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

Before he goes back inside the practice room to teach Patty how to play a few guitar solos, James explains that the drinking and the drugs are nothing to get alarmed about. "I mean, I don't think anything I do is like really bad," he says, "'cause I consider ourselves good persons. I really like don't do hardly like any drugs at all. I mean, I used to before, in junior high, while I was like twelve. I tripped before. And I never really liked smoking any pot and stuff. I never really liked that stuff. I'd never do cocaine and any of that crazy stuff -- Ecstasy and all that. I think it's just like all pretty stupid. Um, I drink every now and then and that's about it. I really don't think about it as bad unless I'm getting alcohol poisoning every night and drinking my brains out."

The band returns to the practice room for a second set and Patty takes her place outside. The Smerffs will rehearse until 9:30 p.m., then they'll go home. Lee will finish his homework. James will talk to Patty and Arthur on the phone before going to sleep. "Like, I want to have an impact on something," James says in the car on the way home. "I just don't want to stay a dud my whole life and end up like my parents, who just like sit out by the pool with their kids and with no lives whatsoever. Not that sitting out by the pool with kids is so bad, because I really want to do that, but they haven't done like anything with their whole lives. You know what I mean?"

The night after rehearsal, a Thursday school night, the Smerffs took the stage for the third time. Cheers was again packed with the band's young friends. The bartenders, who probably have never served fewer drinks, polished liquor bottles while James, Lee, and Arthur trashed another set. Arthur had noticeably improved on the drums, which helped the band sound tighter. The vocals still needed a lot of work, but the crowd, slightly smaller because the Smerffs didn't begin until after midnight, nonetheless enjoyed what they were hearing.

James's mother, Christine, sat on a stool at the bar holding her ears while simultaneously videotaping her son on stage. It was the first time she had ever seen the band play and she clearly did not care for its brand of music. As James writhed and twisted on stage, shouting incomprehensibly into the microphone, Christine saw a side of her son she never really knew before. She admitted she probably wouldn't see that side again for a while; these shows take place far too late at night. She has to be up at 6:00 a.m. to take care of James's younger brother and sister and to get James out of the house in time for school. There is no room in her life for rock.

James was so tired the day after the show that he left school during lunch to crash on a couch in the living room of his parents' house. He didn't return for any classes. Two weeks later he blew off a test in English class to hang out with one of his friends from Palmetto High School. The friend drove over to South Miami and met James during his lunch break. "He said, 'Come on, skip school,'" James recalls. "I knew it would be easy but I didn't know if that's what I wanted. The last two periods are like my favorite classes and I knew that we were having a test [in English class]. He was like, 'C'mon, skip.' It was a really bad choice."

James and his friend went to a Best Buy electronics store in Kendall. As they have several times before, they browsed the store's wide selection of CDs. As he has before, James ripped the foam security strip off two CDs he particularly wanted. As he had practiced, James grabbed a handful of decoy CDs and headed with his friend to a corner of the store where they knew the security cameras could not see them. James stuffed the two CDs he wanted -- Weezer and the Cure -- into his oversized pants then headed back to the music section to drop off the decoy discs. "We always take a couple of extra CDs so that when we come back on the camera, it doesn't look like some of our CDs just disappeared," he explains. His friend was not so careful, though; he shoved all seven of his CDs into his pants, and Best Buy security officers found them as the two boys tried to exit the store.

According to both James and his friend, the arresting police officers mocked them for their weird clothes and odd haircuts. "The whole ride from the store and like even when we were in the station they were like calling us fags and queers and saying that we were like lovers," James recalls. "I was like, 'Aren't you going to read me my rights?' and they said, 'Kid, you watch too much Matlock.' The cops were such jerks."

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