Longform

Among the Young

Page 2 of 8

He is wearing a pair of tan denim jeans at least five sizes too big for him. His navy blue T-shirt with the word "CREW" across it was picked up for ten dollars at a vintage clothing store in Miami Beach. The pants billow, but the shirt fits his lean torso like a second skin, the way he likes it. He and his bandmates shaved their heads a while ago. The short, even hair that has grown back on his head is bleached white on top with the roots showing his natural black. "James is always in the lead when it comes to his hair," says his mother. "He gets a mohawk and everyone else in the school gets a mohawk. He shaves his head and so does everyone else."

A fleet of fifteen school buses stands ready on SW 68th Avenue to cart home most of the South Miami students. But James shuffles his suede Converse sneakers past the buses and heads to Herbie's Pizza a block away. Herbie makes a living selling his pizza to South Miami students, but James doesn't stop in that often. He's here only to meet up with Lee, the bass player.

Lee sits at a booth smoking a Marlboro with a friend, who is bragging that he was suspended for insubordination on the first day of school. Lee nods hello to James and asks what the plan is for the evening. Tonight they will rehearse, James declares. The band is playing its third gig tomorrow night back at Cheers. They'll need to get to Patty's house by maybe 5:00 p.m. Patty is James's girlfriend. She is also in a band, Denny's Unit, and the Smerffs need her amplifiers and microphones to practice. The Smerffs have so little equipment of their own that they can't play a show without borrowing a few amps. Patty is indispensible.

If he needed to, James would cross the street to the 7-Eleven and grab a Metro bus home. Fortunately, most people in the older crowd James hangs with already have their driver's licenses. It's a testament to his popularity that several of them want nothing more than to be his chauffeur, so he is rarely without transportation. Today one of his friends is willing to shuttle him around all evening long, wherever he wants to go. James hops in the car. Lee, with a few hours to kill before rehearsal, gets in the back seat.

Radio is forbidden. Even with the heralded changes to alternative-rock formats, South Florida radio remains too mainstream and boring for a passionate music fan like James. He pulls a tape out of his green canvas book bag decorated in Liquid Paper with the names of bands such as Screeching Weasel, Operation Ivy, and Green Day. The tape is of the Mr. T Experience, a band out of the same Oakland, California, scene as Green Day, and very much like that popular punk band in its sound. Green Day was James's favorite group until they exploded onto MTV; now too many other people like them. The Mr. T Experience might be his new favorite band. He sticks the tape in the deck, blasts the music, and sings along on the traffic-heavy, twenty-minute ride to his house.

Eight royal palm trees announce the entrance to James's home in South Miami. In a large ranch-style house built from Dade County pine and kept secure behind an automatic black iron gate, James lives with his mother, his stepfather, a half-brother, age six, and a half-sister, age eight. He's lived here since he was four, since the divorce, really. Inside are Audubon paintings and pillows embroidered with field birds. Stained-glass hummingbirds hover below the dining table chandelier while an aviary on the porch holds two live parakeets, two cockatiels, two finches, and two Java rice birds. The birds are a hobby of James's mother, Christine Spire. Behind the house is a pool, and behind that is the even larger house where Christine's mother-in-law lives alone.

James has his own room off the kitchen. It is a big space -- long and narrow with sliding glass doors opening out to the yard. Although he has the place to himself, two twin beds are placed at opposite corners of the room. The phone he uses to call Patty every night lies atop one bed, next to the acoustic guitar he started playing when he was twelve. The dark, wood-paneled walls are covered in Marlins pennants, there's a poster of Mickey Mantle, and a thousand loosely bundled basketball cards lie on a bookshelf. All describe a life in transition. Now it is music; before it was sports.

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Robert Andrew Powell