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Friday, July 31, 2009

Ballad of the Bud Under the Bed

The house as it looked in 1987

Somewhere outside of Virginia Beach, in the community of Sandbridge, located in a house on Bluebill Dr, sits a can of Budweiser, 22 years past its expiration date, underneath a sofa bed. It sounds unlikely, but I’d like to think that it is still there waiting for me to return one day to drink it. I know the truth of the matter is that the can was probably discarded not long after that fateful week in 1987 when my friend and I stole it.

I was just 12 years old and the both of us were determined to get wasted. Our families had rented this house for the week and my friend and I shared the bottom floor bedroom that consisted of a bathroom and a sofa bed. We were no stranger to sharing living quarters as we had both spent a week, the previous year, in another house in the same community.

The seeds of anarchy and delinquency may have been planted the previous summer, over quiet discussions in our room. I remember a blaring radio playing the Beatles cover of "Twist and Shout", which had become popular again thanks to Ferris Beuller’s Day Off and Back to School. We may have used the noise from the radio to mask our strategic plotting, though I don’t remember the specifics. In any case, we were ready to spring our plan into action this year as we had the bottom floor all to ourselves. We could come and go as we pleased, just by sneaking out the front door. We could escape into the night and do the things that kids our age do out and about in the summertime night like walk around and wonder, “Okay, now what?”

But we didn’t. We were committed to the task. Our plan was simple and only had four goals.

  1. Steal a beer from our parents’ stash in the upstairs fridge.

  2. Hide it in our room until we were able to consume it without getting caught.

  3. Get drunk like adults did.

  4. Gain some insight into adulthood, letting the mysteries of the universe reveal themselves.
That’s what we thought would happen. At our age, we figured that there had to be some all important reason to consume alcoholic beverages. We were warned against it as children, yet I can remember on occasion my Father would sit me on his lap and let me sip small quantities from his can, much to my Mother’s dismay. In fact, there is a much recalled incident at family gatherings about a time when my whole family was kicked out of a Lum’s restaurant, because my Father gave my brother a tiny sip of beer. Surely, there was some cosmic conspiracy over this act and we were about to find out why.

First we had to take a look at our surroundings. The house provided just the right amount of concealment for our plan to go off without a hitch. Coming through the front door you could turn right into the garage or turn left up a spiral staircase to the main floor. Going straight would lead you into our room. Actually, the house was quite nice. From what I remember it was a house that might have belonged to the realtor and had just been put on the market as a rental. It wasn’t on the ocean and in fact it was on the opposite side of a canal that fed into Shipps Bay. We had a paddle boat docked at the back and an in ground pool, complete with deep end and diving board to entertain us. Now we had an additional part to our plan. Get drunk and go swimming. The reckless abandon, by which we had conspired to be bad, was astounding.

Early into the week we managed to complete step one of our dastardly deed. It was a quiet evening and while our families were swimming or otherwise distracted, we snuck a can of Budweiser from the fridge. Racing back down to our room, we needed to conceal the contraband. We couldn’t proceed to step three since it was still early in the evening, so we halted at step two by placing the can underneath the sofa bed. It was easily accessible, yet undetectable to the naked eye. When the time was right we would continue with Operation Inebriation.

During the rest of the week we continued to enjoy our time at the beach, always keeping a thought towards our plan. There were two instances when we almost cracked open that can, prematurely. “No,” we thought. We had to wait for the right moment. It was like one of those 80s adventure computer games. We were given an object that could only be used once and at the appropriate time. When the time was right, we would know it. Until then, maintain appearances, don’t let on what we had done and don’t tell anyone else. That meant keeping secrets from the other kids in our group that were also vacationing at the beach but at different houses. Holding onto that secret was at times exhilarating and also excruciating. We had this forbidden object just inches from where we slept at night that could elevate our cool factor into the stratosphere and yet we feared telling them because they might inadvertently blab to an adult. That would have been instant death to our plan and us, for that matter. Still, we kept visible within the circle of friends and went about our week.

Our friends were staying in houses right on the beach and even though we had the pool, they had the view. Actually, the one had a great view of the house directly across the street. The only other guy friend our age was staying at this huge house directly across the street from a place with two girls. We had come over for the last night of our vacation for a group dinner. We found our friend hanging out on the topmost deck, plugged into his walkman, blasting Def Leppard’s "Hysteria." It had just been released that month and he was already wearing it out something fierce. He didn’t even notice us sneaking up on him. When he did acknowledge us we asked him what he had been up to and his response was, “Watching some girl show me her underwear.” We both did a double take and then looked across the street at the house facing us. There, in front bedroom, were two girls waving at us and making silly body movements.

My partner in crime and I looked at each other in agreement. Those girls could share in our plan. We could have a party. We didn’t exactly know what we could do. I mean I had grown up watching stolen HBO, so I kind of knew what this all meant. I never actually imagined being in a position that resembled it, though. I began to think this could actually be the best vacation ever. We had an in with the girls. Just get them to come down and talk with us and we could let them in on our plan to get drunk. The beer was still sitting, hidden, in our room at the house. We could all sneak away and hang out at our place and go night swimming. It had to have been the best plan ever thought of by a 12 year old in the history of adolescence.

We quickly started making the universal sign for hello by flailing our hands around like we had no bones in our arms. They continued to duck down behind the balcony wall, holding up an errant bra that they had brought with them from their room. A bra, regardless of being removed from the person twirling around, was still like catnip to a teenager. We continued to use semaphore like movements to try and signal them down to the beach. Eventually, they got the hint when they saw us descend the staircase from our balcony and sneak across the street to their side. Not wanting to alert the adults, we snuck around the outside of their house in a wide circle. We ended up on the beach about a hundred feet from the steps up to their house and then ran all the way to meet them.

“Hey.” We said, out of breath.

“Hey,” They said, not knowing what to make of this rag tag bunch of misfits before them.

“So, like how old are you?” Good. Good. Establish a baseline. We don’t want to give alcohol to them if they are too young to handle it. Of course, everyone knows that the constitution of a 12 year old far outweighs one of a ten year old.

“I’m twelve and she’s thirteen” One of them said.

Excellent,” I thought. Being the youngest of the three guys, I felt a sort of inclusion into the group with the confirmation of one of the girls being the same age as myself. I was worried that, if they were older than me, I would not stand a chance competing with my older, wiser friends. Yet, I still held the ace in my pocket…or more to the point; underneath the sofa bed at our house, a couple miles away.

We conversed for a little while longer, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves from inside the house. I feverishly searched for a way to introduce the idea of going back to our place for a late night swim and beer bash. However, they admitted that it was time for them to go. Alas, the opportunity never presented itself to include them in our scheme and they disappeared forever, another footnote in the annuals of summer flings that almost were. But we didn’t dwell on the matter. We had bigger fish to fry.

After dinner, my friend and I returned to our house and began to pack up our things. We knew what lay in store for us and didn’t want to have to try packing after our long night of consumption. We thought it best to get everything out of the way, freeing us from performing tasks that required dexterity and balance the next morning.

Being the last night in the house, we thought it appropriate to give the pool one last swim and spent a couple hours that the night contemplating our place in the universe while doing cannonballs off the diving board.

The eleventh hour had drawn on and we retired to our room. We decided to try and stay up as late as possible, outlasting our parents. We didn’t want them to come down and check on us in our drunken state. We took turns manning the staircase outside our room, keeping watch for adults or nosy siblings. Soon, the house went quiet and we too had ultimately just collapsed from sheer exhaustion. The heavy meal, the late night rendezvous and jog up the beach, as well as the swim was the final nail in our coffin, taking every last ounce of energy we had left.

The next morning brought on the hustle and bustle of packing up cars and checking on rooms to make sure nothing remained. We insisted to our parents that we had checked our room completely and that nothing was left behind. Neither one of us had a moment to snag the beer from under the sofa and stick it in our bags. We figured, if anything, we could transport it home and then sneak out to the park one night and finish what we had started. Unfortunately, we had no chance to stealthily slip the suds into our sacks and it remained behind like a fallen soldier in combat. The battle was lost. The opportunity missed. The beer left under the sofa bed, in the house on Bluebill Dr., in the community of Sandbridge, just outside of Virginia Beach, sat like a testament to what might have been.

While we may have only met two of our goals that summer, we took that first step towards being initiated into adulthood. As teens, a stolen beer is a rite of passage. It's intoxicating just to take it, undetected, not knowing that first stolen beers are usually nasty and warm and really don't do much for you other than make you sick. Those last two goals were a fictional representation of what we held in our minds as absolute truths in life.

It wasn’t until 22 years later that I finally understood the fourth goal. Yet, I confess, I never completed it. The mysteries of the universe were still that to me, a mystery. I still don’t understand why we thought that one beer would be enough to get us both drunk. I still don’t understand how we were going to travel, on foot, to a house somewhere in a two mile radius from our position that night. Neither of us bothered to pay attention to directions. Perhaps those are mysteries that only a kid can understand. Kids still believe in their immortality and the awesome power of a summer vacation giving them wisdom. Kids are kings among pessimists, always thinking that the future is bright and go on forever, like a sandy beach in summer.

The house as it looks today, 2009

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