By David Haddad
At number four Harper's Lane sat a large, blue house, just before a rusty chain-link fence that marked the end of the narrow street. The paint had chipped away over time, exposing large patches of grey that gave the house the appearance of a cloudy sky. The enclosed porch, full of empty beer cans and torn garbage bags, had several busted out windows, and the few windows that remained intact had serious cracks, threatening to give even from a playful tap. Honestly, to any passersby making their way to the nearby grocery store, the place must have looked like a crack den, but to my friends and me... well, it was definitely garbage; but it was our garbage.
The first few times I went to Harper's Lane, I never ventured inside. Mack lived there with his dad and we would hang out on the porch, smoking weed, writing songs, and laughing at weirdos as they walked by. I rarely saw his dad, but I wasn't in a rush to officially meet him. Most of what I'd heard about him was centred on his crooked business tactics, his affiliation with the local biker gang, and his myriad of “recreational” habits. Picture your standard bald, tattooed, stereotypical biker-type, and you've got it spot on.
Mack and I hadn't known each other long, but we bonded quickly over music, movies, and pot. He was one of the most interesting people I'd met at that time, and he was certainly the only person I'd ever known who lived in their car. During his final year of high school his father told him they were moving, and when Mack asked where, he was told, “well, there aren't really enough rooms for you....” But, he barely seemed fazed by the rejection. Growing up with his unpredictable family and lifestyle, he knew how to roll with the punches and adapt when he needed to.
Eventually, the punches rolled him back to his dad's, who was moving across town. Rather than figure out how to get out of his lease, he decided it would be less of a hassle to pass the house to his son and a few of his idiot friends. The landlord wouldn't be thrilled with this idea of course, but luckily a plan was developed in which Mack and the aforementioned idiots would give the rent to his dad every month, who would then pass it on to the landlord. This way, he would have no idea that he was renting his house out to a group of 18- and 19-year-olds.
Any rational individual with even the slightest amount of foresight would have seen this was a bad idea. To a group of young adults, having recently escaped the school system and reached legal drinking age, it was trumpets and choirs. A two-storey house at the dead end of a street in the heart of downtown; it was not a tough sell..
On December 1st, Mack, his best friend Dev, and my cousin Jordan moved into the house. I helped with the move, asserting myself as an unofficial member and calling infinite dibs on the couch. It wasn't long before we started exercising our freedom by hosting games of S.K.A.T.E in the kitchen, setting up targets for indoor knife-throwing competitions, and finding sticks and empties to play “Bottle Baseball” with in the backyard. Everyone did what they needed to make themselves at home. Jordan set up his room with posters and coloured lights. He also created a lounge area. Dev haphazardly plastered his wall with ads from skateboard magazines, and drew a series of crude and violent cartoons alongside them; and Mack, claiming the role “Master of the House,” took the largest room, as well as a small storage room across the hall where he put a desk, bookshelf, and typewriter, calling it his “study.”
The parties the first week were pretty tame. They were mostly just gatherings of 10 or so people, getting drunk and listening to music. Eventually, we adopted an “open-door” policy that quickly took off. The first of the big parties had easily 50+ people, a quarter of whom we knew. There were a lot of “friends of friends,” but that didn't bother anyone. There was nothing a stranger could do to disrespect the house that one of its members hadn't done already. Jordan had taken to insisting people ash their cigarettes freely; Dev had punched several holes in his bedroom wall for fun; and Mack, while reserved at first, had not only begun letting people drink in his study, but even allowed a 45-minute, drunken face-slap competition to take place in it.
In less than a month, we reached what could only be described as "Animal House" status. Parties were happening multiple nights a week, and they nearly always consisted of bands playing in the basement, some form of destruction, and high-octane levels of inebriation. I remember one evening in particular when a fight broke out in the front yard. Mack's friend, a former high-school quarterback, ended up shirtless in the front yard against several known scrappers after one of them gave him attitude for being told to shut the door behind him. In an exhibit of spartan-like fury, he flung one after the other through the air, or onto the icy ground, taking fists to the face in stride. Naturally, the police showed up and Mack, as self-proclaimed “Master of the House,” was selected to go deal with them. To this day I have no idea what he said, but standing in the snow in Hawaiian boxer-shorts, aviators, a bright orange hunting hat, a leather jacket with no shirt, and high on LSD, he managed to convince the police that everything was under control, and they left.
It was shortly after that night that I woke up one morning to Mack sitting on the arm of the couch. After a brief exchange of “morning,” he cut right to the chase.
“Wanna move into the study?”
“Yup,” I answered with no hesitation.
I'd basically been living there since day one anyway, all the while waiting for that very offer. I realized that he was just looking for a way to cut down on his rent, but I didn't care. I also realized that, due to a reoccurring issue of doors being broken through or torn off their hinges, I would not have one of my own for my new bedroom. I was fine with this as well. I stapled a blanket to the frame, tossed a mattress in one corner, a record player in the other, and made myself at home. I officially moved in on New Year's Eve, coinciding with an appropriately monstrous party.
By mid-February, I felt as if I had fit half a year of living into the time I spent at Harper's. The parties had not died down, not that we made any efforts to calm them, and we were all feeling the effects of our lifestyle. It didn't help that we were in the midst of a bitter, Maritime winter. My alarm clock each morning was one part searing headache, one part frosty air, slapping me across the chest. I'd lay in bed and stare at the ceiling, trying to gather myself while piecing together fragmented scenes from the night before.
At this point, it didn't quite feel like a paradise, but it was still exactly what I wanted. I was 19-years-old, still fresh from a slightly extended high school run and had no interest in any secondary or formal education. I wanted to experience life in its rawest form possible. Some people join the army, some people backpack Europe; I lived at Harper's Lane.
In just over a month, I had done things I said I would never do, and experienced things I didn't think I would experience. I had been smoking pot since I was 15, but had a very strict “no chemicals” rule. I stuck to this rule for a while, but one night I walked into Dev's bedroom and someone offered me a line of speed.
“Ah, no thanks man,” I said, uninterested but trying not to come off as judgmental.
“Yeah. It's not really my style. And no offence, but I would just feel greasy doing it, I think.”
“Well, would you feel less greasy if you did it through this?” They reached into their pocket and pulled out a 100 dollar bill, quickly rolling it between two fingers and holding it out towards me.
“Well, what difference does the amount of the bill make?”
“It's classier,” they said, shrugging. I paused, considered this ridiculous logic, then thought, fuck it.
The thing about allowing your principles to diminish is that once one goes, the others aren't too far behind. It's difficult to pinpoint the chronological trajectory of what could be considered the “downward spiral months” of Harper's Lane, but if I was looking for raw, uninhibited living, that's exactly what I got. My bedroom wall was more holes than wall at this point, and the house itself was showing extreme physical wear. All bedroom doors were long gone, as well as the bathroom door that Jordan had thrown me through. Practically all the porch windows had been smashed out, and there were blood stains on the hallway and living-room walls from a particularly geyser-like wound Dev gained during a bottle-fight one night.
We were overdosing on freedom, too young and stupid to know how to live with even the slightest amount of restraint. I remember Dev looking at me one day and saying, “we can do whatever we want,” before throwing a foot-stool into the ceiling fan, laughing maniacally as it exploded into kindling. We loved the chaos, and we loved the ridiculousness; but eventually something's got to give.
One night, we came home to find several cop cars in front of the house with all our neighbours standing out on the lawn. Immediately recognizing this as our “chicken's coming home to roost” moment, we tried to turn the car around and exit the lane, but were cut off by another police car. It didn't take long for them to figure out who we were, and next thing we knew we were in the back of a cop car while a group of policemen entered the house with the permission of the landlord, who was now there and meeting us for the very first time.
When the officer returned to the car, he sat silent for a moment before saying to us, in a very thick French accent, “the things I saw in there... this place is a fucking disgrace.”
We were told we could be charged with mischief as well as breaking and entering, but instead a deal was struck where we were given a week to completely repair all the damages we had done to the house. We called in favours, and anyone who cherished our ridiculous haven for debauchery offered a hand in cleaning the mess they had so much fun contributing to.
We lived that house into the ground (literally; it was torn down two years later) and I came out with a set of crazy experiences I was able to sift through and gain perspective from. Despite some dark and disgraceful moments, Harper's Lane remains something of a legend in certain circles of friends, to the point of several people (who didn't even live there) getting roman-numeral four tattoos as tribute. I'd like to think I learned some valuable lessons from my time there about how and how not to live, but there's a part of me that looks back at all the mould, trash, and shattered doors with fondness; and another part of me that looks at the scars and cigarette burns I acquired during that time and thinks, we were complete idiots....
David Haddad is an aspiring writer and musician who has been playing in bands since the age of fifteen. As a second year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, David attempts to balance school while maintaining his band, The Human Comedy, in Moncton, NB.