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2004-09-23 - 2:23 p.m.

It wasn’t until sophomore year that I started getting invited to parties. My freshman year was spent entirely on schoolwork, and the viewing of every single video in video store with a palm on the front. I applied to work there four times. I never got the job. My guess is once you get a job where you have food delivered and watch any movie you’ve ever wanted to see, ever, while lying on your back on the counter, you don’t give it up. I have a feeling there are people getting pay-stubs from “That’s Rentertainment” along side their social security.

Take one trip to Dublin for a writing conference, and I guarantee you’ll come home with friends, stories, and a much higher tolerance for whiskey. Between my fellow writers and the guys from the house I was now living in, my social schedule now actually included both Friday and Saturday night activities, even if some weekends were spent in the throws of a ping-pong championship. These were, as point of fact, extremely intense and increasingly entertaining, as one of the guys in the house, Soup, managed a fake ID, which managed to arm the tourney with a case of Schlitz. Sophomores in college with six or seven beers in them swatting at a blurry white speck should be nationally televised on ESPN 2.

After the Wimbledon of ping-pong tourneys where I fell early, but spent the rest of the night drinking and offering color commentary, and then later color vomitary, the men and women of the pens invited me down for yet another Baccinal.

I was the youngest in this crowd, so many were experienced in the art of massive parties in the tradition of seventies collegiate comedies. In general, these soiree’s ended with general nudity, meaning all party goers required to strip down and be photographed with only kitchen appliances to cover up the sensitive spots. Then later, something was set on fire. Couch, chair, speakers, a captured pledge from the reviled Fraternities, it didn’t really matter so long as there was a bon fire, gorram it!

With so much Schlitz washing around in my cranium like tides of acid, I wasn’t exactly looking to start slamming the expected Nectar of Shai Tan, a devious and destructive mix of vodka, fruit, Kool-Aid, and grain alcohol. One glass was usually enough to drive even the most experienced of drinkers to rumble and shake like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club.

With the usual levels of insanity going on around me, and the venom of nights past trickling around my brain, I wandered up to the wet bar, to assemble my distraction.

In so many places like this, not having a drink in your hand is a cardinal sin, especially to those who have had at least a dozen fly through their mitts. Peer pressure be damned, sometimes you want to hang out with these people, even if they are intent on recruiting a new member to the inebriation cult. The best defense is drinking, but doing it sneakily.

I poured myself a shot of whiskey on the rocks. The biggest Bud guzzler on the planet still respects the whiskey. It is a force not to be trifled with, even by those who have mastered the ways of the beer bong.

“What are you drinking?”

“Whiskey.”

“Oh…”

There are a few rouges who would dare you to shoot it up, and shoot it quick, but in general, most can’t stand the taste, and are slightly impressed by someone who takes it in with calm collected countenance.

This is not to say that I have that, but my taste buds have dulled to the sting of Jameson over time, that I can at least fake it, keeping the contractions of my belly to myself as the party goers raise their glasses.

With a sweating glass in my palm, I can nurse away nearly two hours on the same shot, given I move around the party enough, convincing people as I go…

“No, just got a fresh one.”

At the end of a six-hour party where someone actually suggested a game of strip Monopoly, with clothing being the only monetary unit, I had only two drinks, and my head thanked me for it. (I have no explanation for the whole Monopoly thing, and after reading a few of the improvised Chance cards, I begged off quickly, curling into a ball and hanging onto a lamp beside my chair should someone get the idea to make me the Top Hat.)

By the end of the evening the floor looked like the beaches of Normandy. Lushes slunk from couches and chairs, smothering the ground. As the clock rang four thirty, we all began to make our way home.

I had ten quiet blocks to walk, as I was and have forever been without car. I failed my driver’s test a couple times, and eventually gave up, seeing as I lived in towns where my feet or public transportation could get me just about anywhere. I liked the quiet walk home after melees like this. The storm brewed, the hatches were battoned and now came the reflection and general guilt that came with a premature walk of shame.

But I drove home that night.

One of my friends, moving with the determination of a Weeble-Wobble, announced with town-crier-like amplitude that she was getting her car back to her dorm, no matter what.

“I gotta work tomorrow. I gotta get up, and I gotta drive, and I’m not gonna drive if I don’t have a car. So I’m going to drive.”

A taxi was offered, and an escort, but “I gotta drive.”
Being the only one near enough to sobriety to wave to it across the street while getting my morning paper, I shoved the bundle of booze into the passenger seat and snatched the keys out of her hands.

Tales of my liecencelessness had traveled far and wide, so this caused quite a stir. The whole family packed the driver’s side window, giving distinct and definite directions on the means to drive the thirty blocks back to her place. I nodded and took in each well-meaning piece of advice, trying to cobble them into a strategy…all of which was lost as soon as the key turned in the ignition. I was nervous to the point that my bowels grumbled at the same frequency as the engine.

This was a college town, and this was a Saturday night. Simply looking like an under-graduate was reasonable cause for most cops to pull you over. On one evening with a sober driver behind the wheel, we were stopped three times, without breaking a traffic law that any of us could see. Drive too fast, and they pull you over. Drive too slowly, and they pull you over. Drive exactly at the speed limit, and you have about a fifty fifty shot of not going to jail.

With what was starting to look, and certainly sounded like Walter Mondale sitting beside me, I took off to the cheers of my compatriots and started navigating my way through the night. I stopped at the appropriate signs and lights, and signaled with vigilance. All was going well, as I pulled onto the main drag atop a hill. Below, at the very trough, was her dorm.

The hill was famous. Steep and straight, the cops loved to station a man beside the hill armed with a speed gun and a walkie-talkie. The limit listed was twenty-five miles per hour, because obviously no one on the city council has ever driven down a fifty-degree slope. Had you pushed a car from a dead stop from the top, it would have hit fifty at least at the bottom. You had to keep right to twenty-five, breaking as you go, without jerking, or else they nailed you. This was my final exam for the evening.

Pulling up to the light atop the mountain, with two drivers stationed behind me, my fingers knotted over the wheel. I peered down, looking for some reflection, some give away that the 5-0 was stationed and ready. My ankle extended all the way down, clenching the brake in position. I waited for the light to turn.

And then the passenger door opened.

Woke suddenly from my trance, I turned to see my cargo tossing what looked like the remains of a Thanksgiving dinner all over the road.

“What the fuck are you doing?!”

“I can’t puke in my car!” The words sputtered out over chunks of vomit. “My pretty little car.”

The seat belt barely held me in my seat, as I reached around and wrenched her by her sweater back into the car.

“You’re sure as hell going to puke in your car, when it’s five in the morning and the driver behind the her wheel doesn’t have a license, while he’s on the most trafficked fucking drag in the entire town. Bend over and fuck up your shoes, but you keep your arms and legs inside this…”

The light changed and I tapped the car into motion.

Over the groans of a happy little camper, my eyes darted from the speedometer to the road, holding constant at exactly twenty-five down the road. The radio was silent, and so were the cars behind me, despite the show they’d just witnessed. As my front wheels hit the plateau, I waited, looking for the black and whites, which usually picked you up just as you hit bottom. No lights. No sirens. Just groaning. The parking lot of her dorm called.

I nearly loaded my mistress into one of the dollies in the common room the university provides to help move in at the beginning of the year, and then doesn’t quite know what to do with. I turned the keys in her lock and deposited her on the bed. With the get-well pack of water, bread and “something with Johnny Depp in it,” I left her half asleep.

It took me about an hour to walk home. I hummed and sang to myself as I passed an angry driver who got pulled over at the bottom of the hill. I smoked a dozen cigarettes to calm my hands before strutting through my front door.

“Yo, John! Where the fuck you been? We got the finals of ping-pong downstairs!”

“Wimbledon was yesterday, and it’s nearly six in the morning.”

“Well tonight was the U.S. Open and we had a bunch of tie breaks. Get your little ass down here.”

These are the days I miss.

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