With the school year in full swing and the recent newsworthy personal advancements of some old schoolmates, I can't help but recall some past relations. Time has obviously tempered my views, but with someone like Noelle Bush, who was recently and successfully discharged from a court-appointed drug-rehab program, I (like others) can't wait to see the next fuckup. Call it animal (media) savagery.
My friend Dirk and I weren't privileged kids. We were seventeen-year-old sons of immigrants. Typical family stuff -- parents worked hard to better themselves and provide a comfortable life for us. We took this seriously, even as we messed around, pulling regular kid stunts. In high school we drove disposable Jap cars, my Datsun wedged between shiny Beemers and sieg-heil Porsches in the parking lot at Gulliver, perhaps Miami's best -- and most expensive -- private school.
Scholarships got us through the front door. The students who paid the full bite were mostly out of our reach. Not that they were all out of reach, and not that we didn't sometimes get tight for chicas like Noelle Bush, who was Dirk's type. But the closest we came socially was sucking down iced coffees at Joffrey's in the Grove (where Dirk doubled as counterman). Most of the chicas in our class went there to smoke their recessed-filter cigarettes and waste afternoons talking shit. We didn't have much nerve, but the jumpy bumming of smokes brought us within smell and tactile range. "Peached," as we thought then.
Which I know now to have been a voyeuristic, creepy thing to do, but we meant no harm. Most of the time we were cooked up -- working -- anyway. A week into our junior year, 1994, Dirk was covering the counter while I was out back in the alley negotiating an eighth of bad pot from some bum. Back inside, Dirk told me about some broad from his homeroom who'd been ordering a croissant and cappuccino and raving wildly about a crazy five-kegger she'd be throwing over the weekend 'cause her folks were in France. She'd been rapping to some obviously flamboyant guy-pal of hers. It was one of those "everybody's gonna be there" soirees and she was babbling happily till she recognized who'd prepped her order. Dirk figured the fear of being rude to the working class is what got him -- and me -- invited.
The day of the crazy kegger we spent the afternoon at Dirk's, mixing down some nosebleed from the tablespoon baggie of smack we found in a friend's bedroom. It was a scam we'd pulled before, in which we mixed any household powder we could find into the cellophane of a cigarette pack, and then passed it on to the weenies at Gulliver as high-grade shit -- for about 30 bucks. There would be a high in it, but the cut -- which could be as mild as ground aspirin or as rough as Ajax (if we were fucked up), had been known to gut out noses.
A five-kegger affair in Cocoplum sounded like a good idea as long as the security guard would let Dirk's van through. The snobby residents association had been known to issue fines and ultimatums against neighbors who didn't screen carefully. But whatever, I had a good feeling 'cause plenty of luscious booty would be there getting wasted. Like all teenage boys with dreams of moist thighs, we got to talking about the potential chicas and Dirk's hard-on for Noelle -- an itchy feeling he'd been having since he was in eighth grade and she in seventh. But he'd never acted on it because of paruresis and the Secret Service. In my few years in the States (I'm from Venezuela), I'd only known the Clinton administration, but Dirk came from England during the senior Bush's reign. Noelle and her brother, George, had executive-protection details at Gulliver while Grandpa ran the White House, so poor Dirk had to live for four years thinking something was wrong with his bladder.
"Paruresis, man. Shy bladder syndrome. Serious shit." Dirk's classes were in the wing of the school where the Secret Service had set up shop. Apparently, with their constant cups of coffee, they were in the can a lot. Ole Dirk always got stuck next to one with a buzzing earpiece each time he had to relieve himself: "The SS don't pee like regular people. They splatter assertively. Plus it was kinda hard to handle yourself with some big black guy packing heat next to you, hitting you with killer eye-rays. I ended up, like, blocking or something, not flowing. And then peeing a lot on the phys-ed yard, which got me in trouble."
Maybe now, since terrorism came in, that doesn't seem so odd, but before school security had been beefed up to accommodate O.J.'s and the Estefans' kids and keep them out of paparazzi scopes, school was just school. Except for the Bush kids. By the time I graduated, closed-circuit video cameras were normal. Maybe a quick look at the school's history will clarify certain matters.
The Gulliver school started as a way to accommodate the educational needs of vacationing New England children early last century. This elitism, this mentality, was cemented when Gulliver was purchased by Marian Krutulis in 1952. Her addiction to raising the bar on educational development was no passing fancy; her husband had been a faculty member at Coral Gables Senior High. While she didn't impose a restricted-enrollment policy, she managed to seclude things pretty well by relocating her school to what was then the wilderness of south Coral Gables/Pinecrest. The economic and population boom that followed was surreal, and the pockets of the residents overflowed with gold. Gulliver has garnered many awards, including the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. The staff is dedicated to the continued pursuit of academic genius. It's easy to see why the rich and famous would enroll their kids. The foliage alone costs more than heavy-duty barbed wire. The security cams shame the Kremlin. Kids and their toys are still kids and their toys, right?
So we rocked out to this party expecting wastage and nookie. Noelle, a pretty girl, was there with the female qualities Dirk looked for: slender form, perky breasts, and skinny legs. Not much on the butt but still worth a grab. We walked around the house looking at wall decorations and rugs, which were tasteful in arrangement but still displayed a heavy-handed "we bought it 'cause we could" attitude. All the kids were drinking foamy pilsners in party cups and having a good time. Dirk and I wondered if a horde of indocumentados would swarm over the place the next day, trimming the St. Augustine and palm fronds, handpicking pine needles off the decorated driveways. With the folks hitting a European getaway, the kids romped and stomped, scuffing the tile with Italian leather and leaving Fendi imprints on marble countertops. Spilling import foam and ashing cigarettes and joints into any pricey antique they could find. Yeah, indocumentados would clean it up.
I went around peddling the nosebleed. Noelle was hanging out with some large-breasted broad I fancied and some twistoid who turned out to be the guy-pal of the hostess. He bought into the "strong-grade." There were some heebie-jeebies to the transaction, 'cause Noelle had an air of protection over her; I kept thinking some slick-haired G-man would jump out of an Utrillo painting and fuck me up. But nothing materialized. Within minutes we were inside the biggest damn bathroom I'd ever seen. Bright, comfortable, a couch in front of the sink, steps leading to a huge, oval Jacuzzi. On a table was a tray mirror where Guy-Pal got to chopping with algebraic precision, using his Visa Platinum.
Noelle drained her cup and fidgeted around for a cigarette in her purse, produced one, and turned to me, asking for a drink. All I had were the remains of my beer and a sixth of Old Smuggler I'd brought in a flask. I offered that and she slugged down a pro swig; handed it back, eyes watering from the rotgut; thanked me. Dirk was rolling a joint and she got interested in that, to the point of making suggestions on technique. She was the double-end tight type 'cause she liked the initial flare of the fire taking hold. Dirk was a lucky bastard. At that point I was getting nervous 'cause Guy-Pal was hacking away at the dope and I feared he'd realized he'd been taken for a $30 ride. But that didn't happen. He turned and gave me a thumbs-up, proving that poseurs would agree on anything as long as their cool-guy covers remained intact. Well, maybe a $30 sack was nothing for the guy; he thumbed his bills like a stud dealing chump change.
I went to refill the cups and take in some bay breeze while Dirk smoked Noelle out. They'd disappeared into the hanging drapes. Maybe he'd get some, you could never tell with these high-end bitches. So I walked around looking at broads, sweaty-skinned, bumming smokes, and scoring free booze. My stomach knotted from mixing and reggie haze, my throbbing temples filtering the chatter to kitten pitter-patter. Everything slow, tonsils burning and aching from little pus balls. Foul taste, eyes narrow-slit to tsetse fly response. Giggles.
Dirk said later he'd had an okay time. Made out a bit and felt her tits. "After the smoke we kinda locked lips, but to make it real fucking clear to me, she did not give me her number when I asked." Said she stumbled -- slut heels and joints don't mix. He too felt the throb, said he'd tried poking with his chubby while they jostled, but she wasn't a taker. Shared some giggles, watched her walk away.
The summer rolled right by us and senior year was another slow starter. The mornings were the same in the Gables: lush landscapes, neighbors complaining, sneaking smokes under the Ludlam bridge, etc. I always looked at Noelle with a certain laconic guilt. Dirk had tasted her and even then she'd probably remember him as some dude with dynamite pot who'd smoked her out for free. She wore shades through third period. It's true about shades and bloodshot eyes and how the light explodes like a Mandelbrot set in the pupils. Many kids got sucked into the vacuum of random testing and locker searches, but never Noelle.
Her blueblood stigma covered her better than any cowboy government employee ever did. One could argue about the pressures of the name on the child. Her brothers did the straight route of the Young Republican like little swimming ducks while she ambled along the shore in designer combat boots. Good students and award-winning athletes. Not us sipping spiked slushies during trig.
There were teachers who turned their heads away from the obvious, and others eternally perched to pounce and catch Noelle red-handed, but nothing ever stuck. Dirk and I, though, got slapped with plenty of detentions. I got a good one for acting like a monkey. But this was, of course, years before Noelle's papi got the nod for Florida, and she deteriorated from high-class drug use to common street abuse -- before the bouffant hairdos and dark-eyed mug shots. This was back when criminals were criminals and were treated as such, without the added slap in the face of "name" people with bigger charges getting less cell time. The girl has had her advantages: She's faked prescriptions, relapsed on numerous occasions, been busted during rehab twice for possession (one for prescription drugs and the other for allegedly having crack cocaine in her shoe); and she hasn't served more than a few days in the Orange County jail system.
And sure, everybody needs a break; the legal system certainly isn't perfect. But the laws should be applied equally. Maybe if she finally lands something heavier than forgeries and drug charges, and gets herself into Starke, Uncle Dubya could slide in a presidential pardon and set her up in a cushy post with the Carlyle Group.
By 1997 our arena had changed. High school was a two-year-old memory and Dirk and I were chugging through community college and the challenges of the twenty-year-old male -- the same, pretty much, as the challenges of the seventeen-year-old male. The booty was still hard to get, but booze had gotten easier with some fake IDs we'd made on an old Mac.
Cheers on U.S. 1 and Seventeenth was a regular hangout for us. It was a routine story: acquire booze under false identities, get busted by the ever-revolving door staff, get chased. So we were hanging out one night appropriating some gin and tonics when we bumped into a seventeen-year-old Nayib Estefan and some pals of his who'd been doing a little drinking. Joey, as he liked to be called ("I tell 'em Joey because some mouths butcher my name") was a decent kid who played down the famousness of his parents. We'd met him at Gulliver during our sophomore year -- before his expulsion -- and he was a halfway decent drummer who'd held his own on some rock standards at some battle-of-the-bands shit we'd seen.
Though he was a nice guy, he still got railed by some of us because he had the biggest and most expensive (and most puke yellow) drum kit we'd ever seen. It was straight out of Def Leppard or Poison. It was hideous to look at but sounded great. He bragged a little about the kind of equipment he had access to, his dad being Emilio Estefan and all. How he'd hung with Nestor Torres and Celia Cruz. We wondered about that, what that would do to Nayib in the long run. Our birthdays had uncles and aunts, not Grammy winners and platinum holders.
He wasn't a burnout or a drunk. Not on campus. He'd gotten a bad break on silly kid stuff. Prank calls. He was a class clown. He'd been pulling some stunts on the phone with kids' parents that ran the gamut: "Well, Mr. So and So, I was calling from Gulliver Preparatory to inform you that your son was found masturbating in the locker room." Stuff nobody pays any mind to except hysterical mothers. So while we were sitting at Cheers, pounding our drinks and getting loose, he told us how his parents in a celebrity shock-move asked the school to throw the book at him. That's why he got expelled. We chitchatted about that, and in the comfort of the bar's patio he regaled us with stories of life on the road, dealing with overpaid tutors, his mother's concerts, getting drunk with roadies, and making out with nameless groupies. Sounded glamorous to us.
At the same time, though, it seemed that, unlike Noelle, he'd ended up winning. Who wouldn't want the rock life with the endless parties and nameless chickies? The cloak of the name comes through. In retrospect, examining these two kids, it seems almost unfair that one's artistic background allows for certain excesses, while the political scrim of the other's commands strict discipline. Some aren't cut out for the limelight. In Joey's case, it seems like parenting had some effect. Picture Emilio and Gloria late at night in bed going, "Well, he sure pissed off plenty of folks and besmirched our name, but the little bugger's blood and we gotta save face."
"So what gives, Joey? At seventeen you sneaking bottles in?"
Nope, he said. He just put it on his credit card, no ID check, no hassle.
Dirk chided him that the real reason as to why he got laid so much wasn't his name and fortune, but the way his eyes drooped with lazy intoxication when he was drunk.
"Bro, don't be a dork; I get laid cuz I got a sweet dick."
"Que sweet dick y que sweet dick -- the chicks cream when they think you're gonna give them a shot as back-up dancer/singers for your mom."
"Nah, man, my dad would tear my ass with a strap if I ever got caught pulling that shit. They were nice with the expulsion and all, but I can't fuck with his music."
But what about the bottles?
"Bro, I've never had a problem buying drinks here, anywhere." To show us his prowess, he bought all the rounds that night. Got shitfaced and drove home with some friend. One of the friends, a slimy hanger-on, had nodded in silent agreement all night.
Cheers, of course, is gone now. Joey is of legal buying age and supposedly living it up in Los Angeles. Surely he knocks back a few on occasion. It's his goddamned American right. But faking prescriptions and demoralizing the spirit of rehabilitation is not, right?
But where are the good times? Why the bleeding questions? Why the hassle? Where's the rocking hobnobbing with loaded bastards? Where's the dirt? There's plenty in this Thurber album: The Iglesias kids were cool, Enrique a bit of a dork sometimes but not a bad guy (Dirk swore a fatwa on his ass because a wayward water balloon, launched from Enrique's future-microphone-crooning hands, splashed on his khakis during an early-morning recess). Raja Bell was already displaying the talent that now has him employed in the NBA. Some kids with Bacardi ties weren't the boozers you'd expect them to be. And there were others. Most I didn't know, and many who shared my background. We weren't social butterflies, but we got around on friendly terms.
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Gulliver still sports an impressive roster of high-profile types. The school continues to provide a good education, and maybe the teachers' heads keep turning. Maybe it's the status of some of the students that demands it. I wouldn't know. Sometimes the press and the popular Weltanschauung paint such a narrow picture of people that one can't tell what is what. Joey and Noelle haven't had the nameless/faceless advantage that blue-collars like Dirk and I have had to iron out our kinks. We've worked it out, this adulthood thing. We've left behind the bullshit and the fucking up.
Gossip on Nayib says he's making it in the music-video industry -- no doubt with a nudge from the old man -- but making it nonetheless, and stamping his name as director of his mother's DVD supplement to her new comeback album. The problems of youth aren't necessarily guided by socioeconomic parameters. It's who stops fucking up that separates us from the animals.
For Noelle, it's not so dulcet -- zany bar highs don't last that long.