I wrote this a while back in a discussion about Asian families and how it was like growing up in North America. The act of "washing" mahjong tiles consists of haphazardly pushing in your own tiles with everyone elses and shuffling them all together. With the tiles being made of bone or hard plastic, this gave a very loud and recognizable clashing. It was a noise that, if heard anywhere, you would instantly assume that it was people enjoying a game of mahjong.

To me the washing of mahjong tiles somewhere in the house is, even now after so many years, like white noise. Beyond the drowsiness, it drifts me back to those Friday and Saturday nights when the parents got together and threw us kids like shrugged off coats into a pile, upstairs or down in the basement. It didn't matter. A kid, one usually four years older would act like a den mother or wedgie dispensing brother for the night: we still needed to be watched.

Scrabble or Pictionary or Monopoly already set up before we arrived. Hot Wheels or Lego dumped on the carpet.

At Paolo's house, Marvin's sister Lana, 4 years older, was the warden. She decided what activities would be available, the aforementioned board games, a cartoon tape in the VCR: Denver the Last Dinosaur or Chipmunks' World Adventure or some Disney flick.

Sometimes we were bifurcated. Boys in the living room snapping together their stupid hot wheels tracks through cities of LEGO. Though there was always a girl or two out of the bunch who wanted in, for the most part the girls would retreat into the unknown territory of Gina's room and emerge later subtly different. More sparkly?

But most times we were together. Under the hot cone lamp that hung over the dark wooden breakfast table we wanted to be the racecar or the terrier, or tried to guess somebody’s scribble of a mutant cactus, or stole someone else's letter, or slipped a hundred Monopoly bucks out of the bank while Gina was distracted by her idiot brother’s antics.

We were together doing our stupid little talent show contests, rolling into the room to "I aint fraid of no ghosts," looking like Chippendale dancers with particle accelerators strapped to our backs. Or we were going around the world in the hot air balloon of the living room carpet. I was always Alvin, the charismatic chipmunk. One was Simon, the nerd. One was Theodore, who liked to eat. All the girls wanted to be Brittany.

Paolo’s place wasn’t the only place we knew. The parents liked to rotate. Us kids had a feeling for each. Marvin’s was cool because it had a big screen projection TV and you could play big Nintendo. It had a basketball hoop out back and the patio was quartered into large concrete slabs perfect for 4-square. There were games of ping pong on the table out on the patio as the moths whirled around the flood lamps and got stuck in big bangs or flung themselves into mouths as we exclaimed: Slam you! Bammo! Pfffth! Another plus: Marvin's parents always had push up pops in their drop-in freezer and fun could be had pretending to push the kid who reached inside for one.

Jon’s place was like visiting the country, or what we understood the country to be, it was actually farmland Cloverdale. It was twenty minutes by car and sat on two acres, one of them wooded. It wasn’t really country, but at dusk the fireflies came out like it. Once one of the girls, Yna, caught thirty of them in a jar and cried when they were all dead in two hours.

At Ellen’s there were dogs kept in an outdoor pen and little bunny rabbits in the woods. At all the other houses the boys slept with the boys, the girls with the girls, but at Ellen’s we huddled in the dark, on the living room’s pink 70s carpet, surrounded not by tacky wood panels but by the piney woods of rural Newton long ago. We told each other ghost stories by the light of a 4DD lamp and leapt at each other for shrieks and made it so not one of us could sleep. We kept telling stories until dawn, until our parents dragged us, bleary eyed, to the car where sleep would finally find us.

The sleep ritual was always most stringent at Marvin’s. His mom always came downstairs, stern and efficient (she had a game to return to). She was mother to all of us at that moment. We were made to brush our teeth (we each maintained a toothbrush there) and wash our faces. At Marvin’s house there were only two cramped kid’s rooms so they put us kids in Marvin’s and Lana's beds, respectively. They had us boys lay horizontally across Marvin’s queen size and we would jostle each other or hog the sheets or throw them on a surprise victim to dutch oven. Man, how flatulent we were. SBD’s and Bitbrrrrrrs and Atomic Fireballs and Chinese Firecrackers. Lana would come in and threaten to tell on us, on our gas and our guffawing. Gina and Ellen and Yna would crowd around her, their faces gradually scrunching up in disgust around the point of their twitching noses.

We calmed ourselves, threw our hands over our mouths. We promised we would be good. Promise. And the girls went back to their room as we tried to eat our laughter.

This sleeping arrangement continued for many years. I don’t remember exactly at what point it was decided we were too old for it. Or who decided this. With my feet hanging off the side of Marvin’s bed, I was already beginning to feel suffocated by my life. Yet still I had no clue that this, all this glory, was doomed. Even lying there planning my eventual escape from childhood, it was not something that came to mind. That we would grow up to such an extent and grow apart, or that one of us would begin to smoke pot, or we would start sneaking off with one of the girls for sex. That some of us would have better things to do with their white friends and some would move far far away. Still thankfully inconceivable. And farthest from my scheming brain: that eventually we would keep in touch through the rare electronic missive, connected only by faded photograph and crumbling memory, and by the sound of those mahjong tiles being washed as we drifted to sleep.