Before the birds stirred our Labrador from sleep and before the sun even stood a chance at drying up the dew and certainly before our parents could ask if we had brushed teeth that day, we were up and out, slamming our screen doors, kicking up kickstands, and riding with our butts in the air for no more than seven seconds to each other's cracked and peeling front porches. Max and I knew to knock softly on doors, but still hadn't learned to refrain from turning knobs. No one got mad though. It was summertime in the Catskills and there wasn't much to be angry about.
In Zack's bungalow, we would cut up thick slabs of cheddar and watch it melt all over English muffins in the toaster oven. We ate them right away, the hot cheese burning our tongues, breathing out the word "hot" with our mouths wide open, our baby teeth orange with goo. We played Slap Jack at the kitchen table until our hands burned like our tongues and then we said out loud "Now whaddya wanna do?"
Our bungalows had personalities that sat around a semicircular drive that we called the horseshoe. It was lined with double rows of trees; twin grassy fields sat still in its middle, but we knew which one was better for what. One field tended to flood faster and so it was in this field that we followed Ethan, our friend with a net, who was always looking to catch grass frogs after a hard rain. Ethan reminded us not to run and to be quiet. We listened to him because we really wanted to find a frog. The other field was more flat and had fewer upraised roots which made pop fly baseballs a lot easier to run after. One field got more sun. One field had a stretch of moss that felt nice for cartwheels.
Daniel was a little older and he woke up later than us. He would jump off his porch, wearing basketball shorts and a do-rag, his headphones lopsided, his mouth spitting Ol' Dirty Bastard lyrics faster than I could make out. I knew he liked it raw, that's about it. He was kind of gorgeous in that disrespectful way boys can be and every morning I looked forward to it. He was also tall and would purposefully tower over me, jokingly calling himself "the Latin lover," saying it with an embellished but real accent that made Zack, Max, and Ethan laugh while I stumbled backwards, choking a little bit on my innocence.
There was an old casino building outside of the horseshoe that we would go to when we got tired of being outside. It was a good place to go when it got dark and the temperature dropped and we got too loud for other families who were trying to settle in for the night. It felt haunted when you were alone and familiar when you were with someone else. It smelled old like dust. Our parents would drop off old books and board games they thought we could use but mainly we just sat around a rotting picnic table telling "Yo Mama" jokes, saying curse words, and snacking on something good from someone's house. Sometimes we would ride our bikes inside, trying to make good skid marks on the wood. There was also a way to get up onto the ceiling's rafters so that we could swing and jump off, point and laugh, get splinters.
It was like we owned the place. We kind of did.