Longform

Among the Young

Page 5 of 8

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.

The bass player for Patty's band sits on a couch in front of the big-screen TV and works on a geometry assignment. When the Smerffs take a break, Lee comes over to bug her. Lee, unlike James, is no child prodigy. He failed history last year, he says, because he blew off the final. "I just showed up for my guitar final and then said, 'Fuck this' to history, so they made me go to summer school. Summer school was a joke," he says. "One teacher was like, 'Who won the battle of Normandy?' I'm like, 'Uh, the U.S.,' and he goes, 'Oh! We've got a smart one.' I think that the summer school teachers just want to get out of there."

Lee wants to make the band his life, just as James does, but he is not so confident that this band has what it takes to make it to the big time. There are so many other bands out there to compete with. "Being in a band is great, but it can fall through," he says as he sits on a recumbent exercise bicycle. "You have got to have something to fall back on. I want to be an architectural engineer. It's pretty satisfying. You can see a building and go, 'I helped make that.' All you need is four years of college and one year of architectural school, then you graduate and get a job. The first-year salary is like $50,000. Next year is $100,000. Then $150,000. You can make some really good money. Like the guy who was the architectural engineer on the Empire State Building? He's like set for life."

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Robert Andrew Powell