. His ride had custom plates that read VIAGRA, which absent of explanation, I assumed were meant to let everyone know he was a giant hard-on. Not two bottle rockets in to BJ’s outburst the guy picked the perfect time to ride by our house, because just as he did, BJ shot one right in front of this guy’s expensive ride. The dude slammed on the breaks, and whipped it into reverse, screeching to a halt in front of our front porch. As he did, BJ ran off into the house.
He screamed at us, “HEY! What the fuck?!” The three or four of us who remained on the porch were extremely apologetic for BJ’s recklessness.
“We’re sorry mister! Our friend has had too much to drink and we’ll make sure he doesn’t do it again. So sorry… please… it won’t happen again… yes it is an awesome car… so sorry!”
He had just about calmed down and was telling us he wasn’t going to call the cops, but we should all tone it down, when suddenly from inside the house, BJ erupted with a bombastic, “FUCK YOU!!” We all couldn’t help but laugh and shake our heads. Mr. Viagra peeled off and 15 minutes later the cops were at our door, remarkably for the only time all summer, so we got off with only a stern lecture.
As summer drew to an end, the parties got more bitter. There were always the uninvited guests to deal with. People, including myself, got in fights and caused drama. Eventually, a lot of our high school classmates would move away for college. A few months into Fall, I swallowed my pride and moved back in with my parents. BJ left for Minnesota and no one cared what happened to Shaun. We always had that summer though. That summer of being young and reckless.
A couple years ago, I was saddened to hear that BJ passed away unexpectedly. Although his laughter, his mannerisms and his spirit could not be replicated; every now and then I’ll meet someone and see a little glimpse of BJ in them. I think that’s part of getting older; I always meet people who remind me of someone else. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to make tighter connections as I age, to forge those incredible bonds, because I’m grasping at the past, to cling to those nights when we were forever young, where BJ’s spirit radiates in the night like the loudest, most magnificent firecracker of all.
Shine on Shaman.