“In a twist in the continuing saga of underage drinking in Westchester County, police officers who responded to a noise complaint at a house party recently got an unusual reception: The high school students at the party closed the doors, turned out the lights and hunkered down for three hours.”—New York Times, May 14, 2004
“I am perplexed as to why American citizens, regardless of their age, who have the education and wherewithal to assert their constitutional rights not to have officers of the state enter a private residence without a warrant, would be uniformly described in your May 14 news article … as ‘arrogant,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘nervy,’ ‘brazen’ and ‘audacious.’ I have another word for it: patriotic.”—Michael J.Z. Mannheimer, a criminal-defense lawyer, in a letter to the Times, May 20, 2004
David MacBride was standing at the front door of his house, saying good-bye to a friend, when he saw the police cruiser lurching up the street. This, of course, meant only one thing—
“Get the lights!”
“Kill the music!”
“Lock the doors!”
It was kind of funny, and then just flat-out frustrating, how later on the papers would chalk up this decision to the considerable wealth of the area (median household income: $110,894), to the fact that these were kids raised by bankers and lawyers, kids with the gumption to know their constitutional rights. Because let’s be honest. Cops busted parties all the time, and this was just what you did: hunkered down, zipped your lips, and after about 30 minutes, the police would be on their way. It was an unwritten rule. A kind of discreet warning from authority to adolescents: Tone it down. Once, a cop had even come inside and played a quick round of beer pong, a drinking game not worth explaining. Another time, the kids videotaped the scene: officers standing around outside, yawning, leaving, the end. The exact scenario had played out in this exact house, as a matter of fact. Four or five times. Why should tonight be any different?
MacBride, 19, made his way through the house, quickly, quietly, alerting everyone to the police presence. And who were all these people, anyway? Little grinning clusters of them, everywhere you turned, kids who were bopping to hip-hop one minute, the Grateful Dead the next, sipping Coors Light and Budweiser. At least 50. Maybe more. Guys sporting khaki shorts, crimped baseball caps, creased Oxford shirts, flip-flops; girls in tight jeans, tighter tank tops, tiny flounce skirts. Some didn’t even go to MacBride’s school, Rye High, a regal old Gothic structure in this storied suburb of landscaped lawns and luxury SUVs, a place where popular after-school activities include boating and horseback riding.
Indeed, it was always the same: Your parents are out of town (in Ireland this weekend), you invite a few people over (no more than fifteen), you stress that it’s to be a small, intimate affair. Seriously. But then someone can’t help but tell their friends, who tell their friends, who tell their friends, and all of a sudden you don’t recognize half the people roaming around your own home.
MacBride was more than a little annoyed. In fact, just a moment ago he’d grabbed his close buddy, George Ladd, a 19-year-old senior with cloudy blue eyes and a jawline you could use to crack open a walnut, and asked him for a favor.
“I’m about to lose it,” MacBride said. “Do me a favor, and start kicking people out.”
But it was already too late.
Those who knew the layout of MacBride’s house best, like Ladd, sprinted upstairs to the attic, a bare-bones room with a slanted ceiling that was freezing in the winter, an unforgiving kiln in the summer, but perfectly tepid on this April night. There were about eight adrenalized kids sequestered up there, hanging out around a card table, trying not to laugh.
“You sure this is normal?” someone wondered out loud.
MacBride retreated to his bedroom on the ground floor along with a few friends. He remained calm. Everything would be over soon—hopefully. MacBride wasn’t well known in Rye, a place where Being Known is as essential as Being Fed: He’d moved to the States from Ireland two years ago because of his father’s finance job and had no real roots here, which often came in handy, especially during times like these.
MacBride’s window was directly above the basketball hoop bolted above the garage, allowing a bird’s-eye view of the driveway. A single police car pulled up and parked in the street.“Here we go,” he said, peering out from behind the blinds.
Mike Paxton, a notoriously mischievous little guy with strawberry-blond hair, had snuck off into the garage alone. Why? Why not? He sat down next to MacBride’s bright-yellow Subaru Baja, and stared at his sneakers. 12:48 A.M.
Everyone else—about 40 kids—darted down to the basement: sinking into the three couches, or crouching under the Foosball table, or behind the air-hockey table, or, if they were stragglers, simply lying down flat on the white carpet like a trove of undiscovered mummies. Among them was a senior named Andrew Namoury, 17, a future Indiana University freshman, a goofy, stocky guy with deep-brown eyes and frizzy hair tucked into a baseball cap—a designated driver tonight. (Something about these guys: They had a policy to rotate who got pinned with designated-driver status.) He was slouched on the white couch in the back with three spunky New Rochelle girls whom he’d met in the Bahamas on spring break—not such a bad deal, considering.
“What the hell is this?” one whispered to him.
“Nothing,” he assured her. “This goes down all the time. The cops’ll be gone in, like, an hour, max.”
That’s when the doorbell started to ring—once, twice, three times . . .
MacBride and crew ignored the sound. What else were you supposed to do? Revel in it? Freak out? They tried to think of things to talk about, anything to distract them.
“Man,” MacBride said, “how fun was spring break?”
“The best,” replied Kate Kiarsis, an effervescent 18-year-old brunette who seemed to have a perfect tan year-round (and, unfortunately for MacBride, already had a date for prom). Laugh if you want, but it was a genuinely bittersweet moment. Come fall, while all his friends headed off to colleges like Colgate and Yale, MacBride would be flying back to Ireland, for good. He felt he’d never quite fit in around here; back home, he was going to become a carpenter. But now his memories were doing that thing memories do, transmuting into nostalgia.
“Remember that time at Ocean Club?”
Ocean Club being a resort in the Bahamas where the parents of one of MacBride’s friends had stayed over spring break. One night they had a cocktail party and invited the kids to enjoy the open bar. It had been a crazy good time.
Eddie Urso, a senior, was running late—so late that it was already tomorrow. Figured MacBride’s party had sputtered out at this point—most such affairs in Rye wound down around midnight, a victim of curfews—but, what the hell, he’d swing by, see what was up. When he turned onto Fulton Avenue, a narrow, tree-lined street where the houses sit close together, he spotted the squad cars out front. Two of them—no, three.
Damn. That sucks.
One of the cops walked out in front of Eddie’s car: a dusty silhouette in the headlights, flashing the palm of his fleshy hand.
The officer asked Eddie to please step out of the vehicle. “Going to this party?” he asked.
Eddie couldn’t possibly play dumb—in Rye (population: 14,955), everyone knew everyone. In fact, the night before, the daughter of a local DARE officer on the scene had been at a party at this very house and didn’t come home until the next day. (Police didn’t return calls for comment.) She’d been grounded, but some began to wonder if there weren’t larger consequences: Could this be why the police seemed more riled up tonight? Did they have some point they wanted to make?
Or maybe it was something else. Maybe it had to do with what happened back in 2002, in Harrison, a somewhat less stately neighboring town (population: 24,154; median income: $80,738), when a 17-year-old football star went into a freak coma, and eventually died, after being punched in the face while drinking with friends. That was horrible. Tragic. Rolling Stone came out and ran a feature on it, and all of a sudden, you started to see phrases like “the continuing saga of underage drinking in Westchester County” sprinkled throughout the papers, as if it were any different from anywhere else in America. Which got old—fast. It often seemed as if the adult superpowers were interested in defining you only in terms of mayhem and deviance. You became the sum of your random mistakes—the sum, often, of other people’s random mistakes.
“I want you to call one of your friends inside,” the cop was saying, “and tell them we’re gonna knock down the door if they don’t come out.”
Was he serious? As if Eddie were about to go there. He pulled out his cell, dialed his pal Victor Rubino, who was down in the basement, and relayed the message to everyone, who … couldn’t help but crack up a little.
Because, come on . . .
What was this, a Steven Seagal flick?
No, it was more like The Negotiator, that movie with Samuel L. Jackson about two hostage negotiators. That’s what Ladd was thinking at the moment. It had come out his freshman year, which seemed a while ago all of a sudden.
“You guys sure this is standard?”
This was a twin sister of a Rye alum—a sophomore inexperienced with siege etiquette. “We shouldn’t, like, open the door?”
“How’s about this: We deliver a pizza to the cops, in exchange for the underclassmen? They slide the pie under the front door, we let ’em out through the back?”
Ladd was a fifth-year senior (long story). He hadn’t spent five years “in the high-school system,” as he called it, only to have his wisdom doubted. So he wandered into the upstairs guest bedroom with two friends, locked the door, and crouched beneath an open window overlooking the back porch, imagining himself in The Negotiator. He could hear the cops outside, murmuring, scheming, moving around to the back of the house. That wasn’t good news.
Still, there was something tranquil about this little perch, an eye-of-the-storm kind of vibe. Ladd got lost in his thoughts, tying to envision next year: He’d be attending Colorado Mountain College—gnarly snowboarding there, you can’t even imagine. Hitting the slopes every other day. Weekends, he’d drive down to Boulder to visit friends like Kate Kiarsis, who was going to be at the University of Colorado. Good times. A few minutes later he looked over to find his comrades sound asleep. Snoring even.
In the basement, half the kids were nodding off as well; tomorrow, their drowsiness would be interpreted as brash defiance. Meanwhile, MacBride left his bedroom and stealthily crept downstairs. He’d seen the third squad car pull up from his window, bringing the total number of officers to six, and wanted to make sure everyone was doing okay.
“Maybe we should just sleep it out,” he suggested to a friend.
“We kind of already are.”
“I guess that’s true,” MacBride replied. “I’m going back up to my room.”
Up in the attic, a fidgety kid used his cell to call Namoury, still seated with the spring-break girls down in the basement: “Think it’s a good time to call Domino’s?”
“Or how’s about this: We deliver a pizza to the cops, in exchange for the underclassmen? They slide the pie under the front door, we let ’em out through the back?”
The police were making some serious noise out in the driveway, as if they were about to phase into Plan B, whatever that was. Paxton, the lone soldier in the garage (still staring at those damn sneakers), decided to play it safe and crawl under the car, having no idea just how long he’d be there.
Among those in the basement was a senior named Zain Malik, 18, a laid-back soccer player with an international background—born in Mexico to Pakistani parents; traveled with a UK passport; was heading to NYU come September. He and his friends started to plot an escape. It was a rudimentary plan: Open up the door and run, cutting through backyards, jumping fences, weaving through topiary until the cops got bored.
“Seriously,” one said. “Let’s do it.”
This plan was nixed, however, when suddenly the officers were right there at the sliding-glass door, which took some work, getting around back—a seven-foot-high picket fence, a gate with a tricky latch. They were shining their high-beam flashlights through the slits in the venetian blinds, the lights darting around the dark room like shooting stars—reminiscent, actually, of that class trip to the Rose Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.
E. J. VanBomel, a junior who was among those in the basement, a nice guy with curly hair and glittery braces, told some sharp jokes, but sometimes the common-sense cells in his brain went ballistic. Case in point: When the light flashed on him and held there, like he was onstage, he had the brilliant idea to stick out his right arm and extend the middle finger of his hand.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
Someone punched him in the arm.
The police were starting to act a little peculiar. Ringing the doorbell nonstop. Yelling things. Some of it was what you’d expect (“Open up!” “We’re gonna flatbed your car!” “You’ll never play lacrosse again!” “Think summer’s gonna be fun? Think again!”), but then they started targeting specific people. They … knew names.
How’d they do that?
(Here’s how: The aggravated cops had called into the station and ran the license plates of the cars parked outside, all registered to the parents, of course, but this being Rye, they knew the kids’ names.)
“Namoury!” one detective hollered. “Grow some balls and open up the door!”
The New Rochelle girls looked at him, their panic rising. Shouldn’t we open up the door now? Namoury shrugged, as if this happened all the time, when the truth was that he—and everyone else—had no clue what was going on.
Malik, meanwhile, turned to his friends. “We are so screwed,” he whispered.Then he decided to go upstairs and check in with MacBride.
A parent of one of the students inside was sound asleep under a down comforter. Then the phone rang.
A stern voice asked for her or her husband.
“Speaking,” she said.
He identified himself as an officer of the law, adding, “I wanted to let you know that your daughter is currently involved in a standoff with the Rye Police Department.”
Was this some sort of joke?
“I think you should come on down.”
A neighborhood kid not at MacBride’s was tipped off via cell phone about what was going on. Hoping to help lure the officers away from the scene, he dialed 911: “There’s, like, a huge disturbance on the other side of town! We need all the police!”
The cops didn’t bite.
When Malik made it upstairs, he was startled by the powerful knocking at the front door. He assumed it was just the police, but, no, it turned out to be … a parent. Holy shit! Cops were one thing, but parents controlled cars. Credit cards. Summer nights. At the door was the father of Joey Groglio, who was now running up from the basement.
“Joey, get the hell out here!”
Joey walked up to the door. Malik watched, wondering if this was it, the end?
“Go away, Dad!” Joey yelled. “I’ll find a ride home!”
Joey’s mother appeared in the window.
“These kids are crazy!” she shouted. “They have too much freedom! We need to take away their cell phones, and their instant messages, and …”
Damn. Cops or no cops, this was not the best impression to make at a party.
Malik finally made it into MacBride’s room, where he asked, “What are your thoughts?”
“I don’t know,” MacBride said.
“Joey’s dad is banging on the door.”
There was an awkward silence.
“Uh,” Malik said, “I’ll clean up a bit.”
He exited the room, scrounging up some trash bags in the kitchen. As he started collecting debris, he thought about MacBride, felt a certain sadness for him, the way he seemed to fully understand the jam he was in: no pleasant finale tonight, definitely not, and so he wanted to prolong the present moment—the standoff, as it would become known—as long as possible. An idiotic move, no denying that. But it made sense. Doom may sometimes be inevitable, sure, but can you blame someone for attempting to stave it off a few more minutes?
Groglio ran back downstairs, swallowed his pride, and announced to everyone that his parents were standing outside and freaking out, which sparked a minor freak-out session among the kids.
“Yo, this is fucked up. We should maybe open the door—”
“Nah, it’s cool.”
But it wasn’t. This had become a Def Con 9 situation. Namoury, for one, knew that much. He got off the couch, leaving the New Rochelle girls, and headed upstairs, figuring it was a good idea to clean up. He and Malik quietly made their way through the house, tossing bottles and cans, fluffing the pillows on the living-room couch, straightening the family photos in the hallway, putting the food away. There was a certain irony here, not lost on anyone: The house was on its way to becoming cleaner now than it had been before the party. A parent would be proud … or at least oblivious.
“I’m sorry, but it’s time for the door to open,” Ladd said to his friend.
Ladd went downstairs, where he discovered 40 squirmy kids milling about the living room. After learning about the parental presence, everyone had headed upstairs from the basement. Still, no one was reaching for the knob.
Ladd entered MacBride’s room and said, “Dave, I think it’s over.”
“Feels that way,” responded MacBride. He thought for a moment. “Okay, do this: Go out and ask everyone what they want to do—I’m fine with whatever.”
Ladd went out and addressed the room: “If you want the door to open, raise your hand.”
Everyone looked at each other. Outside, Groglio’s parents continued banging on the door, now joined by others. One mother knocked on the living-room window, dangling car keys and yelling, “Do you see these keys, young lady? Do you? Because you better get a good look at them, because you are never going to see them again!”
A second later, every single hand was in the air.
Malik felt his cell phone vibrating in his pocket.
“Why are the police waking me up?” his mother asked, exhaustedly, angrily.
Malik swallowed, and gave her the abridged version of what happened—of what, come to think of it, was still happening.
“What were you thinking?” she wanted to know.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Well, your father is outside.”
“What? He is?”
“He’s been out there for 45 minutes, Malik.”
Democracy is essential. This is hammered into you each and every year, kindergarten through high school. Ladd wanted the opinion of everyone before he officially announced the surrender, so he headed back up to the attic to take a poll.
“I’m not going anywhere!” someone, who had a personal stash of beer, shouted. “I want to stay here forever! Fuck the police!”
Here was the problem with trying to be fair: The masses were speckled with numskulls who could be disproportionately influential. But not this time: Ladd had his consensus, and went downstairs to open up the door.
But when he reached the landing, police officers were already inside—someone had opened the door (mysteriously, no one remembers who). Officers were coming in from all sides, shouting—
“You have to be kidding us!”
“I can’t even start with how disappointed I—no, all of Rye—is with you kids.”
“What the hell was running through your heads?”
“The entire town went unprotected. Do you realize that?”
MacBride’s friends left his room when they heard the shouting. He was alone now, seated in his recliner, and for a moment he tried to revel in the moment. It had passed far beyond the realm of the humorous, past the absurd, and into some new territory heretofore unexplored. He was like a gangster, he thought, seated here, calm among the chaos. When he heard a cop demanding, “Who’s house is this?” he stood up and entered the fray.
The officer pulled MacBride into the bathroom, and began with a brief lecture: “What were you doing? You know, if you’d just let us in, none of this would’ve happened.”
Which was difficult to process. After all, the whole point of going into the lockdown was to prevent this from happening, and, surely, in some corridor of his mind, the police officer was aware of this.
Three police cruisers, six uniformed cops, about twenty seriously miffed parents—this is exactly the scene no teenager wants to witness at three in the morning. A few parents couldn’t control their tempers, but for the most part the mood was somber, tense, the police methodically confiscating the I.D.’s of everyone as they emerged from the house—to be picked up tomorrow at the station, where everyone would be treated to a speech about morality, responsibility, and the law.
Every so often one of the older detectives would look a kid in the eye and proclaim, “Twenty-four years on the force, and never—I mean, never—have I seen such blatant disrespect from teenagers.”
The parents were asked to hang around outside for a moment—the police wanted them to see firsthand what their children were up to. But not so fast—first they’d have to inspect the premises.
MacBride stood in his living room, the only kid in the house now, watching an officer quietly write up violations that would lead to MacBride’s being arrested a few weeks later on charges that included providing alcohol to someone under 21. (His case is still pending.) This was confusing. Everyone brought their own drinks; he didn’t know where they got them. Also, being from Ireland, where you can drink legally at 18, he was still adjusting to America’s schizophrenic culture: Party all the time, except don’t.
But what can you do?
Then it got weirder still. The police were having trouble accumulating evidence because the house was already cleaned up. So when the officers reached the basement and spotted the black trash bags lined up against the wall, neatly tied and ready for disposal, they untied them and begin dumping the empty bottles and cans out onto MacBride’s white carpet. Then the parents were brought inside and directed to the pile of empties (“That’s really not so much beer,” one whispered) where an officer pronounced, “Do you see what they’ve done?”
Alone in the garage, Paxton had been waiting patiently. He now crawled out from under the car, carefully walked to the rear door in the kitchen, slipped unseen into the backyard, and ran home.