by Alex McElroy
We called ourselves thieves, at first, when except for the drinking we had done nothing wrong. We ranged in age from learner’s permit to license, weight from twiggy to lard-ass, demeanor from pussy to boss. We were a gamut. A gang. And we were at home, my home, drinking the bottle of something that someone had filched from their parents. The adventurous one, the one with the thin, arrogant eyebrows and the varsity letter, the one we hated for being adventurous, sprinted downstairs bearing news of transmogrification: bent bicycle rims, fingerless mittens, what might be a tent, and cat-clawed recliners besieging every driveway in town. He let us hold his new ukulele. We tugged on the mangled strings and then jammed into a mud-skirted Escape in search of our own broken music.
At the first house we stole a large purple teddy bear speckled with gunk. We named it Dickfor and threw it in the back—with me. It reeked of dog piss and mildew and cranberries. I pinched my nose and nasally offered five dollars, then ten, eleven dollars and . . . forty-six cents, but we all refused to switch seats with me.
What’s that?! we shouted. Keep driving. Stop! Beneath the twitchy yellow spray of old streetlamps we mauled mountains of swag—the term we preferred over treasure—slicing our thumbs on rust-crusted skates as bent wire hangers dug into our wrists. We snuck up beyond one another and smeared blood on cheeks, in hair, on the shoulders of T-shirts.
When the autumn breeze startled our arms we took pulls from the bottle for warmth.
Gimme that! Screw you! Argyle? Striped? Maybe cashmere? Women’s. Soft little pads sewed in the shoulders. No matter: It fit us. It warmed us.
Hey, we hollered, from the end of a cul-de-sac, Hey, dipwads come check this out. A television bowed on the sidewalk wobbled reluctantly. Thirty-six inches. No forty. We beamed, grateful, as we remembered the permanent blush of the 13 inch screen in my basement. We hauled our prize to the car. Its cord tap-tapping the asphalt. And we should’ve expected that one of us, being young, drunk, limp-wristed, and clumsy, would trip on that cord. We should’ve tucked the plug in a pocket. The television’s screen buckled and cracked into a permanent web. We examined the TV’s innards by the glow of our phones. We grieved. We called me pussy and dumbshit and faggot. We moved on.
On Spring Valley road we rolled engraved bowling balls at the mailboxes. We shattered the wooden supports. We cheered and booked it back to the car, where we passed around the bottle of something to drink, our driver taking sips as we drove.
For one magical week every year junk is no longer junk. It’s transformed, and transforming. If we told Emma Burns about our shorn, red velvet lampshade she might decide that she loved us. Wearing a pit-stained World Cup ’94 T-shirt at practice on Monday might convince Coach Perry to start us at left-mid against Peddy, under the lights, in front of parents who might cease to embarrass us. Our fathers’ hearts might restart if we lugged home recliners that reeked of patchouli and mothballs. Our angst and hormones imbued the junk with potential. Us with potential. Once boys, we became men with intentions. We intended to squeeze our feet into Jordan XIVs two sizes too small. We intended to develop the film trapped inside the disposable camera. We intended to give lawn darts a try. We intended to shit in the portable toilet and leave it on Vice Principal Cutty’s front lawn.
We returned to the basement, exhausted, and rested on a diving board we positioned in front of the couch. We wore snorkels. We hung dream catchers upside-down from our snorkels. We whipped calves with frayed codex wire and smacked knees with ruptured badminton racquets. We decided to watch a movie—Wild Things, our favorite—and fast-forwarded to the pool scene, but the familiar, lobstery tint of Denise Richards’s tits reminded us that we didn’t have everything. The pain of remembering: slivers of TV screen in the yellow haze of the street. How much larger Denise Richards’s tits would be on that screen! How skin-toned! We commiserated. We pouted. We rewound the movie. We punched me in the arm and the neck and smothered my shouts with Dickfor’s big purple stomach. We told me I’m lucky to have parents who don’t care what we do. Without it we’d never hang out with me.
I sulked upstairs to snag my father’s keys. He was a janitor at our high school and our high school had too many TVs. TVs on tin carts that scuffed up the hallway. TVs nailed to the wall in the weight room. TVs like chubby little butlers alone and unguarded inside the teachers’ lounge. Perhaps, in two years—after we graduated—TVs in the lockers.
I strutted downstairs jangling keys and proposed my idea. Them and me re-became we. We finished the second bottle of something and ran to the muddy Escape, loose-limbed and loud. As we drove we sang “Like a Prayer” a capella. Then Backstreet Boys. Billy Joel. We swerved, skimming the guardrail on Bear Cave, swerving and laughing all the way to the school.
But inside, the TVs were bolted to steel supports fixed to the ceiling. We climbed onto chairs and hugged the TVs, trying to hump them down from the ceiling. The TVs hung stiff. We let go. We dropped to the floor. We despaired. We looked at each other with eyes that said, Fuck, and then, unwilling to return to our lives, we ran through the halls kicking lockers. We snapped framed inspirational posters—KINDNESS, COURAGE, DEVOTION—over our knees and hammered the walls with our fists. We shouldered open the door to the chem lab and smashed every test tube and beaker. We buried scalpels in basketballs. We tracked blood over the floor.
We Kyled. Meaning: we bitched and we augured: arrests on our record, no jobs, no college. We cried in the corner and fled home through an emergency exit.
In the lobby, we hurled a bench at a plate glass window, a second, a third, a fourth time—it shattered. We scooped up shards amazed that our palms didn’t bleed. We broke into Vice-Principal Cutty’s office. We attacked his mahogany desk with his tall leather chair, toppled the filing cabinet digesting our permanent records. This is so dumb, we all thought, but we refused to admit we were scared. Of consequences. Of snakes. Of drunk dads and of never fucking Anna McCarthy. Scared because we didn’t want to fuck Anna McCarthy or anyone else on the cheerleading squad. Scared of the feeling that we were alone. So we tore up Raymond Emerson Cutty’s degrees and danced among the confetti. We peed on the overturned desk. We slapped hands. We sat down. We slept.
We heard birds. We heard sirens.
Outside, dawn shoved back the night. Police cruisers surrounded the muddy Escape. The officers, patient, portly, stood alongside their cruisers sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups. We were made into examples. Lost fathers their jobs. Lost ourselves futures. Soon the crime absorbed our names so that we became they, the ones who did that, yet we do not regret it. No, we are grateful. Our fame still exceeds that of the prom monarchy, the valedictorians, the thousand-point scorers, the suicides and the sweethearts, whom our parents bring up every morning, over breakfast, when they ask what we intend to do with our lives.
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