Step One: Let some air out.
“You have to depressurize the tire,” the older boy explains, pulling out his switchblade. With a flick of a button, a two-inch blade appears. My eyes grow wide—I have never seen anything like it.
With a vulpine grin, he hands the knife to me to hold. I shake my head.
His hair is long, blonde, feathered. He’s wearing a black AC/DC concert t-shirt. I don’t know him very well since he goes to another school, but he’s a friend of Suzy Watts.
“Why do you have to do that?” I ask, watching him use the tip of his blade to push down the metal pin in the center of the valve stem. Air from the tire comes out in short bursts.
He waits until he is done before he offers me an explanation.
“Because if I don’t let some of the air out before I slash the tire—it’s going to be very loud.” That smile again.
I quit asking questions. It’s best that I don’t know more than I already do.
At that point, I decide Suzy Watts’ slumber party is far more exciting than I had bargained for.
Seeing her parent’s new microwave pop popcorn in less than two minutes was a revelation. Unrolling our sleeping bags in their tan Winnebago bonded us four giggly thirteen-year-olds. Eating pepperoni pizza and drinking orange soda in our bathing suits by her pool seemed beyond cool.
Now in the motorhome parked on the driveway, we play Crazy Eights and sing “Happy Birthday” to Suzy, shoving wedges of bakery cake into our mouths. The pink Crisco frosting is an inch high, leaving our fingers covered in grease and sugar when we pluck off the decorative red roses to eat whole.
Around midnight, the boys show up.
I look out the windshield to see the one with the feathered hair.
🜋 🜋 🜋
Step Two: Use the right tool.
“I don’t think we should go,” Alison whispers. She’s flat-chested, her hair pulled back into a low ponytail. She’s wearing a sweatshirt with DYN-O-MITE in neon rainbow print. She won’t hit puberty until 10th grade.
Suzy Watts is already out the door of the recreational vehicle, her tongue half way down the throat of the boy she promised her parents she would never see again.
I look at Robin and we shrug.
We leave Alison in the Winnebago with a bag of Cheetos and assorted Jolly Ranchers. Alison starts to cry as we leave, but it’s the middle of a summer night. Adventure calls.
There are four of them and three of us. We pair off quickly, the odd man out deciding to pull out a pilfered pack of Marlboro’s. His BIC lighter flashes, illuminating him in the darkness until the tip of his cigarette glows red. Unsurprisingly, I note he’s wearing a Joe Camel t-shirt, the cartoon dromedary looking particularly studly on the back of a motorcycle.
I look at the smoker and wonder if I had paired off too quickly with the tire slasher? The smoker talks very little, looks off into the distance, combs his black curls back with one hand when they fall into his eyes. I watch him put away the lighter and the cigarettes. He blows smoke rings.
“Now you try,” the boy with the feathered hair laughs, putting an arm around me. I like it, I think, that he’s claimed me as his.
“Try what?” I ask.
“Taking a car out. Slash a tire.”
We look up and down the cul-de-sac. There’s a station wagon parked on the street by a mailbox. It’s an ugly car. Deserving of vandalism.
“What do you want to use?” the boy with the feathered hair says.
“What are my options?”
He reaches into his white painter pants, the kind with an inordinate amount of pockets. He retrieves an awl and a Swiss army knife.
“Pick your poison.”
“Can I use your switchblade?” I ask.
I’m disappointed, opting for the awl instead.
I look over to see Suzy Watts and her boyfriend writhing on the ground, just behind the bushes.
Robin and her date are sitting on the curb, discussing Star Wars like distant cousins at a family reunion.
The smoker smokes, looking wistfully at the constellations. I want to go over and talk to him, but the boy with the feathered hair takes my wrist.
We head over to the driver’s side of the station wagon.
🜋 🜋 🜋
Step Three: Turn your head.
I’m taking this job seriously.
I crouch down by the tire, awl in hand, feet poised to run if anyone interrupts our hooliganism. I place the awl in between the treads, prepared to jab deep into the radial ply tire.
“What are you doing!” the boy with the feathered hair says, chastising me. A dog barks as we crouch down further from view.
“I’m. slashing. a. tire.” What did he think I was doing?
“You can’t put your face next to it. It could explode. You gotta protect your eyes.”
I drop the awl.
“Then you do it,” I say, disgusted with myself and him.
I walk back to where Robin and her boy are talking to each other in C-3PO voices, cracking each other up. They’ll eventually marry, have three children, then bitterly divorce.
🜋 🜋 🜋
Step Four: If you do it right, it’s over in seconds.
We head back to the Watts’ house.
Suzy and her boyfriend manage to slather themselves all over each other while walking upright. Robin and her future ex-husband are debating what Star Wars implies about the Vietnam War.
The smoker continues to smoke and look impatient with the rest of us. He wanders off into the night, walking home, blowing smoke rings. I will never see him again.
Just as we approach the driveway, the boy with the feathered hair puts his hand up my shirt. I let him.
Alison slams open the door to the Winnebago, face streaked with tears. We push past her, the boys helping themselves to cold pizza and candy.
Robin and her boy are yammering about Industrial Light and Magic’s special effects.
The boy with the feathered hair pushes me into the front of the cab. His mouth is all over mine.
“Suzy—” Alison says after a time.
“What?” Suzy replies from the back of the Winnebago. She’s annoyed, pulling up a crocheted afghan to cover herself and her boyfriend with.
I’d never seen Mr. Watts so angry.
I’d never seen three boys run out the door so quickly, leaving most of their things behind.
Including a very fancy switchblade.