I wouldn't count myself as a cool kid in high school. I wasn't scraping the bottom of the barrel, but my small group of friends and I definitely floated around on the outskirts of normality. But in the summer of 2011, Adam Narwot, Eric Hanas, and I had a singular dream - we needed a place to party.
Through most of high school, anyone's basement would suffice for a night of hidden, late-night drinking. But for the summer after freshman year of college, we needed something bigger. None of our parents would let us get away with throwing sanctioned parties at their houses. We needed some place no one would bother us, and we needed a place where there would be a possibility we could hook up with girls.
New Jersey is a weird place. When I was growing up, it seemed like every spec of land was bought up by some developer, ready to build cookie-cutter development houses and shove them wall-to-wall with a strip of grass as a divider. No woods or fields were left untouched. Down the street from my parent's house there was a retirement center, and behind that, the piece of land on which this story takes place. In elementary school, it was a thick set of woods encompassing some small bike trails and dirt jumps for us to mess around in. By middle school, a developer had purchased it, cleared, it, and started setting foundations for a huge apartment complex. And then, smack in the middle of high school, the housing crisis hits America.
The trucks cleared away, everything stopped, and after a couple months, the site stood basically as it looks in the last picture above until the end of 2012. It was heaven.
The Construction Site - as it was referred to - became a place to try all kinds of things in high school. Adam and I tried fire breathing in there. Dave and I would go smoke there. Adam and I first tried light trail photography there. We would all hang out on the roof of the half-built clubhouse. And luckily, since I loved taking pictures during that time, I happened to have shots of a lot of it.
So when the question of "where to party" came around, I already knew there was only one place that would be perfect. The Construction Site.
It had a lot of natural things going for it:
- It was within walking distance from my parents house, and fairly central to where we all lived.
- It was isolated from the roads, surrounded on all sides by trees.
- The foundation was about 15ft deep, which obscured light and sound coming from within, even from the surrounding, unfinished development road.
We got to work. I've always been an extremely project-based person, and when I start a project, I want to do it right. I want to go all out. Adam is the same way. At the time, I was working for a state park, and had all the perks the came with that - access to trucks, equally bored seasonal employees, and little-to-no supervision. Adam, Eric, and I scoured Craigslist for any and all free furniture - couches, chairs, bookshelves, rugs, pieces of kids' playground equipment. We even got a ton of candles for lighting, since there was no electricity, and battery powered lights were complicated in 2011. In the end, I think we outdid our own exceptions. We called it The Living Room.
I only have these before pictures, because we were always too worried about anyone having documented evidence of parties at The Living Room. But if I remember correctly, we had four great parties over its two-three month existance. There was lots of beer pong (with one team having to play from on the swings). There was at least one instance where we played Vietnam War (a variation of beer pong with a lot of house rules) from standing on top of the 15ft concrete-and-rebar walls and tossing down into the Living Room. There were lots of hookups and lots of failed attempts at hookups. Lots of people getting naked. At least one party where all participants where shirtless. There were bouts of localized madness. It was the best of times, it was only the best of times.
But like Icarus, we flew too close to the sun and drew the ire of the gods themselves. August 27-28, 2011. Hurricane Irene makes landfall in New Jersey. The roads surrounding The Living Room flooded. Power lines were brought down. I think we had off from school for three or four days. On the 28th, Neil, Dave and I went out to assess the damage. It was a total loss.
And thus, The Living Room was slain, drowned to death by Irene. It was the last vestige of our high school parties - by the next year, work had begun again on the Construction Site, and we were all too comfortable in our college living situations to find a place to rebuild. People had apartments, parties no longer needed to be hidden. But I don't know if they ever captured the magic of The Living Room. There was an added excitement like we were getting away with something, and a feeling that anything was possible on those warm, summer nights. We shall not look upon its like again.