Secrets and Smokes at Two Minutes to Midnight

boys sleepover parties, boys slumber parties, 1980s, 80s nostalgia, boyhood, rites of passage

Kenny Bodanis is a father of two small children: nowadays, he craves sleep. But 25 years ago, up late with his friends, it was a different story.

I crave sleep these days.

I have two young children, one of whom will never sleep past 7am; a job with an oddball schedule; a suburban home which begs for nips and tucks to remove hints of the farmhouse it was in 1955.

Life.

In 2013, twenty miles outside of Montreal, I am well aware of how my problems scream with the whiney voice of a first-world citizen. Still, near the top of a short list describing my ideal day would be: rest. I should, like a child, send myself to bed earlier. But, cruelly, the most precious moments of my day, are at night. That hour or two, with my wife’s legs on my lap, straining to survive televised entertainment before the 6:30am cycle begins again.

My children are 8 and 6 and resist sleep. For them, lurking around inside after the sun has set outside represents a giddy, secret world. Experiencing rituals past bedtime is like belonging to a forbidden club. Night-time represents daring, rule-breaking … peeking into a dark crate.

This is 2013. I am 41. Rest is paramount.

But I remember the misadventures of late-night slumber parties, more than 25 years ago.

♦◊♦

Greg organized the party. I was invited, naturally; I was his closest friend. Also thrown in were a couple of Johns and a Peter. A couple of those guys were the cool kids in our grade. Greg and I were journeymen; easily fitting in at any number of lunch tables. We were both affable, middle-class, searching for reasons to laugh or to trigger laughter in others. We were a threat to no one, welcomed by all, but had only really bonded with each other.

I was tentative about attending a sleepover with the Johns and Peter. They were cool; I was not. We were friendly enough within the high school halls; but how would that translate within the close quarters of Greg’s basement for an entire night?

I was also tentative about my closest friend’s time being divided among myself and the cool kids.

Yet I would have denied being jealous.

♦◊♦

We gathered after supper in the basement underground lair. Five boys, five sleeping bags, thirty-six square feet of linoleum; several boxes of dessert cakes named for legends we were too young to appreciate—Mae West, Joe Louis, Babe Ruth; one record player; and a fabulous collection of LPs we naturally took for granted and therefore eagerly mistreated.

There was no booze. Though at least two of us could probably have passed for eighteen-year-olds; our stubble was more developed than our gumption. We were too chicken to test our age-of-majority resemblance against the keen stare of a convenience store clerk.

There were smokes. But they would have to wait. Smoking in the house, even within the walls of the secret lair, wasn’t even discussed. Greg’s mother was kind, and credited her son with enough maturity to endure five teenagers overnight in her home. Such trust was not to be taken lightly, or abused.

As wrappers from dessert cakes and empty Dunkin’ Donuts boxes accumulated and jostled about the limited free space between sleeping bags and legs, attention focused on music.

“You have to hear this! And put it loud!” one of the Johns or Peter said.

The album was passed across the room to Greg, keeper of the turntable. It was Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave.”

Great, I thought. Greg doesn’t even like Iron Maiden. We never listened to Iron Maiden. We listened to The Police; Jesus Jones; Rush; 2112, man. But, as the music played, it was clear I was the odd teen out. Greg knew the lyrics; he sang along. What had I missed? My buddy had a secret life and hidden passions which apparently included bad metal. This destroyed any hopes I had of sequestering him later in the evening to trash our classmates’ horrible taste in music.

I was forced to be mature about this discovery. I was going to have to give the music a chance; attempt to learn a few of the annoyingly repetitive lyrics with the hopes of blending in. I was going to have to expose myself to other people’s tastes. I hated when that happened.

♦◊♦

I don’t remember what time it was when we headed out, but it was late. Not adult-tripping-over-a-tavern-threshold late; rather ‘flirting with the hours during which 15-year-olds should know better’ late.

The municipal park was down the block. Though the gates were open, it’s easy as a young teen to convince yourself you’re breaking in; that you’re just that daring.

We shared a pack of smokes. I wasn’t a smoker. Regardless of how often I tried, hoping I would get used to the flavor and develop a need for it as everyone else seemed to, inhaling always made me nauseous. Thankfully, the moonlight wasn’t strong enough to highlight my pallor changing from pink to moss green. Refusing a cigarette wasn’t an option. These were the years of “The Outsiders” and “Risky Business”; no smokes meant no risk meant uncool.

We inhaled, and coughed, and exhaled on the swings. We yelled and laughed hard and loud. I’m sure we must have been drinking, but I don’t remember being drunk; I just remember feeling more careless and daring than was probably warranted.

It was at this overnight gathering, involving very little slumber, that secrets and stories temporarily leveled the pyramid of high school popularity. Which girls did we like? Which girls did we want? Which girls did we think we could get? Which girls are easy? The cool kids always offered a more confident answer to this last question. For us middle-of-the-roaders, finding out which girls are easy would require far more courage. Which teachers did we hate? What drugs had we tried? This answer, too, was more interesting when it wasn’t coming from me.

With each passing story, joke, and fart, we uncovered commonalities among ourselves—kids who rarely did more than wave to one another in the hallways during the week. We could be friends, at least for now.

♦◊♦

It was April. We were all cold; I was tired. It was either head back to Greg’s, or sleep in the park, which would surely trigger a manhunt by dawn. On the walk home, we were giddy with laughter and fatigue. Everything was hysterical. Outside a small apartment block, we passed a pile of garbage waiting to be collected within the next few hours. An old sofa held back a pile of bags and old boxes. A sofa, out for garbage? Hysterical.

Peter grabbed the couch’s old, pink, floral armrest and began rocking it violently back and forth. Why? Because it was there; because we were tired; because we fancied ourselves Outsiders. We doubled over. Hysterical.

An old lady popped her head out a second story window, like a mole in a carnival game: “Stop that or I’ll call the police!”

We were uncontrollably giddy; this angry retiree had made it worse.

We were driven to the pavement with laughter at 14-year-old Peter’s reply to the old dame: “I am the police!”

Too much.

We laughed and ran off.

♦◊♦

Back in the basement, feet in our sleeping bags; tired; breathless; chilled.

Iron Maiden got rockin’ again.

I was so tired; so badly wanted to sleep. But my bunk mates roared and sang along. With my eyes closed, I realized regardless of how much I hated the song “2 Minutes to Midnight”—they played it over and over—I was loving this night, and these guys, and their goofy (and inexplicable) love of Metal.

We had poked away at our Monday to Friday barriers. They would return naturally along with next week’s ride to school on the city bus. But for these few hours before dawn, the cold April air, piles of dessert cakes, and Iron Maiden seemed to work on us like fists kneading dough.

Twenty six hours later, we would be at our desks in the first period English classroom,  shoulder-to-shoulder with our ninth grade classmates. Now, there was a wink between us, a layer of slumber party secrets and misdeeds. We wouldn’t speak of them, even to one another.

At 41 years old, I remember that single night so clearly, and with such fondness. Yesterday, as a curiosity, I wrote Greg, asking him about that night. I expected him to have, perhaps, a glancing memory of what transpired.

“No doubt you will use that ‘I am the police!’ line,” he wrote back.

Twenty six years on, there are days we can’t remember that evening’s drive home from work. But, a slumber party in the park in 1987? It’s like a fourth grade kiss in the closet from the girl you’re in love with; it’s the moonlight over the park watching as you break the rules.

Nowadays, everybody shares their misadventures on Facebook’s echo chamber, eager to broadcast misdeeds and advertise insubordination. Back then, it was all about what was shared with no one other than those huddled in the basement, with a secret pack of smokes tucked at the foot of their sleeping bags, at two minutes to midnight. Memories from twenty-six years ago which are as difficult to put to rest as their now 41 year-old keeper.

 

Read more in Teenage Kicks on The Good Life.

Image credit: sofia vizcaino with katherine sandoz

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About Kenny Bodanis

Kenny Bodanis is the author of the parenting book "Men Get Pregnant, Too (despite never pushing a watermelon through a pigeonhole)" . He is a parenting columnist and blogger at www.MenGetPregnantToo.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google +

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