They walked down the sidewalk and stood at the bottom of the steep asphalt drive leading up to the little garage at the side of the house. The place looked lifeless. The yard had long ago gone to dirt. Neighborhood dogs—and their shameful owners—had left behind little cairns of shit in various states of petrifaction, by which time could be measured. The dogs had respectfully not disturbed one another’s offerings such that they were scattered in some sort of strange canine-logic grid. They looked like ancient religious shrines or deities. Some of those could be as old as you, said Dean. Maybe you could use them in your art, James replied. For some reason, a tire was sitting on the roof. It seemed to be a necessary component of the satellite dish.
There was a car in the drive. A nice and completely non-ironic and spotless black Land Rover with dealer plates. It was too nice for the house and seemed to already be making the house disappear. Such spaces of disappearance were familiar in Los Angeles and could be considered a Mike Davis sort of phenomenon: crap house + luxury car = eventual tear-down of said house and re-development of lot into massively obnoxious mansion-like house by, in all likelihood, transplant from another state who came to California to be rich by doing nothing of true significance yet getting paid very well to do whatever it was he/she did. There were two of those irritatingly- and egotistically-proud university stickers on the real window: Cornell and Harvard. One got the sense that the driver had indeed attended those schools. It was the sort of car one had the urge to smash or at least throw pebbles at.
This is stupid, James said.
Don’t you want to take a look?
I think you do. I don’t need to. I’ve seen it.
Come on. You just got through telling me all those nostalgic stories about your little room and your toys and models and your skateboard.
I’m over it. The stories were bad enough.
Haven’t you ever wanted to see whose living in your old house?
It could be some serial killer who has dug a pit in the kitchen and is keeping some teenage girl hostage and feeding her dog food while he wears pantyhose and listens to T Rex.
That was a movie.
Look at it. I don’t want to meet anyone who doesn’t care about shit all over the yard.
It’s not a yard and you seem a little possessive of your old house.
It was the yard, but they let it go. Somebody did.
James used to live there with his mom and dad. The mom must have been ten years younger than the dad, which led Dean to believe that James had been an accident. Dean had the opposite condition of parents who were ancient. So it was fun to hang out with someone who had parents young enough to skateboard and appreciate Devo.
Now, many years after the accident, James and his mom seemed inappropriately close in age, as if she had given birth to him when she was five. It was one of those strange parent-as-friend relationships that often afflicts people who have kids when they are still basically kids themselves. His mom looked and acted young, like she had always just gotten out of school on a sunny afternoon and was ready to go to the beach. The other attraction of James’ house was that his mom had always seemed inappropriately attired in little shorts and tank-tops and had this overly-seductive way of being happy to see James’ friends. Most of the time they just came over to see what his mom was wearing that day.
James’ dad was generally regarded as the coolest dad on the street. This was partly because of the way his wife dressed and revealed herself to everyone. To the minds of teenaged boys this meant something significant. But mostly he was considered cool because he made model rockets and liked to disregard police and fire department warnings and launch them from the street. They shot up with an ear-splitting fizzzzzzzzit and left an evil snake of sulfuric blue smoke wafting around all the kids who came out to watch.
It was an almost weekly occurrence to see a new, freshly spray-painted cardboard vessel. These were not your everyday model rockets. He customized the off-the-shelf kits to produce memorable tubes that stood as tall as seven feet. Preposterous and obscene, they were the obsessive work of a stoner who never seemed to go to work or to need a job of any kind. He was often seen wearing a bathrobe, but no one ever said anything about this because they were basically afraid of him.
As the rockets got increasingly larger he required bigger and bigger engines to lift them off the ground. He would buy the smaller engines from the hobby shops, take them back to his garage and combine all the explosives like a mad scientist in his lab. Years later it became common knowledge that he used those rockets to store and deliver plastic baggies of marijuana. That was why some of the rockets were launched at what appeared to be dangerous angles and were never seen again. They would go off like surface-to-air missiles. The wind had to be just so. Off in the distance, the nose cone would pop and a parachute would open. James’ dad would stand and watch through binoculars. He always said he would get it later. Then he would turn, pick up his tripod, go back inside and wouldn’t be seen again for days.
James and Dean were always outside in those days. The only limitation was the invisible force field thrown up by James’ dad. The effect of which meant that James was never allowed to go beyond the extent of the block in either direction. His world was very small. Small house, small room, small yard, small car, small outdoors. To kids who couldn’t drive, this normally wasn’t a problem. It became a problem when they wanted to go to the little Korean market where they bought their junk food. It was two blocks beyond the force field.
The kids would be riding their bikes and when they came to the end of the block, James would have to slide to a stop. While the others rode off laughing and making sound effects that would be accurate for a force field, Dean would always stop and ask what he wanted from the store. James would pathetically wait for everyone to glide back down the hill whereupon they would ride again until he had to slide to a stop at the opposite corner. They would always make fun of James for this. Dean never said a word. They would ride back and forth, wasting time until their respective dinnertimes and TV.
Now James didn’t live anywhere. He had followed an art school girl to Germany and was back with forever-young mom (still wearing shorts) and now judicially-reformed, born-again, post-stoner dad. He had been sleeping on the floor of their little apartment by the power plant.
James had been home when the DEA agents rammed through the hollow front door of the little salmon pink bungalow that had been under surveillance for months. They had turned everything in sight upside down, trashing his room (logically the drugs are always kept in the child’s room), taking away all the rockets, and breaking his innocence forever.