Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kind of like the Odd Couple, but with less gay subtext

I didn't even want to go to college.

My old girlfriend Blora nagged me to apply somewhere, anywhere, and I managed to send out one application.

They accepted me because I am incredible.

Let me tell you something about rooming blind.

It is a fantastic game of Russian roulette.

The summer before my first semester, I got an ominous, late-afternoon call from my future roommate, and when I hung up, I thought for sure I had drawn the bullet.

(sorry, i steal my jokes from brilliant cinema like scary movie 3)

The voice on the line was impossibly deep, like the bowel of the earth had carved its way to a landline and rung me up to ask if I was bringing a TV.

"I don't have a T.V.", I told the Creature from the Earth's Core.

"That's all right, I have one. I need it to sleep."

"Ok." I was a little scared, so I did that cool move where you squeeze your legs together and keep peepee from coming out.

"Do you like music?" it asked.

"Sure. Do you like the Pixies-"

"I like Danzig. A lot."

He hung up.

How do you measure trepidation?

I measure it by the shallowness of breath I feel as my family drives me the five hours of desolate turnpike to my new school; by how close to ash the rest stop fried chicken tastes in my mouth.

Popeye's Chicken!! The official taste of dread!

The campus was set on a little hill at the edge of a dying steel town.

There was so much scum in the air that the night was never black, only purple. It all smelled like sweaty factories and sewage.

"It's no big deal, but plan on having some major zits the first few times you shower," someone warned me, "the water is kind of greasy or something."

I arrived at my dorm room.

My roommate, Gary, had already moved in his things, but he was no where around.

What kind of person could I put to that deep of a voice?

He had placed a small television on top of a mini-fridge, and the rest of his decor seemed to spiral out from it like it was the epicenter of a chambered nautilus.

On the walls, he had hung two framed pictures: one of Michael Jordan; the other, a black velvet painting of Mickey Mouse.

"Well, we'll see ya."

My parents hugged me goodbye.

I stood in the room for awhile, my head down.

Something profound was happening to me right then, some threshold had been irrevocably crossed over, but I couldn't name it. 

I wanted to put on my jammies and eat sugar cereal and watch Captain Caveman on a Saturday morning.

I wanted to see the swirly tiles in the bathroom of my home, especially the one that looked like a raygun.

A shadow fell upon me.

"Hello." Gasp. It was Gary.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

"H-h-h-hi, Gary." He had to be six foot five if he was a yard....or however it is that sailors in movies state the bigness of fish.

In one stride, he came in from the hall and flicked on the TV.

Gary talked a little about himself, but I wasn't really listening; I was thinking about all the different stuff he could probably palm with his hands.

Basketballs, sure, but what else?

His little TV.

My back. Do you think you could lift me by palming my back, Gary?

Do you ask new roommates those kinds of questions?

"You smoke?" he asked.

Yes, but holy lord, not like him.

Gary bought Marlboro Reds by the pallet, and smoked them one after the other.

The skin of his log-sized smoking fingers was orangey brown.

I learned many things about Gary in those first few days.

He had a bad temper.

When Sonic the Hedgehog lost all his rings, Gary threw things.

One day Sonic failed on one of his attempts to topple Dr.Robotnik, and Gary stomped on the cartridge while it was still inserted into the Sega.

There were no more video games for awhile.

Gary's mom called all the time, and their conversations were like rides on bi-polar ferris wheels.

Are we going clockwise or counterclockwise? Which way are we going to spin!?! Make up your mind, you stupid carny and quit playing with the controls. Kids are puking up there.

"Hi Mom."
"Yeah I got the money."
"Yeah I know."
"Oh yeah its going really good. He's great, he-"
"Oh, that's cool. Yep."
"No, I read that in the book of John."

Then he would stretch himself out flat on the floor, effectively taking up the whole room, and proceed to talk in his alternative voice, a high, nasal whine he used for the emotion of wistful sadness.

"I love you too Mom. I know you're worried. Yep. I know. I miss everyone there." He even teared up a bit.

One night, I tried to get Gary to be introspective, to go inside himself and emerge with sentiments approaching the poetic.

We were laying on our bunk beds, in the dark.

"Just try to make up a poem, Gary," I encouraged him, "just about anything."

"I feel stupid."

"Just try," I was really only motivated by an inability to sleep and a great curiosity to see if he would really do it. 

Can a man who is only Id, only need and gratification, slow down enough to reflect upon his thoughts, to give them structure and form?

"Fine, shut up and let me think."

There was a great sigh above me.

"'My pillow is my friend. It helps me sleep. I love my pillow.'"

We rode to friendship on the wave of that breakthrough.

Gary would let me hog the only mirror in the room to comb my luxurious hair, and I would pretend nothing was happening when I walked in on him in his underwear, holding a can of deodorant like a microphone, and screaming "MOTHER! TELL YOUR CHILDREN NOT TO WALK MY WAY. WHAT THEY DO, WHAT THEY SAY, OH MOTHER-"

Though we did not live together after that first year, Gary and I continued to be friends.

I watched him sprint up the stairs of his rental home in a panic of bathroom need, while little droplets of poop rained down his pant legs and splatted on the carpeting of each step.

I only cringed an understandable amount when a cold settled randomly in his cheek and swelled one side of his face to cartoonish dimensions.

When, after five years of college, we at last parted ways, I shook his Hulk hand for the last time and promised our BFF status would endure forever.

It didn't.

I would say it endured about the length of time it took me to drive back to my home state.

But this was nothing against Gary or my fondness for him; this was merely the first stirrings of the intense social anxiety and dread that would come to rule my life and be my constant companion, my only fwend. 

I have to wonder, what process, what strange tickle in Gary's ear woke him in the middle of the night, nine years after speaking his last words to me, and convinced him that he needed me to be the best man in his wedding.

His wedding in two weeks. 

I couldn't do it.

I listened to the answering machine message, and my finger some how found itself hovering over the delete button.

Oh Gary, what we had was a lifetime ago.

I...I've changed....I've moved on.

"What are you doing in there?" my wife bellowed.

"Nothing, dear." I hastily erased the message and walked away.


  1. I have this feeling we went to the same college. I'm trying to think of a question that I can ask without saying too much. Ah, was your college mostly known as an engineering school and did it have a team name/mascot change around the time you attended? Weird.

    1. My school did not even have engineering. They had like liberal arts and philosophy and stuff. And the only sports they had were intramural disc golf and jogging.

    2. Ha! Mine was situated on "The Hill" overlooking Bethlehem Steel, so uh, yeah, it made sense to me. I was drunk in a fraternity basement all the time and rarely made it to class so I didn't know anyone.

    3. But Megan, your alma mater pulled off an amazing upset in the NCAA tournament recently - aren't you proud? ha ha.

    4. But Megan, your alma mater pulled off an amazing upset in the NCAA tournament recently - aren't you proud? ha ha.

    5. Nope. I hated that place. :) Well, classes at that place anyway.

  2. I truly liked your story about Gary. You have a natural way of writing that comes across smoothly. Indeed, the story was entertaining.

  3. And then you quoted Yeats in the most hilarious way ever, and that is when I knew you and I would be friends forever and ever. Not to mention that the rest of the post was absolutely perfect.

    Don't worry. I will not ask you to be my best man. I was married in '02.

    1. I can do pall bearer, if you die or something. People don't expect you to talk as much at funerals...
      That yeats quote so weirdly popped into my head when I drew that picture of me turning around. I guess there is still an English major haunting the back alleys of my subconcious.

  4. You are like my insides, on the outside.
    And I love The Pixies.

  5. Haha! Oh roommates. I didn't get along with my freshman roommates really, but nothing like that. And I didn't keep in touch with them, either. Womp womp.

    1. What does womp womp mean?
      Does cookie monster say that?
      You damn kids and your memes...

    2. I hope someone answers this... I need to know too.

    3. Womp womp is the sound that an epic fail makes. Like, when you think you're doing great and then you aren't... womppp womppp....

      Like a slightly higher octave on the first womp and a lower on the second.

      Say it with me:

      WOMP womp...

    4. Or- if you know your 'do re mi's -it is 'sol do'


    6. So its like Wha wha wha whaaaaaa.....
      like when Grover brings the wrong soup AGAIN and the camera zooms in on that guy with moustache shaking his head.
      Ok, I got it now

    7. Wow, thanks! I totally didn't get that. Womp womp to me sounds like something upbeat... *sigh* now I I know...

    8. Bozo, I think you are thinking of woot woot, which is what techy folks say when terrabyte memory cards are on sale. And man, I was sooo hoping that youtube video went to a Brother JT video like this one:

      He says Whaa Whaaa a lot.

  6. This was truly funny! I kinda feel sorry for Gary, though...

    1. Thanks! er...Crack You Whip! I felt sorry for him too. He was one of those poor guys that always had endless streams of bad luck....

  7. Funny, I have read the book of John probably more than all the others, and I don't remember that line. Perhaps it was a diFFerent John.

    1. The thing that reaLLy defines me is that my grand favorite place at college was The Cornette Library.

    2. The amount of time between the times I eat at Popeye's is roughly proportional to number X size of chicken bones I find in my food all raised to the power equal to the number of times I choked of the aforementioned chicken bone divided by my age. The age factor goes in the denominator for senility reasons, because I forget sooner the older I get. There is also a Madison Avenue complexity factor based on teleBision advertising. It is complex because too few commercials makes me forget about the restaurant and too many commercials makes me deplore practicaLLy anything, eXcept cute puppies. I didn't mean that Popeye's and Puppies have anything to do with each other eXcept incredibly I just discovered how similar the two words sound. Perhaps it was a subconscious decision for me to choose the word 'puppies' simply because I was writing something about Popeye's but more likely it is because it is 2:22 AM and I yam tired. I just realized how long this is so I have decided to turn it into a blog post at my place. Thanks Gweenie for giving me a Popeye's remembrance blog post seed.

    3. Glad I could help.
      I like how you apply math to chicken.
      Perhaps I would have paid attention in school if all learning had pertained to eating.

    4. As all roads lead to Rome, all math eventually leads to food, so combining those two: Pizza

  8. It's great that you were able to get past the initial issues and be able to live together. I have heard so many roommate nightmare stories.

    1. I can coexist successfully with most anyone, given my ability to retreat into my own mind and bury my feelings.
      Its very healthy.

  9. Great post again :) My favourite line today was,

    "Ok." I was a little scared, so I did that cool move where you squeeze your legs together and keep peepee from coming out."

    Haha makes me laugh all over again right now.

    I felt a little sad about the best man part though - I mean, that means he hadn't made any significant friends since leaving college. Poor guy.

    1. Yeah, I am not sure if he had or not, but it was a little sad.

  10. My first college roommate was a horrible girl who had spent the summer after graduation in Europe and came back with an aversion to shaving. Anything.

    I named her Hairy Mary and inevitably moved out, because she hated my perky, cute, cheerleader guts.


    She ruined my angora sweater by getting nasty pit stains in it due to her hairy armpits and then... SHE PUT IT IN THE WASHING MACHINE THEN THREW IT IN THE DRYER.

    I'ma cutta bitch for that.

    1. I wonder if she liked being called Hairy Mary.
      It sounds hurtful.
      It sounds like her resentment built up and then she unleashed it onto the sweater.
      Dani, didn't you learn anything from working in special ed?
      Even if someone is very hairy, you don't cut them.
      Thats the first line of our staff handbook.

    2. I know, I know... sigh.

      She called me Tinker Bitch (because I was short and perky, like Tinkerbell, only... well, bitchy and brunette and a little bit Pat Benatarish/Joan Jettish, thus Tinkerbitch...) so I felt that Hairy Mary was justified, even though I may or may not have started the name calling first.

      Now I feel bad because Gweenbrick called me hurtful...

      I never read my Spec Ed handbook. Maybe that's where I went wrong...

    3. And why my dear is Tinkerbitch not the name of your blog???
      The Adventures of Hairy Mary and Tinkerbitch.
      And don't feel bad I said you were hurtful, I pretty much call anything above a whisper "hurtful".

  11. Gary has a temper very much like my own. It's sweet he thought of you to be his best man years after you last spoke to him. He cares for you still.

    1. Oh, I know I am an unfeeling, insensitive bastard paralyzed by my anxiety and fear, you don't have to make it worse Nellie.

  12. Funny and sad.
    We haven't seen any of the guests at our wedding in including the best man since we married and moved north twenty two years ago.
    I had to look up BFF...

    1. Is "moving north" in Australia the equivalent of dropping off the face of the earth?
      Now that I know you are Australian, all I have to say to you are stupid Australia questions.
      Do you have washers and dryers there, or do you handwash everything in the loo?

    2. Moving north is getting closer to civilization, if you move to Tasmania you have to be very careful not to drop off the face of the earth.
      When we moved to the country I had to stop washing my clothes in the toilet because we have a composting one.

  13. Gweenbrick, you should be proud and honoured that he ask you to be his best man. You had an impact on him, which is huge.

    I loved this post. But I must say - I tend to win the 'weirdest roomate' see my freshman year room mate was a bisexual girl with one eye and one arm. She never spoke to me, but she did flip me off with her one working arm quite a bit. She frequently brought home men from various renaissance festivals (knives throwers, flame eaters...)and also an interesting woman who lived under a bridge. She was terrifying.

    1. Afraid and ashamed was more of the emotion I went through.....

      However, I want to focus on the rest of your comment.
      A whole series???
      Think of the pictures, eke, my god the pictures!
      I wish that roommate had been mine.....

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  16. Odd that no one has commented on your friend shitting his pants. Also curious. Perhaps it somehow foreshadowed your future work with people who shit their pants regularly? With all due respect to your work, of course. I myself haven't encountered any pants-poopers in my lifetime, aside from the children I have birthed. Though my husband is fond of calling particular cases he's working on "a real pants soiler."

    P.S. Forgive the multiple posts. I am incapable of tolerating my own type-o's.

    1. I think people who read my blog have become very jaded towards anything to do with excrement. Their hearts have hardened.

  17. That took a twist I didn't see coming.

    1. What was the twist? My sudden heartlessness? Please don't say you think I am an unfeeling troll,Knight, even if its true...

  18. Yes, that old roommate/college friend business can be a tricky one. I was asked to sing at a wedding of some old college friends once but there were some circumstances surrounding their relationship that I did not feel comfortable with -- and by singing would thereby be party to, or at the very least endorse. Does that make sense? Anyway, I politely denied the request. Haven't spoken to them since. I imagine they hate me now.

    1. I understand that completely...there have been a couple of weddings I could not throw my weight behind. No one's ever asked me to sing though, despite my having the pipes of the silverclad nightingale.

  19. Loved this. My first college roomie was a pathological liar. By the end of the first semester I found out she told her parents I was a pill-popping drug dealer, stole several photos off my cork board (obviously for voodoo purposes) and denied it, and convinced her boyfriend I'd taken her to get an abortion (she was never pregnant, for the record). And that's just for starters. If she ever invited me to her wedding I'd be tempted to go, but it's probably bad karma to punch a bride in the neck.

    1. Wouch-you had it way WAY worse than me-you should scroll up and read eke's comment, and then you two should swap roommate horror stories.
      But yeah, don't punch brides in the neck, it wrecks their special day.

  20. I'm with Mandy. I'm a little surprised that no one acknowledged the non-developmentally challenged man pooping down his trouser leg. Was it explosive diarrhea, and that's why it wasn't controlled? Did he have a massive shart that leaked all the way down? Bothersome.
    My first thought when reading that he asked you to be his best man two weeks before his wedding, was that whoever else he had been planning on had ditched out last minute. If that was the case, I would feel less bad because you were his second, third, or seventh choice. My other thought was that he just hadn't planned well, and choosing a best man was an after-thought. I wouldn't want to be another man's best after-thought.

  21. I would have deleted the living daylights outvof that message too

  22. You'd be surprised just how easy it is to crap your own pants. You can run or you can hold it but you can't run AND hold it.
    Gary is like the Debaser to your Enter Sandman. The perfect foil.

  23. This post is pretty old, so you probably won't ever see this (unless you really like reading comments from old posts) but I'm going to college in about a month and a half and I have read this a couple times, just because the subject is relevant to my life now. It makes me feel so much less nervous about having no friends and such, because I, too, share your propensity for awkwardness.
    So, I just wanted to say thank you. For writing this little story and making me laugh about something really scary.