Friday, April 12, 2013

The Worst: The Program

[This series of stories explores some of my more embarrassing achievements in the category of "drunken fail". And in every fail in life, there's an ounce of naivety, a pinch of redemption, and a bucket of lessons learned.]

When you’re a senior in high school, you think you’re prepared for everything. It’s not that you think you know everything—you’re overly aware that you don’t know everything. From the first bell of the school year on, you’re sliding towards a cliff called “graduation”. And over that precipice is college: a swirling sea of teachers who know what they’re talking about, classmates who know the answers, and girls who know what orgasms are. But regardless of all that you know you don’t know, you know you’re prepared to jump headfirst into that new, unknown world.

One thing I didn't know was booze. (Yeah…let that one sink in for a moment.) I really wasn’t much of a drinker in high school…in that I didn't drink anything. Ever. Sure, I had the occasional half a beer that an older cousin slipped to me at a family reunion, cup of champagne on New Year’s Eve, or few ounces of crème de menthe to sip when Mom was having a nightcap and feeling lenient. But hanging out in the woods pounding cheap beers bought with a fake ID? That wasn’t me.

Then, in the winter of my senior year, college coaches began taking an interest in seeing me line up for their defenses, and thus started inviting me to spend time on their campuses. When a recruit visits a college, he's assigned a host—a member of the team who acts as a guide through this amazing world of liberties. And a host has one job: Make sure the recruit has as much fun as he can have without dying.

Now, if you’re a blue chip prospect being recruited by a D-I school, there are seemingly endless options available for what the word “fun” can mean. But the schools interested in me were D-II at best. The quality and amount of amenities drops significantly with each “I” you add after that dash.

One Saturday morning that January, my mom dropped me off at Washington & Jefferson College. W&J was D-III; by the time you get down to the third “I”, the only real indulgence available in attractive, abundant quantities is booze. Today, that sounds like heaven. 16 years ago, it sounded like trouble.

My host was “Varsity”. Varsity had been the starting quarterback for my high school’s team when I was a freshman. Of course, back in those days we had been a run-heavy offense; in college, therefore, Varsity was a punter. I tried to bust his balls about this while we caught up, but he pointed out that he spent all practice kicking and rarely running, spent games not getting hit, and then spent Saturday nights celebrating wins at the same parties as the rest of the team and—this being D-III—boning girls of the same quality that any other starter was boning. I had nothing in response, and silently vowed to follow his every word like gospel from there on out.

After meetings with coaches and watching part of a wrestling match in the gym, we headed back to Varsity’s dorm room. He was in a fraternity—the prototypical “football frat” on campus. The sound of loud music and the smell of stale beer greeted you from the muddy hallways, as guys still reeking of the previous night’s parties and sexual conquests moved from room to room. Varsity’s roommate was the team’s starting center, a 6’2” block of muscles. “Block” was twice the size of the kids I’d tossed around in high school games, a big ol’ country boy with a dip in his mouth, a hungover grin on his face, and a handshake that almost dislocated my shoulder. Yeah, college was going to be different.

Being a strapping young lad of nearly 18 years, the most prominent thought on my mind in every second of every minute was girls. Varsity, his frat brothers, and other members of the football team all painted the picture of drunk, immoral slores who treated parties like the dick aisle in a supermarket. The abundance of willing females, it seems, was never in question at W&J.

…No, what was in short supply, was physical beauty. In a school of only 1300 students, there were only so many hot girls to go around, and the odds of bedding one were in no man’s favor. And so, when it came to drunken hookups, lowered expectations were the name of the game.

I was learning so much, and this was only my recruiting trip.

To illustrate this concept, at dinner they pointed out “Hulkamania” from across the cafeteria. [Note: This was really one of her nicknames, but it wasn’t actually born until the following September, when one of my friends—a fellow freshman on the team—hooked up with her. During their encounter, she ripped open her own tank top, reminiscent of the old Hulk Hogan move.] She was a sophomore sorority girl who had the build of a pulling guard. She was always a booty call away any time of day, and had already put together quite an impressive resume after only a year and a half of college. Several of the guys on the team, in fact, had been down that (well-trodden) path. I shuddered at the thought.

After dinner we got ready for the night’s parties. Now let’s stop to take in this full picture:
  • I was 17-going-on-18;
  • I was not a drinker;
  • I was about to spend a Saturday night partying with members of the W&J football team;
  • …who also happened to be members of the school’s rowdiest and most notorious frat.
I mean, even if you’re drinking along with me as you read this and have already forgotten the story’s title, you’ve still got to be thinking, “Holy shitballs—this will end up in a bad place...”

There’s no slowroll when you’re drinking at W&J. That’s a casual, understood truth for me now, but I was utterly ignorant to it on that January evening. The second a can or bottle is opened, it’s “go time”; whether it be the last night of Carnival, or a random night when you’re babysitting a naïve high school kid.

Pregaming at Washington & Jefferson is equivalent to the two minute drill at a lesser drinking school. A case of beer found its way into the room…somehow. I’m sure I knew of its origin at some point, but not anymore. We cracked open cans of Beast, and my temporary guardians were throwing them back with little care about anything else in the world. I was sipping, they were gulping.

Their boy George joined us, and we began playing “Caps”. The fact that they had a stash of beer bottle caps saved specifically for this pastime unnerved me, slightly—especially since I had never played this game (or any, really) before. I was seated across the floor from Block; as the first bottle cap was about to fly through the air, they informed me that he was the best player in the frat. Maybe even the best at W&J. I might’ve gotten “Wha—” out of my mouth before a cap landed in my cup.

I was told I had to chug.

*in my head*
“This just doesn’t seem fair. I’m new to this shit. Maybe I should say
Another hit for Block. Another chug for me. Another can of Beast.
“I mean, I can handle this shit. Fuck that, I’ve gotta be a man! Who
are they—”
Another hit. Another chug.
“Fuck! This dude doesn’t miss! Was this one of his daily chores on
the farm where he grew—”
Hit. Chug. New can.
“I…what was I thinking about before?”
Varsity: “You okay?”
Me: “Yeah, I’m cool.”
“You’re NOT cool, dick! You—”
Hit. Chug.
“Make this stop, NOW! How fucking stupid—”
Hit. Chug. New can.
“I…whew…did the room suddenly get spinny?”
Hit. Chug.
“Thas a lots beer...”
Varsity: “How you feelin’?”
Me: “I—”

The vomit hit my shirt before I knew what had happened.

Here’s where I learned something important, though. You see, as an inexperienced kid surrounded by men, you expect a moment of weakness such as that to be met with disapproval, and for shame to be cast upon you. …And it is. But you also expect them to ostracize you, and to alienate you for the rest of the night—if not for the rest of their lives. Instead, those men chuckle at the destruction they’ve brought about and crack open more beers; then Block grabs you a t-shirt out of his closet, Varsity gets you some mouthwash, and you all head out to the quads to start the night’s partying in earnest.

Welcome to adulthood.

We stepped out into a cold night that pulsated with music and a lack of worry. Varsity kept me near his side, so as to prevent me from careening into any real trouble. But he threw everything he could at me full force.

I remember being introduced to girls at parties. Lots of them. At every party. I remember dancing with some. I remember never not having a cup or can in my hand. I remember stumbling back and forth and back again through a maze of sidewalks leading from one fraternity house to another, finally ending up at the Kappa Sig house.

I remember a guy onstage inviting people to chug beers with live goldfish in them. I remember telling Varsity there was no way in hell he was getting me up on that stage, and then watching him shrug his shoulders, go up himself, and down a goldfish. I remember finding myself behind the bar handing out beers for a while, until a Kappa Sig saw me and stopped my bartending career before it got his house thrown off campus. And I remember calling it a night—probably around 11:30-midnight—stumbling to the frat house alone, climbing up to the bunk above Varsity’s bed, and being asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Then I remember the bed giving a slight wobble, and awaking to hear a female voice I didn’t know, accompanied by a male one I did.

Girl: *laughing* “I caaaannnn’tttt…”
Varsity: “Yes you can!”
Girl: “I’m too drunk! Can’t I just stay here?”
Varsity: “You can’t sleep here!”
Girl: “Why not?”
Varsity: “What’re you gonna do if you stay down here?”
Girl: *laughing* “What do you want me to do?...”
Varsity: “Why don’t you…”
*fade away to sounds of kissing, rustling, sucking…*

Thankfully, the alcohol had taken me again.

When I awoke the next day, my entire physical being had been shred apart. I may have had more impressive hangovers in the years since, but you always remember your first. Varsity’s visitor had since left, and he wore the carefree shame of a man willing to own his mistakes.

Varsity: “That was [Hulkamania]…”
Me: “What?!”
Varsity: “Hey…”

As I gathered my stuff, Block walked in with his typical shit-eating grin.

Block: *to Varsity* “How did your night end up?”
Varsity: “What?”
Block: “I brought her back here for him *points at me*…”
Me: “Wait—WHAT?!”
Block: “…but she was too drunk and fat to climb up to the top bunk. So I just told her to climb into bed with [Varsity].”
Me: “Thank god!”
Varsity: “I was wondering where the hell she came from…”

Is it any wonder I enrolled the following summer?

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