NY Times Magazine "Lives" - Night of 130 Teenagers


Published: July 9, 2010

My girlfriend Nancy’s 16 year-old son wanted to give a party at her home in Hancock Park, an old, upscale neighborhood in Los Angeles. He said there were going to be about 70 kids attending, almost all of them from his private high school, where the tuition runs more than $20,000 a year. Not exactly my alma mater, Gardena High, if you read me.

After going back and forth, my girlfriend somewhat reluctantly agreed. Her son, Oliver, had been to so many parties at other classmates’ houses, and he’d never asked to have a party at his mother’s house before. Nancy was worried that there would be drinking. Oliver said that some people would try to sneak in alcohol, or might drink before coming in, but that there would be designated drivers and also taxicabs if needed. He also said it wouldn’t get going until about 9:30.

Come party day, a few weeks ago, Nancy went to work at the restaurant she owns. I think she also didn’t want to be at the house during the party. This move left me — someone who was twice convicted of assault for fighting when I was younger — as the only adult at the party.

That afternoon, after loading in a gross of big submarine sandwiches and chips for the kids, I came home and turned on the TV. I watched a World Cup preview piece onDiego Maradona, the great Argentine soccer player. I saw a clip of Frank Sinatra’s return concert in which he sings “Nice ’n’ Easy” while Gene Kelly dances so gracefully around him. And I watched “The Rock,” in which Sean Connery plays a retired British SAS Commando. I didn’t imagine that I might have to be a combination of all these guys to keep everything in order that night.

By 9:30 p.m. there were seven people at the party. By 10 p.m., there were 60. By 11, largely thanks to Facebook, the crowd had swelled to at least 130 teenagers. All in the backyard. One rule Nancy laid down: no one was allowed anywhere in the house except the bathroom at a rear side entrance near the backyard.

I didn’t want to play the warden, so I stayed inside most of the time, making occasional walks through the party. I greeted newcomers by saying: “Welcome to the house. Have a good time. Respect the house. Respect me.” I know how to act tough, and for the most part everyone was well behaved.

On two of my walk-throughs, I saw boys bringing in 12-packs of beer. I told them nicely that they would have to take the beer back to their car. And they did, without hesitation. I smelled pot, but with so many kids I just didn’t think there was much I could do about it.

I went back inside. A friend’s daughter, Ida, who is 16 but doesn’t go to Oliver’s school, came inside with me. A bit later my friend Chris came over, and we all watched TV. “Dirty Harry” was on.

A little after midnight, I made another walk-through. Near the outdoor fireplace I saw a young girl who seemed very woozy. Right as I got to her, she started slumping over, her head dangling toward the concrete floor. Maradona! I thought as I stuck my foot out to guide her head softly to the ground. The Argentine had just saved a girl from a bloody head, or worse.

I helped the girl, who was 15, into the house and laid her out on the front-room couch. Her boyfriend was very apologetic, but I ignored him. I was busy checking the girl’s pulse. I considered calling 911, but her pulse was there. I asked her what two plus two was, and with her head in a closely positioned kitchen trash can, she slowly showed me four fingers. Apparently she came to the party with a Fiji water bottle filled with vodka. The boyfriend called his mother, who got on the phone with me. She arrived 15 minutes later, and the two of them had trouble getting the girl off the couch. That’s when I went into Sean Connery mode: I slung her over my shoulder and began walking her out.

As I reached the door, my friend Chris yelled out, “Be careful on the stairs.” The last thing I needed was to trip down the front steps. Gene Kelly: I thought of his moves in that clip with Frank as I stepped, almost danced, down those eight stairs, and put her in the car. (I checked on her the next day. After sleeping it off until late in the afternoon, the girl was O.K.)

Meanwhile, the party in the back didn’t skip a beat. No one even noticed what happened with the girl. But it wasn’t long before I started telling people it was time to go, polite-Dirty-Harry style. And they did.