We cabooze amidst the lily pads one rare and sultry summer day here in Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum—nerve center for the languorous teen drinking scene, a veritable Eden textured with a touch of municipal grunge in the form of long-abandoned highway construction projects, low concrete structures that loom stone-silent above the lilies and the marshland in post-apocalyptic grandeur. We float about the old pilings. Young ducklings quack after their mothers. We get stuck in the lily pads. The lily pads prove less inviting than they had appeared, like aquatic versions of those distant paradisiacal fields of immaculate green that reveal themselves upon close inspection to be coarse and uneven—ankle-twisters: frolic if you dare.
That such days are rare makes them precious; that they are precious gives them stakes— such days remind us that our time is limited: waste not thy hour, the days seem to say.
Ronald’s bouncy—and excellent—Jewish anchorman curls highlight a tight square jaw below, animated by a skittish minor form of ADHD that belies a solid, easy-riding temperament. Ronald is currently serving out a one year ban from Fred Meyers on account of his having attempted to steal playing cards for “Magic, The Gathering,” after which transgression store-security summoned his mother to bring him home for further discipline. Invoking Gandalf the Grey, Ronald has developed a new habit: a thin trail of smoke climbs upward out of the packed wooden pipe laying at his side. He holds a white and red can of Rainier beer. Quintessential.
Vandover lies back, exposing a burly and tenuously hirsute chest. He dawns the sort of aviators behind which you can tell he spends seventy-five percent of his mental capacity considering how fucking cool he looks with these aviators on. Vandover is wicked-smart and knows it— occasionally crass and cocky, he will likely go into business or finance, yet he is a witty and sympathetic soul beneath the gloss. He holds a white and red can of Rainier beer. Quintessential.
Aesthetically speaking, we are the shit. And yet we lack something, a momentum, a raison d’etre to give us traction amidst the continuum. A canoe mustn’t be left to float unpaddled and aimless. Where are we going…
I struggle with this sometimes, and evermore as I grow older and my creativity calcifies toward stodgy and depressing oblivion. Drinking is supposed to fend it off. Indeed it has largely become an end in itself. And yet, today we remain unsatisfied. We desire more: a new purpose, a new beginning…
None of us has been hunting before, but today we decide that we are going to kill a city duck, Google or Youtube how to feather it and clean its innards or whatever, and roast the sucker for dinner.
Then we are going to tell everyone about it.
The Washington Park arboretum—this artificial nature preserve of the city of Seattle renowned for its sublime beauty and diverse foliage and Japanese gardens—is composed of four keg spots. I will briefly describe them to you, as each enacts a subtle inflection of the Seattle high school milieu—a set of distinct connotations, all of which bear on the matter at hand.
5-20: Not to be confused with “5-20 North,” “5-20” stands beneath an overpass upon an incomplete highway on-ramp embedded in the marshland. If you follow the on-ramp as it rises, it will take you above the waters of the lake and you can jump for a good thirty-foot thrill. This is not what we do. 5-20 kegs are raw, lively, and bare bone actuality. They take place not in the sun but in the shadow of the deserted highway above. Seniors yell “senior” and push you to the back of the gaggle jonesing for the keg tap. Blunts and stale beer. You might get-peer pressured to box. Around 4:00 someone will yell—“cops” and you will skitter into the bushes.
Foster Island: At the end of a long trail, this public park peninsula teems with backwards hats. The site is beachfront, with the University of Washington football stadium across the ship path. The spot is spectacular, but the beauty has a cost: when the cops arrive, there is no place to run…
Pagoda: Properly speaking, most pagoda “kegs” were in fact “Spodies,” or “PantyDroppers” as they are known to the vulgar. This means some guy with a fake ID and basketball shorts bought five half gallons of Skol Vodka and Sunny-D and put it in a dirty red cooler he stole from his mom and he hocks blue solo cups and when he has made sufficient cash he opens up the cooler and you shimmy your way into the swell of rabid hands, desperately thrashing about the liquid to get the fill. Chug and repeat before the baby runs dry. Sometimes people bring brass knuckles and seek squeenie-bears on whom to stunt. Around 4:00 someone will yell—“cops” and you will skitter down the hill into the cars and drive off, fast and easy.
Area-13: Properly speaking, “Area-13” does not “exist.” The cops knew the jig too well and so necessity intoned that roughly six days prior to the most important keg-day of the year, a crack-squadron of between three and seven enterprising seniors, bearing weed and weed-wackers and machetes, set-off into a scouted-locale deep in the bush of the arboretum. Here they prepared Area-13. Its precise coordinates remained a secret to the last, when individuals of disparate social stations were brought to the clearing and told to return with their respective cohorts. The cops never did come.
Today it is likely that Area-13 no longer exists.
The Pagoda recently reopened after a long renovation of an arboretum path. The area has become a thoroughfare, no longer suitable for spodies.
The 5-20 derelict overpass—once termed the “Bridge to Nowhere”—has been largely demolished to make way for a new bridge across the marsh and the lilies.
The lilies remain.
The ducks continue to bob.
Quack quack quack said the duck. Quack. I loaded the dart into the blue plastic tube. Ronald had gone to Walmart and purchased a blue blow gun for $8 plus tax. Quack. We gently bobbed with the waves and with the duck. Quack quack quack. I took aim, raised the tube to my mouth, trained the sights on the duck’s small bobbing grey-green head. It pecked down into the water, righted itself again. I closed my eyes. The sun’s afterglow remained. My eyes opened. I formed my mouth around the tube. Phhu: I blew into the tube and with a hollow echo of air the dart flew, beginning its trajectory above the ducks head, gravity at 9.8 meters per second per second and the dart reached an apex before beginning its decent and the dart was incoming and the duck just quack quacked oblivious to its incoming oblivion — I am doom I am doom I am doom doom you duck doom! And the duck bobbed on and the dart flew high, into the bushes just beyond.
I was relieved to miss. Søren Kierkegaard said that time and eternity intersect in the moment of existential choice, wherein I decide, and so cast my being into the inhuman maw of the one great scorer. He said we make decisions in our life, wherein freedom and limitation are enacted both; my friend, a Kierkegaard aficionado, once described this in terms of the moment before and after jumping from the diving-board. To whom or what did you give yourself up to, exactly? How does it feel to put your life entirely in the hands of the Gods? Thrilling? Exposed? Human?
It was Ronald’s turn. He didn’t want to do it. We weren’t driven by peer pressure exactly—generally speaking, none of us played that tune—but there was a palpable sense that we were transgressing into a new and forbidden and jarring realm from which we would not be able to return. It was alluring and it was inevitable. We didn’t dare each other so much as we were dared by time itself. We were getting older.
Ronald loaded the blow gun with a three-inch dart and put his mouth to its other end. The duck pecked the water and waddled its orange feet. It put its head up. The head stayed up. The head bobbed a few times. Phuuop.
The duck shook hideously. It flapped its side upon the water. It made sounds I have not heard from a duck. It did not quack. It hissed. The water splashed wild all around it. We froze. What had we expected? I looked to Ronald, whose eyes seemed slowly to recede behind a veneer of contrived triumph. He got it! He got it, he got it…
We looked quite closely. With care, one could just make out in the thrashing duck’s neck the neon-green pin—the duck thrashed to its other side and we could see the needle’s point protruding through its flesh.
We paddled towards it. We considered firing another shot: kill it, kill it, kill. We could not decide. We paddled away then we paddled back towards it but the duck thrashed fast, faster and faster and it struggled through the water, into the lily pads, and we lost sight of it, but we could hear it still.
We breathed in. I do not know why, at this point, Vandover decided to shoot a duck himself, but I can’t say I blame him. It was his turn. Ronald and I had already gone. I may have missed, but Ronald’s strike was all of ours, and when Vandover shot his duck in the side, and it began thrashing—though mercifully for us, not hissing—I felt it as though I had shot it myself.
We chased this duck in our canoe as well, but this time with unexpectedly minimal heart. We wanted to put it out of its misery and we did in earnest try. But the duck—this second duck—thrashed into a public viewable area, from which other caboozers might see what we had done.
After some minutes, we decided to turn back, leave the duck to its fate as we went to our own.
We returned the canoe to Ronald’s car, at the Foster Island parking lot, subdued, straining with anxious humor to make light of the horror we had become on this day of promise. We had planned to reconvene later, to prepare and roast the duck, but we left these plans unacknowledged and we went our separate ways. ▩
Andrew Schwartz is a journalist and a basketball player in New York.