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    Excerpts
                       
                                               Chapter 7


     You could smell the soft pines and the sweetness of the warm, late afternoon air as we cruised down Route 33, the
sun setting slowly behind us as the sand scattered sporadically across the blacktop continued to seduce us to the Shore.
The anticipation of a fading summer’s Friday night was rushing through our veins as we merged dangerously onto 35,
flying past the Neptune Motor Lodge, the sight of which prompted me to laugh aloud, my having been reminded of the
fact that Fretzy had lost his virginity in that dive of a motel only a few short months ago. Having spent a drunken,
mistake filled night there once myself, I could attest to the general standard of the place, but still somehow found the
idea of prostitutes smoking pot outside their rooms as they leaned against the railing and watched the happenings in the
parking lot down below to be endearing in that pastorally down-and-out, mid-70’s Tom-Waits-lauded sort of way. The
fact that Fretzy, having held out this entire time for that perfect someone in that perfect place and on the perfect night,
had finally decided to settle on a drunken roll in the hay with a 36 year old chain-smoking divorcee in the deplorable digs
of the Neptune Motor Lodge proved to be just another example of the disparity between dreams and reality; the reality
simply being so much the gist of the discrepancy between the two that the inability to find humor in it would almost
certainly leave you in tears.
    Just before coming into Belmar, we managed to find ourselves stuck in the line of cars behind the red light at the
Shark River drawbridge crossing, our truck slowing to a halt as one of those giant New York City stockbroker party
boats inched its way out into the harbor. With the windows rolled down, we could hear the champagne glasses clanging
as pretentious trophy wives faked their way through conversations they knew little and cared less about. There was a
Springsteen cover band playing at The Headliner just back behind us, and the sounds of a commendable version of Glory
Days careened through the bulldozers and concrete slabs of the construction site for the half-finished Shark River bridge
that would eventually stand high enough above the water’s surface to make obsolete the type of red light drawbridge
delay in which we currently found ourselves. It seemed as though they’d been building that bridge for as long as I’d
been coming to the Shore, and the current state of its lifeless stagnation left me wondering whether or not it would ever
be completed. I was moving my head to the beat and breathing in that salty ocean air when a girl in tight cutoff jean
shorts; the pockets hanging below the tips of the frayed fringes; pulled up beside us on her bike, disrupting my head-
bopping straightaway. She had the kind of dark hair that made you want to bury your face in it for the duration of the
weekend, and you could almost smell the scent of eternal springtime in her skin, all lilacs and morning dew and fresh-cut
grass. I gave a friendly knock on the outside of the passenger door, the heavy sound of knuckles on hollow American
steel attracting her attention as she quickly looked over with an innocence that would break your heart, her hair gently
swaying in the humid sunset breeze as she smiled playfully and gave me a quick wink before going back to watching the
boat as it slowly crept past. I got that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach, wondering where the hell this girl had
been all my life, and I knew in an instant that this newfound freedom in singlehood was precisely what my life had been
lacking. It was the end of the summer, and I was back in the game. The time for living was now.
    Still looking at this beautiful vision, I asked: “Billy, you see that chick there?”
  “Yeah man. Pretty sweet. Why don’t you see if she’ll meet you at the Neptune?”
  “I hear it comes highly recommended.”
  “Finest lodgings thirty-nine bucks can buy.”
    The wheels were spinning in my head, and by speaking I knew that I was essentially daring myself into action. “You
think I can get her to come to Frankie’s tonight?”
  “Doesn’t matter. You won’t ask her.”
    Which was the truth in 99% of all such instances involving me, it not being in my accustomed repertoire to
voluntarily put myself out there by talking to a beautiful girl without legitimate inducement, let alone without first having
consumed a considerable quantity of fermented beverages. But there was something different and strangely familiar
about this night, and about this girl. And despite the fact that it went against every historical precedent and apparent
ounce of my instinct and character, I found myself hoisting my body outside the open window so as to prop myself up
on the ledge left in the wake of the window’s absence, leaving Billy a clear view of my throwback Chuck Taylor’s all
over the pristine pleather of his newly refurbished passenger seat.
    Sitting brashly and majestically redneck atop the truck’s door and above the rest of the hazy, lazy traffic, I called out
poetically to the girl of my current dream: “Hey!”  
  She turned to take me in once again, and I almost melted when her eyes met mine. I found myself smiling, and with a
foreign sense of confidence, I asked: “What’s your name?”
  She took a moment to assess the situation, and I realized that this probably wasn’t the first time she’d been accosted
while waiting at a drawbridge perched atop her bicycle. Eventually, she smiled and said: “Monica.”
  “Monica. That’s a pretty name. So tell me Monica: what does a stunning, environmentally conscientious girl like
yourself get up to on a night such as this?”
    I could hear Billy faltering in his attempt to balance his pretending not to know me with the building urge of his to
laugh at me outright. He eventually lost the battle and erupted with a burst of laughter, muttering something about my
being absolutely unbelievable. But it bothered me not, for I could feel this Monica chick completely digging me.
  “Tonight? I don’t know. Just going over to a friend’s house I guess?”
  “Well, that doesn’t sound all that exciting now, does it? I have a better idea. Me and my friend here – by the way, my
name is Johnny, and this gentleman refusing to acknowledge my existence: this is Billy  – the two of us, we’re on our
way a party. A BIG party.” I paused for a moment to emphasize just how big a party we were talking about here.
“Frankie Dunner’s? Labor Day weekend? Ever hear of it?”
    She motioned that she hadn’t, which seemed odd.
  “Well, no bother. I guess you’ll just have to trust me on this one. It’s a party not to be missed; the soiree of the
season, so to speak. And Billy and I were wondering – weren’t we Billy? – whether or not you and a couple of your
friends might be interested in stopping by, just for an abstemious cocktail or two, maybe to see what all the fuss is
about?”
    Billy was laughing uncontrollably now, and I heard him ask: “Abstemious? Did you actually just say abstemious?”
    I momentarily lowered my head so I could see inside the truck, politely asking Fretzy to shut the fuck up. Turning
my attention back to Monica, I laughed to myself and furrowed my brow, as if to say ‘Can you believe some people?’
    Her smile told me all I needed to know, and I couldn’t help but to smile back, discarding the cloak of cool I’d been
wearing up until that point. With the façade of my adroitness momentarily lifted, I found myself asking, in unguarded
sincerity: “Whataya say?”
  After a moment of her trying to gauge my earnestness, she smiled again. “I say yes. That sounds like it could be fun.”
    I was literally taken aback, the shock of her response almost knocking me clean off my perch. I’d originally climbed
halfway out of Fretzy’s truck as a means of killing time while waiting out the party boats as they passed by on their
languid voyages to sea, and to maybe entertain those people lined up in the cars behind me with my unsolicited audacity
and the seeming inevitability of my subsequent rejection. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this girl might actually give
me the time of day.
  “Fun. Absolutely. Monica, you’re a very intelligent girl. That is precisely what this night will be: fun.” I continued to sit
there smiling, not entirely knowing what I was supposed to do next.
  “…So…do…you…want to give me some directions..?”
  “Yes! Directions!” I jumped down from my spot atop the door and moved towards her far too quickly, realizing
halfway to her bicycle that I had nothing to write with. Like every one of the thirty cars behind us, the car in front of me
also had all of its windows down, and I gave them a deliberate nod and a motion with my hand which suggested I
needed to borrow some kind of writing utensil. The guy sitting shotgun happily tossed me a pen, giving me a knowing
look as I sauntered past, reaffirming the notion that I was unquestionably the man.
    Monica looked even better up close than she had from the truck. I could feel everyone’s eyes following us, and I’d
be lying if I said I wasn’t reveling in every shred of the attention. I took the last two cigarettes from out of my pack and
offered her one. When she politely declined, I lit one for myself and put the other in behind my ear, ripping the pack
open so as to create a makeshift parchment. Pressing it up against her beautifully sculpted shoulder, I drew her a quick,
rudimentary map; a map not entirely unlike the one I’d drawn for Sara just twenty minutes earlier; and the intimacy of
the act almost had me feeling like a teenager again. The way that she was giggling with every pen stroke against her
tanned, silky smooth shoulder was enough to leave me wondering why I had ever taken myself out of the game in the
first place.
    When I’d finished drawing the map, she took the pen from me and gently grabbed my arm, sending a flutter
throughout my body and allowing me to believe for an instant that there existed the possibility for perpetual youth.
Feeling more alive on that drawbridge than I ever had during my relationship with Cali Spezzo, I could do nothing but
stand there with a dumb looking smile on my face as she scrawled her phone number all over my unquestioning forearm.
But just as Monica was putting the finishing touches on the big heart that I assumed she customarily painted atop the ‘i’
in her name, I heard someone begin to yell from twelve cars back:
  “HEY JOHNNY! YEAH, YEAH IT IS JOHNNY! JOHNNY! YA FUCKIN LITTLE PETER-FILE! WHAT THE FUCK’
R’YOU DOIN MAN! THAT’S FUCKIN DEBBIE FLORIN’S LITTLE SISTER. THAT’S FUCKIN MONICA FLORIN,
DUDE! SHE’S FUCKIN FOURTEEN YEARS OLD, CASABLANCA!!”
    I turned just in time to see Richie French hanging out of the passenger side window of Fat Ronnie’s black
Oldsmobile. He was pointing his accusing finger directly at me, and when he saw the look of mortified horror on my
face, he began squealing with his “Heee-hee-hee-hee” tormenting laugh, which was drowned out almost immediately by
the sarcastically mock-heroic honking of every patiently waiting car behind us, the entire motionless procession having
witnessed my humiliation in its entirety.
    I turned back to the fourteen year old Monica, my face burning with shame, and mumbled something about there
being some kind of mistake, before walking slowly back to Fretzy’s truck, appeasing the horn-honkers with a sarcastic
wave of concession, and finally climbing back inside the orange Chevy pickup, this time by way of the more
conventional door-opening.
    Billy was still laughing his ass off when the bell sounded for the bridge to come down. The fourteen-year old quickly
rode off in front of us, the practicality of her means of transportation suddenly making so much more sense, and as we
passed her on our way into Belmar, we heard the incessant honking once again. I gave a victorious little arm wave out
the window to the satisfied patrons behind us, and called out to Monica one last time, showing her the arm that she’d so
eagerly defiled, telling her that I’d give her a call in about ten years time.

    Both Fretzy and I lifted our feet as we rumbled across the train tracks on our way into town, the raising of our feet
from the truck’s floor having constituted at one time an act of superstition, but having become in the countless years
since its inception more of a subconscious reflex than anything else; so conditioned was this literal knee jerk, in fact, that
none of us could even remember what it was that we were supposed to be fending off by engaging in it in the first place.
But as with so many asinine rituals and strange habits, this one seemed to have stuck. I had the vague premonition of this
as being some kind of a metaphor for my life, but the thought was lost before I even had the chance to articulate it,
Fretzy suddenly exclaiming:
  “Aw Fuck!”
  “What?”
  “The fuckin ice.”
  “What about it?”  By this time we were driving down Main Street, Belmar.
  “I fuckin forgot we had to pick it up.”
  This responsibility was news to me. “We have to pick up the ice?”
  “Fuck.”
  “Where we supposed to get it?”
  “Paddy’s. Fuck.” Fretzy was completely flustered, acting as if he’d forgotten to file his taxes or something.
  “Sal workin?”
  “He better fuckin be.”
    I hadn’t seen Sal in about a week, and as far as I was concerned, there was never a bad time to stop in to Paddy
Mac’s. “Well I guess we’re just gonna have to pay the man a visit then.”
    We continued down Main Street past our accustomed turn at Tenth Avenue, eventually hanging a left on Eighteenth,
where we followed the slow moving, ocean-bound traffic before pulling into the gravel parking lot of Paddy McDonald’s
Ale House, just after eight o’clock on Friday night.
    Paddy’s was one of those little local South Belmar dives that sat inconspicuously amongst the tiny summer places, its
regulars famous for treating you like a long lost brother if you were to be good-natured enough to simply sidle up to the
bar and allow them to buy you a drink. And despite the implication of the shamrock-bespeckled sign, Paddy Macs was
to Irish pubs as Spring Lake was to County Donegal: Irish in name alone. Paddy McDonald’s Ale House was about as
American a neighborhood bar as you were ever bound to come across, and its diehard regulars were as real and loyal as
they come, known for rhetorically inquiring of newcomers disappointed by Paddy’s lacking Irishness, why, if they were
truly interested in finding an Irish bar, weren’t they over in Ireland looking for one? These people, combined with the
surprisingly decent tunes they pumped out of the jukebox, made Paddy’s my favorite place in Belmar to go for a beer or
twelve.
    I could see Fretzy’s demeanor instantly change as we walked through the door, the two of us greeted by the smiling
face of Sally O’Sullivan as he leaned up against the bar with the rest of the regulars, everyone soaking in the suds and
the sights of the Yankees-Sox game on the T.V. while Wilson Pickett’s Get Me Back On Time, Engine Number 9 came
strutting from the jukebox in the corner.
  “The SALvador Dalai Lama” I announced as we stepped up to the bar.
  “Gentlemen” he said, in his most courteous, mock-professional bartender’s tone. “What’s goin’ on?” He extended a
hand for us to shake in his velvet way that made all the young girls souls grow weak. It was kind of a chicken and egg
thing with Sally, where I wasn’t sure whether the ladies loved him because he was a great bartender, or if he was a great
bartender because the ladies loved him. Whatever the case may have been, he had been destined for his vocation since
the beginning of time, and his life’s worth of preparation had made him the finest barman anyone had ever seen. And to
say that we scrubs would have considered ourselves blessed to have acquired even a spoonful of his savvy and a
fraction of the resulting success with the women he jettisoned on any particular evening would have been an
understatement of the highest order. Salvatore O’Sullivan was money in the bank when it came to girls.
  “What’s the word Sally?”
  “Same as it ever was. Place is dead. Most of my locals musta got the fuck outta Dodge, don’t want any part of the
long weekend party scene I guess. Nothin but bobbysoxers and bodybuilders comin down. You lads do a beverage?”
  “Be rude not to” I said. Billy was already making his way towards the bathroom, shouting over his shoulder: “Yeah
man.”
    I asked Sal what was the score in the game.
  “Donuts in the third.”
  “Clemens on the bump?”
  “Yep”
  “Rack it.”
I looked up at the TV just as the Rocket-Man blew a 1-2 fastball past Mike Lansing.
  “Take a seat!” One of the regulars down the bar shouted at the screen, clearly having missed his calling as a play-by-
play man for the Bombers.
    Sal finished pouring our Bud Light drafts and slid them down the bar, the two of them coming to rest in front of
mine and Fretzy’s seats respectively, spilling nary a drop. I was wondering if he’d ever considered a career in
shuffleboard, or maybe as skip of the American curling squad, but concluded rather abruptly, as Sal lit a smoke with
only a pack of matches and a snap of his thumb and forefinger, that there was probably more money in tending bar, and
that there would be no way for him to ever give up the lifestyle he’d come to love.
    Sal was taking a handful of steamy glasses from the out of the dishwasher when I took the first sip of that frosty, ice
cold draft of mine, the first and finest of the day. I leaned back to enjoy the sensation, smiling as I exhaled audibly, fully
understanding that I’d been waiting for this moment all week. Turning to the old guy beside me, I held up my glass and
proclaimed: “Like a virgin’s kiss”.
    The old guy laughed to himself and agreed that there was nothing finer than that first Friday night beer.
    I took another long sip, and then remembered something.
  “Sal. You’ll never believe who I ran into today.”
  “Try me.”
  “Sara – fuckin – Snyder.”
  “Get the fuck outta here.”
  “Yeah man.”
  “Where the hell did you see her?”
  “The service industry, my friend... She’s waitressing at the Diner.”
  “Freehold?”
  “You better believe it.”
  “Get the fuck outta here!”
  “I know.”
    Sal looked down into the bar and shook his head, smiling to himself as if those wonderful breasts were coming back
to him in their supple, eighth grade fullness, before looking back up at me and saying: “Hey, didn’t you guys used to
have a thing for each other?”
    I looked at him blankly. “Is that supposed to be funny?”
    Sal was still laughing as Fretzy propped himself up on the stool at the foot of his pint, and not wanting to feel left out,
asked: “What’s so funny?”
    I just shook my head, still staring at Sal, and said: “Don’t even worry about it.”
    Sal, with tears beginning to well in his eyes, wheezed to Billy: “Remember that party back in Gordie’s basement? The
one with Sarah Snyder?” He could barely get the words out before going back to the laughing seizure that looked as
though it was making it difficult for him to stand.
  “Oh yeah. That was legendary. You and Sara Snyder. November Rain. She had the greatest tits I’ve ever seen. You
were the king, man.” Billy turned to look at me, as if I’d just suddenly appeared from out of nowhere: “Oh shit. Sorry
man.” He then joined Sally in a fit of laughter, the two of them pointing at me and high-fiving one another.
    I shook my head in mock-incredulity, as if this were something not to be expected from my friends. I then turned to
the same old guy sitting next to me and observed: “Great guys my friends are.”
    Sal reached across the bar, still laughing, and put his hand on my shoulder. “Sorry dude. But you should have seen
your face that night. Oh fuck. I forgot all about that. That was the funniest shit I’ve ever seen. I thought you were
gonna knock my teeth in.”
  “Nah.” I said, with a knowing smile. “Believe me man: you were doing me a favor.”
  “You’re probably right.” Sal said, gasping for breath. “That chick had a face like a mountain goat’s ass–”
    –Which obviously got me laughing, and wondering where exactly Sal came up with some of his similes.
    Taking a satisfied, smiling sip of beer, I thought to myself how funny it was that guys like us seemed to be able to
laugh off those paltry, meaningless incidents from the past that too often had the fall-out effect of creating ridiculous
little grudges that could permanently divide friends. ‘Don’t be bitter; be better’. That was what Sweet Legs Nate was
famous for always saying, and the three of us sitting around the bar, looking at this particular incident through the
ameliorating distance of years, was proof of just how much better you could be.
    I eventually broke up the little yuk fest by telling Sal:
  “So anyways, the two of you can catch up on old times later on, ‘cause she’s coming to Frankie’s tonight. Maybe you
can give those big ol’ titties a squeeze again, just for shits and giggles… Of course, you might have to fight off Tony De
Luca in the process, seeing as he and Sara Snyder are ENGAGED!!”   
   This little piece of news nearly knocked Fretzy and Sal clear off their seat and feet respectively. Sal was once again
laughing uncontrollably, and again he leaned over the bar to use my shoulder for support, gasping: “Holy shit, I’ll never
forget that night in the fuckin coat room… Tony D…” and Sal buried his head in the bar all over again, unable to contain
himself. “…Tony D, diggin’ a fucking channel into Mrs. Allen…”
    Sal had to excuse himself from behind the bar, and as he made his way to the bathroom to wipe the tears from his
eyes, Billy suddenly remembered what we had originally stopped in for.
  “Hey Sal! You mind if we grab some ice?”
  “Nah, man” Sally sputtered, still laughing. “Bring your fuckin truck around back… I can’t believe that… Tony fuckin
D…”
    Billy threw back the rest of his pint and went outside to fetch the truck, while I finished mine and jumped behind the
bar. When Sal emerged from the bathroom, finally composed, I was already scooping buckets of ice into the giant metal
trough that he always kept under the bar for such momentous occasions. By the time we were finished, the trough must
have weighed close to a hundred pounds, and the two of us hauled it through the bar and out the back door, hoisting it
up and slamming it down into the bed of Fretzy’s waiting truck.
    We thanked Sally for his hospitality, and when I offered him some money for the pints, he told me to fuck off, and
to let him ‘be the big shot’, as he was wont to say. When I asked him what time he’d be at Frankie’s later on, he told me
as soon as he could shut Paddy’s down, and to make sure we saved him a couple of cold ones.
    Fretzy, still sitting in his idling truck, called for me to hurry the hell up. I climbed inside, with Sally calling after us:
“Take’er easy, boys.”
    Right on cue, Fretzy called back: “And Sally: if she’s easy, take’er twice.”
  “Always do, my friend,” he shot back: “Always do.”

    When we pulled back around to the front of Paddy’s, I found myself fighting the urge to feel the grit of the parking
lot’s gravel under my feet. It was my favorite quarter-hour of the day’s twenty-four, when the black and white lines
dividing day from night become blurred in an electric gun-metal gray, with the sun having just now set and the energy in
the muggy-mist of the falling dusk so tangible that you can feel it coursing through your veins as it magnetizes the hairs
on your arms, cajoling them to attention in the sweetness of the warm, twilight breeze. As we waited for an opening in
the flow of cars on their awakened way down 18th Avenue to the Shore, I turned to Fretzy and flatly announced:
  “Sorry dude. I think I’m gonna walk over.”
    Fretzy looked at me blankly. “Are you fuckin kidding me?”
  “Nah man. The night’s there for the taking. I’ll meet you at Frankie’s.”
    I didn’t even know what the night’s there for the taking was supposed to mean, but there must have been something
in my eyes to reveal the inexplicable charge of desperation I suddenly felt, and my indescribable need to be consumed
and entirely submerged in this part of the night, because Fretzy simply shook his head and allowed for me to open the
door, muttering something about my becoming more and more fucked up with each passing day, the truck slowly
pulling away as I jumped outside.
    I took a deep breath and inhaled the dusk’s intoxicating fervency, filling my lungs and my soul with the rejuvenating
immediacy of the night’s aphrodisiac sounds and smells. I could taste the ocean’s salt on my lips as I made my way
along that rhapsody street, the uncut grass along the boulevard swaying methodically in the heartbreaking sigh of the
evening breeze, the sunset bugs not simply humming but screaming with the wired hysteric anticipation of the oncoming
night. The mesmerizing thrill of stimulation and motion was drawing me in, and I felt more and more alive with the
sharpening of my senses, the night seducing me with its palpitating vitality and its infinite sentience. And soon the
crashing surf was my booming pulse, the shrieking excitement of barefoot children chasing the ebbing of foamy waves
my synapses snapping, the blinking of neon pizza parlor signs the darting of my anxious eyes, the roar of inferiority-
complex cars along the strip that nervous feeling in my stomach, the clinking of glasses on beachfront patios the warm
beer in my knapsack… And all of a sudden, there I was in that fifteen-year old summer all over again.

    And there we, sitting around in Sally’s parents’ backyard, the warm afternoon sunshine burning down on our
adolescent backs as we waited for Sal’s older brother to return with the case of Colt 45s we’d slipped him the money
for earlier that afternoon, the group of us giddy with anticipation for the vestal night that lay before us. And when Sal’s
brother eventually did show up, not bothering with the inconvenience of divvying up or even handing us the change, we’
d all pounce on the case, ripping it open like a pack of charmed vultures, taking our three forty-ounce bottles each and
then slapping hands like we’d just knocked one clean out of the yard, assuring one another that the customary stealth-
mission to get ourselves and our beer down to the park later that night would go off without a hitch; that our plan was
like the Colts themselves because ‘it works every time’, and that we’d see you later, in that magical hour after dinner.
    And with the huge bottles stuffed down our pants, we’d carefully walk home, all of us initially together and then
separating at various points along the way, a smirking palms-up and raised-eyebrows look of gut-busting innocence on
our collective mugs at anyone suspicious of our intentions. And when we’d get home, we’d all run immediately up to
our respective bedrooms before any of our parents could notice the giant glass bulges in our pants, and we’d stash the
bottles in our closets behind baseball card collections, ramshackle rollerblades, and the unworn clothes that were given
as Christmas presents by clueless aunts and uncles. Checking and double checking from every angle to see whether or
not anything was visible, I’d eventually make my way downstairs for dinner, giving everything away in my overzealous
attempts to be cool and nonchalant, making it painfully obvious that I was hiding something, just as the impending night
was itself holding a conspicuous but enigmatic promise. And after inhaling my dinner and babbling excitedly in a way
that must have sounded like free-floating consciousness, all of us, in our separate houses, we’d all suddenly and
instinctively shoot up from the table and announce that we’d be more than happy to help with the dishes, our
overanxious desire to assist another tell-tale sign that something was amiss.
    And of course my mother knew. It would have been impossible, with the kind of palpable adolescent buzz in the
electric Friday night air, for her not to know.   
    And then it would be somewhere around 7 o’clock, with the summer sun still hanging low in that perfectly soft and
auspicious sky, that the Friday night desperately-under-the-legal-age-for-drinking-so-we’ll-have-to-do-it-at-the-park
parade would begin, with Fretzy and Maulcak skipping over to my house with their bags already packed, Danny ardently
smoking cigarettes out on the front porch while Fretzy fretted nervously by his side, the two of them too afraid of what
my mother might badger out of them to come in the house. As soon as I’d notice them out front, I’d complete the last
of the dishes with a half-assed swipe of the worn-out sponge, and instantly run upstairs, enthusiastically tripping over
my own feet along the way. Up in my room, I’d take the three bottles out of my closet and put each inside an old gym
sock to keep them from clanging, my hands working as quickly and clumsily as any prom night virgin’s attempt to
unravel the rubber down the length of his overexcited shaft. Stuffing an old pair of jeans in the bottom of my knapsack
in order to disguise the bulging silhouette of malt liquor bottles, I’d gently place the sock-filled forties into the bag,
attending to the beverages’ balance like a ballast operator in an offshore drilling operation, throwing an old sweatshirt on
top to keep things packed tightly and to act as an arras should a suspicious mother poke her nose inside for a last minute
inspection.
    Only then, with my bag packed strictly to code, would I canter down the stairs, all butterflies and out of breath as I
crashed out onto the porch, and as the screen door swung closed behind me, I’d call out: “GOIN’ OUT FOR THE
NIGHT, MOM…!” And before she could ask me where I was going and with whom, and just what the hell did I think I
was doing with a poorly-disguised bag full of over-strength beer on my shoulder, I’d be out of earshot and on my way
to the park.

     So we'd walk along the streets of Freehold with our bags strapped to our backs like the kids from Stand By Me, the
fathers out cutting grass and the children out playing ball, the women in thin, loose-fitting blouses drinking lemonade on
the front porch as we bisected them all on our way through town, moving amongst the long shadows cast by the houses
lining the neighborhood streets, us guys eventually making our way to Gordie’s place where he'd be doing just as we had
all done before; his bag already packed and on his way out the door with his parents calling after him; with his twin
brothers, seven years our junior, pausing from their game of smashup derby on the driveway to carefully study their
adolescent futures in our every move. And the four of us would walk over to Skinner's where Sal and Richie French and
Fat Ronnie would be, and then the eight of us would make our way over to the Pin Man's to meet up with the likes of
the Rat and Ozzy and Sweet Legs Nate. And then the eleven, or the twelve, or the fifteen of us would walk down the
street like a happily animated mob, and we'd all have our bags full of piss warm beer slung over our shoulders, and we'd
all be smoking cigarettes and talking tough and contemplating which girls would be there tonight and who had what kind
of chance to make out with who, and we’d be running excitedly all over the place, singing, screaming, fighting,
laughing, all of us, doing that indescribable dance that we unknowingly did on those warm summer nights when we
were unstoppable, when we were living, when we were growing up, when we were on our way.
    And in the midst of all of this ebullient energy and expectation, there was Aurora. Always Aurora. Sometimes in the
back of my mind; most times in the front.
    And what do you do when you feel that way about a girl? What do you do when you’re fifteen and it’s like that Bob
Seger song because she’s the queen of your nights, there in the darkness with the radio playing low? On your elated way
to the park, how do you keep that kind of feeling from boiling over? How do you keep your friends from knowing what’
s inside your heart? What do you do with the inadequacy of words, knowing that it would be impossible to give lyrical
meaning to the way you’re feeling? What do you do with that nervousness in your stomach when you feel like you’re
going to puke because you know you’ll be too terrified to move when she’s near you; too afraid to breathe for fear of
rejection; unable to close your eyes for fear of being laughed at? This girl who has been the archetype and inadvertent
attenuator for every attainable girl before her; this girl who will for every proceeding girl continue to be the blueprint; this
girl who has, in her capacity of having forever been so far out of your league that it didn’t matter, allowed you to
somehow be yourself around her; this girl who, in her capacity for kindness, has allowed you to build your dreams
around her; what do you do when you know that this girl will be there, at the park, tonight, and that there exists the
possibility that she might actually be there for YOU? What do you do when you feel the way it’s only possible to feel
when you’re fifteen?
    You walk to the park, and you bring with you everything you’ve ever known, and you act like it’s the last night of
your life. Because these nights when you’re fifteen; with this feeling in the air and this feeling in your soul; they don’t
just come around every day. And these summer nights at the age of fifteen sure as fuck don’t ever come back once they’
re gone. And even though George Bernard Shaw has declared it a shame that youth be wasted on the young, walking to
the park on that perfect August night, I was somehow conscious of the fleeting and impermanent nature of our current
collective existence, and that things wouldn’t be this way forever. Even on that familiar walk, I could feel the crossroads
looming; the kairotic moment in waiting. I somehow knew that after this night, with Aurora and me finally being thrust
together with all of the expectations and alcohol in the maudlin firelight, it would be impossible for me to tolerate the kind
of love I felt for her unrequitedly any longer. And at the same time, I knew that this fifteen-year old life and death love
would be impossible for me to live without. For this was the girl I’d been singing myself to sleep to since I knew how to
feel, and without Aurora, I knew that life would no longer be worth living; at least not in the fifteen-year old sense. And
if it’s true what they say about life; that your fifteen-year old self defines everything you ever truly want to be; then the
night of the emotional annihilation of your fifteen-year old self really is the last night of your life.
    But as we brashly walked along those stirring streets of our youth, an understanding for the sense of the moment hit
me all at once, with euphoria in finally feeling alive for the first time and gratitude for the knowledge that this feeling and
this group of guys stepping in my stride were all I would ever have or need; its culmination finding expression in my
looking up into the fading light of the early evening sky and howling in a wild roar of incomprehensible magnanimity, a
wordless but resonating assurance that the fleeting life within me wouldn’t be broken on this night.

    By the time we’d reach that forest-lined, creek-side park, the light would have melted almost completely from the
sky, and children would be on their last trips down the slide while parents gave their last lunging pushes on the swings
under that magnificent canopy of dusk. And we’d always wait patiently and politely to the side, understanding that
everyone would soon be neatly packed away and heading home for milk and cookies and an episode of Full House, and
that we would be left to our own devices. That place that we so often frequented was nuzzled on both sides by the kinds
of middle-class homes that defined Freehold, the air always filled with the lingering smells of barbecued hamburgers and
the sounds of adults on their respective decks enjoying a well deserved week’s-end cocktail while discussing work and
the prospective teachers for their children’s upcoming school year. And when we sat around in that park, waiting for the
comforting cover of darkness, those same parents would know our exact reason for being there, for they too had once
employed some similar park for the same purposes; they too had grown up on wondrous nights such as these, with
warm beer on their backs and yearning girls on their way. And it was for this reason that they always let us be, and also
because they knew, as we did, that this unspoken covenant of salutary neglect was to exist only as long as we continued
to break nothing, and that we perpetuated the practice of leaving exactly zero bottles laying around in places where they
might be accidentally stumbled upon.
    When the park finally succumbed to desertion, we’d walk into the forest following the same path that had been
beaten into the brush by the generations of ninth graders before us; like-minded kids that had been seeking hiatus from
the doldrums of their lives of pre-employment, pre-driver’s license, pre-girlfriend; pre-everything, so it must have
seemed; in the same way that we were presently seeking. Parting the leaves and the sharp brambled branches along the
way, we’d laugh and sing whatever stupid song was playing on the radio that day, that sacred path eventually yielding to
a clearing with four weather-beaten and discarded old couches surrounding a glorious old fire pit that had been dug and
re-dug by ninth-graders every Memorial day weekend as a rite of passage for as long as anyone could remember. And it
was at that moment that we would always pause in silence and listen to the soothing babble of the creek by our side,
admiring the place for what it had always been, and ensuring that nothing had changed since we’d been there last. When
you’re fifteen, it seems like nothing ever does.        
    After a moment, we’d all smile and laugh, and then someone, probably Fat Ronnie, would say something like
“Ahhhh…home sweet home…”, and the night would begin. And we’d all sit down on those four filthy couches, paying
no mind to the dirt and the dampness entrenched in their cushions, immediately cracking open the first of those acridly-
strong-tasting beers, clanging those big ass bottles together like Tre and Doughboy, pretending to savor that first sip
while doing our best not to gag on it. And soon Fat Ronnie would begin working on a fire while the rest of us sat back
and enjoyed the spectacle, questioning his every pyrotechnic maneuver, asking him if he was absolutely certain he knew
what he was doing, constantly telling him to check and double-check his boy scout’s manual, and absolutely killing
ourselves when his immaculately constructed pile of kindling inevitably toppled. And then Fat Ronnie would begin to take
things personally, getting more and more frustrated as his face became a progressively darker shade of crimson, the
sweat dripping from his forehead as he began to mutter “fuckyoumutherfucker” to the inanimate collection of twigs,
imagining that by insulting the wood, he might somehow convince it to co-operate and combust. And of course Ronnie’s
personification of the wood pile would open the door for us all to imitate what the voice of a stack of kindling might
sound like, leading us to squeal in the high-pitched tone of fractured timber: “No - fuckYOUyoufatmotherfucker”;
absolutely killing ourselves with the prospect of Fat Ronnie being ripped on by a pile of wood, and then attempting to
sing fragmented verses of that Billy Joel song, throwing in our own personalized doozies like: “Puked in May. Richie’s
Gay. WHAT ELSE DO I HAVE TO SAY!...” And from the couches we’d sit back and talk about how buzzed we were
already, and then we’d say how great the beer tasted even though it was warm, and how much we loved drinking
because we knew so much about it and because we were so cool.
    And it wouldn’t be long after that that Muffy Ashford and Barb Tarkatan would make an appearance, taking their
seats on the filthy couches and seamlessly joining the festivities as just two of the guys. We had known Muffy and Barb
for as long as we’d known anyone, and at a time when we were about as awkward and vulnerable as we ever would be
around the fairer sex, Muffy and Barb provided a calming presence in our midst, showing us that girls were willing to
hang out with us even when we were being ourselves; especially when we were being ourselves; and that it was actually
possible for the two sexes to hang out and have a good time together without necessarily needing the sexual tension and
potential for conquest as fuel. We were grateful for their honesty and their sense of humor, and at the time, completely
unaware that there might exist in the future the possibility for anything beyond the present state of uncompromising
friendship.
    So with Muffy and Barb drinking the heinously-tasting beer right along with us, we watched as Fat Ronnie, through
some act of divine intervention, managed to ignite the fire, which would always lead to his walking around for the
remainder of the night with an air of arrogant superiority, periodically elbowing one of us in the ribs and saying things
like “Look at that fire, ah?! I told you I'd get it goin, eh ya cocksuckers?!” And for the rest of the night we'd sit around
that hypnotic, perfect fire, drinking our beautifully piss-poison-beer while telling more stories than we knew existed,
smoking cigarettes and cheap cigars, making fun of ourselves in that playful self-deprecating fifteen year-old way,
laughing harder than we thought possible, and having a better time than we could ever understand.

    At some point during this concocted ritual, from out of the silent darkness would emerge another group of girls,
nervously stepping into the dancing aphrodisiac firelight, instantly altering our night and our lives forever.
    And it would usually take us more than a moment or two to notice them, because sitting around the fire it seemed as
though we were always and incessantly engaged in some profoundly important discussion about who had made out with
who and at which point during a particular night in Gordie Crowder’s basement, or whether or not it was in your best
interest to hammer back an order of cheesy chili fries from Taco Bell prior to drinking three forty-ounce Colts. But as
soon as the girls were noticed, the discussion would be abandoned for another time, and all of us guys would jump up
from our seats to give the girls a drunken hugging welcome while trying to fill them in on all of the important and
exciting things that they’d missed out on thus far. And every one of us would be talking, all at once; all of us yelling in a
unifying dissonance in our individual attempts to be louder than the rest, desperately trying to draw attention to ourselves
because, let’s face it; at the age of fifteen, the amount of attention one draws to oneself is directly correlated to how cool
one perceives oneself to be. We’d all be swearing profusely, because swearing was cool, and we’d all be telling the girls
how drunk we were, because being drunk was one of the few things in this world that was actually cooler than
swearing. We’d be playfully fighting with each other because fighting with your friends was cool, and we’d be throwing
each other’s belongings into the fire because throwing shit into the fire was maybe the coolest of all. Meanwhile, this
group of beautiful and eligible young bachelorettes would be standing around, all of them without a drink in their hands,
all of them completely unimpressed with our juvenile attempts to impress, and all of them wondering just what the hell
they were doing down in the creek with a bunch of idiotically drunken children on a Friday night. Eventually, either
Muffy or Barb would realize that the newly arrived girls were sans beverage, and they would each be offered one, along
with a seat, and as they graciously accepted both, all of us guys would slowly be able to begin settling in once again,
allowing the night to unfold in its own easy, leisurely swagger.
    So the girls would sit with us as we threw wood onto the fire and words into the air, and we'd be drinking our warm
beer while they sipped on whatever wineberry cooler concoction they’d managed to get their hands on. And as the girls
continued to sit with us and swig from their fruity drinks, they became more and more relaxed, and in so doing they
became more and more a part of us, and it was only a matter of time before they began throwing wood onto the fire and
words into the air right along with us, and any passing midnight hiker would hear nothing but the jovial shouting and
laughter of a group of young people who understood that it was possible for everything in the world, even if only for a
night, to be just as you imagined it could be.
    And it wouldn’t be long after the consumption of the first wineberry coolers that the seating arrangements would
begin to shift. Because when this new group of girls initially sat down, temperate and timid as they had been, they did so
in the way that most fifteen-year old girls do everything: as a collective. So the five or six girls would all be crammed
together on one couch, while the rest of us drunken guys would be left sitting on the peripheral, grouped together on the
other three couches across the fire from where each and every one of us wanted to be; which was, obviously, as close
to the girls as possible. But as the alcohol began to whittle away at the accepted social customs of female comportment,
us guys would begin to put our plan into action, and as the first pair of girls got up to use the allotted facilities out behind
the big oak tree beyond the fire’s light, we began to strategically maneuver into position, with two of us stealing the
freshly vacated seats on the girls’ couch. And all of a sudden things weren’t looking so bad. Because with four slightly
tipsy girls and two overly anxious guys on one couch, the two girls who had just gone to piddle would now have to find
someplace else to rest their behinds; presumably on one of the other, disproportionately masculine couches. And with the
number of bodies on each couch, there clearly wouldn’t be enough room to keep one’s arms at one’s side, so now; and
strictly out of spatial necessity, I might add; one of us guys would have to unctuously place one’s arm in behind, and
dare I say around the girl who had suddenly appeared by his side. And the plan would continue to unfold in this manner,
with girls constantly getting up to pee and guys constantly reshuffling, the rearranging and re-offering of seats
continuing until the unspoken but seemingly schematically drawn up plan was faultlessly and entirely executed, and this
group of girls who had forever seemed completely beyond our world was miraculously dispersed around our fire and
amongst our increasingly curious and drunken selves.  

    But even having had our presence graced by these girls who had, until this very night, been entirely ivory-tower and
exotically foreign to us, our nights down in the park were often characterized by the fact that there were always
significantly more guys in attendance than there were girls. Chalk it up to the postulation that girls don’t as much enjoy
walking through the forest at night so they can sit on dirty couches and drink themselves stupid before eventually
stumbling back home to vomit all over their parent’s bathroom floor. The sum of this logistical reality meant that for
every night we spent drinking down in the creek, there would be at least a few of us, through no fault of our own, left
out of the connubial equation. The realization of this harsh certainty usually began to set in somewhere around the
completion of the second Colt, and as it became increasingly clear that finding love simply wasn’t in the cards, those
who had done the math in their heads began to act, appropriately enough, like a group of fifteen year-old boys who
weren’t getting their way. The result was wholly predictable, and in the tradition of rooting against your buddy’s favorite
team in the Super Bowl for fear that he find happiness whilst you continue to drudge along in the mire of your own
dreary despondency, it became the sole intent of the Preterite to do everything in their power to keep the Elect from
sealing the deal with the demi-goddesses who had apparently and incredulously chosen them.
    Through some celestial miracle, on this one particular night down in the park, it seemed as though Aurora Lee
Devereaux had somehow chosen me. We had been sitting next to one another for the better part of an hour, and with
each passing sip of the malt liquor that I choked back, I was becoming more and more convinced that the two of us
were destined to be together. She was laughing at every mildly comical thing I said; she was asking me pertinent life
questions, like whether or not I had a girlfriend; and she was even openly offering me bits of information about herself,
admitting that she was a still a sucker for movies like The Little Mermaid and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. And when she
didn’t smack me or even give me a strange look when I halfway put my arm around her behind the couch, I was
instantly flooded with visions of our lovesick future together: the two of us walking arm in arm along the pier at night
with a cool breeze off the ocean, her clutching a teddy bear prize to her jean jacket while the carnival sounds danced
under the Ferris wheel lights; the two of us camping on some rustic northern lake in the autumn, and me waking up in
the cool dawn to slip outside the tent, the sound of zipper on nylon and a lonely cardinal’s I See You song from
overhead, eventually finding myself standing transfixed by the water’s edge, watching a loon silently disappearing until
Aurora’s soft hands found my stomach, imploring me to come back to bed to keep her warm; her and my mom sitting
at the kitchen table on a sweltering, sticky summer night, the two of them laughing about a joke that only the two of
them would ever understand. It was the sappiest, most pussified, clichéd girlie shit that had ever made an appearance
inside my head, and its very existence announced that I was utterly smitten.
    It was around the time of this very revelation that the likes of Sal, Ronnie, and Skinner were coming across a minor
revelation of their own. Recognizing that it was just the three of them sitting on their couch, and that it had been just the
three of them for quite some time now; they immediately began making themselves as painstakingly impedimental as they
possibly could. Beginning by slinging insults in earnest amongst themselves, the degree of defamation soon began to
escalate exponentially, the derisive invective becoming increasingly more scathing and personal with each enthusiastic
exchange until it was clear that no single individual’s dignity would be spared. As it was on most occasions, their
uproarious antics had become the cynosure of our night, and as the abuse reached its climactic, feverish pitch, it became
inevitable that the sequence culminate in a drunken, beer-spilling, fireside donnybrook. As I laughed my ass off at the
hilarity of the seemingly scripted spectacle, Sally O’Sullivan plucked Fat Ronnie’s Tennessee Volunteers hat from his
head and tossed it into the fire, causing such a selfishly-immature and obscenity-riddled ruckus that a few of the girls;
including Aurora; had gotten up from their seats and taken an unannounced walk to an unannounced destination. I guess
they didn’t find as much humor in the terms menstruation-eating-cum-guzzler and child-raping-cunt-whore as some of
the others in attendance. As my left side began to grow cold in the lengthening of her absence, it occurred to me that she’
d probably and understandably gone home.
    I remember being entirely crestfallen, thinking to myself that the ignominiousness of these drunken idiots had blown
my one and only chance with the girl of my dreams. With Aurora no longer by my side, and the guys still spraying each
other with beer and bile, half-tripping over the fire in their formulated tirade, Skinner had taken the opportunity to warm
my left side by taking Aurora’s seat on the couch beside me. With their mission having been successfully completed, he
turned to me and smiled, mumbling in his drunken tongue about how “Fuggin-Nuggly” I was, and how I shouldn’t
worry about losing Aurora because I never really had a chance with her in the first place, me being the “Fuggin-Nuggly-
Azz-Mo-fo” that I was. It was all I could do to keep myself from pouring my freshly cracked forty on him, and if it
hadn’t been my last, I probably would have.
    But this type of playful razzing was the quiddity of Skinner, and despite the crushing dejection of having Aurora
disappear on me, I couldn’t help but to laugh along with this sloshed version of Skinner by my side, knowing that it
would only be a matter of minutes before he was intoxicatedly unconscious in the very place where he currently sat.
Sitting back with my last beer and taking in the marvel of his drunken gibberish, gawdawful singing, and complete loss
of motor control, the likeness of my attempts to decipher and relay the gist of his incoherent babbling to the rest of the
remaining rabble was so much like an Edgar Bergen routine that, despite how infuriated I was at the state of my current
loveless situation; and try though I might; I couldn’t manage to keep the smile from my face.
    And then to everyone’s surprise, in the midst of all of the fire-shadow brannigan and ballyhoo, Aurora and the girls
she’d snuck off with had stealthily and inexplicably managed to sneak back. I would have given anything to know what
those girls discussed on their moonlit, creek-side sojourn, because upon her return, Aurora; having found her seat
occupied by an incoherently rambling Skinner; took a seat with the most mundane and matter-of-fact ease, and in the
most heartbreakingly perfect and unabashedly declaratory manner… right there on my lap. And then all at once, that
Skinner-inspired, irrepressible smile of mine was somehow overcome; not by my previous feelings of with contempt and
disgust, but instead by the indescribable expression of blissfully euphoric awe. Because you can read about and sing
about and see about all the love you want. But I never knew what love actually felt like until that perfect August night,
when Aurora Lee Devereaux threw caution to the wind and her arms around my neck, placing her body onto mine, and
her heart forever inside my own.