The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done

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Disclaimer:  I actually didn’t do any of the illegal things described below because those illegal things are illegal and I’m a law abiding guy.  This isn’t a confession to crimes committed, just an entertaining story that totally never actually happened, okay?

Freshman year of college, I was walking home from a 6pm-9pm class one night.  The sun had already set and being the invincible still-teenager that I was, I made sure to take all of the darkest, sketchiest alleyways to get back to my dorm.  This was, after all, nearly a full year before I was robbed at gun point.

Lurking in the shadow of the Counseling building that was just yards away from my dorm community were two figures, a guy and a girl.  Rather than assuming they were up to no good, I decided I would ask them what they were trying to accomplish in such a poorly lit spot.  When they both nearly jumped out of their skin, well, then I assumed they were up to no good.

He was a typical fratty guy in a polo with too much gel in his hair.

Busty doesn’t adequately describe her.  I think I vaguely remember that she had a pretty face, but it wasn’t something that I noticed until we became Facebook friends.  It’s a miracle I didn’t keel over from a boob overdose right then and there.  When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration runs through the entire alphabet when naming hurricanes in one season, they resort to the greek alphabet.  I suppose she had Omega cups.

I’m not the type of guy who goes on and on about this stuff anymore, but I was back then and this story takes place in the past, so humor me when I detail how enamored I was with her knockers.  Guys of a certain age just aren’t that smart, okay?

It’s a miracle they didn’t throw the Earth off its axis and send us spiraling into the sun.

The teenage male's mind devotes an inordinate amount of memory to encounters with boobs.

Seriously, I’m done talking about this girl’s breasts now.

As I said, the guy seemed to be a Fraternity-type so with his fake swagger cranked up to eleven, he emerged from between two maintenance golf carts in the darkness to share with me an intriguing fact that was whispered to him.  He didn’t say by whom.

Our tiny, dorm-community mailbox keys were rumored to be capable of cranking up the maintenance golf carts.

I asked him if he had any luck and he said that he hadn’t tried before I came up on him and started asking questions.  I laughed at how ridiculous this all sounded and went on my merry way.

A few beers into the post-LOST festivities that night, I recounted the bizarre encounter to my compatriots.  The consensus was universal.  We had to test this theory.  It probably wasn’t true, but we had to know.  “No, no,” I told them.  They handed me another beer, then another, then another.  After I emptied the bottles into my belly, the conversation returned to this topic.  “No, no,” I repeated, but by now the dissent was laced with drunken chuckles.  More beers were handed to me and I consumed them.

The next time this rumor came up, the conversation was different:

“How many beers do you need to drink before you are willing to try this, Brantley?”

“At least ten.”

The Empty Bottle (EB) is the international measurement of bad ideas.

It wasn’t long before ten of the empty bottles that crowded every open surface in my dorm were accounted for by me.

Without much fuss leading up to my ruling this time, I informed them:  “Maybe like two more.”

After a dozen beers, I found myself standing back as I watched a handful of friends no more sober than myself fumbling with the golf cart ignitions in the dark.  Somehow, someway, my liver manned up enough that I was still the most prudent of the group.

This is how I ended up in the rear-facing back seat instead of driving, because

IT.

FREAKING.

WORKED.

Drunken courage and disregard for rules doesn’t equal coordination or control of your body, so two golf carts swerved all freaking over campus that night.  At one point, our driver took a turn as tight as he could.  The blonde, burnout girl sitting next to me on the back seat of the cart quit being on the back seat of the cart after succumbing to inertia.  She tumbled through the grass as she was thrown off.  It was almost the hardest I’ve ever laughed in my entire life.

Drunken courage plus disregard for rules does not equal hand-eye coordination or basic motor function.

But then she was crying.  She scraped her hands and hurt her ankle.  Or knee.  I don’t remember because I was twelve beers into the night so my retention reserved itself for the inebriated joy of the wind in my hair as we tore through the night air in those stolen vehicles.  Regardless of which joint she hurt, it killed the night and we brought the golf carts back to where we stole them from and went back up to my room to hang out for a bit more before parting ways to sleep it all off.

It wasn’t an isolated occurrence and it wasn’t a secret that we kept very well.  It required boasting.  A lot of it.

We stole those golf carts probably two or three more times.  Each theft required a prerequisite game of “How many beers does Brantley need before this becomes a good idea?”  There was a bit of a sliding scale, but usually the magic number fell between 10 EB and 12 EB.

One night, we didn’t exactly return them in one piece.  A FedEx drop off mailbox leaped into the path of our cart and we couldn’t swerve (or stop swerving probably) in time to avoid it.  We crashed into that big metal box and knocked it about five feet from where it was bolted into the freaking cement.  We were cautious enough to only allow ourselves about 45 seconds of uninhibited laughter before we got the hell out of there before we found out exactly what the consequences of all of this would be.

Eventually we did find out exactly what the consequences of all of this would be.  It’s a total miracle that it wasn’t the hard way.  The rumors that circled the community took on a new tone.

The Fraternity-type and his enormously chesty girlfriend were caught on a stolen golf cart.  Campus police threw the book at them.  Both were hit with Grand Theft Auto.  Fratty-Polo guy was driving, so he got a complimentary DUI with it.

Learning from someone else's mistakes trumps felonies every time.

Looking back on all of this, these rumors were probably living up to the reputation of rumors.  Legendary things become legends pretty easily when drunken coeds are involved.  Stories that are passed around orally by people who only half-remember them evolve over time and truth  fades away into obscurity as the tales morph into outright lies.

Half-remembered stories orally passed around evolve over time, and truth fades away into obscurity as tales morph into outright lies.

The basis of this particular gossip seems believable enough though, even now.  We never stole golf carts again after that.

Moments of terrible judgement form the core of many great stories.

Oh yeah, like I said, this never happened.  I didn’t do any of this.  It’s illegal.

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Glass Mice and Burning Hair

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Kyle was a short, round fellow with an enormous personality and a voice fit to broadcast it.  We went to high school together and knew of each other but rarely interacted.  He transferred from the local Catholic (private) school and we had a few classes together.  The few times I ever spoke to him he seemed like a nice enough guy.

In college, he was one of those acquaintances that I desperately tried to connect with.  He was a piece of home, someone familiar to help me transition into my new surroundings.  We didn’t have anything in common, other than Pensacola, but he humored me on this and I’m sure that my sudden interest in friendship seemed bizarre and phony.

Kyle was one of the few people that I ever smoked with in college.  I won’t say what we smoked, just that we put it in a glass pipe that was shaped like a mouse.  Unfortunately many people in my life found this novelty hard to pass up, so I was very familiar with this type of apparatus.  The bowl was on top, just level with my crappy long hair when it hung down as I hunched over the damn thing pretending to know what I was doing.  For some reason, every time someone with a mouse pipe invited me over to smoke, it always ended up smelling like burnt hair.

Sometimes when you try too hard to look like you know what you're doing, you accidentally set yourself on fire.

On one of the rare nights when I went to Kyle’s side of campus to hang out, he invited me into his apartment where he pointed to an upside down red solo cup on his nightstand.  It was his ingenious hiding spot for his stash of totally-legal-stuff-that-people-smoke.  Underneath a cup.  On the nightstand.  Immediately when you walk through the door to his apartment.  I thought it was so obvious that it was unobvious or something paradoxical like that, but now I know that I was just trying too hard to think that it was a great idea.

Since we were smoking inside, he MacGuyvered a gizmo using a rubber band, paper towel roll, and some dryer sheets.  I’m sure some readers know just how effective this device is for eliminating the smell of smoke (but not burning hair).

Stoners are some of the most inventive, resourceful people on the entire planet.

For those keeping track, it was Kyle who invited me to the party where I met Andrea.  That was probably the only other time that I hung out with him.

I honestly don’t remember whether it was in high school or college, but one day Kyle’s origin story made its way around to me.

This short, round fellow with an enormous personality and a voice fit to broadcast it pulled a knife on another student at the Catholic school.  He didn’t transfer from a private school – he was expelled.  I have no idea the specifics of the circumstance in which the incident occurred, only that this revelation was the precursor for a feeling of Deja Vu that was waiting for me the following semester.

Vomiting Friendship on Familiar Faces

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With a few weeks of classes in my second semester of college under my belt, I began to notice some familiar faces in each of my three entry-level film courses.  As we got a general idea of the curriculum for the classes, I used the guise of study group/homework help to con several individuals into social engagement.  I figured it would be worth the time to pretend to be a social learner, even though I’ve never gotten much out of studying with another person.

My heartbeat was racing and my pit stains threatened to breach my flannel jacket as I approached a girl with short hair, black rimmed glasses, and a tiny nose piercing.  “You’re in three of my classes.  We should be friends,” I gasped, hoping that a dainty handshake would suffice because if this girl was a hugger she would definitely have felt the anxiety soaking through my coat.  In addition to spitting the words violently in her direction, I must have put enough force behind the introduction to broadcast it to everyone in the vicinity, because the awkward exchange drew the attention of others nearby.  Capitalizing on the attention, I picked up a few more introductions and phone numbers.

It isn't uncommon to accidentally shout when you're afraid of your words.

Only two of these were of any note.  The girl’s name was Elle (not really, but see the About page for elaboration on that), and through her I would meet some of my closest friends of that semester.  She seemed shy enough at first, but really she was a social butterfly with that extraverted compulsion to always be doing something entertaining with someone.  She was almost like another OJ.  Our ensuing friendship would reach very high peaks before crashing and burning, but that’s something that I will be peppering throughout future blog posts just to make sure everyone is still paying attention.

The second was Jay (again, see the About page on why this guy’s name wasn’t really Jay).  In addition to being a nice guy with cool taste in movies and a great professional attitude, Jay was roommates with one of Ben’s friends from back home.  In the following months, I would discover that Ben had been sleeping on a couch at Jay’s dorm on campus, hence his total absence from my life and the ping pong table that I used to fill the void he left.

It was the most aggressive I had been about making friends since arriving in Orlando.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was pretty effective.  Just the triumph of putting myself out there and having friends to show for it ramped up my confidence for the rest of the semester.

Meeting people can be extremely uncomfortable, but it isn’t all that hard.  You just have to stop giving a crap about what they think.  If you put yourself out there and they like you, then that first impression wasn’t as bad as you thought.  If they reject you, then they won’t be around in your life enough for it to ever really matter.

Most people who put too much weight in first impressions are too shallow to be worth your time.

The experience was one that I mirrored countless other times over the course of that semester until I got out of my shell enough to figure out just who the hell I really am deep down inside.

These two relationships led to bigger things in the form of dozens of new friends, consistent weekend plans, heartbreak and the discovery of self-worth, and most importantly, a short-film titled, “Evil Beer.”

Television Addiction: A Great Way to Make Friends – TBT

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Over the month-long semester break between Fall and Spring, I watched as my friends back home developed an all-consuming addiction that chewed up entire days and nights of their lives.

They discovered LOST, one of the greatest TV shows of all time ever.  At the time, ABC had every single episode on their website, where you could watch as many as you could stomach interrupted only momentarily by 15-30 second ads dispersed amongst each episode in about five places.

They lost themselves in it and they didn’t offer to take me along with them.  I would come over to a friend’s house, and there they were, huddled around a screen in a dark room, flailing violently in response to enigmatic plot twists as if they had completely lost control of their limbs.

The best plot twists have a devastating effect on the central nervous system.

Some nights I would pepper them with pesky questions about what was going on in the show.  “I thought their plane crashed on an island and they were castaways.  Why is there a cloud of smoke that is murdering people?”  “Why is he having sex with her?  I thought they were brother and sister.”  “You’ve already seen this.  What’s in the damn hatch?”

I tried so hard to stay away.  I told myself it would never be me, but then the teasers for Season 4 began airing.  The survivors were going to be rescued!

In January of 2008, I tried watching LOST for the first time.  I was immediately addicted.  Every spare minute of every day I spent in front of my computer.  I had to catch up before the next season began!

Homework fell by the wayside.  New Year’s Resolutions of getting out of my dorm room and making new friends were forgotten.  LOST had taken over my heart and soul.

Binge-watching will be the downfall of civilization.

I’m not proud to say that the addiction was cut off cold-turkey.  It wasn’t a decision of my own.  I just ran out of the stuff.  I had to wait until season 4 was aired, one episode per week.  Three seasons of 20+ episodes each and I had managed to chew through them in less than two weeks.

With my LOST addiction no longer occupying so much of my time, I actually did get around to that homework and friend-making.

LOST was moved to Thursday nights.  My Spring schedule gave me Fridays off from class.  I had a beer pong table, a fridge full of cheap beer, and an amazing TV show to celebrate my three-day weekends.  It was perfect.

It became a ritual for my new found friends, even ones who didn’t watch the show (they were put in the corner and shushed when they asked questions about what the hell was happening).  When those white letters popped onto the black background with a triumphant horn and percussion combination signaling the conclusion of that week’s episode, we would explode into speculation as we returned the couches to the common room and unfolded the ping pong table.

Arts and entertainment have tremendous power to bring people together.

Beyond just the incredible, intricate, philosophical journey that LOST took me on, it also served as an inauguration for weekends of binge drinking and getting out of my shell to make friends.  It wasn’t just a profound narrative experience, it was a big part of growing up for me.  For that reason, I will always hold the show dearly in my heart.

Do you have any TV shows or movies that you associate with important periods in your life?

10 Hammered Miles – TBT

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In honor of the marathon I will be running this weekend (my second), I figured I would share one of my odder encounters during college – and that’s saying something.  

It was senior year and I was training for my first ever half-marathon.  Things were going fairly well with the training, which involved routine runs just across the street from UCF’s campus.

I was in the home-stretch of a routine 5 mile run when I noticed a guy jogging on the other side of the road, which was grass rather than sidewalk.  It was two lanes each way with a large median between, so I had to squint to confirm that this college student in beast mode was running barefoot like a boss.  Beyond his sturdy feet, which I’m sure possessed Hobbit-like resiliency, he impressed me with his pace as he pulled out further and further ahead of me.  I wasn’t racing him by any means, so I let him fade into the sunset with no further concern.

When I caught up to him again, he was doubled over puking.  I was nearing the end of my run and I had half a bottle of water left, so being the good samaritan that I am, I crossed the road to check on him.

They say that humans are about 60% water.  Well this fellow was 60% vodka instead, so I suppose he wasn’t a human at all.  I asked him if he was alright and he was still drunk enough to insist that he was, but he accepted the water anyways and thanked me.  As we walked away, he told me about his fun day drinking at the pool on campus with the bros.  Several yards away from the vomit, I began to suspect that his sweat, breath, and skin were a stomach-churning 150 proof based on the Pig-Pen like cloud that he seemed to be living in.  I couldn’t help but picture him dissolving into a puddle of Skol lighter fluid like that Senator in the first X-Men movie.

x-men melting senator

But he felt bad about cutting my run short, so with all of the pleasantries out of the way, we started jogging again.  Seeing as how he would probably be dead from dehydration pretty soon, I let him set the pace.  We were going slow enough for me to carry on a conversation with him, which back then meant that we were running slightly faster than the ground beneath our feet.

“I’m jogging home!” he announced to me.  My own house was coming up soon, so I wondered if he lived in my neighborhood.  He didn’t.  Instead, he lived off of Dean Road.

I don’t expect that to mean anything to you, so allow me to explain.

That’s like 5 miles away, running along one super busy road, crossing it, running down another super busy road, crossing that one, all the while hoping that the soles of your bare feet are pale enough to persuade the insane drivers of Orlando not to splatter you into Jello shots with their cars.

jogging to dean road

He was drunk enough that I didn’t mind stating the obvious, “That’s a long way, man.  Were you planning on running that?”

“Yeah dude.  It’s fine.  I’ve run like 10 miles before and I was even drunker than this.”*

“Do you want me to call someone to pick you up?”

“Nah dude.  I lost my phone at the pool.”*

“I could call you a cab.”

“It’s cool man.  I’ll just run.”*

* I’m assuming this is what he was trying to say, but he was a once-in-a-generation talent at slurred words so I’m not 100% sure.

I didn’t know this guy well enough to get aggressive about his intoxicated well-being, so I stuck to my manners.

“Well, this is my neighborhood.  You should at least swing by and let me give you a bottle of water or something.”

He thought that was a cool idea, so soon we found ourselves in my kitchen.  He was throwing back glasses of water like it was the saddest happy hour in the world.

With his Vodka Body Mass Index or VBMI (if this isn’t a real thing, it should be) down in the 55-58% range, he decided to take me up on the offer to use my phone.  Luckily for him, a phone number was accessible to his brain through the haze of a black out drunkenness.  Unluckily for him, that number belonged to his boss.  He left a strange voice message.  It sounded like one very, very, very long word.

I asked if he wanted to try again, and the liquor figured it wouldn’t be worthwhile.  I didn’t have money to call him a cab, but I offered anyway.  He declined, seeing as how his wallet was with his phone, probably off somewhere planning an intervention for him.

I offered to drive him home if he promised not to puke in my car.  Being the stand up guy that he apparently was, he refused to make a promise he couldn’t keep.

With an abundance of “Tankyuuzz,” “Thansssmanns,” and “Baies,” and the bottle of water that I gave him, he staggered up the street, out of my neighborhood, and out into the world again.

His boss’s number was in my phone, so I called and left a voicemail in English.  He never called back though.

Seeing as how I read local newspapers religiously the following week and found no article about a human-shaped vodka vessel being hit by a car, I have no idea what happened to him.  I have to assume that he made it, whether it was that night or the next morning after he woke up in the bushes and then continued drunk-running home.

I feel pretty confident that nothing bad happened to him, because local news in Orlando lets us know anytime anything bad ever happens to anybody in Central Florida in the most terrifying fashion imaginable.  That is, of course, between our Casey Anthonys and George Zimmermans.

I told this story to some friends when we were tailgating a couple months ago.  The general consensus was, “You’re a much better person than I am.  I would have given up on that guy way sooner than you did.”

I guess that’s a good thing.

My Decision to Quit Being a Teenage Boy and Start Being an Actual Human Being – New Year’s Resolution TBT

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Towards the end of my first semester of college, I looked over the desolate wasteland that was my social life and came to an important realization:  Maybe I would have more friends if I wasn’t such a dick.

It's easier to make friends when you aren't a horrible human being.

I want to believe that it’s in my nature to be a good guy, but I was just trying so hard to be anything but that throughout high school.  I blame Maddox and The Ex-Girlfriend.

For those unfamiliar with Maddox and The Best Page in the Universe, it’s a website that has been around for probably over a decade by now (this makes me feel super old).  The author humorously shreds elements of pop culture and society in a cruel, unforgiving way.  It’s hilarious, especially to adolescent boys.  Maddox makes it cool and funny to be a jerk.  I decided I wanted to be like Maddox.

The missing part of the equation, however, is that Maddox is an anonymous guy on the internet who can revel in hate emails because he will never see those people in real life.  When you walk around the world mocking people to their face because you saw someone do it on the internet and it was funny, you don’t win any popularity contests.  Some people think it’s funny.  Most think it’s crappy and you give them no reason to believe that you are anything more than an ass hole.

So in December of 2007, I decided to quit being like that…next year.

The Ex-Girlfriend and I had an epic on-again-off-again teen romance that spanned from 8th grade sorta confusedly into high school.  She lived with her mom in Pensacola every Summer, and in Kentucky with her dad the rest of the year.  It was long distance, it was hard, it was fueled by a misguided notion that any of it was very important.  She was the first girl that I ever told, “I love you.”

In the end, the long distance killed it.  We broke up and didn’t get back together.  Months later, she moved down to Pensacola to stay year-round.  “We almost made it,” I thought.  Like any mature boy, I avoided her like the plague for as long as I could.  It was extremely conspicuous seeing as how we were both on the swim team and thus spent 3-5 hours/day together.  Eventually, things leveled out and we were cordial to each other again.

That’s when a close friend started talking to her and was cool enough to ask my permission to go out with her.  I told him yes, because I wasn’t remotely interested in getting back together with her until around ten seconds after I told him yes.

More time passed.  They broke up.  We started talking again, doing small stuff, hanging out, holding hands.  I cornered her and asked what it meant, because that’s my style:  be too afraid to say anything for a couple months, then suddenly work up the courage and make it as confrontational and uncomfortable for the other person as possible.

I wish I was joking about this, but she literally turned around and walked away.  We were at a swim meet and it was loud so I held out hope that she just didn’t hear the question.  I don’t even remember how it happened, but I think someone else told me that she did hear and she didn’t want to get back together.  We had been circling each other for like four months at this point and apparently it didn’t mean anything to her.

I was super hurt and angry, so I did the only rational thing that high school Brantley could think of:  held her transgressions against the entire female race and the concept of relationships.  The ensuing dating cold streak was unprecedented.  I wanted to be loved, but wouldn’t allow myself to love back.  That was how I got hurt and I had no intentions of ever doing that again.  Apart from a short-lived almost-something that I ruined by my refusal to dance and a short series of make out sessions with a girl that I would later abruptly stopped talking to, I didn’t have any more high school girlfriends.

And so I carried these negative attitudes with me into college, lamenting my failed fresh start despite the fact that I wasn’t committing to it by changing myself first.  With a miserable, lonely first semester behind me I vowed to let go of those bad feelings and negative habits in 2008.

I actually carried through with it too.  I started by sending a Facebook message to The Ex-Girlfriend apologizing for everything that I ever did wrong and for holding so much against her.  She wrote back and we forgave each other.  In the same fashion as the rest of the overblown relationship, her forgiveness meant everything to me.

Apologies and forgiveness are two of the strongest medicines ever invented by mankind.

With that monkey off my back, I was confident enough to meet new people.  I was a nice, decent human being to them and they liked me for that.  People started to think of me as a nice guy, even people that I had known me in those dark days of high school.

New Year’s Resolutions can be silly, frivolous things that we abandon by mid-February, but they can also be an excuse to make profound life changes that make you a better person inside and out.  (It’s also worth noting that I lost 40 lbs. in 2008).

New Year's resolutions can be silly and frivolous and easily abandoned, but they can also be profound life changes

Disclaimer:  I don’t actually blame Maddox.  He has every right to do his thing, and he does it very well.  I blame my silly teenage self for thinking that it would be a good idea to mimic such harsh negativity because I thought it would make me a cool kid.

Another Disclaimer:  I also don’t blame The Ex-Girlfriend.  She wasn’t perfect by any means, but the majority of the damage was self-inflicted.

For the most part, people can only screw you up as much as you let them.

Baker Act Pat – TBT

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As a popular destination for people in my dorm community with a hankering for beer pong, my room began seeing very heavy traffic each weekend.  Some nights, new faces were more common than familiar ones, especially with the parade of strangers that OJ ushered through my door.

One particular weekend, a broad framed and slightly portly fellow from up north named Pat joined us.  He was quiet, but beer pong breeds instant camaraderie and as Pat’s face grew redder with each game, we boisterously projected a genial manner on the guy and he smiled more and laughed harder as the night progressed.  Pat was an easy-going guy and fun to have around, if only as another body in the room adding volume to the laughter and happiness to the sweaty drunken atmosphere.  At the time, we were always in need of beer pong opponents so that we could play with teams of two, so I felt like we found a real keeper in Pat.

He partied with us twice in one weekend.  With the populations that OJ assembled varying between the two nights, I came to realize Pat’s connection to the chain smokers in the courtyard.  He didn’t do much to shift the group dynamic with us, so I assumed he was just a quiet guy lost in the ruckus of the cigarette gang and that was why I never noticed him before.

The next weekend, OJ and I prepared to gather bodies for binge drinking.  I mentioned inviting Pat and we tried to run him down, but never got a hold of him.  This became a recurring pattern over the following weekends.  Back then, I remembered Pat’s last name and I found him on Facebook and friended him.  I asked him where he had been on his wall, but got no reply.

I asked the chain smokers if any of them had seen Pat lately.  One casually mentioned that Pat had been Baker Act-ed the past couple of weekends.  The Baker Act is a law that states that someone can be detained and observed for up to 48 hours if they are reported to be a danger to themselves or others – at least that was what I learned from my peers.  I was shocked that such a quiet, laid back guy could be locked away for something like that.  I was even more flabbergasted by the way that the smokers were laughing about it until one of them elaborated on it.

Pat had a girlfriend back home who was a drama queen and things had become quite a train wreck between them.  His psycho girlfriend’s favorite tactic was to call the cops on him after they had a fight over the phone.  She would tell the officials that he was threatening to hurt himself, and just like that, Pat would vanish for a couple of days.  “What a bitch!” I thought, finding this to be an easy explanation to believe.

Legal experts and convincing liars often look exactly alike.

When Pat returned, I only saw him and spoke with him in passing.  As he resumed his use of Facebook, some of his posts were pretty dark and brooding.  It isn’t uncommon for people to jokingly say things like, “Oh my God, it was so awful!  I just wanted to kill myself!”  Something about the way that Pat phrased those sentiments online was different though.  There was an angry edge to them, as if he genuinely disliked himself and felt that he deserved physical punishment for his inadequacies.  I searched my beer hazed memories for any sign of sadness in the big quiet guy and I thought I understood a little bit about why he was so quiet.  Maybe he didn’t want to hang out with us anymore because being around people having fun just made him feel more alone.  It was a feeling that I could have related to only a couple months before meeting OJ.

I never saw Pat again, even in passing.  I think someone told me that he moved back home.  I couldn’t comprehend the disconnect between the guy drinking beer with me and the guy who very openly desired to hurt himself.  It showed me how superficial the bond between college drinking buddies can be.  I had two very fun nights with this guy by my side, and yet I didn’t learn a single thing about who he really was.  It wasn’t real friendship, just intoxicated physical proximity around a drinking game one night.

You can drink a lot of beer with someone without learning a single thing about them.

Buying Beer from a Serial Killer – TBT

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As rumors swirled about police crackdowns on fake IDs and popular bars closed down for serving alcohol to minors (they would later reopen with new names and then continue serving alcohol to minors), I decided not to push my luck in procuring beer for LOST night one week.  By now the weekly event was familiar to many in the dorm community, so when I put out word that I needed help buying some beer, people offered advice and suggestions.

At the time, I put a lot of trust in OJ despite his propensity for bad ideas.  When he offered up a guy that he knew who could help, I was ready to jump in the car and escort the contact to the liquor store.  The first red flag, which of course I was too naive to see at the time, was the fact that we didn’t need to go to the store.  Our source had the beer in his dorm and I just had to go up and slap some cash in his hands to get it.  I asked OJ for more information on the guy, but the only real detail that I was given was the guy’s prodigious skill on the rock climbing wall.

The clock ticked closer and closer to LOST time and I became anxious about whether or not we would have any beer to put in solo cups that night.  As I happened past the courtyard where the chain smokers hung out, OJ waved me over to meet a tall, pale guy with bleached blonde hair combed over haphazardly.  I’m not really sure if he ever gave me his name or not.  All I know is that after that night, we always referred to him as Cat Burglar.

He was very economical with his words, responding to my beer inquiry with a simple, ‘Follow me.’  I was reluctant to pick up the bizarre vibes that this guy was radiating, so I obliged.  He took me to his dorm room in the building next to mine.  We climbed the stairs in silence, made our way through the common room on his floor in silence, and then entered his room in silence.

The room was sparsely populated.  His bed had a fitted sheet with the other sheet for cover.  There was no comforter.  His belongings must have all been put away and organized, because I didn’t see much of anything that would indicated that he actually lived in this room.  Harnesses for climbing hung on his bedpost along with a black beanie.  Unlike my abundance of space, Cat Burglar legitimately didn’t have a roommate.  He mumbled something about the guy dropping out or something, but I assumed he killed and ate his roommate or else has him locked in a trunk somewhere.  His silence was accentuated by the Rammstein that was humming from a small boom box.

“So you’re into rock climbing?”  “Yep.”  It was a grand piece of conversation.  In his own strange way, Cat Burglar was in a hurry to get the transaction over with.  From underneath his bed, he produced a lumpy blanket that had been folded strangely.  The physics of how he unrolled it perfectly are still a mystery to me, but laid out in an orderly fashion were several bottles of Bud, Bud Light, and assorted Coke Products.

I asked him where he got them, to which he responded, “I acquired them,” as if that were an adequate answer.  I ended up paying him around $1/beer, which isn’t a wonderful deal, but the guy was so off that I had to acknowledge my growing desire to get the hell out of there.

When I recounted the experience to OJ, he let me in on a secret.  Word around the campfire was that Cat Burglar used his superior climbing skills for evil.  He would scale the side of the arena and then Mission Impossible his way down to the concession stand, snagging brews before ninja-ing his way back out without leaving a trace.

Weeks later, when I saw him walking purposefully out of the dorm building wearing black shirt and pants that matched his black beanie and the climbing harness that was draped over his shoulder, I didn’t bother to say hello.  I assumed he was on a mission and didn’t want anyone to be alerted to his presence.

In case you’re wondering, this was the only time that I bought beer from this guy.

Some people are just quiet because they're awkward.  Some people are just awkward because they're serial killers.

A Mistake Wrapped in Other Mistakes: Trying My Hand at Stand-Up Comedy

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Throughout my efforts towards a film degree, I harbored nagging suspicions that upon graduation I would be truly screwed.  I came up with several hair-brained schemes to build my resume so that I would be that one-in-a-million Hollywood success story (the first from UCF since the Blair Witch Project kids made a buck or two back in the day).

As the greatest pre-writer in the world, I always succeed in over thinking absolutely everything I ever remotely consider doing and rarely follow through on it.

Even well thought out ideas can be terrible.

I knew that even if I wrote the greatest words ever to chase a cursor across word processing software, there would still be countless individuals between those letters and the big screen.  I was the only person in my corner so I knew that I had to take charge of my words in order to get them out there.

I decided to just become a stand-up comedian real quick to pass the time until the world recognized my brilliance and showered me with job offers (feel free to kick things off, Jon Stewart).  I had plenty of material to draw from and I was self-educated from hours wasted watching Comedy Central alone in my room Fall Semester.

After scripting everything that I planned on saying word for word and then reading over it a couple of times (you know, to sorta memorize it), I was almost ready to make my big debut at the crappy-sports-bar-in-the-Student-Union’s weekly open mic night.  There was just one last ingredient that I needed:  at least a pinch of self-confidence.  Luckily, I had just the recipe for that.  About an hour before showtime, I measured out 8 shots of my fancy Jim Beam bourbon into a big red plastic cup.  I topped it with Dr. Pepper and drank a big sip every time I realized how much I was nervously sweating.  I found the bottom of that cup pretty quickly.

I would have met up with some friends for a little pre-show support, but I made sure that I told absolutely no one anything at all about this because up until I finished my Dr. Bourbon, I was certain this would be an embarrassing failure.

I scuffed the side of my foot as I dragged it across the sidewalk.  I was wearing flip flops because it was January (which I have been told means something completely different in states that aren’t Florida).  That scrape probably didn’t feel very good but Jim Beam whispered that I was invincible and that it was no big deal, so I staggered onward.

Soon enough, I found myself sitting at a table next to the stage with my name on a list.  A rotation of hit-or-miss aspiring comedians warmed up the stage before me.  My bourbon really started to kick in while I waited.  The bullet points scribbled on my arm that represented my jokes weren’t making as much sense as they did when I originally wrote them.

Booze builds confidence but erodes short-term memory.

I don’t remember actually going up on the stage, but I do remember being grateful that my flannel jacket covered the ever-growing pit stains on my shirt underneath.  For the most part, I recited 20 tips for how to interact with your Pizza Delivery guy.  Literally between each one, I looked down at my forearm to try and figure out what the next smudged bullet point was.  The audience (who hadn’t been shy with their disgust at some of the previous comics) laughed at the lines that I remembered the best.  During the lines that I didn’t really remember, they would either maintain their merciful smirk from the previous joke, or just stare like I was part of the wall behind me.

The bourbon served its purpose and I made it through my 20 tips (I think).  I had an oak flavored squall brewing inside my stomach so despite my satisfaction with myself on some level, I quickly got the hell out of there.

Back in my room, I took a picture of my arm and smudged bullet points with my plastic digital camera and uploaded it to Facebook triumphantly.  Of course, I had to explain what the hell that grey stuff on my arm was, but I was still kinda proud.  It wasn’t until I was sitting in my dorm room that I realized that I had literally never spoken my jokes out loud before I got up on that stage.  My head was buzzing still, but I did manage to take away some very obvious lessons about the importance of rehearsing.

I also realized that my writing only works when delivered with care.  As I humorously captured the universal truths of crappy customer service jobs, my wit drowned in the drunken slur of my uncoordinated tongue as it struggled to remember what it was in the middle of doing.

Just to prove that I had almost zero understanding of my own body, I went for a 2.5 mile run around campus after that.  My sweat was 40 proof and my heavy breathing probably caused nearby breathalyzers to malfunction, but I did finish the long loop around campus.

After a very life-changing month of coming out of my shell, I would return to the stage to try my hand at topical comedy – I recounted a gun control debate between the College Democrats and the College Republicans (who had chosen a man too old to be in college who looked like Yosemite Sam to make their case).  Maybe it was how close I held the notecard to my face in order to read it in the dimly lit room, or maybe it was the fact that I only put 6 shots into my pre-show cocktail instead of replicating the 8 from last time, but nobody laughed.  I cut my set short, tucked my tail between my legs and suddenly realized that I had no interest in the hard work and rejection of being a performer.

I never stepped foot on that stage again, but through my cowardice I learned to respect people who submit themselves for ridicule in the name of entertaining total strangers.

Knowing what you are bad at is as useful as knowing what you are good at.

I still hope to hear my jokes spoken aloud someday, just by a performer with more skill (and a lower blood alcohol content).

My Brief, Intense Friendship with OJ

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After a midnight vow to be a better person in 2008, I returned to Orlando with a renewed optimism for making the most of my time at UCF.  With my bar tending school tuition in the bank and my escape plan in progress, I figured I didn’t have much to lose in putting myself out there more.  Even if I made an ass of myself, I would be at USC next year and I would probably never see most of these people ever again.

My nihilistic confidence was riding shotgun with me as I took a seat at the Spring Semester floor meeting with our RA Jen.  Most of the faces in the room looked familiar, but I didn’t think much of the ones that didn’t.  After all, I never really talked to these people anyways.

For those who have been following along, Ben wasn’t at this mandatory meeting.  It’s a safe bet that he never saw the flyers and posters all over our floor advertising the time and place of the gathering seeing as how to my knowledge, he hadn’t stepped foot in the building since Parent’s weekend.

At this point, not that many people on our floor hung out with each other regularly, so it was a pretty quiet meeting other than one unfamiliar, outspoken, bordering on obnoxious guy.  He wore one of those military hats that Fidel Castro was so fond of.  His jeans were baggy and more middle-school goth than stylish.  His black hoodie had holes in it.  He would introduce himself to me as ‘OJ’ after the meeting.  The short-lived legend of my Ping Pong table (which by now had been changed to a ‘beer pong table’ in the gossip) had already reached the ears of this new man on campus, and he invited himself over after the meeting to see it for himself.  Accompanying him that night was Mandy, a brash girl who had dyed her hair an unnatural shade of red.  She was more or less pretty and her creative and frequent use of profanity was a quality that I found admirable at the time.

Being in the judgement-free mindset of a 19 year old 400+ miles from home and in desperate need of friends, I volunteered the location of Ben’s beer fridge.  My guests didn’t hesitate to enjoy the beer that I brought back from Pensacola with me.  OJ and I played beer pong while Mandy sipped a weird ‘moonshine’ concoction from a plastic water bottle and sat in my fuzzy mushroom chair.  They were both from Titusville, home of John F. Kennedy Space Center for those who don’t know the state of Florida.  It was a mere 30-45 minutes northeast of UCF.  OJ had enrolled for the Spring Semester and was lucky enough to find an open dorm room, vacated by the roommate of Randy the Ladies’ man.  They were both nice enough people and even though I had yet to discover anything that I had in common with either of them, I enjoyed hanging out that night, breaking some rules and playing beer pong on the table that I had hoped would attract friends.

On a side note, when I questioned the contents of Mandy’s water bottle, she explained to me that it was ‘Apple Pie Moonshine.’  When I tried a sip, my teeth hurt for two days afterwards.  The burning harshness of the moonshine was erased by the Paula Dean-esque quantities of sugar that made the liquid murky.  The cinnamon was equally intense, but an Altoids addiction had thickened my tolerance so I found that part quite enjoyable.

We hung out in OJ’s room for a while after beer pong.  Mandy salaciously talked about what she wanted to do to Randy the Ladies’ Man that night, seeing as how she was already in the same room.  Mandy was either very easy, or at least wanted everyone to think that she was.  In college, this is a popular state of being for girls.

Sometimes girls who seem easy are just pretending

OJ was more outgoing than his social skills warranted.  It was an uncomfortable fulfillment of my wish for friends to gravitate to me.  His friendship was forceful and unyielding and he was a mainstay in my daily life for the next several months.  It brought me out of my shell, convinced me to drink too much, and led to more friendships with people I had nothing in common with.  Strangers began showing up in my room enthusiastically petitioning me for a night of beer pong.  OJ always accompanied them and I always obliged.

I befriended a gang of chain smokers that hung out in a black tar cloud in the courtyard between the dorm buildings.  They were as brash and mischievous as OJ.  Despite the horrendous effects of smoke on my allergies, I always stopped and chatted with them on the way to and from my dorm.

My drinking increased in frequency and quantity and my social life began bordering on exhaustion.  When OJ started hitting on a tall blonde with a masculine chin who lived in our dorms, I was drafted almost daily to accompany him to visit her at Panera bread.  At the time, my understanding of biology led me to believe that I needed all 10 of my daily hours of sleep as well as the frequent afternoon naps that became a mainstay in my schedule.  When OJ’s Panera excursions encroached upon my siestas, our friendship hit a tipping point.

Friends come and go.  Naps will always be there for you.

By this time, I had branched out well beyond the chain smokers and strangers that OJ brought to my door each week.  I had found friends that actually almost had common interests and talking to them was so much easier than choking down cigarette smoke, so I was hanging out with OJ less and less.

Friendship shouldn't be hazardous to your health

When he left for Summer and I stayed behind, I only spoke with him on two more instances.  He called me in the middle of the night once to tell me that George Carlin had died.  That was one of our few common appreciations, though his fanaticism for the comedian exponentially dwarfed my own.  Fall semester of Sophomore year, I met him in the courtyard of my dorm to hear some of the new jokes he was preparing for his stand up routine.  He tried to mimic Carlin’s style but went overboard and ended up with some Sarah Silverman style duds that were 100% offensive and 0% funny.  I was as courteous as I could be, but I don’t doubt that he felt the cold shoulder.  I never saw him again after that night.

It wasn’t the lifelong friendship that I saw in the movies (and OJ certainly won’t be a groomsman as my wedding), but it was a defining relationship in my college experience.  This one individual coerced me into drinking enough beer to be outgoing and friendly.  The ping pong table would have collected dust until it’s eventual demise if not for OJ.  Sometimes it takes someone obnoxious to just force you out of your shell.  Even if you aren’t sure whether or not you like that person, I promise you, it’s worth letting them drink your beer.

Sometimes obnoxious people are necessary to get you out of your shell.