The demolition party went like this: Only enter through the back door at the top of the fire escape. Everyone bring their own drinks. Then they bring a little more for the house. A hammer, nail puller, or sledge was price of entry. That and a costume. It didn’t matter what you came as, so long as you came as something or someone other than yourself.
I wore sneakers and shorts with American flags tucked in the waist at the front and back. I threw a large American flag over my bare shoulders. A plastic laurel wrapped around my head. I had a claw hammer I borrowed from one of my roommates. Since my apartment was only four blocks from the party, I walked to the liquor store across the street from building where Vince and Greg lived. I bought a twelve-pack for myself and another for the house.
The night was hot, sweltering. Sweat drenched everyone. Strings of people made their way up the rusty fire escape, which creaked under their weight and shook a little underfoot. Stepping off the grate and into the apartment, people entered a world of cigarette and weed smoke sodden with alcohol, vibrating from top to bottom with Bootsy’s Rubber Band on an expensive stereo system.
Vince and his pals threw table knives at the kitchen wall. Every time one stuck and they pulled it out a plug of plaster came with it. Already large parts of the wall were naked down to the laths. Behind them, six- and twelve-packs of cans sat on the counter next to cases of returnable bottles. People in all manner of costume passed liquor bottles. They laughed and danced in any open space they could elbow free.
Everyone was drinking, smoking week, and/or snorting cocaine. In the middle of the throng, two guys Vince knew piled weights on one end of a weight-lifting bar. One of them wore red devil’s horns and the other had vampire teeth with fake blood spattered over his chin. The place erupted in screams and shouts when the two finished stacking weights. They lifted the weights and dropped them on the floor, the bar puncturing the hardwood floor. They dropped the weights again and again. Soon, perfectly round holes spotted the living room floor.
“Ain’t enough,” someone shouted out of the fray. Two more men, one dressed as a witch and another as the Hulk—green skin and speedo—joined the men, stacking the rest of the weights on the bar. The four of them hefted the weights as high as they could and let the stack go. Again, the bar punctured a hole in the floor.
With the music and the crashing of the weights, the floor of the apartment pumped up and down with the rhythm of the crowd. The energy swept me up. I joined Vince in a game of who could sink their knife deepest into the plaster. A group of women dressed in togas stood by and watched.
“Can you believe this, man?” said one of Vince’s pals, a guy I’d never seen before. He was dressed as a ghost. “We get to blow this fucking place up.”
The building was set for demolition in two weeks. Vince and his roommate Greg had to be out by the end of the week. As far as they knew, everyone else had moved out of the building. Since it was coming down, they figured, they might as well help.
Wanda and her friends came through the back door. “The party has started,” announced Paul, the one guy in Wanda’s consort I couldn’t stand. He was a short older guy who hung around Wanda and her friend Debbie like a disease. He didn’t bother with a costume, but I figured he was ugly enough already. “No, you little fuck, the party started at noon,” said a slobbery drunk guy at the door with fake dreadlocks and a shirt in the colors of the Jamaican flag. Paul was a fighter and would have slugged the drunk. But the drunk stumbled and fell. “Helluva good time,” he said from the floor.
I started draining beers before I even showed up for the party. Once inside the place, I gulped on every kind of alcohol that passed before me and drank beer like water. As I threw knives, I knocked back tequila. I couldn’t get the table knives to stick and shifted to steak knives, which ricocheted off the wall and banged into the spectators. Finally, I got a knife to stick in the wall. Wanda came over and gave me a big wet kiss, which made my heart stop.
I don’t know how long the party went on. It could have been an hour or several. I don’t remember much after Wanda kissed me, beer and whiskey and vodka and tequila blanked out the night. I remember only snippets: Wanda abandoning me for a superhero of indeterminate identity, me smashing tile on the bathroom wall with my hammer, Vince and his pals switching from knives to billiard balls (which dimpled the plaster), people tearing out the kitchen counter next to the sink, and it being passed hand to hand and thrown over the fire escape.
Then, the weights finally crashed through the floor. I stumbled up and looked into the hole. An older couple sat in their living room with the television on. The weights collapsed their coffee table. They looked up to the mayhem above. They were silent. I waved. The man picked up the phone. “Goddammit, there’s people down there,” said someone. Shock flowed through the room at the thought that the weights could have done real damage.
Soon, the dancing and drinking began again. No one gave it another thought. I don’t remember the sirens, only the police coming through the front door and the crush of people in all manner of costume—ghosts, vampires, clowns, Romans, gorillas—piling out the back door onto the fire escape. The police waited for us at the bottom of the stairs. The metal steps swayed and screamed under the weight of the crowd.
I joined a group pushing past the police, who had their batons drawn. They were busy rounding up the people they could capture. I tripped on a curb and sprawled into the grass.
The next morning I woke with the flags still tucked into the waist of my shorts. I slept in the front room on a hide-a-bed. My fan, which was running at full speed, lay across my chest. When my picked it up, it left little squares on my skin. I had no idea how I got from 44th and Main to 43rd and Warwick and up the stairs and into the apartment. The hangover was unbearable.
Later at the pizza joint where some of us worked, including Vince and Greg, I found out that the cops let everyone but them go. They were arrested for destruction of private property. Who knows who bailed them out. But they looked pale.
It turned out that the people who owned the apartment building didn’t take kindly to the building they tore down two weeks later being damaged purposefully. The older couple downstairs filed assault charges. Poor Vince and Greg were up against it and nary one of us drunks lifted a wallet to help them.
I felt sorry for those guys. I didn’t have the money to help them pay for damages, which ranged into the thousands. Like them, I didn’t understand how a landlord can charge for something that they were going to destroy anyway. Now, of course, I get that everything in a building being torn down has a salvage value. But what did we care about salvage? We hardly knew ourselves. I had no idea who I was. I just knew I liked being drunk.