A Visit from Juvy
Back in high school, soon after Joe went to juvy, after that night we ran from the cops and I hid in the trashcan, I fell into a routine of working out and watching old movies. I even started doing my homework. I saw Gina sometimes in the neighborhood and we said “Hey”, but we never hooked up or hung out.
I went out sometimes, hit a party on the football field and drank beer with dudes from school. Half Pint was always there acting like a fool. And Edie might be there catching a buzz before meeting up with her biker boyfriend. When it was just guys we’d crowd around a bonfire and talk shit about chicks.
After a while I saw it was no different than when I was little, hanging out with Duke, except that I wasn’t little anymore and this wasn’t Duke. This wasn’t even Junky Jeff. I couldn’t relate to these guys. It was different with Joe around. He’d talk shit and fuck with them. I wasn’t good at small talk. I thought they were idiots. Most of them had already dropped out of school. And the others were just waiting to turn sixteen so they could. They didn’t think about anything but getting laid and stealing shit.
Of course, that’s what I was about too. But I felt like I had a purpose, like I was learning shit, what I was capable of and what would make me stronger if it didn’t kill me, that sort of shit. When me and Joe said “why not?” it was for the adventure. These guys never asked “why not?” They never even asked “why?” They just did it. And it was dumb shit. They’d steal from each other and deny it. One of them stole his buddy’s radio, then sat at a party the next night listening to it.
And Half Pint was just as bad. I tried to be his friend, mostly because Joe liked him. But Half Pint was an ass. But since he was small I felt sorry for him and protective of him. He couldn’t depend on his brother Jack, who everyone called “Jackass.” Jack was a few years older and a million years dumber. He thought he was the baddest mother fucker on the face of the earth, but everyone else thought he was a joke. Joe smacked him once when he thought Jack was fucking with Half Pint.
But Joe was in juvy, and I didn’t like Half Pint. I couldn’t look past all the bullshit. Joe didn’t mind if people did stupid shit. I think he even enjoyed it. It was entertainment to him. To me it was just bullshit. Maybe I was a little too serious, but I figured it was just a matter of time before the shit got on me. And I was right. It was Half Pint. He stole weed from me, then tried to smoke it with me. I knew he didn’t have any the day before. And I knew he didn’t have any money. But that morning he had a thick bag. And it looked a lot like the bag of weed that got stolen from my jacket the night before at a party. It smelled the same too. But since it’s hard to tell one pile of weed from another, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. But I asked him a few questions anyway.”
“So, Half Pint, where’d you score the weed?”
“Oh, Mann. My brother left it in my room this morning.” He paused for a moment, looking at the weed. “He said I could try to sell some of it today, but he wanted the rest back tonight.” I wasn’t sure if he knew it was mine. The jackets were all piled in a chair at the party, and it’s possible he didn’t notice whose jacket he took it from. But the fact that he was lying to me, when the only other person standing with us was Edie, who wasn’t even at the party, that kind of pissed me off. He could have told me he snatched it from a jacket. He bragged about shit like that all the time. But the fact that he was lying to me, even after stealing from me, that was more than I could take.
“You know, someone stole my weed last night.”
He looked at Edie who was looking at him. She never really liked him either. She didn’t trust him.
Half Pint looked back at me. “That sucks, Mann.”
“Who you think done it?”
“I don’t know. I was wondering if you knew.”
“Nah,” he said, shuffling his feet.
“I mean, you were there. Did you see anybody near my jacket?”
“No. I didn’t see anything.”
“Oh. I thought maybe you might have seen something since you were sitting right next to the jackets.”
“Hmm. Let me think…” Half Pint was quiet for a moment, unraveling this mystery. He was trying to play it cool, but I could tell he was getting nervous. He was probably wishing Joe was around, because I don’t think he ever really liked or trusted me, either.
“You know,” he said, “that guy Allen, he came over and sat by me for a while. I think I might have seen him going through the jackets.” He paused again. “Yeah. Yeah, now that I think about it, he did go through the jackets. He said he was looking for his, but he was going through all the pockets.”
“Allen is your friend, right?”
“I wouldn’t call him a friend. I mean, I know him.”
After he said that, I hit him in the mouth. I had to. And I had good reasons. Three good reasons. Reason One: this whole line of questioning was starting to bore me. Reason Two: he punked on his friend Allen, who he came to the party with. And Reason Three: Edie was there. It’s not like she would have cared either way, but she would have said something to her friends and they would have said things and that’s how reputations begin and end. So I hit him in the mouth. And he knew he fucked up. He handed me the weed and walked away holding his busted lip. Then Edie and I got ripped and forgot to go to school.
So I didn’t go out much other than that. I stayed in my room in the basement, lifting weights and doing schoolwork. Some of the work was pretty cool. I hated Math, though. I hated anything with only one right answer. No fun in that. It sounded cool to search for “X.” But when we got there it was just a fucking number.
My subject was English, reading stories and talking about characters and traits and flaws and shit. And English teachers liked me. They thought I was creative and could be talented, if only I applied myself. They liked things I wrote for class and said I had mature thoughts. My English teachers were laid back. They knew how to make the shit interesting. Not like math teachers. My math teachers should have found a villain for their stories, maybe zero. Zero could be the anti-hero. Pi the hero. Pi Versus Zero: Monster Movie from Math Class. This is the kind of shit I would think about while I was working out and while I was doing my homework. And it was usually what I turned in as homework. It’s all about right and wrong, “Isn’t it, Mr. Math Teacher? One and one makes two. But what about in Chemistry, where one and one makes something else?
“Yeah,” I’d say, “Yeah,” while working out and counting pushups. “Yeah, (1) why don’t they make school more interesting. (2) They think this shit is juicy (3) in and of itself. (4) I’ll tell you what’s juicy (5). That French teacher (6), Mrs. Marceau (7). I’d take French (8) just to have her as a teacher (9). Yeah. (10).
Thinking about chicks is the best motivation for working out. Especially hot married teacher chicks who stand in the doorway between classes and smile at you when you walk by. I imagine them standing there trying to pick out which dudes will grow up to be dangerous. In my fantasy, older sexy French teachers are looking for dangerous men.
The juvy hall where Joe was held was just past Loch Raven dam and aptly named Cub Hill. The quarters consisted of long, narrow hallways with rooms on each side. The compound was enclosed by a barbed wire fence. I grew up with myths of boys who jumped the fence to escape, then lived for years in the woods nearby. Supposedly they survived by fishing the reservoir and stealing picnic baskets.
As I got older the truth emerged. They did escape, but they usually just went home, where the cops found them doing drugs or getting laid, or trying to borrow money to jump the Greyhound.
Eventually we knew some of them, friends of friends. So it was no surprise the night Joe showed up at my basement door.
“Yo, Mann. Yo.”
I was asleep when I heard my name and the sound of knocking.
I looked at the clock. It glowed red: 2:57 am. I knew I wasn’t dreaming. I heard the voice again, louder, more urgent but still a whisper. My bedroom was in the basement. Actually, it was the basement. There were no walls separating my room from the laundry room or the stairway or basement door. I put up a curtain of rock banners to block out the back of the basement where the furnace was, and the washer and dryer and sump pump. There was something creepy about that part of the basement. I used to lay at night and stare at the flame in the bottom of the furnace. It whooshed on every half hour or so in winter, lighting the basement in a flash of orange. Then the fan would chirp on and blow the heat around the house for a few minutes until it crackled and banged back to rest.
The night Joe knocked on the door I thought it was the furnace. “Yo.” I was half asleep, but I knew that it was summer and the furnace wasn’t on. I listened again. When I heard my name I knew it wasn’t the furnace.
“Yo, Mann. Let me in.”
“Joe? Joe, is that you?” I crawled from bed and searched for the lamp, tripped over a shoe and kicked something hard, probably a dumbbell. As I hopped around I fell over the chair and landed on the table where the lamp was. I crushed the table and the lamp. While laying on top of them on the floor I found the lamp switch. I tried it but it didn’t work.
Joe called from the window again, “Jesus Christ, what’re you doing in there? Come on.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Fuck…Wait a minute.” I was tangled in the lamp cord and I tripped again. This time I went head first into the mini-fridge in the corner. The door flew open and shed light on the freshly destroyed room. I heard Joe say “Finally” as I unlocked the basement door.
“Hey,” I said leaning against the door jamb and rubbing my forehead. “What’s up?”
He looked around at the room. “Question is, ‘What’s up with you?’ You ok?”
“Yeah, a few technical difficulties. Come on in.” I shut the door behind him. “Anyway, what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be in jail?”
“You know the deal with that.”
I walked over and turned on the overhead light. Joe grabbed a beer from the mini-fridge and shut the door.
“So, how’d you get out?”
Joe sat down on the sofa and took a long drink of beer. “Ah Mann, it was so fucking easy. This dude showed me how. He’s been doing it for years. It’s so easy. All I did was wait for suppertime when everyone was going to the mess hall, and I slipped down the delivery ramp out back. I snatched a few aprons to throw over the wire and here I am.”
“Well, good to see you. How they treating you?” I pushed some of the debris off of the sofa and sat down next to Joe.
“I don’t know. It’s pretty laid back. But they make you go to school. It ain’t bad, but it’s slow. I met some dudes, though. We’ve been talking, sharing stories about thieving and shit. You can learn a lot in juvy.” He stood up and paced around the room.
“You alright? You seem jumpy.”
“Yeah. I just gotta move around. It’s tight in there. Anyway, I got a date with one of Gina’s friends later. I just wanted to stop by and say ‘hey,’… let you know I was out, least for now, ‘til they come and get me.”
“You going back?”
“Yeah. I figure I ain’t going to run. I’ll do the time and I’m free when I’m eighteen. No problems.”
“That’s a long way off.”
“Yeah,” he said, sitting back down. “It’s just time, though. I mean, I’d rather be out here running the streets and partying, but hey, at least I’m getting an education and besides,” he shrugged his shoulders, “Don’t do the crime if …”
“So, what’s it like in there?”
“Nothing special. They just hassle you all the time and make you go to classes. And the counselors try to figure out what’s wrong. They call your parents in for group therapy and all that shit.” He thought for a moment. “They try not to give you any down time, talk about spending your time constructively. At least that’s what they tell you. But once you’re in there it’s easy to stay off the radar. But if they catch you standing around they assign you work.”
“What do they make you do?”
“I don’t know, clean toilets, work in the kitchen. Shit like that. They say they’re teaching us job skills. Can you see me cleaning some fucker’s toilet. I’ll chop his ass up and flush him down it before I’ll clean it.”
“I hear that.”
“Learning to cook ain’t bad, though. But I ain’t washing dishes. And I ain’t peeling no fucking potatoes. That’s Gomer Pyle bullshit. But you got to do it or they take away privileges.”
“Privileges?” I handed Joe another beer from the mini-fridge. “What privileges?”
He popped the top of the can. “What they call a privilege is permission to smoke, or talk to other people, or work out. Shit like that.”
“Yeah, but…I don’t know. If you don’t fuck with them so much, it ain’t too bad.”
“I don’t know. That’s not for me.”
“Yeah, listen, I gotta get out of here. I gotta meet Gina’s friend. You wanna come?”
“Nah, it’s cool. Go have fun.”
“Yeah, I need to cum before the cops come. I’ll stop back and see you later.”
Joe didn’t stop back that weekend, but he did several times that summer. Sometimes he had a car, sometimes we just hung out and talked. It felt good. Joe was the only person who really understood me. But each time we talked, I noticed a little more that Joe was changing.