Wednesday, August 19, 1992

a lot of damn holes

A few months ago, I was forced to make the first real decision of my adult life. It was easier than I thought it would be.

Our lease was up, so it was: Do I stay in Madison another year, dicking around aimlessly, making 6 bucks an hour and drinking away $3.50 of it? Do I acknowledge that I am truly lost and confused and hopeless and shiftless and does the acceptance of all of that make it even worse?

Or, do I take a week, a day...even a couple of focus and think about what's next? As I watch my friends disappear one by one to real-life jobs in real-life cities, do I finally feel sick enough about my own lack of ambition to get off my ass and try to make a real life for myself? Do I move to another city? Do I move back to New York? Do I interview for a real-life job? I was a journalism major. Should I go be a journalist? Seems like it might be a pain in the ass.

It should come as no surprise that when decision time came, I signed another one year lease. I'm still right here in Madison and will be until at least August of 1993. I love this town and I love the simplicity of my life and I really like the people who are still around. I know I'm going to regret this, the signs are everywhere. But I didn't know what else to do.

In Madison, at least in the parts near campus, all the leases run August 15th thru August 14th. It's a college town and the academic year dictates a lot of stuff. In May, one of my roommates graduated and left town. Two more just finished last week. Everyone is leaving...except me. Me and Milo and Max. Max has finished his second 1000 hour stint on the trayline and is about to start law school. Milo is in his second year of medical school. They are on the path to bigger and better.

Me? I don't have an exact number, but I'd say I'm up to around 850 hours in my first trayline stint. I swear these last 150 hours will be my last. It's just about the shittiest job I could ever imagine, but I'm gonna ride it out. When I first started, it was just something to help me pay the rent. Then, after a few weeks, I convinced myself it was a real growing experience, a glimpse into blue collar life, an honest day's work for an honest day's pay and all that. That lasted about a week. Then somehow I decided I was gonna grit my teeth and get through my 1000 hours, just for pride (and rent). I dunno what comes next.

One thing we knew was that we had to move. So Milo, Max and I signed a lease for a rather nice three bedroom apartment, the second floor of a house on West Wilson street -- $780 between the three of us. $260 a month: I can actually afford this.

As moving day approached, I started to feel all melancholy. Two of my roommates were leaving town for good, another reminder that I was not. We wanted to get as much of our security deposit back as possible, so we had a "cleaning party" on the 12th. The place was a total disaster, if it had been a pet we would have put it to sleep and not looked back. The building was only about four years old, but the apartment aged about 25 years in our two year stay there. Carpet: sticky and discolored. Walls: filthy. Fixtures: all busted up. Bathrooms: coated in mildew and grime and gunpowder (from the old "light the firecracker and slide it under the door while your roommate is helplessly taking a dump" move that had become popular in our house).

Unfortunately, the cleaning party turned out to be mostly party and very little cleaning. With so many dudes heading off in so many different directions, emotions got the better of us. It eventually disintegrated into a bunch of beer-soaked man-hugs and drinking stories we'd already told 100 times, like the time we stole a homecoming float (a giant piranha with a "W" on its side) and managed to hoist it up onto our second floor balcony, where it became a one-day attraction for motorists. Later that afternoon we were forced to return it to where we'd stolen it from, under threat of police involvement.

We got enough cleaning done during our party to fool ourselves into thinking we were all set. However, there were two major problems lurking.

1. Our living room wall was covered in approximately 3000 small holes. These holes were left from plastic darts that had been misfired over the last two years. Sometimes you want to throw a fastball, you know, and fastballs can be a little wild. There were even days when we would stand on the sidewalk one story below our apartment, and throw the darts through the open screen door without even being able to see the board. It was a good forty foot throw. Occasionally you'd hit the board, which always got everyone fired up (I think someone once got a bullseye, for sure somebody got a triple 19). The rest of the time the darts would slam into the wall, either lodging all the way in or just puncturing it and then falling harmlessly to the floor. I suppose there was a day when there were like 40 holes in the wall where we had a conversation like, "Wow, that's a lot of damn holes, we better cut this crap out" and somebody said, "It's too late now, might as well have fun." Maybe not a real conversation but there was an understanding that the wall was so fucked up that we'd have to deal with it eventually so we might as well keep throwing darts.

So the night before we had to move out, my roommate Bob and I spent a few hours painting the dart wall, over and over again. No spackle, just layers and layers of paint on top of the holes. We did it until we reached a point where we knew that it wasn't gonna get any better. That's all you can do. From certain angles, you can't see the holes at all. From other angles, you can see each and every one of 'em. Let's hope our security deposit checks are cashed before one of the new tenants catches the bad angle.

2. Normally you reach a gentleman's agreement with the tenants who are vacating the apartment you're moving into, so you can actually move in anytime you want on the 14th, instead of waiting til the 15th as the lease technically stipulates. This agreement prevents you from having to put all your shit in storage and find a place to sleep on the night of the 14th. It's just an understanding. Everybody does it. Except the three chicks whose apartment we are taking over. They said we couldn't move in until 9pm on the 14th, and we had to have all our shit out of our old place by 9am on the 14th. We were borrowing a friend's pickup to help us move, but it was gonna take about three trips so we had to figure out what to do with our shit for 12 hours.

Solution: we put all our stuff on the front lawn of our old apartment (the one we were leaving), a huge pile consisting of everything we had: TV's and garbage bags full of clothes and comforters and basketballs and boxes of books and our big nasty sofa sitting right in the middle of it all. We vacated the apartment at 9am sharp, but kept about 50 bottles of Old Mil in the fridge, nice and cool. We sat out there on our lawn-couch listening to music and drinking and playing catch all day. It was the best move ever. The new tenants arrived around noon and started loading their stuff in. We kept passing them in the hall as we went for new beers, and they had no idea what to make of us. We couldn't have been friendlier to them, and technically their lease didn't start until the next day, so they had nothing to complain about.

Of course eventually they DID complain, not to our faces but to the building manager dude. He came by around 4pm and told us we needed to get our beer out of the fridge but by this point he was dealing with drunks and he stood no chance. We reminded him in slobbering tones that we still had some sort of legal right to be here as our lease went through the 14th, and he eventually went away. He promised to come back and straighten it out but he never did. By 6 o'clock we decided it was safe to move regardless of what the chicks had said, and we packed up 1/3 of our crap and drove the 8 minutes to the new place, leaving one man behind to guard our pile on the lawn. When we got to our new home the girls were still there but the place was 99% empty. We just started bringing bags in and didn't even say hello. We could tell they were pissed and they could tell we were piss drunk so nobody said a word. Oh, actually, I did say one thing not-quite-far-enough-under my breath. We had all seen Unforgiven a couple of weeks ago, so I hit them with "Every asshole that doesn't want to get shot best clear out the back quick." I thought it was funny. They didn't.

We were moved in by 8:30pm and I collapsed on top of our gross little couch in our tiny living room shortly thereafter. When I woke up around 8 the next morning there were birds singing and my head stung. I had a futon being delivered that day, my first-ever bed, and I walked into the first bedroom I could ever call my own and started trying to figure out where stuff was gonna go. Then I got bored and everyone was still sleeping so I walked across the street to the little newspaper vending machine on the corner and got a Wisconsin State Journal. I came back upstairs and read it while eating cereal.

The futon came around noon and even though I could tell immediately that it was an uncomfortable mistake, I went back to sleep. I slept hard and long and woke up when it didn't hurt anymore.

We've been in this apartment for four days now and most of our crap is unpacked and set up. My room is charmless and comfortable, just the way I like it. Everything I own in the world is sitting right there: a futon (no cover), a dresser that I found on the street, a closet full of clothes (8 pairs of wearable pants, five pairs of emergency pants, a bunch of button down shirts), and a shelf with all my sweatshirts and athletic wear. On top of the dresser sits my pathetic little sound system. It's a decent CD player lined into a $59 SONY boombox that gets terrible sound. Sometimes I imagine myself throwing everything into the trunk of the car that I don’t have, saying a few brief goodbyes, and heading out somewhere alone without any idea of what I'm going to do. I feel confident that I would be happy in such a situation, much happier than anyone would guess. But I won't do it because we have plans. Immediate plans.

Tonight we're going to the Pinckney Street Hideaway, the magic bar, the best bar in the United States, and we will drink down some $3 pitchers of Leinenkugel’s and something incredible will happen. I guarantee it.

Friday, April 10, 1992

Regret Pt. 3

Make sure you first read part 1 and then part 2 before moving on to this one.


Before we finish this up, I think it would be helpful if you have an idea of what our apartment looks like. We live in the College Park apartment complex, which is a relatively new and swanky property on Park Street just North of Regent Street. Our apartment is a four bedroom, three floor kinda deal, and it looks like this, going from the 4th floor to the 3rd to the 2nd (some other dopes live on the first):

Me and Milo share the top (loft) bedroom, which would be awesome for one person but is kind of not so great for two. So what we've done is put our mattresses in our respective closets (if you get out a ruler and measure the closet and compare it to the whole room you can see just how snug a fit we're talking about). I guess it allows us to do our manly things in privacy and peace, whatever they may be. But it gets hot as fuck in there, and sleeping in a closet is no way to live, especially for a gainfully employed new member of the working class such as myself.

The third floor bedrooms are occupied by Bob (#1) , Vic and Vernon (#2) and Joe (#3). Bob is out of town for the weekend.

OK, we may continue.

10:30am Sunday:

I hear something rustling.

It's morning. I'm alive. I don't know anything else. Not my name, not my life story, not whatever unfortunate series of events led me to this place, this dark, musty, sweaty chamber of pain. I'm not even ready to start asking questions yet. I just want something familiar -- a song, a newspaper, a bowl of cereal, an old T-shirt. Something to place me firmly back in the world I once knew.

Where am I? In a bed, good.

Not sure what the noise is, but I must ignore it. My body needs sleep. I am nauseous, achy, dripping with sweat, cotton-mouthed and miserable, and if I don't fall back asleep in the next 20 seconds I'm afraid I might be up for good.

More rustling. At the foot of the bed. Visions start bouncing off the walls of the dark spaces inside my head. Laughs. Everclear. The hospital kids. Telling stories. The long walk home. And that dude. Who was that dude?


Whoever said that must be responsible for the rustling. I can't even crack my eyes to look.

It's about 85 degrees inside my closet, and I'm regretting the decision to move my bed in here in the first place. It was a decision we made for privacy, I guess. To do certain things, I guess. Now I want air -- cool, standard-issue apartment air, and if somebody could give me some I promise I'll never do those things again.

"Dude, wake up."

I now realize that I'm not alone in my tiny closet. There is somebody else in here, as impossible as that seems. It's a dude. He's talking to me from the foot of the bed. I will ignore him. He isn't real.

"Dude, what the hell? You said you would wake me up at 9, man. I gotta go to work," he says. He's not going away.

My eyelids lift slowly, operating on their own. I think I can hear the seal crack as they open.

Kneeling at the foot of the bed is an African-American man who looks pretty much exactly like the guy who was just occupying my drunken half-memories of last night. He's a critical player, then, this fellow. I may as well say hello.

"What's up, man?" I ask. "What time is it?"

The door is cracked and a shard of sunlight is cutting the closet in half. My eyes are directly in the path of that bright sliver, this dude (Lee?) is almost completely in the dark.

"Dude, I gotta get home," he says. "It's like 10:30 already."

I sit up and I couldn't agree more. He needs to go home. Not until he does can I begin to piece things together, to address the unanswered questions: Why is he in my closet? How did I get home? And...Holy...fucking...SHIT... why am I not wearing any pants...or...underwear?

I pull the comforter over my completely naked lower half. Did he see anything? Did he touch anything? Did he...did we...?

More questions, uglier questions, every minute with this guy. Even if you're the most open-minded, love-all-people, to-each-his-own thinker on the block, youturn into Archie Bunker when your ass-cherry is on the line. Immediate ignorant thought #1: Did he screw me, and if so, do I now have HIV? This guy is an alcoholic homosexual drifter, that's gotta be pretty high risk. Yikes.

"Um, dude, can you wait downstairs and I'll be down in a minute?" I ask. I need some time, maybe a lot of time, maybe a lifetime, to pull myself out of this. A minute is a good start. My mood has instantly spiraled from typical hungover depression into potentially life-ruining misery.

"Sure, man, no problem," Lee says. "I'll see you in a few." He gets up, throws the closet door open, and disappears down the stairs.

I wait about 30 seconds to make sure he's gone, then I crawl out of the closet, force my way to my feet and throw on some fresh drawers. I want that to make me feel better but it doesn't. There's too much up in the air right now. I pull on a pair of clean pants and head downstairs to face whatever needs to be faced. My head is throbbing, the entire left side feels like somebody's slapping it with a coconut every three seconds.

By the time I reach the third floor, on my way down to the second, I have assembled some memories to plug into the mystery of last night.

-Dave, Eli, Everclear, Cap Centre Foods
-the dudes running outside to tell me that Lee was gay
-Lee's fierce denial of this possibility

And now waking up pantsless on Saturday morning.

I get downstairs to floor 2 and none of my roommates are around. Just Lee, pacing and smoking a cigarette. He sees me.

"So what did you say your name was?" he asks.

"Hans," I say. "You're Lee, right?"

"Yeah. Listen, can I get like ten bucks so I can get a taxi home? I'm like two hours late for work already."

"Sure, man. Hang on."

I run back upstairs and like a fucking miracle my wallet is neatly placed on top of my dresser, a moment of apparent lucidity in a night of tremendous mistakes. I open it and there's six dollars inside. That'll have to do. Six bucks to shuffle this dude out of the apartment and hopefully into obscurity forever. Seems more than reasonable.

I get back downstairs and I tell him that it's all I have.

"Thanks man. I guess I'll see ya later," he says.

"Yeah, take care," I say, which seems about right.

He's out the door and I lock it behind him. I lean against it.

What happened and is there anybody who knows? Do I want to find out?

It's all very important, but right now nothing is as important as sleep. I go up to my room, but for some reason I can't bring myself to lay back down in that closet. It's as if that three by seven space is my own little crime scene. I stare out the window instead. It's a gray and miserable day, but the dudes across the street working at Schmidt's Auto don't care. They've got some poor schmuck's car up on the lift, blasting his stereo, and soon they'll probably rifle through his glove compartment and rob him like they did to Vic a couple years ago. Stole some CD's right out of his Chevy Cavalier. Today the boys at Schmidt's are happy. Today whatever sins they've committed and whatever sins have been committed upon them are in the past. Today they're working smoothly as a unit, singing along with Journey and .38 Special and taking pleasure in an honest day's work.

I think I'd like to trade places with one of them. Right now, straight up, no questions asked. I can learn on the job. Send Larry up here to straighten out all my bullshit.

I slink back into my closet, lay down, and fight back a surge of nausea. I put my head down on the pillow and after at least an hour of trying in vain to clear my head of all thought, I fall asleep.


2:45 pm

I wake up and I can hear my roommates laughing downstairs. I'm pretty sure they're laughing at me. I need to head down to face whatever's coming.

laugh laugh laugh (inaudible joke) laugh laugh laugh laugh (inaudible response) laugh laugh laugh I enter the room total silence.

In the room are me, Milo, Max, Vic, Joe, Vernon, and Clyde.

"What's up fellas?" I say, innocently enough.

"There he is. THERE HE IS!" says Vernon.

Vernon's a bit of a Goody Two Shoes. We used to be better friends, in fact he's the one who got us this apartment in the first place. Now he spends most nights here on the couch with his Goody Two Shoes girlfriend. Our relationship soured when he ratted me out to our landlord after I broke the neighbors' door one drunken night by throwing my buddy Carl against it during a fake fight. It cost me $275. For all I know the door was already broken. Fucking Goody Two Shoes.

I figure we may as well get to it.

"So, what happened?" I ask, physically bracing myself for the response.

"Well, how much do you remember?" Milo asks.

By this point I remember all that I'm gonna remember. It's pretty much this and this and now this. I patiently go through a Cliffs Notes version for them, everything I know about last night.

"No offense man, but this is out of control," Vernon says. "You guys have done some pretty stupid things, but who the hell was that dude you brought home last night? I mean, this isn't just your place, it's all of ours."

What the fuck does that mean? Is he mad that I brought a stranger back to our apartment? Or is he mad that I brought a black stranger back to our apartment? I'm already feeling defensive, like I have to stick up for Lee's honor. Like he was my fucking girlfriend.

"What's the big deal?" I ask, just now realizing that this is the first time in my life when I awoke to find a strange person in my bed, and it was a dude. "We were just having fun."

This last part is pure speculation on my part. And still it sits in the air for a minute, probably meaning more than I meant it to.

"I missed most of it," Milo says. "But these guys have been filling me in on all the action. Sounds like you definitely did have fun."

OK, screw all these sarcastic hints, I need to know what happened.

"Alright, let's hear it...what happened after we got home?"

"Well, I was up drinking a beer and watching a movie when you rolled in around 4," Vic says. "You and your friend -- Lee? -- came in talking a mile a minute, completely blotto. I was still a little drunk myself, so I was actually excited to try to keep the night going. I got us some beers out of the fridge and turned on the stereo --"

"Loud. Really loud," Vernon interjects. "I was sleeping and all of a sudden I hear this awful music blasting from downstairs. Was it Billy Idol?"

"Yeah, Vital Idol," Vic continues. "We were rocking out to Billy Idol. Your friend Lee started talking all sorts of shit about not being gay. I was like, 'Whatever' and I pretty much ignored him. The music was really loud and everyone was sort of in their own world."

"I came downstairs and told you guys to turn it down, and Hans, you told me to go fuck myself if I couldn't appreciate Billy Idol and Old Milwaukee at 4 in the morning with no work the next day," Vernon says.

"Sorry," I say, not sorry.

"Yeah, after Vern went back upstairs, Joe and Max and Clyde came downstairs and joined us," Vic says.

It's amazing to me that Max and Clyde would choose to stay over at our apartment when they each have their own apartments across campus, with safe warm individual beds.

"We all came down and we were having the stupidest conversation," Max says. "This guy Lee kept insisting that he wasn't gay and he kept sort of half-challenging us to physical confrontations, like he had something to prove. Then he'd back off and put his arm around ya and pay you ridiculous compliments out of the blue, like, 'Man, that's a nice shirt.'"

"Hans, man, then you got all tired and went upstairs to bed," Clyde says. "You just left us downstairs with this dude, like he was our reponsibility."

For a moment, I am relieved. It seems my role in the story is complete. I went upstairs and passed out. No big deal. This is good news.

Then I remember that there has to be a chain of events that leads Lee from the living room into my closet where I found him earlier today.

"Eventually, we all went to bed. I crashed in Bob's room, because he's out of town," Max says. "I was sleeping for a while when I heard the door open and I saw a figure enter the room and climb into bed with me. It was Lee. It didn't seem like that big a deal -- we're always sleeping in the same bed because there are too many guys. Plus I was just so tired I couldn't bother to care. Still, I wasn't happy about it and I told him to stay on his side of the bed. He made some homophobic comment like, "You think I'm a fag?" and I just rolled over and went to sleep. Then I woke up a little while later because he was giving me a fucking backrub. I was freaked out, but I was so comatose that I just swatted his hands away and told him he better cut that shit out. He stopped and tried to make a joke out of it, and somehow I fell back asleep. But a light sleep, you know? What must have been at least an hour later I rolled over and the dude was just staring at me like a fucking snake staring at a mouse. Eyes wide open. He didn't say a word. I just got up and left and slept downstairs."

This isn't good, I'm thinking. Somehow Lee got up from that nice pristine bed that Max bequeathed him and he made it up into my closet by 10:30.

"I got up around 8 this morning and he was downstairs watching TV," Milo says. "I had no fucking idea who he was, and frankly I was nervous as hell. Then he told me he was your friend and he had to go to work soon. He didn't know your name, he just kept calling you 'the funny guy' and calling Max 'the Jewish guy.' He seemed nice enough. I had some cereal and then I went back to bed. He was still down there."

"So...did anybody see what the dude did between when Max left him in the bed and when Milo ran into him this morning? Or after Milo went back to bed?" I asked.

"Why?" Clyde asks.

"Well, when I woke up this morning he was laying in my closet with me," I say.

"Dooood," Vic says, laughing. "I think you guys did it."

I don't even have the guts to tell them that I didn't have any underwear on when I woke up. After all, in my head I've already explained that. I ditched the underwear out the window at Dave's place the night before, therefore when I got home and stripped off my drinking pants to pass out, I had nothing on underneath. Of course I was too drunk to go put on a pair of pajamas.

"That's not funny," I say. "This dude was like a predator. What if I passed out and he...did things to me?"

"You know what? That's possible," Joe says, emerging from a game of Tecmo to join the conversation. "We came up there this morning around 9 to see if you wanted to go get breakfast with us at the Regent Street Retreat and you weren't fucking budging. We were slapping you in the head, shaking you, the works. You didn't respond at all."

"Um...when you came in...did I have any underwear on?" I ask.

"Dude, I assume so, the blanket was on you...why? Did you have any on when you woke up?"

"No, but I shit myself earlier in the night, so that might explain it..." I trailed off. I don't think I'm winning any hearts and minds with this line of thinking. Imagine a scenario when the best plausible explanation for where you find yourself is that you crapped your pants. That's where I am.

"Hans, if that dude had sex with you, I'm pretty sure you'd know it," Milo says, and I value his opinion because he will one day be a doctor. "Like, your ass would be sore as hell." I wonder if he will ever use these words with a future patient. Like, your ass would be sore as hell.

I take stock of my ass soreness. Sore, to be sure. But not any sorer than any other night of excessive alcoholism. I convince myself that he didn't bone me.

"He probably just blew you," Clyde says.

I decide right then to work something out with God. God, I can accept that the dude blew me, if that's what you want to throw my way. No problem. Just agree that there was no anal sex and no HIV please. Hell, even anal sex is OK as long as you promise no HIV. Is that OK? I promise no more drinking. No drinking, no HIV. Deal?

No word from God, but I'm keeping my side of the bargain.


Lee calls the next day, speaking in his toughest, most manly voice. He leaves a message:

"Yo Hans. We're having a big party next Saturday. Tons of chicks. Many kegs. You and your boys should come out. Give me a call. Alright, Peace."

I don't call him back.

Regret Pt. 2

If you haven't read it yet, please start with Pt. 1 of this 3-part post. Now on to Pt. 2...

2:14 a.m.: location: somewhere on West Dayton street

Dave's apartment is your typical student pad, one of five thousand like it in Madison, two story houses split into two apartments and slowly destroyed by thoughtless kids year after year. We're standing outside it now, and we're talking about the 'Clear.

Me: This is crazy. I've never had Everclear before. Is it even legal?
Dave: I dunno, I think it's homemade. It's grain alcohol or something.
Eli: Dudes, I think I'm gonna bail. My apartment is just over there...
(he gestures back towards the Holiday Inn down the block. His apartment isn't at all close to the Holiday Inn.)
Dave: Nah, man. Let's have a couple of drinks.

I make a mental note that Dave is a champ.

Dave lives on the second floor with three roommates, who are all asleep. As we walk upstairs, I find myself wondering if I've been in this apartment before. In five years on campus, I've been to a lot of indistinguishable house parties, and this place definitely seems familiar. Oh yeah, now I remember: I think I was here at a party freshman year, on the ground floor. There was a girl chewing tobacco and I bummed some off her. She was just working that tobacco like a pro. We were all sort of in awe of her.

Eli and I sit down on kitchen chairs that are part of a circle Dave has laid out in the middle of the living room. He leaves the room and returns with the stuff. Everclear. It's in a plain glass bottle and I don't stop for even a second to ask where, how, or why. It looks like death and I want to taste it.

Me: So do you have some...I dunno...fruit juice? Something to mix it with?
Dave: Oh, shit. Yeah, that's a good idea. I never thought I'd ever drink this stuff. It's actually my roommate's. Let me check for some juice.

I try to make small talk with Eli while Dave heads back to the kitchen in search of a mixer. I can tell we're losing Eli. As much as he's already been dead weight for over an hour, I immediately recognize that his continued presence is key to the survival of this night. I walk over to the stereo and put on "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" by the Geto Boys in an attempt to perk Eli up.

It works, at least for a minute. Eli starts halfheartedly bobbing his head. It's also loud enough to stir one of Dave's sleeping roommates, who joins us in the living room. He seems like a nice guy, not pissed to be awakened by people he doesn't even know. He sits in a chair and joins the conversation.

Dave returns emptyhanded. No juice. No soda.

This is a critical moment; all the signs in the universe are pointing towards calling it a night. Everybody looks spent, drunk and spent. But something in me, some fucked up Irish gene, needs more. More fun. More booze. More night.

Me: Fuck it, I'll just run over to Cap Centre Foods (a supermarket about three blocks away) and get us some juice. They're open all night.

The kids are impressed by my commitment to the Everclear and they all nod in agreement, even Eli. Looks like I'm going to Cap Centre Foods.

I jog down the stairs and leave the building, and I notice a car in the driveway getting ready to pull out. It must be the downstairs neighbors. I run up to the window, this stranger's driver-side window, and I ask him where he's headed. He says something but I don't even listen.

Me: Can you drop me at Cap Centre Foods?
Him: Sure, hop in.

I get in, and it's him and another dude in the front seat, both sort of crunchy white guys who are laughing every ten seconds. I'm pretty sure they're drunk and stoned. In the backseat with me is an African-American dude, seems nice, introduces himself as Lee.

Me: Where are you guys going? Another party?
Driver dude: Nah, we're just going over to a friend's house to watch Highlander.

Like three times since I've lived in Madison I have found myself in a room full of people watching Highlander. I've never made it through the whole movie myself, but around here people go nuts for it. One time it was a fucking Highlander party with like thirty people.

Lee says he's probably not gonna watch the movie, and asks what I'm up to. I tell him about the Everclear and the juice.

I guess this is as good a time as any to point out that since I have lived in Wisconsin, I have not had an actual black friend. In high school, we had a beautiful ethnic mix and I treasured that shit. I learned that diversity actually means something. Knowing different people from different backgrounds enriches your life and grows your brain. But Madison is an overwhelmingly white campus, and the only black guys I know are dudes I play ball with and against. More than acquaintances, less than friends.

So I am sort of tickled in my pathetic drunk honky mind to be meeting a black guy named Lee at 2:45 in the morning as we ride in a stranger's car towards a supermarket that I could easily have walked to.

2:47 a.m.: Capital Centre Foods, Mifflin and Broom

We get to Cap Centre and I get out. I thank the Crunch Brothers for the ride and I walk through the automatic doors. Lee also gets out and out of the corner of my eye I see him sort of milling around outside the store. As I scan the aisles, looking for snacks to accompany us on our suicide mission, I notice Lee has joined me in the supermarket and is hovering like thirty feet behind me, not quite hiding but not announcing his presence either.

Finally I turn and wave.

Me: What's up, man?
Lee: Nothing, bro. Just looking for something to eat.

At this point, I won't lie to you, I am sort of freaked out. He's not threatening but he's definitely not quite together.

Me:Yo (adopting slight, embarrassing "urban" speech pattern), do you want to come back with us and drink the Everclear?
Lee: Sure, man. That'll work.

This is already like the twelfth "If Woody had gone straight to the police, this would never have happened" moment of the night.

So we shop together, 3am, new buddies with a shared purpose. Like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, chained together by a bottle of grain alcohol. Finally, we settle on two mixers: Schweppes Raspberry Ginger Ale in a 2 liter bottle, and a gallon of truly disgusting IGA brand Grape Drink. I explain to Lee that the grape drink will turn his shit green, and he doesn't believe me.

Me: You check it out tomorrow, you'll have like a phosphorescent green shit, man. It's one of the great unexplained phenomena of science. It's unreal.

I am sobering up a little and I don't like it. We need to get back.

As we walk the five minute walk, Lee opens up a bit and he seems like a nice guy. Tells me he has to work in the morning and that he should probably have gone home already. Looking back now, I wish he had.

3:00 a.m.: Somewhere on West Dayton again

When we get back to Dave's, I introduce Lee to everyone and even though they shake his hand, there are raised eyebrows all around, as if to say who the hell is this. I feel bad for Lee, and embarrassed by my friends.

Dave and his roommate go into the kitchen and come back with five giant plastic cups, each full to the rim. Grape drink and Everclear. Mom would be so proud.

We start drinking, and it burns. Not as bad as I thought it would, but enough to let you know you're consuming something only a short walk from gasoline. The grape drink helps.

We're talking, the tunes are playing, and we're having fun. Inevitably, the conversation turns to race and racism and our experiences with both.

Lee tells a couple of stories about being harrassed for the color of his skin, really sad stuff. I take it from there and tell everyone what a great balanced life I've led, with black friends and Latino friends and Asian friends and so on. I'm tremendously satisfied with myself.

Then Dave takes the floor.

Dave (to Lee): You know, dude, don't take this the wrong way, but in Philly, where I'm from, things were bad. I remember some black kids started attending our high school and we left a big sign on their bus that said "Niggers go home."

I'm drunk on a dozen different types of liquor but the entire room is suddenly in perfect focus. There's silence. Even Bushwick Bill has to shut it down for a second. Lee is staring at Dave. We're all staring at Dave.

Dave: I mean, that's the way it was, you know? I didn't know any black kids 'til I got to college. The ones I did know I hated. They hated us, we hated them.

Lee is understanding. He grants Dave forgiveness. They hug. We all open up. The stories are flowing -- awful, silly, shameful, corny, earnest, offensive stories, all about race. We can't talk about anything else. We're erasing our sins and our fathers' sins over glasses of grape drink and Everclear.

It's 4:00 am and we've cashed the bottle of Everclear. I have about half a cup left, my second, and then I need to go home. My body keeps seizing up on me.

Me: Excuse me, can I go to the can?
Dave: It's right over there.

I go to the bathroom and I can barely stand. My eyes are pointing in like six different directions simultaneously. The light is bright and cruel. I start to piss and I decide a nice fart might clear my senses. Unfortunately, muscle control is lost and I soil my drawers. Depressed but determined, I remove the underwear, throw them out the bathroom window and clean up. I pull my pants on and head back out to the living room, where I find comfort in the fact that nobody else knows what just happened.

I finish my drink quickly and tell everybody I have to leave. Lee says the same. Goodnight, later, this was a blast, good to meet you, peace out, see you at work next week. I sense that we'll all be embarrassed about this but I am too drunk to try to figure out why.

Lee and I walk down the stairs and out into the night. It's foggy out there, a little damp, but it's a mild night and the streetlights are on, guiding me toward my apartment, which is about fifteen minutes away on foot. Lee says he's gotta catch a bus because he lives pretty far off campus, but wouldn't you know it the bus stop is over by my place, he says, so we can walk together. As we head off into the night, I hear a door open behind us. It's one of the crunchy dudes from earlier that night, coming out of the apartment beneath Dave's. Before Lee even fully notices him, Crunchy runs up to me and whispers in my ear:

Dude, you know that guy Lee is gay, right? I'm pretty sure he wants to have sex with you.

I don't know what to make of this, so I just keep walking and Crunchy heads back inside. Lee asks what he said to me, and I say, Nothing, man.

We walk a couple of blocks and I suddenly realize I need to address this point.

Me: Lee, um, well, that guy back there, well, he said you were gay.
Lee (in tough guy voice): Who said I was a faggot?
Me: No, he didn't use that word, he just said you were gay...and I think you need to know that I'm not gay, so you don't get the wrong impression...
Lee: He said I was a faggot? That's bullshit! I ain't a faggot!
Me: Dude, whether you are or not, I just need you to understand that I'm not gay and so nothing's happening tonight...OK?
Lee: Dude, don't worry about it...I'm not a fucking faggot.

We walk in silence for the next few blocks, my balls flopping freely and uncomfortably in my jeans. My apartment is getting closer and try as I might I can't think of any bus stops along the way...

Part 3

Regret Pt. 1

I read an article a couple of months ago where John Lucas implied that he got so far out of his head on drugs and alcohol one night that he may have fucked a chicken. Not definitely, but may have. He's not saying this because he's proud of it. He's saying it to illustrate something we all know but somehow fail to heed: drugs and alcohol will mess with your judgment big time.

You don't have to fuck a chicken to know he's right. But once in a while we could all use some reminding.

But first, to catch you up real quick...

This hospital job has been every bit as soul-crushing as I thought it would be. I'll tell you all about it later -- the dishroom, the patient units, the grime that builds up under my nails and on my pants and seemingly beneath the top layer of my skin. The fact that I wear the same shirt and pants three or four days in a row, sometimes not showering the whole time. How dirty I've become. That I'm not one of the best guys at loading the huge industrial dishwasher, nor am I a whiz on the trayline. How many fucking weird people I work with. Later for all of that.

The good news is that I've made some friends. The PMS crew is made up of three types of employees:
1. Limited Term Employees, or LTE's -- we're allowed 1000 work hours, which is roughly 6-7 months, and then we have to find a new job. Most of the LTE's, like me, are young adults trying to figure out what to do with ourselves and we hope to have figured it out well before we hit that 1000. Because we just know we're better than this place. However, it has become increasingly clear to me that none of us will leave until we get to 1000 hours on the nose. The trick will be getting out before they figure out a way to sign you up for another 1000.
2. University Students -- kids looking to make some extra bucks as they attend UW. Just a regular student job for these guys, and most of them work about 15-20 hours a week. I have become friends with a few of them -- Dave G. from Philly, Eli from Wisconsin, and a few others.
3. Lifers -- these are people who have given up on ever leaving the trayline. Many of them are smart, accomplished people who for one reason or another got broken by the world and now they're too tired or too scared to try something new. Some of them are just hopeless dumbasses, too. They are all state employees and they have an excellent benefits plan with a reasonable retirement age, so they are just gonna go ahead and wait it out. By far the most interesting is Jerome, The Checker. A post-doc student in English in the early 70's, he blew it all when his advisor caught him in an unexplainable clinch with the advisor's wife. After that he kicked around New Orleans for a few years and then came up North and took this job in the early 80's. He's saved enough money to buy a nice house on Madison's East side, where he lives alone and spends his days and nights smoking pot and reading books and listening to music. He seems to have no interest in ever doing anything else. He's about 46 years old and has more stories than anyone I've ever met. In fact, he occasionally alludes to dark nights of chicken fucking but I think maybe he's speaking metaphorically.

More about them all later, but first I want to tell you with all seriousness: I have had my last drink. It's been almost a week now and I don't miss it one bit. What I especially don't miss is nights like the one I'm about to describe, the night that has made me fold up my drinkin' pants forever.

Last Friday was shaping up to be a good one. I had Saturday off for the first time in almost a month, and I was looking for a strong night on the town. My roommates were also in the mood to rid the world of some beer, so we formed a raw outline for the evening: 9pm, Church Key bar on University Avenue, beyond that let God take over. I had told Eli and Dave, my two Trayline buddies, to come out and join us for a few, and they were excited to do just that, having both turned 21 in the last couple of months.

That much of the evening is clear. A plan was in place, we had every intention of executing it, and we had a powerful tailwind. It had the makings of a historic evening.

Unfortunately, shit got fucked up real bad.

What follows is a rough chronological reconstruction of the evening, based on:
-my own memory of what happened (in black)
-what others have told me happened (in crimson)
-theories of missing events that I have come up with based on the things I do know (in blue)

8:35 pm: location: our apartment, 30 North Park Street

I am excited as hell for the evening. We are watching the Knicks crush Atlanta and drinking beer out of the fridge. Riley has transformed this team in one season and I never expected that. They were a piece of shit last year. We are playing beer darts as we watch, getting ready to go out. Regular game of 301, if you get over 40 on your three darts your opponent has to take a drink, and if you don't break 20 on three darts you have to drink a full beer. Max is punishing me but I am so far able to get more than 20 on each turn, avoiding a potentially lethal early-evening full beer slam.

Just before we leave, I score an 8 when only one of my three plastic tipped darts sticks in the dartboard (house rule: only darts that stick count) and I am forced to drink an entire beer. It's too cold, too carbonated, and I have to muscle it down in three passes. Bad sign.

9:30pm: location: The Church Key bar

Oh, it's a great night. Our Appleton connection, Jeff Ice, is tending bar and drinks are for the most part free. It's rare you get to use the phrase, our Appleton connection, but at the Church Key it applies. The Church Key is a bar on the second floor of a two story building on University Avenue. Juke box is pretty weak. Beer selection is average. Clientele is decidedly unglamorous. The only memorable thing about the bar is that it overlooks a deli/liquor store on the first floor. It's all open air between bar and deli but the deli is always closed when we're there. So you look over the balcony and you see all the snacks and stuff in the darkened store and it's just one of those things that makes you feel a little bit drunker.

A lot of my friends are from Appleton and so are a lot of the people who work at the Church Key. So the price is always right, making it a great place to fuel up on the cheap before you head out further into the night.

10:00pm: location: The Church Key bar

We're fueling up nice and steady when I look over at the entrance and see my young buddies Dave and Eli making their way in. Nice guys, both of 'em, as far as I can tell. This is the first time I've actually socialized with them outside of the hospital. Dave is from Philly, a real sarcastic dude who is dating a beautiful Filipino woman named Elena, who's also part of PMS. She's not here tonight. Eli is from a small town in deep deep northern Wisconsin, "up nort" as they say, and he's a bit socially awkward. Funny once you get to know him, but kind of quiet and morose at first glance. I bonded with Eli because he was kind of obnoxious at work and didn't really give a fuck about the bosses. He knew that firing him would hurt them worse than it would him. He's been my constant bud in the dishroom.

In the dishroom, all the dirty, half-eaten, disease-ridden patient trays roll by, and each person is responsible for pulling off certain items -- cups, small plates, silverware, bowls, etc, which are then rinsed, gathered on plastic trays and handed off to the loader, who pours them into the super-hot, fast-moving industrial dishwashing machine in perfect little rows, making sure none of the tread is uncovered as it rolls on through the machine. It's an art, these guys are every bit as slick as Las Vegas blackjack dealers. I know because I've been the loader before, and it is hard as hell. Every time you find a rhythm and get a nice row of bowls going, suddenly two of them will get stuck together by some crusted mashed potatoes and you're immediately behind and faced with tons of empty tread.

PM Dennis was covering for AM Dennis one night a couple of weeks ago, and as manager his job in the dishroom is to disassemble the "Isolation" trays, which are basically the ones from patients with infectious diseases. I guess they don't pay us enough for that so the managers deal with it. Still, about half the time the nurses forget to keep the Isolation trays separate and one has already gone halfway through the dish line before someone notices. The Isolation trays are easily identified because the paper placemats are put on upside down. I sometimes wonder if the Isolation patients realize that that's how we mark them as contagious outcasts. Or if they get their tray every day and think, Man these food service workers suck! My placemat's upside down again today! What are the odds? Anyway, it sucks when your hand is deep inside somebody's half-full, still-warm coffee mug and you see an upside down placemat. Yuck. At that point you yell out "ISOLATION!" and the attending Dennis comes and pulls the tray off the line, takes it in back and dismantles it safely somehow. This happens, these errors, about five times a night. Sometimes a syringe will float on by. That always gets some oohs and aahs. By the end of dishroom, which is the end of our shift, your hands are covered in slime and food and contagious snot and blood and you've lost all dignity and you want to take your new infections and go home. We wear rubber gloves but they don't help, the dirty rotten dishwater pools up in the fingers and you end up with a rash that can lead to an open wound and then Dear God you're fucked. I hate the dishroom.

But Eli makes it bearable. The two of us will along sing as loud as we can, each trying to be more earnest than the other as we trade off the Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder parts of Temple of the Dog's "Hunger Strike." The lifers just stare at us and keep grabbing bowls off trays. I remember on this particular night there was an Isolation tray and I yelled "ISOLATION!" and PM Dennis came over and dutifully grabbed it off the line. PM Dennis was sort of a by-the-book dude, not much fun. He was in his late 30's, an officious little fella with a thick beard. He was a lifer already although he may not have known it yet. As he grabbed the tray he muttered something sarcastic about the singing and that we should be paying attention and we just stared at him. As soon as Dennis turned his back to us, Eli picked up an uneaten orange, a big one too, and threw it as hard as he could at the wall across from the dishline. It smashed into the clock over there, which was covered with a metal grate for just such occasions. But Eli's throw was so perfect and so fierce that it slammed the grate into the clock, broke the glass, and stopped the clock. The room went silent. Dennis turned around, stared at Eli, who stared right back. Then Dennis just kept walking away with his Isolation tray, shaking his head. I never quite understood why he didn't fire or at least reprimand Eli right then and there to save face. My only thought was that his pride meant less to him than the aggravation he'd feel if he had to replace Eli on that night's dishline. I hope I never get to that point.

Anyway, Eli and Dave G. are here and we're all having a blast. I introduce them to my buddies and we make sure they can get the Appleton discount. We're at the bar swapping stories about the trayline, in fact at one point we put together an all-star trayline team made up only of gay and lesbian employees. We even had them all on their correct stations. I went to the bar and and returned with a round.

Eli: What the fuck is this beer, dude?
Me: It's Sam Adams.
Eli: It's fucking gross, dude.
Dave: Yeah, this is way too strong or something.
Me: No, it's good. You need to get used to it.
Dave: Can I get a Bud Light or something?
Eli: Get me an Old Mil or a Bud Light. This beer is getting me fucked up. It's too strong.
Me: Have you ever tried any other kind of beer besides Bud, Old Milwaukee, and Miller?
Dave and Eli: No, not really.

I'm pretty much a lightweight when it comes to drinking, but these guys were greener than Kermit the Frog. I'd never heard anybody complain that their beer was too strong before. Rookies.

Still, I am getting pretty drunk myself. That slam before we left the house is hurting me.

11:45pm: location: The Red Shed bar

The Red Shed is another nondescript Madison bar, a one floor dive noteworthy only for its $4 L.I. Iced Teas that are served in mason jars and will take you right down to the ground, and for the covered wagon that sits atop the building. More on that another time.

We are at the Red Shed and I am almost finished with a Long Island Iced Tea and I feel kinda woozy.

Somebody orders some shots, I think. We drink them. Eli and Dave G. (not pictured) are hanging in there.

1:00am: location: the Red Shed bar

At this point Hans starts getting loud and feisty. He probably thinks he's being funny, but nobody is all that amused. He keeps interrupting people's darts games by standing in front of the bullseye and blabbering something about William Tell. A few of us hint that he should probably head home, but he says he's feeling alive and strong. BC (also not pictured), Milo and DB head home.

Yeah, I sort of remember that...and then Clyde and Joe and Vic and Max come over to where I'm carrying on and they tell me they're taking off. Everybody's getting tired...

Not me. I am too busy impressing the hospital kids to realize I should join my roommates and admit that the night has us all beat.

If I knew what laid ahead I certainly would have.

2am: location: The Red Shed bar

At 2am comes last call and I am in no way ready to give in. The young guys are still there, pounding down the booze right along with me.

Me: Let's go drinking someplace. You guys got any booze?
Dave: I have some Everclear back at my apartment.

Who are these punks? They've never sampled a beer any darker than Budweiser but are sitting on a stash of Everclear? What the hell? As far as I know, Everclear is just a myth that sophomores talk about to scare freshmen. I've never actually seen it.

Me: Let's go.

Part 2
Part 3

Tuesday, January 07, 1992

Welcome to the Working Week

Since I was a little kid, I always thought the world had something special in store for me. Like it was only a matter of time before I made my mark. I felt certain that I was cut out for Big Things. Notoriety, respect, achievement. Those words were all part of my future. Wherever I was at any moment was just a stepping stone on my way to greatness of some kind. I just knew it.

Well, yesterday at around 11:30am, about ten minutes into my first shift as a member of the University of Wisconsin Hospital's Patient Meal Service (PMS) division, I stopped feeling that way. I watched the conveyor belt go by, and I took a quick look around at the broken-down batch of losers and low-lifes who God had somehow swept into the exact same corner of the universe as He had swept me, and I stopped feeling that way forever.

That's right, I took the Hospital Job.

I rode my moped out to there yesterday in 19 degree weather. Maybe a fifteen minute ride. My rule for Winter moped use is that if the roads are clear, you can ride in just about any temperature. You just need to bundle up good.

I got there at 11:15 for my 11am "interview." I guess part of me was trying to blow the whole thing. I went into the administrative office and asked for Verna. The nice lady told me to wait, and that Lana would be out to talk to me in a minute. I guess Lana will do, I thought.

While I waited in the office I looked out onto the working floor. You know how sometimes your mind paints a picture of something, and then when you actually see it it looks nothing like what you had imagined? That wasn't the case here. The place was nearly exactly as I pictured it from hearing Max's stories about it. It was basically one big grey room full of people, food, and equipment. No style. No art. No Feng Shui. At the center of the room was a conveyor belt, maybe 35 feet long, adjoined on both sides by steel cases full of food, which were manned by workers in white outfits. They watched intently as the belt rolled past them. First would come a metal bracket with a piece of paper attached to it (I soon realized these were menus). Then came a cafeteria tray. Onto those trays the workers would slap the appropriate items: dollops of mashed potatoes were scooped into small ceramic bowls and loaded on, cubes of lasagna slapped into casserole dishes and spun into position. Plastic juice cups were haphazardly tossed onto the trays.

It looked like awful, menial, mindless work. With the added element of pressure. I almost got up and left. I didn't want to judge anybody, but to be honest, I was thinking, This job is beneath me. It's low. I don't know if I can do it.

But before I could explore that line of thinking any further, Lana entered the room. She was an immense woman -- maybe 300 pounds -- with a kind enough face, but an expression that seemed to indicate she'd long ago given up hope of ever finding another moment of happiness. Within five minutes of her arrival in the room, the following events had taken place:

1. She shook my hand and seemed totally fine with the fact that I was late and I hadn't even brought a résumé.

2. She offered me a job as an LTE, or Limited Term Employee. This meant that I could work there for up to 1000 hours, not a second more. It may have been that expiration date, a pre-imposed limit on this futureless job, that led me to...

3. ...accept the offer.

4. I was issued my very own paper hat and told to go observe the Trayline.

Holy shit. Joining the workforce is easy!

I put the hat on and walked out to the conveyor belt area, where I met up with Dennis, the day shift manager. Later on I overheard that the evening shift manager's name is also Dennis. In Fast Times, Brad's manager at All-American Burger was Dennis Taylor. I am not sure what exactly to do with this data, but I think I'm onto something.

Dennis the Day Shift Manager was a pale, skinny dude with a moustache who looked like a child molester but turned out to be pretty nice. He gave me the lowdown on what I'd be doing in my new job.

PMS is responsible for delivering food to every patient in the hospital, he said with what seemed to me a little too much pride. The food is cooked two thirds of the way through by the cooking crew (they work the overnight shift, under a third manager whose name I can only assume is Dennis), and then it's stored in walk-in fridges until it's time to serve it. At that point, it is microwaved for the final one third of the required cookage.

After the initial cook-through, the next step the food takes on the way to the patients is the Trayline, which starts every day at 11 am. That's what I had been watching from the office. Those steel workstations were each responsible for a specific meal component. One person mans the entree station, another the starch station, another does vegetables, and another does beverages and desserts. At the front of the line stands The Starter. He -- big surprise -- starts the Trayline. In his hands is the menu for each patient in the hospital, with their choices circled. The Starter's name is Ken -- he's about forty years old, bearded, and I'm pretty sure, gay. That's all I've observed about him so far. He takes the menus and attaches them to the little metal stand and sets it on the belt. Then he takes a tray, puts a paper placemat on it, puts the appropriate silverware and salt and pepper packet (there are about four different packets according to patients' needs: low salt, no sugar, no pepper for those with weakened immune systems, etc.), and sends it on down the line behind the corresponding menu.

The rest of the white hat crew who occupy the stations along the belt have to recognize what kind of a menu it is (again, low salt, low fat, low sugar, NFFV-No Fresh Fruit or Vegetables, low fat AND low salt, clear liquids, etc.) and serve up a helping of whatever menu choices the patient has circled. In the format which that menu requires. Meaning the starch guy was responsible for four different kinds of mashed potatoes and four different types of gravy, and he had to choose the right combination based on the patient's dietary needs.

This was a lot of information, and to be honest, I started thinking maybe I wasn't up to the job. Not that it was beneath me, but that it was too challenging for me. That belt was moving FAST. And all the dirtbags on the line were in constant motion trying to keep up.

Dennis told me to sit in behind Carmine on the entree station for a little while. Carmine didn't seem like a bad fellow, he didn't turn a cold shoulder to the new guy or anything. He knew Max and so I guess he figured if I was a friend of Max's I wasn't a complete jive turkey. He was from New Jersey and he had really long straight hair that he pulled into a pony tail. He was working the lasagna gracefully while explaining the job to me and still finding time to tell me stories about his motorcycle, his band, and his sex life. The first thing I noticed about him was that he had a beautiful speaking voice: low and intense, but with that unmistakable Jersey lilt that almost sounds Southern. Just a glorious voice that I'm sure he perfected through late nights of cigarette smoking. After I watched and listened to him him for about forty minutes, he threw me to the wolves.

"Alright, your turn," he said, switching places with me.

He had explained that if you fall behind, you're supposed to yell out "Hold the line!" and then the guy at the very end of the line (The Checker -- responsible for making sure each tray is correctly stocked) presses a button and the belt stops. Then you have to frantically catch up on whatever trays you missed. And I fell behind almost immediately. Trays zoomed past without entrees. I was whizzing lasagna down the line and asking people to put it on trays that were almost to the end of the line. I was hustling like crazy to keep up, or rather, hustling just to stay behind. I was a blur. An inefficient blur, but a blur nonetheless. It was completely reminiscent of "I Love Lucy." Since it was my first day, I would do anything to avoid saying "Hold the line!" It would be admitting defeat, and you don't admit defeat on Day One. Day Three, maybe.

The person across the line from me, the Starch Dude, was a guy named Mark, late 30's, long beard, glasses, deep voice, kinda scary looking. Like a hippie with a violent past. I've heard through Max that he's an underachieving intellectual type who's been working there for about ten years, just sticking around for the benefits. Sensing my struggle, he started grabbing trays to prevent them from getting past me. As he held them there with the belt running underneath them, and everyone staring at me, he'd read off the items I needed to put on: "Fat Free Lasagna, no sauce." "Next tray: Regular Lasagna, with sauce." "This one needs a chicken breast," etc. He was getting PISSED. I haven't mentioned the way it works: the sooner Trayline gets done, the sooner we all go on break, and the longer the break will be as a result. So teamwork is essential.

And I wasn't holding up my end. Even with his help, trays and menu holders were stacking up and clanging into each other.

Finally, Mark yelled out, "HOLD THE LINE!!!!!!!!!"

Then he ran back, grabbed the first tray that I had let slip by, and swept all the trays back to my station with one furious wave of his arm. Stuff was falling on the floor and getting all banged around, and the room went completely quiet. His face was bright red and the veins in his neck were beginning to bulge out. It looked like he might take a swing at me. He yelled at me about my hesitance to say "Hold the line." He read off all the items I was missing. Then the line started up again and we continued in silence.

It was at some point in there that I looked around and realized that I'm not destined for anything more in this world than $6.20 an hour and dirty white pants.

Never have I been happier than when I got back to my apartment around 7:30 that evening to find Vic watching TV.

"Darts?" he asked.

"Absolutely," I said. We grabbed a couple of Old Milwaukees out of the fridge and I didn't even care that he nearly shut me out in a game of cricket. At least I was home.

I'll tell you the rest of my day later, but suffice it to say that it was all grim. Today was more of the same. This is my life now. My schedule is going to work like this:

The hours are 10:30am-7pm exactly. We all gather in front of the time clock and we actually have to punch in and punch out, just like Fred Flintstone. I will get two days off every week, but usually not consecutively, and only once a month will they fall on the weekend.

I keep telling myself that this is a good life experience, that it'll teach me what the real world is all about, an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, all that bullshit. The truth is it's an awful job and I better be careful not to get used to it.

984 hours to go.

Monday, January 06, 1992

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Another bad weekend. Bad with the sauce.

It's always the sauce.

I woke up on Sunday morning trembling in what I assumed was a cold sweat. Normal, I thought. Then I realized I had wet my bed. I have no mattress pad cover, no bed frame, and for the last week or so I've been sleeping on the bare, sticky, scratchy mattress. I do have a comforter. Somebody was calling it a "duvet" the other day and I almost bopped him on the head. Anyway, my mattress is on the floor of the closet I sleep in, which is just about exactly big enough to fit a mattress and a pile of dirty laundry. It's wholly depressing, almost dehumanizing, living this way, but it's that or give up my privacy altogether.

So I guess you could say I woke up on Sunday morning in a cold piss. Between the ages of four and 18, I don't think I pissed myself once. Since then, maybe a dozen times.

I rolled out of bed, and before I even began recalling the details of the night before, before I allowed my standard case of paralyzing regret and anxiety take over, I went downstairs to see my roommates. They were already up and doing roommate things: reading the paper, playing Super Nintendo, watching NFL Today. I thought maybe I could head off my impending psychological breakdown by joining them. We could share a nice hangover with one another while basking in the simple pleasures of our happy little college apartment.

But instead of a basic and welcoming "What's up?" I got this, from Milo:

"Wow...THERE he is. How ya feeling today, buddy?"

"Not so good," I admitted. "I feel like somebody poured sand down my windpipe while I was sleeping."

"Do you remember what you did last night?" he asked.

If there is one question that sends my entire system into a panic, that turns my universe on its side, that's the one. My breathing gets labored, my heart speeds up, the back of my neck starts to sweat, and I have tangible fantasies of suicide. Right here on this spot, I'll think. If I just tighten my jaw and concentrate with all my might, my head will explode and I'll be done with all this.

Because of course I don't remember what I did, but I'm damned sure it wasn't good. It never is. The answer is never, "You don't remember? Dude, you shoved a blind man out of the way of a speeding car" or "You were well-mannered and thoughtful all night" or "You made major headway on Fermat's Last Theorem."

It's more like, "You insulted my cousin" or "You got us thrown out of x bar" or "You tried to steal a bicycle" or "You pissed on a hot grill." Stupid, stupid, fratboy stuff. I should know better.

Yesterday, when the question came -- do you remember what you did -- my mind started spinning through images from the night before, trying to piece them together into a storyline.

At first, all I could really remember was potatoes. Whole raw potatoes. A huge bag of 'em. Were we in somebody's car? Oh, yeah, Carl's car. His long green 1977 Olds. What the hell was he doing driving? He could have killed us all. And what's the deal with the potatoes?

"Oh, you mean with the potatoes?" I asked, pretending like it -- whatever we did with the potatoes -- was no big deal.

Milo looked up from his game of Super Mario and said, "Yeah, well that was part of it..."

Everybody kinda laughed, the knowing laugh of the weren't-as-drunk, the laugh that tells you they remember more than you do.

"That was quite a throw with the potato," Vic said between bites of hot scrambled eggs.

Then it came back to me. We had been riding around in the Olds, four of us -- me, Vic, Clyde and Carl -- drunk as could be. At some point, someone produced an industrial size bag of raw potatoes from the back seat. Moments later, we were throwing them out the window, one after the other. At what, I didn't remember right away.

Then another image flashed through my mind. We had pulled the Olds over off of Monroe Street onto Randall Avenue. Clyde knew somebody who lived in one of the apartments over there, a girl.

Someone requested that I throw a largish spud through her window. It was a good sixty feet from where we had pulled over. It was 3 in the morning. There was certainly someone sleeping right behind that window, deep in a peaceful dream about walking in a field or flying a kite or strumming a mandolin. This person, this gentle dreamer, had never done anything to me.

Yet there I was, cocking my arm back, not even hesitating for a moment to throw a potato through her window. I let it fly, and I could tell from the second it left my hand that it was going to shatter her window. A perfect throw at a tremendously imperfect moment. In my mind, looking back, I could see the impact, hear the crash, and then we all scrambled back into the car and took off. Of course, we got away. In my experience, the bad guys almost always got away.

"Oh, God," I said, back in my apartment on Sunday morning. "Oh, no. I broke somebody's window last night."

Clyde, who had taken to sleeping over at our apartment on weekends, instead of making the trip from the bar back to the apartment across campus that he shared with his brother, rolled over on the couch to join the conversation.

"It's not a big deal," he said. "It's possible you missed the window anyway. What was worse is that you got us thrown out of Taco John's."

"Oh God," I said again. "What did I do?" I didn't even remember being at Taco John's.

"You started eating food off of strangers' plates," Clyde said. "This is after the whole thing with the potato. You were singing, you were grabbing food off of plates, you challenged the entire place to a fight. Finally, the manager came and kicked you out, and it took a good five minutes for him to convince you to leave. And after we went outside, you went up to..."

"Stop. Please stop," I said. "I don't want to know any more." A week ago, I read an article in U., the free, generic campus weekly, about college drinking. It had a quiz on there to see if your drinking habits bordered on alcoholism. One of the questions was, Have you ever blacked out from alcohol? Shit, I thought, almost every time I drink it.

"That's it," I said. "I'm never drinking again."

The entire room started laughing at once. You see, I say that about once every three months. And I mean it each time. Life would be so much simpler. I'd rarely do bad things. I wouldn't hurt people. And I'd have money -- speaking of which, I have now officially emptied my bank account and I am living off a loan from my girlfriend.* She gave me $200 on Friday, which I've managed to turn into $40 rather quickly.

Most importantly, if I stopped drinking I wouldn't have the feeling that I had on Sunday morning ever again. It's a combination of several feelings, actually: guilt, anxiety, remorse, despair, suffocation, hopelessness, emptiness, worthlessness, and general self-hatred. That doesn't even touch on the physical symptoms or the fact that I woke up in my own pee.

"Suuuuuure you're not drinking again," Milo said. "Until tomorrow, right?"

I was reminded of my roommate Joe's standard one-liner.

"I don't drink anymore," he'd say to a friend he hadn't seen in a while. "...I don't drink any less, either."

He had two or three of those jokes, and they worked on me every time. Another one was:

"I wish I had a horse's cock...instead of this big thing."

Milo's sarcasm was not appreciated. I went back upstairs to be by myself. I wanted to lay down and sleep away my guilt, but my bed was still damp with piss. I wanted to take a shower, to bring myself back into the world where decent people live, but I didn't feel like I deserved it. I hadn't earned it. I needed to stew in my own juices for a while. So I flipped my mattress over, laid back down and tried to sleep. But all I could do was dwell on all the stupid things I'd done the night before. Finally I put on some dirty clothes and decided to go for a walk.

I walked toward Randall Avenue, to the house I'd hit with the potato. It had happened about 13 hours ago. From where I stood now, it was pretty clear that the window was not broken. Whether they'd had it fixed already or whether my potato missed its target, I didn't know. But I found it comforting to know that my victim had moved on with her life one way or the other.

It was probably about 20 degrees outside, and as I turned and walked towards Dayton street each house I passed had the lights and TV on. Everybody was inside watching the NFL playoffs and staying warm. Decent people have that right, I thought. Not me. John Elway was leading the Broncos to a dramatic 4th quarter comeback victory against the Oilers, I found out later. Hell of a game, too. Once again Elway comes through, but we all know he'll never win the big one.

I walked around for another half hour, until I felt I had suffered long enough. I went home, half-watched the Redskins pound on the Falcons while I ate Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese, and then I stumbled up to my closet and slept a guilty Sunday evening sleep. I woke up around 2am and stared at the ceiling for about two hours before I finally went down for good.

When I woke up this morning, I didn't feel much better about myself. It was almost noon and nobody else was home.

I decided I wanted to write something in my journal. I sat on the couch, turned on the stereo, and used the "Random Grab" technique to pick a CD off the shelf. Vic and I developed this game when we were preparing to go out for an evening on the town. You grabbed a CD without looking, and then you had to play it no matter what it was. Of course, we'd always grab something really shitty, put it back and try again until we got something we liked. Today, I reached in and came up with Vic's Material Issue CD.

This CD came out last year, and it's pretty fucking amazing. It's got like 11 three minute pop songs about girls. Simple, stupid, and catchy. I think the band kind of got lost in the whole Pearl Jam/Nirvana thing -- they came out with the right record at the wrong time. Once the Seattle stuff calms down, maybe a hole will open up for traditional pop music like this. We'll see.

I put it in and hit "shuffle."

The first song that came on was the lone ballad on the album, "The Very First Lie." Slow, sappy, unoriginal. I liked it.

I opened my journal, stared at the first blank page and came up with nothing. So I turned back to the page with "Verna Richardson - Hospital" written on it. Very calmly, without hesitation, I paused the CD and picked up the phone. I dialed Verna's number.

"Verna Richardson," she answered.

"Hi, my name is Hans Bungle and I got your number from my friend Max Armbruster, who works there..."

"Oh, hi Hans. Max told me you might be calling. Are you looking for a job?"

I paused for maybe three quarters of a second.

"Yes," I said. "Yes, I am."

"Well, do you want to come in and talk in person?" she asked. "Maybe tomorrow? Say around 11?"

I pretended to be looking at a calendar that didn't exist.

"Sure, tomorrow at 11 sounds great," I said. "Thank you."

"No problem, see you then," she said, and we both hung up.

I thought, man, couldn't we do this interview later in the week? Tomorrow seems really soon. They must be desperate.

I started the music again and picked up the Sunday comics section off the floor.

I'd like to wake up with you early in the morning

Or stay up late just playing records on your phonograph

I'd like to get to know your mother and your father

Maybe just once pretend to be somebody's better half

And I would like to tell the very first lie.

So today I'll listen to these songs of adolescent crushes and unattainable girls. Tomorrow I have a job interview at the University of Wisconsin Food Service Department, Patient Meal Service Division. Tomorrow, maybe, I become a man.

Wish me luck, whatever that means.

* She has asked that I not write about her here, and I will attempt to oblige her.

Monday, December 30, 1991

Quittin' School and Goin' to Work and Never Goin' Fishin'

I have $550 in my bank account. When I came back from NYC five days ago, I had just over $700. It amazes me how much you can spend in a night on the town, even here in reasonable Madison, Wisconsin. The other night, I hit the Tyme machine on the way to the Hideaway and took out $60, figuring it would get me through most of this week. The next day I reached into my drinking pants, which I found splayed across the dining room table, and inside I discovered a small wad of singles. $4 in total. Where does it go? I vaguely remember stopping at Taco Bell on State Street on the way home.

I only have one Taco Bell order: 2 Nachos, 2 Soft Tacos, a Large Dr. Pepper*: $3.93. So that doesn't explain it. It'll go down as another unsolved case from the boozehound files.

Rent is due the day after tomorrow. That's a check for $230.

That'll take me down to $320 with no source of revenue in the foreseeable future. Kind of exciting. I have to admit it -- I've been spoiled these last few years. Since I moved out of the dorm and went off the University meal plan at the end of sophomore year, my pop has been sending me $600 a month for expenses. For my last five semesters, I also worked about 12 hours a week at the Athletic Ticket Office, which brought in another 200 clams a month. $800 a month in Madison leaves you in a pretty decent place on the economic food chain. I've still managed to bounce checks like a man with two weeks to live, but that was more due to mismanagement and recklessness than it was to poverty.

I'm writing this in my new journal from the Rathskeller in the Memorial Union. If I'm up to it, later I'll swing by Helen C. White (my ID is still valid through tomorrow) and post it to the computer message board. We have two Unions here at UW-Madison, Memorial Union and Union South. Union South is a sterile building with all the charm of an airplane hangar, and there's really no reason to go there except that it has some cool games and a bowling alley. Memorial Union is the one. It's a huge old building with decorated archways and lots of wood everywhere. When you sit here like this, sometimes you can almost feel the ghosts walking by you, accidentally spilling some of their ghost beer on your shoulder.

I'm digging into a fucking incredible burrito from the little Mexican section of the Rathskeller cafeteria. It's too big to eat Burrito-style, so I've massacred it with my plastic knife and fork, and I'm basically eating it like a salad. It's so good I want to cry. I've got a beer here, my second, and it's 4:30 pm. As I survey the room, I'd say 75% of the kids in here are drinking. Knocking 'em back at 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon; what better time or cause is there than that? Second semester doesn't start for another three weeks, and most of the continuing students are home with their parents for the holidays.

The smart ones are here at the Union with me.

The juke box here in the Rat is a weird mix of classic songs from the 60's and 70's and newly-minted-classic songs from the last five years or so. Right now Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" is playing. Good song, one that almost demands to be sung along with. There are two light-skinned African-American dudes standing right next to the jukebox. One of them is lip-synching the entire song to his buddy, and he's absolutely got it nailed. He hasn't missed a word, and he's gesturing emphatically as if he himself wrote the lyrics this morning. His buddy is bobbing his head unenthusiastically in support, and looking a bit embarrassed.

I guess a non-working stiff like me with $320 to his name should be out pounding the prairie pavement or at least making some phone calls, but to be honest I just haven't had it in me yet. It's been around 15 degrees outside the last couple of days and I've been all too happy to sleep in my warm closet until noon, eat some cereal, and then head out around 2 o'clock to do nothing in particular. Today nothing is sitting in the Rat alone, working on a crossword** in a Daily Cardinal from last semester.

Now "Mandinka" by Sinead O'Connor is playing. Another good song. Taking me back at least three years with that one. Before she was the huge, fake-tear-crying-in-the-video star she is today.

I haven't been completely inactive on the job front. I'm currently sitting on two leads. They both have their downsides, though, and I guess that's why I'm still sitting on 'em.

The first lead is a phone number for Tom Oates, the sports editor at the Wisconsin State Journal. I got the number from a kid named John Lesniak who sat next to me in my feature writing class. John Lesniak is one funny bastard. At least three times during that semester, he had me biting my cheek to prevent a guffaw that would have incriminated us both in front of a classroom of 20. John's been working at the State Journal all through college. He's pretty much got a job there locked up if he wants it. I ran into him at a bar, I believe it was the Church Key, about a month before graduation. We promised to stay in touch and he gave me Oates's number and said something about putting in a good word for me. So what's the problem?

1) Is it wrong to follow up on a friend's drunken offer of career assistance?

2) I am terrified to work at a real newspaper. It's what I went to school for, sure, but I've never actually done it. My only experience in actual journalism was when I interned out at WKOW-TV, working on the evening news. My ex-GF had hooked me up with that opportunity, and I fucked it up badly. One day I just stopped going, never called anybody, never saw any of them again. I wasn't ever really comfortable out there -- real newspeople scare the crap out of me.

So that situation is a little dicey. I feel like they'd never hire me, and if they did, they'd regret it. The other opportunity is unappealing for different reasons. It comes from my high school and now post-college buddy Max, who's been slinging hash and cleaning dishes at the UW hospital food service department for the last six months in order to establish residency for Law School. He's given me the number of one Verna Richardson, who's the hiring manager at the hospital. I think I could pretty much definitely get this job. But Max has not painted a pretty picture of the work itself. It's one thing to take a job doing gruesome physical labor when you have Law School waiting for you at the end of the rainbow. It's another thing altogether when you're entering the Real World for the first time and you know in your heart you should probably be looking for something better. Or at least something that could lead to something better.

So I have these two phone numbers staring back at me from my journal. I meant to call Oates this morning, but I chickened out. I've sort of promised myself that I won't call the hospital until I at least explore the one Actual Journalism Job Opportunity that's come my way. I don't want to fall into the trap of taking a shit job just because it's there -- the next time I look up it'll be the year 2000 and I'll still be putting together pre-cooked meals for people with double hernias.

However, I am gonna need some money at some point.

Maybe this career stuff is hard for me because I've never envisioned any of it. I've never thought, someday I could be X if I'm willing to start out as Y and put in the work to become Z first. I've never even thought about becoming X. My dreams never involve a job. For instance, if you asked me right now what I want out of life, I'd give you this naive hippie answer:

I want to live in a house somewhere, a Big Pink type house, with all my friends and our girls. I want to grill outside through November, and I want to wear flannel shirts when it gets cool. I want to sit in a room by myself writing stories for about two hours a day, and I want to sit in another room writing stories with my friends for two hours a day. Once every week or so, but not at a specific time, I want us alI to read our stories to each other. I want these stories to be good, probably better than they would ever actually be, but I want them to be amateurish enough to ensure they'd never find a market. I want to toss 165 gram frisbees outside when it's warm enough. I want there to be sex, but not bullshit commune everybody's-fucking-everybody sex, where you walk in on your buddy Nate giving it to your girl and you're not supposed to get upset. I'm far too sensitive for that; this will be one woman to a man and vice versa. I want there to be schedule for chores that has some structure to it, but I also want some flexibility. For instance, if Tuesday is my day on dishes and Thursday is your day on laundry, and the Knicks are playing on TV Tuesday night, I want to be able to switch with you if you're OK with it. I don't want to have to scratch our names off the bulletin board or anything, I just want to be able to arrange it verbally. I want a basement with a ping pong table and I want a porch with a swing. I want to open our house to our friends and their friends when they're in town. I don't want to have to check in with anybody about anything, ever. If I want to take a nap at 3 o'clock on a Monday afternoon, I don't want anybody else judging me about it. I don't want to worry about nice clothes or fancy cars or any of that, I really don't. As for money, I want there to be enough to buy beer and food and pay the cable and electric and phone bills, and I want some left over after that.

But that's all long-term. Right now that fucking Nirvana song is playing for the third time today, and I think that's my cue to go get my third beer. It's 5:17 pm, I'm 22 years old, and I have $320 burning a hole in my pocket.

Tomorrow I'll pick up the phone.

* OK, sometimes I'll sub a Bean Burrito for one of the Soft Tacos, but they're both 59 cents, so the price would still be $3.93 if I went that route on Saturday night.

** I don't know how they pulled it off, but The Daily Cardinal, one of our student papers, has obtained the rights to old NYT crossword puzzles, which now appear in the Cardinal every day.

Saturday, December 28, 1991

No money, no job, no rent. Hey, I'm back to normal.

Well, I'm back from NYC, I do believe I've had enough. This was a really strange trip home for me. For the last four Christmases, it was just a quick visit to NYC between semesters. I always knew I had another term waiting for me when I got back to Madison. Stuff was in progress. But this time I'm back to (theoretically) start my career. As what, I don't know. I have a journalism degree from a major university. That and a quarter will get you a game of skee-ball.

When I was home, I had the awkward conversation with my parents about money. It seems I've bled them dry over the past four and a half years, and now they're cutting me off. It actually was fine, I was the one who brought it up. I said, "Pop, thanks for everything you've done for me, from here on out I won't need any money from you." He sighed, and then he said, "That's good, because we have nothing left to give you." That made me feel sad for my parents, like I had broken them financially. But it felt good to be on my own a week out of college, like I was coming out of the gate swinging, ready to pull my own weight. It seemed right. No matter that I have no job and no prospects. I'll figure that out.

Getting cut off made me feel like a man. The last time I talked about becoming a man was in July of last year, when I was one month shy of my 21st birthday. Clyde and I were drinking on the porch at Mifflin Street, and I was lamenting the fact that I couldn't get into bars. We hatched a plan to drive to Canada that night, where the drinking age is 19. My theory was that as you cross the border into Canada, you become a man. You've earned the trust and respect of a nation, even if it's not your own. I began calling Canada "Manada" and I was pulsating with excitement to go. But then we got tired and passed out. When I woke up the next morning, I was still an innocent American boy, nestled securely in my bunk bed, trapped in a land that refused to open its bars to me.

That was a year and a half ago. In that year and a half, almost everybody I know has moved forward in life except me. Here's a quick list:

-Clyde Bowren: in the middle of his second year of law school here in Madison.

-Max Armbruster: accepted into UW law school, working for a year here in Madison to establish Wisconsin residency, so he can save beaucoup tuition money. He's working a crap-ass job in the food service department of the University Hospital, but it's all part of a larger plan, you know?

-Milo Vladek: my roommate; in the middle of his first year of Med School here at Madison.

-DB Everett: graduated with me last week, kind of in the same boat as me in terms of looking for a job. But he's got his shit together and I'm sure he'll end up going to law school or something.

-Joe Wladislaw: has one more semester to go to finish his mechanical engineering degree, and he's already interviewed at a bunch of places. In six months, he'll be taking home $35 or 40 K a year, easy.

-Bob Jefferson: same as Joe.

-Vic Franco: same as Joe and Bob, but he has two semesters left because he co-oped for two semesters.

So now when we all go out drinking, there's a note of desperation in it for me. They're all still on their educational path to success, I'm a working stiff. Or not even.

Christmas itself was fine. My sis got me a little journal to write in, I'm pretty excited about that. One of my goals is to write in that thing every day.

But first, I gotta say, I am excited about being an adult. I can do whatever the hell I please, and I owe no explanation to anybody for it. So far, what's pleased me is drinking almost every night. To the point of drunkenness every other night.

Yesterday I went over to Clyde's apartment at about 2 pm. It was an unseasonably mild day, it may have hit 35 degrees or so. But it was rainy and dark and overall a great day to sit inside watching movies and getting drunk. So Clyde and his brother and Vic and I watched Barfly and got drunk.

Barfly is an excellent movie, I can't believe I never saw it before. Mickey Rourke is hilarious. The main character is a poet who pretty much drinks his life away day after day in L.A. bars. After the movie, a drunk Clyde couldn't stop repeating this one line, "Endurance is more important than truth." We kept drinking in an attempt to prove the movie right.

But eventually my endurance ran out and I headed home. I got back to my apartment (which I share with Milo, Joe, Bob, Vic, and another dude named Vernon Pinkley) around 9, and Max was over, looking to see if anybody wanted to go out drinking. I was pretty tired, but the movie had inspired something in me, so I thought I'd weigh my options.

"We just saw Barfly," I said. "Have you ever seen it?"

"Yeah, it's not bad," Max said. "Have you ever read Bukowski?"

I hadn't even heard of him, nor did I know what Max was talking about.

"Is he related to Frank Brickowski?" I asked sarcastically.

"No, he's the writer who the movie's based on," Max said. "You should read his stuff. Very honest. He really lives like that."

I was in no mood for an education, so I excused myself and went upstairs.

When I got up to my room, which is actually just a closet with a bed in it, I opened up my new journal and decided I was going to write something. The first page was an inscription from my sister, so I opened it to the second page, which was nice and clean and ready for me to throw down some brilliant words on it. But nothing came. So I turned the page back to the inscription and read it again.

"To Hans

X-Mas 91

for your first sportswriting assigments and other demented things from the never-never land in your fine little brain

love you doll!

xx ya sistah"

That's what it said. It made me feel special, like I was destined for something. I decided that if I couldn't just start spitting out an award-winning story right there, at least I could jot down a few practical thoughts to help me in these first few weeks of manhood. Here's what I wrote:


1. Go to the library and learn all about cars. If I don't have a job, or if my job is easy, this is the moment in my life to catch up on all sorts of things that I've always wanted to do. To educate myself where others have failed to educate me. And the first thing I want to know about is cars. How they work, how to fix them, all that shit.

2. Write in the journal every day. Who knows, I may never have this much time or freedom again.

3. Find a university job so I can have access to the gym and play hoops.

4. Look for a journalism job?


At this point, I ran out of ideas. I left it off there and ran downstairs to see if Max was still around, and if he still wanted to go out. He was, and he did.

"How about the Hideaway?" I asked. The Pinckney Street Hideaway was a little bar tucked over by the State Capitol Building. You could get $3 pitchers of Leinenkugel’s there on weeknights, and on weekends they were still only $4.

"Sounds good," he said. And I agreed. It did sound good.

I woke up this morning in a pool of sweat, not remembering much from after we got to the bar. But something tells me it was worth it.