Melissa Rakowitz Threw a Party
While the Parents Were
Away. Her Secret Was Safe, Until Mom Noticed the Thermostat.
By ALLISON ADATO
Melissa Rakowitz is grounded.
Two months, with the possibility
of parole after six weeks if
she writes eight pages on "The Dangers of Being a Teenager."
crime? Throwing a party while home alone, and lying about
As a prison, her room isn't
spartan. Its outlets are juicing a
stereo, computer, TV, VCR, cell phone, regular phone
answering machine. On the ceiling, phosphorescent stars.
floor, schoolbooks. She loves science, and would like
a psychologist, but not before dancing in music videos.
wall is a calendar, with Xs marking time served. On another
hangs an artificial lei. "I've never been to Hawaii,"
14-year-old ninth-grader. "My mom threw a Hawaiian party
Melissa's mom, Cindy, knows
the value of a well-timed party.
As corporate vice president of public relations and promotions
for Playboy, she's helped make a septuagenarian's bachelor
hip again by throwing bashes there for Limp Bizkit and
Stern. But don't think that that atmosphere extends to
in a gated Calabasas community, where Melissa is allowed
more than three friends over at a time, and no boys in
bedroom with the door closed.
On the weekend in question,
her mom and stepdad, David
Adelman, were in Las Vegas, and Melissa was in the care
father, Mark Rakowitz, who lives just 15 minutes away.
she had permission to sleep at a friend's, she instead
to her mother's empty house, and by 7:30 Friday evening,
was greeting the first of 15 guests.
"I don't know if I want to say
everything that happened," she
offers cautiously. "People started blasting the music,
really hyper, sliding on the hardwood floors in their
having pillow fights." For refreshment, she served up
contents of the pantry least likely to be missed. "My
wouldn't notice if the doughnuts were gone." But then
helped themselves to real food. "Chicken, cheese, tortillas.
mom knows I wouldn't eat a whole chicken by myself."
She declared the party a success,
though two guests got sick.
"They didn't throw up, but one had to go to sleep." She
for certain, but allows that drinking could have played
a part. "I
stayed completely clean that night, because if I wasn't
what happened, I'd wake up the next morning and things
Most people left by midnight,
though a few slept over. On
Saturday, Melissa returned to her father's apartment.
came home Sunday to find a very clean house, save for
details that drew suspicion, which she recounted in a
conversation with Melissa and a reporter a few weeks
the scene of the crime.
Mom: Usually the baby-sitter
. . .
Melissa: Housekeeper, not baby-sitter.
Mom: Oh, OK. The housekeeper
usually turns off the heat. It
was up to 75. And Rosa always takes out the garbage.
Melissa and said, "Something went on here, I want to
now what happened." I didn't know I was on the speaker
But then I heard her dad's voice saying, "I want to know
God. I would rather have talked to her alone instead
of the two
of us ganging up on her. What's a father's worst nightmare?
Having a teenage daughter have boys sleep over. I knew
and I were going to have to have a girlfriends talk later.
Melissa: I don't have a problem
telling my mom about this,
but any other parent in my life, no.
Mom: I wanted you to learn the
lesson of responsibility. If
they were drinking or smoking cigarettes--it's not the
smoking that would upset me, because some teenagers smoke.
Melissa: Not my friends. It's,
like, way not in style. It's so
'80s, you might as well have a part on the side of your
only people I've seen smoking are, like, 46.
Mom: So if it was cigarettes
or pot, it's not so much the act
itself, as the consequences. My concern would be for
burning down, not because of the house burning down but
because they could get hurt. Safety first.
Melissa: Mom, you sound like
Mom: There were, what, seven
Melissa: Uh, yeah.
Mom: Am I going to read in this
article that there were 20?
Melissa: There weren't 20. My
friends think my mom is really
a laid-back, cool mom. I think her job has something
to do with
that. But after the party they learned that my mom is
much like everyone else's.
Mom: The lesson I learned from
this is that probably if I
hadn't been so prohibitive--if I would let her have a
was supervised--perhaps that would have been a precautionary
measure. When you give birth to somebody, you always
you want to protect them. Oh, she's getting all embarrassed.
Mom: Should I go back up to
my room now?
When we are alone, I point out
that at least her mom seems
open to the idea of a supervised party in the future,
can't get too excited. "It's more fun without parents,
you're not doing anything completely bad. If they had
we would just be sitting around like this"--she stiffens
back--"and being nervous about being judged by my parents."
How her parents see her turns
out to be important to Melissa.
"My dad completely trusted me, and he doesn't trust me
My mom and my step-dad were more disappointed than angry
'cause they thought I'd never do something like that.
But I did."
Now she's turning her attention
to her essay. "My dad thinks
every time I go out I'm in danger. He cares so much,
but it makes
me feel like I'm in a cage. Parents picture everything
wrong, rather than things that could go wrong, but didn't.
are like, 'It probably won't happen, so don't worry.'
"Maybe my opinion will change
when I'm a mom. But I'm going
to remember how angry I get when I think of all my friends
are allowed to have a party and I'm not. I don't want
my kid to
have that kind of anger toward me. I want them to have
relationship with me like me and my mom, but I'll let
them do a
little bit more. I'm going to be a cool parent. Of course,
probably thought that when she was a kid."
- - -
Lauren Kubota Never Stops. Her
College Applications Reflect
Her Impressive Extracurricular Work. Still, Admissions
Won't Truly Know Her.
By ALLISON ADATO
Based on how she filled out their applications,
here is what
the admissions boards at 10 universities know, and don't
about Lauren Kubota, 18-year-old senior at Glendale's
Hoover High. Columbia asks what books she has read recently.
Among others, she mentions "The Fountainhead," "The Hot
"The Kitchen God's Wife" and "My Year of Meats," a novel
Japanese American filmmaker hired to market U.S. beef
What the board won't find out
from this list is that Lauren
tears through pulpy medical fiction. "Those kind of books
read in two days and teachers don't approve of," she
On Harvard's scale from 1 to
5 measuring how definite she
considers her academic plans, Lauren's dedication to
is a 3. It seems an uncharacteristic hedge from someone
has wanted to be a writer since she was 4, when adoptive
parents Tom and Nancy Kubota divorced--another fact the
universities have not sought out.
Barnard's application lists
some of its notable alumnae: Zora
Neale Hurston, Suzanne Vega, Margaret Mead, Twyla Tharp
Anna Quindlen, then asks what contributions she has made
family or community. "I don't know what they want me
done!" Lauren says. She writes a few lines about her
work. The neatly lettered response belies her insecurity
this answer. It conceals also that she had never heard
of the five women.
All of the schools will hear
extracurricular activities. Lauren is captain of her
squad and a co-editor-in-chief of her school newspaper.
won't hear about how, when those two activities' schedules
conflict, she will blow off cheerleading every time.
they know how the newspaper's faculty advisor occasionally
trusts her to run things in his absence, or how she makes
not to give preferential editing treatment to her boyfriend,
is also on the paper's staff.
They'll see she was vice president
of the debate club. That
she is the publications editor of the Native American
Team, which means she is documenting the group's construction
of a monument on Hoover's campus, and writes their newsletter.
That she ran track. That she was a member of the Key
she volunteered to help send Adam Schiff to Congress.
summer she spent two weeks as a CNN intern in Atlanta.
What they won't see is the videotape
of her first on-camera
interview, or how nervous she was.
They will learn that Lauren
coached an elementary school
drill team--they won't know how much she loved the kids
met there. They will learn that she once held a job in
room of a country club--but won't know that it required
at 5 a.m. on weekends throughout the summer and much
They will read that she is president
of the Glendale
Symphony Orchestra Preludes, a girls group that greets
symphony patrons, passes out programs, serves cookies
women's committee meetings and visits hospital patients.
won't know that she got involved only at her mother's
I enjoy it? Not particularly. In ninth grade I didn't
many extracurriculars, only one or two, and my mom was
on my case for getting into college. Everything else
because I liked it."
But do Lauren's answers add
up to an accurate portrayal?
"They get a pretty good idea of you, but I don't think
they have an
entire picture," says Lauren, who is also a snowboarder,
"X-Files" devotee and the recipient of a hand-me-down
the size of a tank. "Some of the questions seem a little
irrelevant. They don't ask about other parts of your
Where each application asks
her race, Lauren has checked
both Asian (her biological father is Japanese American)
white (her biological mother). But the boxes don't indicate
this is precisely the racial makeup of her adoptive father
mother too. She will talk about being adopted in her
"I am left to wonder about the
self-knowledge that nearly
everyone else takes for granted," she writes. "I don't
my hair will begin to show traces of gray. I don't know
got my freckles. . . . Where most are given their identities
being born and raised surrounded by like individuals,
found that I have created my own identity."
Allison Adato last wrote for the magazine about the late