By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Hey, you want a beer?"
I spin around and find myself chest-to-face with a miniature Abercrombie model. He can't be a day over 15. His bangs are perfectly swept across his forehead, and the rest of his shaggy mane is just highlighted enough to look lighter than it really is, but not so much that it's obvious he's been to see his mother's overpriced hairdresser.
"Ah, sure," I say, weighing various scenarios involving my being arrested for taking alcohol from a minor in the event the party gets busted up by Highland Park's Finest. "You know what? No thanks," I stammer, imagining the story I'd tell my parents. "Sorry Mom, got caught chugging brewskis with 16-year-olds in the name of hard-hitting journalism."
"Man, we got Coors," the miniature Abercrombie model says, as if the mere mention of the Rocky Mountain brew will compel me to change my mind. "We've got everything."
I assure him that I'm fine for now, watching as he attempts to process the information. Not wanting alcohol does not seem to compute, and a look of vacant confusion wafts briefly over his face as he shrugs and disappears into the kitchen, where a passel of impossibly well-dressed blondes in lingerie-style tank tops gathers around the refrigerator. I wonder who lives here and decide to have a look around when I'm approached by an obviously drunk brunette girl, whom I place at a solid 16 years of age.
"Oh my God, hi! I'm Jessie!" she exclaims, and extends her hand.
I shake it.
"What's up?" she asks, batting her eyelashes and fingering several strings of beads around her neck. It looks like she's raided her dad's closet for an oversized striped polo and her 10-year-old little sister's room for a skirt. She sways, having a little trouble standing up perfectly straight, but she might still be a reliable source of information.
"Are there any parents here?" I ask.
"Ha ha!" she giggles. "We have a babysitter!"
Seeing my incomprehension, Jessie points to the upstairs landing and gives me the international sign for "Shhh!" There's a 20-something woman talking on a cordless phone. I try to ask whose house this is, but the drunken brunette seems to be a little fuzzy on that particular detail. I feel a wave of relief pass over me: It's not that these kids don't care that I'm not carrying a Gucci bag. It's that they're too drunk to notice.
Just as I'm starting to explain to Jessie who I am and why I'm here to ruin her social life, the front door flies open. Seven or eight kids, definitely seniors and all guys, rush the living room. They're already carrying booze, already drunk, and they're loud. I look up just in time to see the babysitter exhibiting all the symptoms of an anxiety attack.
"YOU TOLD ME THIS WAS GOING TO BE EIGHT PEOPLE!" she yells, clambering down the stairs with the speed of a coked-up gazelle. She starts herding people out the front door. I hug the wall, determined to stay until the bitter end. We meet in the kitchen doorway, and I tell the babysitter I work for a newspaper.
"This was supposed to be eight people," she says, a look of panic creeping across her face. The babysitter is small-framed and mousy, so different from the Barbie-style blondes she's physically pulling away from the kitchen counter. This woman meant business. I shuffled my imitation Uggs across the living room, not waiting to see whether she was wielding acrylic nails.
Outside, 10 or 15 kids are milling around in the street as I climb into my car. A tall, buff-looking blond guy must have heard me say I was a reporter and yells in my direction.
"What are you guys going to do now?" I ask.
"Drive around and get wasted," he says, pulling a bottle of Everclear, a 151-proof pure grain alcohol, out of his back pocket and taking a long swig. "You want some?"
"Nah, I'm good." He tells me he'll be 19 in January. He's a senior at HPHS. If I had to guess, I'd put him on the wrestling or swim team. Behind him, his friends trade sports bottles filled with various alcoholic substances I can smell from several feet away. One of them approaches my car, a beer in his outstretched hand.
"Reporter?" he asks. "How old are you?"
"Not buying you anything," I reply tersely.
"It's cool. You coming? One for the road?"
"Aren't you guys afraid of getting pulled over?" I ask, incredulous.
"Nah, he's a real good driver," says the new kid, gesturing toward the Suburban now crawling with students. A couple of girls in athletic shorts and T-shirts climb in one of the side doors. It's Highland Park PD's worst nightmare: a carload of kids, armed not only with beer but with one of the strongest liquors available. Where did they get it?
"I've got a fake." The kid with the beer flashes his wallet in and out of his back pocket. I shake my head, and wave them back toward their vehicle.
They pull out in front of me along with another SUV, and at the next stop sign, the girls jump out of the Suburban and walk toward my Jeep, cell phones plastered against the sides of their heads. One of them approaches my window and says, "Derek, is this you?" while peering into my car.