There are fewer adolescent rites of passage more iconic than the house party. Generations of teens feel a compulsion to celebrate their newfound rebellion with these block-shaking ragers, perhaps in the hopes their names can be immortalized in the hallowed halls of suburban lore.
Like most my age, I watched the “parents are gone, let’s party” premise snake its way into more than a few cinematic scenes, all of which helped shape my expectations of what it meant to be a teenager. But as I’ve written before, my parents were smart enough to anticipate my rebellious plans before their kernels had time to germinate inside my hormone-addled brain and locked me down like a busty nun during Fleet Week.
Since I was never allowed to partake in the types of festivities lionized by Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jason Biggs, my friends eventually stopped inviting me to these open houses altogether. I’d hear a stray anecdote about a wild night here or there, but my friends mostly spared me the embarrassment of being left out by considerately discussing their awesome parties while I was out of earshot.
However, because I missed out on these seminal moments, I suffered from arrested development, which manifested in me hanging around my high school a liiiiiittttle too long after I graduated. I still played in a band comprised of juniors and seniors, and I maintained a long-distance relationship with my high school sweetheart (for three more years; but that’s a story for another day).
By the time I was in college, my parents adopted a laissez-faire attitude about my comings and goings, so I was able to experience some of the more raucous moments of high school as an alumnus.
That’s right. I was that guy, the college kid at the high school party.
Despite the fact my parents laid off the reins, I was still a straitlaced kid. Not only did I abstain from alcohol and drugs, but I developed a superiority complex about it, looking down my nose at those who sought solace in illicit substances as a source of a good time. I later self-diagnosed this hauteur as a way to compensate for my fear of breaking the law and justify my abstinence (as in, I didn’t want to play your stupid game anyway). I derived pleasure from my arrogance, going to parties for the sole purpose of talking shit to intoxicated guests.
In retrospect, I am absolutely shocked I never got my ass kicked.
My other friends were immature assholes too, and they were more than willing to not only egg me on, but join in as well.
Which is how, one January night, we came to completely destroy the home of a kid we barely knew.
Brent was one of those rich, entitled shitheads who went to a private Catholic school but still hung out with all the rich, entitled shitheads who went to the public school. I had never met him, but I did play pee wee football with his brother Jake.
My friend Terry, who sold a lot of the rich, entitled shitheads their drugs, snagged an invite to a cozy little soiree at Brent’s house while his parents were out of town. Could his friends come along, Terry asked? Sure thing. The more the merrier.
So around 11 o’clock, me, Terry, and 20 of our closest friends vacated our post loitering in front of the Wawa and piled into our cars to check things out.
The scene that awaited us was straight out of a ‘90s teen movie. Cars lined the streets in both directions as far as the eye could see. Hundreds — I shit you not — hundreds of kids littered the property, the rooms of the four-story Victorian home so stuffed it felt as though the house might burst open like the seams of a fat kid’s sweatpants. One DJ blasted hip hop from a pair of JBLs into a churning mass of teens in the backyard, while another battled with his own set of speakers in the living room. The Solo Company hit its annual sales goal that night with the number of red cups littering every flat surface.
And everyone was shitfaced. Kids I knew from high school, strangers, even the little freshmen girls whom I recognized as former students of my father’s 6th grade science class. They were so cute, their still-cherubic faces shining with sweat as they squealed over the din and sloshed around bottles of Smirnoff Ice and Parrot Bay rum.
It was pretty clear from the outset we were not going to fit in. This was the Tommy Hilfiger set, the cool kids who wore gaudy gold chains and gel in their hair. But my friends and I were nothing if not resourceful, and we set about entertaining ourselves amidst the bedlam by inciting our own brand of subversive chaos.
We split into smaller factions. Terry and the rest of my friends melted into the crowd and disappeared, leaving Scott and me in the kitchen.
Oh, the parka. For Christmas that year, my parents had gotten me an Army surplus parka, an absurd olive drab monstrosity with a fur hood appropriate for an expedition to the south pole. I mistakenly wore this parka into the party, where the partygoers’ body heat made it approximately 200 degrees. As I shed the coat and prepared to return it to the car, Scott grabbed it from me, zipped it to the neck and tightened the hood so only a small moon of his face was visible.
“How do I look?” he asked.
“Like you’re about to club a baby seal,” I said.
“Perfect.” He opened the refrigerator and scanned the contents. “Let’s see. What in here is dangerous?”
Brent’s family must have had a significant Omega-3 deficiency, because the fridge was stocked with a surfeit of fish. Pounds of it, pink and white and scaly in shrink-wrapped Styrofoam trays. Scott filled the parka’s ample pockets with the fish, while I selected a quart of heavy whipping cream as my weapon of choice.
“Care to take of a tour of the grounds, sir?” asked Scott.
“Don’t mind if I do,” I replied.
The house was like a mansion out of a murder mystery. Rooms opened into more rooms, with multiple doors and passages leading to other places in the house. Each of the four floors had two separate staircases. Scott and I wound our way through the masses, depositing fish in places we felt would make creative hiding places and taking pulls from the carton of cream. When we encountered a party guest who seemed potentially entertaining, we’d stop and engage them.
“Yo dude,” I said to a gel head with a 40 ounce of Colt 45 in each hand. “You. Me. Chugging contest. Let’s do it.”
The gel head, his faculties robbed hours before, squinted at the carton of cream in my hand.
“Thfuckssthat?” he slurred.
He let out a high-pitched giggle, his eyes slits. “Whaddya mean?”
“It’s that heavy stuff,” I said. “None of that half and half bullshit for me. I’m hardcore.”
Gel head swayed on his feet and continued to giggle. “Hardcore,” he said. “Harddddd coreeeeeee.” He upended a 40 and chugged, most of it spilling down his chin.
In the far corner of the house, Scott and I found a small sitting room that was surprisingly unoccupied.
Or so we thought.
As we rounded the corner of a massive sectional sofa, we discovered six guys crosslegged around a coffee table as though they were conducting a seance. On the table was a small pile of cocaine, which one of the guys chopped with a credit card.
I’ve never done coke, but I’ve been around it enough to know that its consumption is a seriously clandestine affair. Stumbling across a coven of skiers is like wandering into a den of Kodiak bears; it’s best not to make any sudden moves.
Scott and I knew two guys at the table, but it was clear from their scowls it wasn’t a good time to chum around.
“Wrong room, sorry!” Scott said through the parka’s fur-lined hood. He grabbed my wrist and led me away before I could offer the boys a swig of my cream.
We carried on like this for about an hour, moving room to room among the masses and inciting small bouts of mayhem. In the family room, Scott convinced an obliterated stranger to leap headfirst into the spinning ceiling fan.
It didn’t take much goading, actually. All Scott did was point to the fan, which was on high, and say: “You won’t stop that fan with your head. You won’t.”
The oaf eyed the spinning fan, licked his lips and jumped. And by god, he stopped that fan with his fucking head.
The room erupted with cheers as the potentially concussed fan-stopper raised his arms in victory and the fan rattled in a cockeyed and disturbing new orbit.
The ground floor sufficiently explored, Scott and I climbed the stairs to the upper levels. Like any classy, solipsistic clan, Brent’s parents adorned the stairwell with dozens of photos, chronicling its genealogy. The ones at the head of the stairs yellowed and crumbled in ornate, antique frames, while the images toward the foot were cheesy JC Penny studio shots of the family in matching outfits. Scott and I collected as many portraits as we could carry and rearranged them at random. A guerrilla prank for sure, one that would take Brent several hours to correct. We snickered to ourselves as we prefigured him comparing two photos, trying to decide which one hung where.
Our art installation complete, we inspected the upstairs sleeping quarters. Scott secreted the last of his fish behind the headboard in the master bedroom, and I spilled a bit of cream beneath the walnut vanity for added aroma. As we ransacked the room for hidden treasure — “there’s got to be porn in here somewhere,” Scott said — the doorknob began to jiggle. Brent had been pretty laid back about where his guests could hang out and covertly take drugs on the first level, but he made it clear no one was to venture into the upstairs bedrooms, especially that of his parent’s. Not wanting to cause a scene, we scurried into the adjoining bathroom, peeping through a small crack in the door.
We were relieved to find it wasn’t Brent searching for interlopers, but a pair of intoxicated and amorous teens looking for a place to consummate their love. I recognized the boy, a member of my brother’s class and a striker on the soccer team. Scott and I watched the couple’s drunken seduction with stifled laughs until the production became too uncomfortable, at which point Scott pulled a disposable camera from his pocket. The presence of disposable cameras had been ubiquitous in our friend group as of late; our friend Marshall worked at the Eckerd Drugs in town and stole them by the dozen, so it wasn’t surprising Scott had one on his person at this particular moment. He snaked the camera through the crack in the door and pressed the shutter, the flash illuminating the darkened room and alerting the couple to our presence.
The girl screamed and covered her half-naked body with a pillow. “The fuck?” Soccer Star yelled. We threw open the bathroom door, preparing to beat a hasty retreat. But just as we reached the threshold, the door to the bedroom swung open and our friend Brian stepped through. He brandished a small tack hammer, the kind you’d use to delicately tap nails into the wall to hang a picture.
“What’s going on in here?” Brian said, gesticulating above his head with the hammer like a cartoon character.
“Get the fuck out!” said Soccer Star, now fetching his pants from around his ankles.
“Relax man, it’s a party!” Brian said, and he buried the tack hammer into the bedroom’s drywall.
Turns out while Scott and I were on our roving tour of destruction, Brian had been executing some mischief of his own. He found the tack hammer in a kitchen junk drawer and took to driving small holes in the walls of every room in the house.
We returned downstairs to find the party had descended into a deeper level of hellish bacchanalia. Drinks spilling on Turkish rugs, my dad’s former students writhing seductively on the furniture like guest stars at the Spearmint Rhino, dozens of white dudes who had never even met a black person pogoing to the beat of a Ying Yang Twins song, screaming the N word with reckless abandon.
The mood had shifted from jubilant to something more sinister, a tight feeling of dread you could smell in the booze-and-sweat saturated air. There are moments in life where your sixth sense activates, when your body thrums with premonition, like a dog anxiously pacing in circles before an impending storm.
Among the masses, I felt this, and I suspect Scott felt this too from behind the sweaty, fur-lined hood of my parka. He started taking stock of our group, asking where this friend was or if anyone had seen that guy.
Our prognostication proved correct, as no more than five minutes after Scott and I descended the stairs did a lone wail cut across the house.
I’m well aware this exact thing happened in 10 Things I Hate About You, which is what made the whole scene so surreal. I can still hear actor Andrew Keegan go “ooh! Fight!” as the party scene extras pour onto the battlefield to get a front row seat.
Unlike the epic teen film, though, this particular brawl took place not in a dining room with a drunken Julia Stiles dancing to Notorious B.I.G., but in the front yard, a venue large enough to hold every partygoer still able to stand.
The house emptied in minutes, the crowd forming a large ring on the lawn around two guys I didn’t know. They weren’t yet in the throes of fisticuffs, still snorting and posturing at each other like two bucks in the heart of the rut.
Having only consumed a couple pints of heavy whipping cream, I had enough wits about me to know it was time for my friends and I to depart. Police presence was inevitable at this point, and I intended to be long gone before any official intervention occurred.
Scott and I gathered the troops as best we could in the ensuing turmoil and tried to leave. All parties were accounted for except for two: Trevor and Will, the stoners of our friend group who had no doubt successfully found someone holding some of god’s green herb.
Will we found at the kitchen counter by himself, staring at the wall and devouring a package of pilfered Oreos.
“Dude, we gotta go,” I said. “Cops will be here soon.”
Will looked up with glazed eyes. “Can I at least bring the cookies with me?”
“Absolutely,” I said.
But Will was dubious. “I don’t believe you. What if these cookies, like, disappear once I go outside?”
Scott and I dragged Will out like a cat going to the vet, cookies in hand.
Trevor was harder to locate. We searched the whole house, calling his name, finding only a handful of people groaning and reaching for us like wounded soldiers on a battlefield.
Just as we were about to give up and leave Trevor for dead, Scott and I heard a yell from the front lawn. The two meatheads had finally decided to start hitting each other, and there, in the center of the circle, danger close to the fight and holding a bag of chips, was Trevor.
Scott and I rushed into the melee and rescued Trevor, who was moments from getting his vacant visage bashed in by the two pugilists.
Our cast of characters secured, it was time to depart. Unfortunately, the horde of underage partiers had the same idea. While half the crowd consumed themselves in the battle royale on the front lawn, the remainders orchestrated a mass exodus. The tiny cul-de-sac was choked with the vehicles of fleeing drunkards, who bottlenecked the entire neighborhood like a venue letting out the results of a Beatles reunion.
Caught in the middle of the cul-de-sac, there was nothing we could do but wait. Terry, who drove us in his mom’s SUV, leaned on the horn.
“Outta the way, you fuckin’ dicks!” he yelled out the window.
It was no use. The tiny thoroughfare looked like DC in rush hour. At this rate, I could expect to be home by my 10 year reunion.
“Fuck all this noise,” Terry said. He threw the SUV into four wheel drive and hopped the curb. He drove across Brent’s front lawn, his headlights illuminating a pair of drunken idiots still wrestling on the grass and a hundred other confused teens. Terry drove across the lawns of three more houses before popping back onto the street ahead of the slagging traffic and ending my evening of cinema-caliber partying.
Once Terry ferried me back to the Wawa where my car was parked, I went home. I had enough excitement for one night, and many of my colleagues agreed and headed their separate ways. However, a smaller faction of die hards — Terry and Scott included — held fast. About 20 minutes after my departure, Terry received a phone call. It was Brent, letting him know the coast was clear at the homestead, and if he wanted to come back with a couple of friends, he was welcome.
I can’t vouch for any events henceforth, but here’s what Scott recounted to me many years later:
“A bunch of people that were at the party got a call from Brent saying it was cool to come back. And we went. There was only a handful of people at the house then — maybe 10 to 15 — and the phone rings. Brent doesn’t pick up and lets it go to the answering machine, which we all listen to. It’s his parents, who got a call from the neighbors, letting them know about the party. The neighbors said they didn’t want to call the cops, but they were ‘concerned’ because there appeared to be a fuckload of unsupervised teens at the house, several of whom drove across their lawn.
“All I remember,” Scott says, “was his mother screaming at him on the message and him just laughing at it.”