Bashing mailboxes, huffing duster, and the rush of vandalism
The following is an excerpt from J.J. Anselmi’s recently published book, Heavy: A Memoir of Wyoming, BMX, Drugs, and Heavy Fucking Music.
I first experienced the rush of vandalism during the summer of 1997, right after I finished elementary school. At the end of sixth grade, teachers told us that, in junior high, we’d have lockers and class periods — each class in a different room. Classmates told me that their older brothers and cousins regularly got stoned and drunk in junior high, and also that junior high girls would let you get further. Although curious, I was mostly scared.
A few kids had been bragging about sneaking out of their parents’ houses during sleepovers. One night, shortly after summer break started, I stayed at my friend Glen’s house. Glen and his other friend had snuck out a few weeks earlier. In nearby neighborhoods, they rang people’s doorbells and ran away.
“Let’s sneak out tonight,” I said.
At one o’clock, a few hours after Glen’s mom went to bed, we skulked through his house and out the back door. We stealthily climbed over his backyard fence. Streets and sidewalks opened into the night. The patter of our shoes was amplified, sounding like little pieces of plywood slapping concrete.
Glen rang someone’s doorbell. When lights in the house came on, we bolted down an adjacent street, laughing hysterically. We each rang a few more doorbells before going back to Glen’s house. Following him, I held my breath as I crept through the barely-opened back door. Plastic blinds ticked against the door’s window.
Glen’s mom made us pancakes the next morning. Sitting at the kitchen table, Glen and I burst into laughter when we looked at each other.
We switched between sneaking out of my parent’s house and Glen’s mom’s house. Soon though, ringing doorbells didn’t give either of us much of a rush. One night, I kicked over someone’s trashcan. Glen kicked over a trashcan at the next house. He then ripped open the garbage bag and scattered trash all over the groomed front yard. The next time we snuck out, we started letting air out of people’s car and truck tires.
Destroying a wooden yard display was our turning point into real vandalism. A fake water well made out of latticed particleboard sat in a yard near the only Mormon church in Rock Springs. Painted baby blue, the thin wood encircled a miniature hay bale. Carefully painted Precious Moments children played hopscotch on a crosspiece that hung over the hay.
I ran up to the fake well and started pushing. Glen helped. We tipped the well onto its side, and Glen rolled it across the lawn. Wood cracked with each rotation. We stumbled away, unable to run because we were laughing so hard.
A few days later, Glen and I jumped on his trampoline.
“You know what we should do the next time we sneak out?” I said. “We should fuck up someone’s mailbox.” I’d wanted to destroy a mailbox ever since I watched Stand By Me when I was seven. To a soundtrack of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls Of Fire,” Kiefer Sutherland and his posse, The Cobras, drive down a rural road, playing mailbox baseball. Leaning out of a speeding convertible, Sutherland hits mailboxes with a wooden bat. The metal boxes fly off their posts. To me, he looked incredibly badass, like he wasn’t afraid of anything.
Glen loved the idea.
I had a few baseball bats at my house, so we decided to stay there on the upcoming Friday. We only waited for about a half hour after my parents went to bed before we snuck out. With our bats, we crept through my back gate and into the waiting neighborhood. Like the first night I snuck out with Glen, streets that I saw every day seemed like they might lead to places I’d never been.
We cut down a side street half a block away, stopping in front of a silver mailbox. A streetlight stood directly over it. Holding the bat over my head, about to swing, my mind pushed past a barrier. In the space of that moment, I knew exactly where I was and what I was capable of.
I swung down as hard as I could.
Stinging vibrations shot through my hands. Unlike the mailboxes in Stand By Me, this one didn’t budge. But I badly dented the top. Glen swung from the side, smashing the mailbox door. The clank of metal against metal echoed down the street. I pictured sonar waves emanating from the mailbox.
We sprinted for two blocks. Glen noticed a large gold mailbox and hit it, letting out a grunt as his bat connected. I hit this mailbox from the side, like I was swinging at a baseball, almost dropping my bat because of the sting.
Three or four blocks away, lawn lights decorated a walkway leading to someone’s front door. “Let’s golf those lights,” Glen said.
Swinging our bats like golf clubs, we each hit a few lights, sending them into the brick wall of the house. Shards of plastic and glass shot from our bats.
“Hey!” Next door, a short, muscular guy had been watering his lawn. Glen and I bolted. The guy was about fifteen feet away, but he was fast, and he’d gotten the jump on us. He lunged at Glen, tackling him onto the sidewalk. He pinned Glen’s shoulders against the ground.
“Hit this motherfucker!” Glen screamed.
“Put down your bat! I’m putting both of you under citizen’s arrest.”
I tightened my grip before dropping the bat onto the street. I thought about running away, but I didn’t want to leave Glen. A large middle-aged guy wearing a white t-shirt and boxers came out of the house with the lawn lights. He grabbed me after his neighbor told him what Glen and I had done.
Waiting for the cops, the men held our arms behind our backs.
Nate and I woke up early. Beer bottles littered the coffee table, TV, and carpet of Garrett and Tyler’s apartment. We held beer bottles up to the light, finishing off the wounded soldiers without cigarette butts or ash in them.
I’d been living back in Rock Springs for the past three weeks. In the beginning of December, I’d dropped out of my first semester of film school in Colorado. Nate’s older brother, Tyler, had asked me to move to Austin to play drums for his band. With Garrett, who played bass, we planned to leave Wyoming within the next two weeks.
Nate and I only caught a slight buzz from the wounded soldiers. I didn’t have any weed left, and neither of us was old enough to buy booze. A few nights earlier, we’d both huffed computer duster for the first time. With a few other friends, we passed the canister around a circle. After sucking duster into my lungs, my voice sounded tar-soaked, as if I was in a slow motion video sequence — the reverse effect of inhaling helium. I quoted some of Cheryl the zombie’s lines from Evil Dead, sending everyone into hysterics. My voice reverberated against the walls of Garrett and Tyler’s apartment.
On this morning, a few days after trying the inhalant, I said, “We could go to K Mart and buy some duster.”
In Nate’s Grand Cherokee, I put Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion in the CD player and skipped it forward to “Live And Let Die,” a song we’d been listening to on repeat. Nate put on his aviator sunglasses. Driving through Rock Springs on this late December morning, we sang along to the lines, You used to say live and let live / But if this ever-changing world in which we’re living / Makes you give in and cry / Say live and let die. I liked Paul McCartney’s original version of the song, but the Guns N’ Roses cover seemed way more powerful. As Axl carries “die” into the chorus, Matt Sorum leads Slash and Duff into plodding rock ’n’ roll by beating the living shit out of his drums.
I found a bottle of Scope in Nate’s center console. In junior high, kids had said that they got drunk on mouthwash. I took a pull and handed the small bottle to Nate. We finished it on our way to K Mart.
We found duster in the electronics section. A clerk at the checkout stand asked to see my ID — you had to be eighteen to buy duster. Nate and I didn’t try to hide our laughter. The clerk handed back my driver’s license after checking it, not making eye contact with me.
Sitting in Nate’s Jeep, we listened to “Live And Let Die” again. Just before I took a massive hit of duster, I saw Nate and myself sitting in the near-empty parking lot from a zoomed-out perspective. Pressing the button on top of the canister, I sucked duster through the nozzle. The world spun around me, but I felt cemented in place.
Some stoner girls invited Nate and me to a party in my dead grandfather’s motel, the Outlaw Inn. Nate and I hung out in the room for a while, drinking beer and getting high. Everyone at the party knew that Grandpa Don had built the Outlaw, and that Uncle Mark, my dad’s older brother, now ran it. One girl said, “It’s hilarious that you’re getting all wasted in your family’s motel.”
Uncle Mark had inherited Grandpa Don’s share of the Outlaw during the 1990s. On this night, I thought about working for my uncle three years earlier. He’d given me a maintenance job at the Outlaw when I was sixteen. One morning, about two months after I started the job, two of my co-workers and I mopped a stretch of tile. Uncle Mark came up to me and grabbed the mop from my hands.
“Don’t you know how to mop a floor? You do it up-and-down, not side-to-side like an idiot.” He demonstrated the proper way to mop while my co-workers laughed under their breath. “See?” he said, dragging out the ‘ee.’ “You don’t pick up any dirt doing it the other way.” He reminded me of Grandpa Don.
Getting fucked up in the motel room, I also thought about Grandma Dora and Uncle Mark’s wife, my aunt Nancy. I’d last seen both of them six months earlier, at my high school graduation party.
“What school are you going to again?” Aunt Nancy had asked me.
“Colorado Film School. It’s part of Aurora Community College.”
“Oh, great. You’ll save a lot of money going the community college route. Luckily, John has a scholarship at Yale, and Michael has a scholarship at Notre Dame. Otherwise, I’m not sure how we’d afford it,” she said, laughing. She referred to her sons, my cousins.
“Just don’t end up like your dad,” Grandma Dora said. Dad had dropped out of his first year of college and moved back to Rock Springs, shortly after which he got busted for possession and thrown in jail. He worked for a power company for the next twenty years, never leaving his hometown.
A year and a half after my graduation party, Nate and I shotgunned beers in the room and then went outside to smoke. Before going back inside, I said, “Let’s go over to the pool.” Walking to the other side of the motel, Nate asked me what I was going to do, but I didn’t answer.
A large potted tree, which was about eight feet tall, sat near the indoor pool. Its branches hung over a beige patio table and chairs. I picked up the plastic pot that held the tree. It was heavier than I’d anticipated, and I almost dropped it as I tottered to the pool.
I tossed the tree into the deep end. For a moment, it seemed to hover above the calm pool. The pot made a loud plunk when it hit the water. Waves rippled to the shallow end. Still upright, the tree sunk to the bottom, its branches wavering. Dirt tendrils reached out from the pot.
Nate and I left the Outlaw.
Okay, I was an asshole. Throwing the tree into the Outlaw pool was a petulant middle finger to Grandpa Don, Grandma Dora, Uncle Mark, and Aunt Nancy. I didn’t have much respect for other people’s property, and I think this was partly a reaction to the Anselmis’ materialism, even though I used my clothes, CDs, drums and bike to define myself.
But this act of destruction made me feel like I was capable of controlling my own life, at least in a small way; and I’d be lying if I said that I no longer get the urge to destroy things.
Shit-faced, I convinced Garrett, Tyler, and Nate to go on a drive with me. In my truck, I blasted Every Time I Die’s “I Been Gone A Long Time,” head banging during the dirty Southern breakdowns. I lost myself in the music and nearly hit a metal guardrail.
“Shit!” Tyler yelled. Sitting in the passenger seat, he grabbed the wheel and steered us back into the right lane.
A few minutes later, I pulled onto the main drag, still feeling energized by Every Time I Die. K Mart’s glowing red sign stood out against the backdrop of the immense Wyoming night. I drove into the empty parking lot.
Cement splash blocks were stacked against the side of the K Mart building. I drove over to them, not answering my buddies when they asked what I was doing. I got out of my truck, leaving the door open.
As Every Time I Die’s chaotic hardcore disrupted the quiet night, I picked up one of the cement slabs, held it over my head, and hurled it onto the ground. I could feel the sound of cement smashing against asphalt. The rectangular slab shattered into chunks, becoming something new, something it wasn’t before.
I drove away, electrified.
From the book, Heavy: A Memoir of Wyoming, BMX, Drugs, and Heavy Fucking Music, by J.J. Anselmi. Copyright © 2016 J.J. Anselmi. Reprinted by permission of Rare Bird Books.