Among the Young

Shave your head, ditch your classes, chug your beer, duck your parents, thrash your music, and don't let anyone mess with your teenage life

She remarried when James was four, to a man who is now the vice president of a commercial real estate firm. "My dream was always to stay at home," she says of being a housewife. "We both said that as soon as we could financially afford it, I would stay home." There still isn't money to do absolutely everything she wants (Christine tells James he can't have five dollars every time he wants to run to Taco Bell), but now there is enough that she can stay home full-time, cleaning house in the morning and teaching tennis to the two youngest ones in the afternoon.

On the weekends, Christine and her husband drive up to Broward, where they are looking for a new home outside the boundaries of the Weston subdivision. "We just have to get out of Dade County," she says. "It's too crowded now." The homes they are looking at would give them a smaller mortgage, a bigger house, and more land. No strict deadline has been assigned to the move, but they hope to be out before the next school year begins.

James is horrified about the move. Even if he's only 40 minutes north, he'll have to leave his friends. He'll have to leave his school. Most important, he worries about the band. How will it survive the separation? His mother is sensitive to his concerns, but she is not worried. "Sooner or later they will outgrow each other," she says. "I don't see this band staying together. It's a new thing right now. Their friends love them. But I don't see the excitement going on forever."

Christine is trying to be more flexible about dinner. Every so often she'll let James take his food to his bedroom. On rare occasions, she'll even let him go to Taco Bell with his friends instead of eating at home. Because of band rehearsal, tonight is one of those occasions. James crumples up the foil taco wrappers and heads to rehearsal with Lee. First they pick up Arthur. In the car at 6:00 p.m., James explains to his drummer that the practice is starting later than they'd hoped because Patty is sick, that she didn't want anyone to see her band practice, and that one of the two other girls in her band can sometimes be a pain. "Instead of singing our song 'School Sucks,'" James moans, referring to one of the tunes he wrote for the Smerffs, "we should change the song's name to 'Girls Suck.'" Lee approves initially, then thinks about it a bit. "But then everybody would think that we're like gay or something," he says, "which I don't really want."

Patty has the teenage dream. Her stepfather is a prosperous physician, so she lives in an enormous house in a part of unincorporated Dade that may soon become the Village of Pinecrest. One entire wing of the house has been turned over to sixteen-year-old Patty, her thirteen-year-old half-sister, and her younger half-brother. Each child has a private bedroom and shares a common room with a full gym, a big-screen TV, and a screened-in patio, and each has access to the pool out back. Patty also has a practice room, a small, enclosed section of the gym where her band keeps its equipment. A junior at Palmetto High School, Patty makes straight A's, so she can have friends over whenever she wants. Judging from the dried pink strands of Silly String stuck to the exercise mirrors, they can do almost anything.

Patty met James almost a year ago at Santa's Enchanted Forest on the first day it opened for the season. Like James, her mother divorced and remarried when she was four. Like James, she has two half-siblings. And above all, like James, she shares a burning passion for punk-rock music, and she idolizes the Broward-based, all-girl band Jack Off Jill. Her short, straight hair is dyed black and pulled to the side with barrettes and she has a ring pierced through her left eyebrow, another reward for her good grades.

"It's just different," James says of their relationship. "It's not like we're two high school kids who are just like kissing each other and like hold hands and stuff. It's like there is more to it. There's a lot more. We don't have to do that kind of stuff to let each other know what we're feeling and stuff, you know? It's just, I don't know, maybe it's wrong for me to say it so young, but it's just like a real mature relationship, you know?"

The Smerffs begin rehearsing. On the practice room's white walls, Patty and her band have scribbled graffiti in red, blue, and black paint, which says "Riot Grrrl," "I want to be stereotyped," and there are several penis references. James, Lee, and Arthur play a set as Patty sits on a couch cushion just outside the small room, mesmerized by her boyfriend's music. Furiously fast guitar chords blur together into one gnawing buzz. The cymbals crash continuously as Arthur pounds them as hard as he can. James shouts into a microphone but cannot be heard above the din; all that can be understood is a sense of anger or frustration. It is perfect punk, almost too much in the mold of Green Day. James, who writes all the band's songs, admits that Green Day lead singer Billie Joe is the one person in the world he would really, really like to meet.

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