Chapter 35 – The Road to Alcoholism
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been one of those dudes that wanted no association with anything related to school. I’d spend my time in the classroom staring out the window, dreaming of adventure and would often be told by the immature yet true-to-myself voice in my head that:
“I don’t wanna be here – this place is gay…I don’t wanna hafta listen to this gay-ass teacher – he’s an idiot…Naw, I don’t wanna do that homework assignment – shit’s fuckin’ gay…”
Now, I ain’t tryin’ to sit here and say that I have all the answers in the world and can’t be taught anything. I’m not sayin’ that at all. I’m just trying to say that strictly organized learning environments aren’t for everybody – especially a young daydream believer who had yet to grow out of an everything-and-everyone-is-gay-but-me demeanor.
Although my grades had never really been a reflection of my attitude toward formal education, my behavior in the classroom often did. I was never the typa dude to carry out elaborate pranks or the destructive moron who thought it was a good idea to dump bags of Quikrete in the men’s room toilets as my way of fighting the system. I was just a kid who always took more pride in making people laugh than doing well on tests that we were lead to believe measured our worth as human beings. I mean, how sickening was that shit? It was like, the second I showed up at high school I was told by everybody at the institution that I can either get good grades and go to a good college so I can get a good job to support a large loving family or I can be a greasy-faced loser who flips burgers at fuckin’ McDonald’s for the rest of my life before dying alone in a cockroach infested studio apartment in the fuckin’ ghetto. As if there was no in-between and no other options out there, ingrained in our heads, these were the two paths that we as students had to choose from. Accepting this paradigm as the undisputed truth, I instinctively sided with the former.
Everything about the secondary school path to success was taken so seriously. Homework, homework, homework, projects, projects, projects, study, study, study but you’re still not good enough to get into so-and-so university – so now you gotta play sports, participate in this club and volunteer what little free time you have left to prove you’re not a loser! I hated the four year struggle spent sacrificing my soul to impress the faceless, high-and-mighty admissions officers of “prestigious universities” whose job it is to play Pontius Pilate with my future, not to mention all the stress that came with it.
Pretty much my entire freshman year I’d kept a low profile, pulled all A’s and took out my frustrations outside of school by throwing snowballs and/or produce (depending on the season) at random people and moving vehicles. By sophomore year, I started to feel a little too old to be displacing my vexation on innocent victims like that all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I still tossed tomatoes and whatnot on occasion but “getting jacks” as we called it, had no longer been filling the void the way it used to. I needed to find a more direct way of coping with the overbearing workload. And as it happened, fate settled that matter by placing my jag-off buddy Kel and me together in sophomore year religion class.
Even though Kel and I had not attended the same grammar school, the first time we’d met each other was back when we were in the third grade. At the time, both of our Chicago firefighter fathers and a third family had been planning a three-car convoy down to Florida for Easter. Before making the actual trip however, we all gathered at the house of Kel to discuss plans and to make sure that the CB radios had been properly functioning. This was our first encounter.
I can’t remember exactly how our conversation went down all those years ago but judging by what soon after ensued, I imagine our initial interaction must’ve gone something like this…
“Hi, my name’s Jack. Do you wanna go cut the hair, then pull all the heads, legs and arms off of all my sister’s Barbie dolls before hitting them with whiffle bats in the backyard?”
“Yeah! That sounds cool!” I replied. “Let’s do it!”
Our parents threatened to cancel the vacation to make us feel bad for dismembering Kel’s sister’s Barbie collection but it went on as planned anyway. Even though their destination wasn’t the same as ours and we wouldn’t be hanging out once down in Florida, Kel and I utilized what little time we had together in transit to the Dirty Souf to act like as big of shitheads as humanly possible.
I forget which state we were in, but I’ll always remember that it’d been a Cracker Barrel we stopped off at for a bathroom break when Kel, my brother, one other kid and I all piled into the men’s room and collectively decided it was way funnier if we were all to just simultaneously piss on the wall instead of in the urinals. The bathroom wasn’t a very large one and after we’d massacred it with four bladders worth of little boy urine, our blend had no trouble trickling from the wall, across the floor and under the door before pooling up out on the floor of the gift shop.
The only photo of a young Kel I have from that vacation is one of his bare ass which I’d taken on my Polaroid instant camera and should probably get rid of before anyone accuses me of possessing kiddy porn. Even though I wouldn’t end up seeing this dude for about five years after our Florida vacation, I could tell he was still the same immature asshole half-a-decade later when we reunited in high school simply from the way that he still thought it was funny to bare his rear in public – specifically the time on the Pace bus home from school when he got caught by the driver with his pants down, butthole spread wide open and hams pressed up against the back window, providing a view for subsequent automobiles that only a pedophile would enjoy.
Aside from physical education which doesn’t really count, sophomore Scripture had been the first time that Kel and I were paired together in a classroom scenario. Since his last name begins with “K” and mine with “L,” we ended up sitting right next to each other in a room with an unusually arranged desk configuration. The chalkboard and the teacher’s desk had been at the head of the class but instead of having all the students’ desks face the front like a normal room, this class had two rows of student seating which flanked each side and faced each other for discussion purposes. The side Kel and I had been on set the chalkboard to our left and to the right for the kids sitting across from us. Certainly not what was intended by the mastermind behind this innovative set-up, Kel and I were practically set on stage and given an audience to whom we could project our immature dickheadedness.
Aside from us not giving two shits about religion, our main inspiration for acting like such shitheads in this class had been the fact that our teacher was a total doofus, Where’s-Waldo-lookalike with thick-rimmed glasses from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who, among other perceived “mispronunciations” that made him such an easy target, said “about” and “sorry” as “a-boat” and “sore-rie.” Mr. C was his name and he liked to take his scripture lessons very seriously. In fact, his passion for the subject ran so deep and he’d teach it with such intensity that the back and armpits of his dress shirt would get so sweaty by the end of class, all three pools of perspiration from the aforementioned locales would unite leaving our instructor looking like he’d just been baptized…again.
During ol’ Sweatback’s forty-five minute conveyances of theological values, Kel and I, being the 15-year-old horny little perverts we were, started making highly sexualized artistic interpretations of anything and everything related to Catholicism and passing ‘em back and forth to one another for a cheap laugh. As it did in The Exorcist, the crucifix became a dildo, confessional booths became glory hole stations, rosaries became anal beads and strangely enough, as Kel would depict amidst a sleeping pill of a lecture, baby Jesus’s arm became a black guy’s cock.
One day I’d been completely zoned the fuck out wishing Mr. C would just take a fuckin’ vow of silence already so I wouldn’t hafta listen to his brutal lesson when I noticed Kel had been fuckin’ around with his religion book in the seat next to me. Everybody in the room could hear him giggling to himself as he used a pen to gouge people outta the pages before stickin’ ‘em to a piece of loose leaf paper with gum. With nothing else to look forward to aside from the bell ringing at the end of class, I was actually pretty excited to see what he’d been cooking up.
At some point during the lesson, Kel reached over and tossed his latest project on my desk and started laughing. As soon as I saw it, I couldn’t help but do the same. He’d taken the foil wrapper from the adhesive piece of Doublemint and placed it over a black guy’s mouth to form a nice little platinum grill. Racist in itself and enough to get me in trouble at our strict-ass Jesuit high school, Kel had also cut out the arm of baby Jesus and used it as the black man’s penis which was subsequently getting jerked off by the hand of some Asian woman he’d also carved outta the same textbook.
Upon hearing the laughter, Mr. C’s ears pricked up and he turned towards the usual epicenter of disruption, saw the piece of paper on my desk and started walking over. I shut my notebook on it as fast as I could but it was too late. Where’s Waldo reached down, grabbed the artwork by the corner sticking from the top of my notebook and lifted it out to have a look-see. Despite the expression of utter disgust on his face, Mr. C seemed quite content to be armed with tangible evidence he could use to shoot us down. Continuing on with his lesson and not giving us the satisfaction of blowing up about what he’d just discovered, Waldo personally did nothing about Kel’s interracial happy ending masterpiece aside from making us sign our names on it, passing it along to the deans and letting them handle it. A couple days later, I was summoned down to the office for questioning.
“So,” began one dean known as “The Shark” through his ugly, nubby, yellow dolphin teeth with a blast of the worst coffee breath I’d ever smelled, “you think this is funny, huh?”
“Yeah,” there was no use in lying about it.
“Do you think if I showed this little rendering,” he said while standing up and pacing around with the picture in his hand, “to the mother of an Asian American student, she too would think this is funny?”
“No sir,” I replied before he tossed the picture in front of me on his desk.
“Uh-huh. And what if I were to show this little artwork to uh…where are you from?”
“By Taft High School?”
“Okay, so what if we were to show your little artwork here to some of the African American students at Taft High School, huh? What would they have to say about it?”
“Well, uh, they’d probably think it’s pretty cool. I mean, the guy is getting a hand job – that’s pretty cool, right?”
He didn’t like my answer and let me know exactly how he felt about it. I was given a Saturday detention for this thing I didn’t even make and after I was dismissed, The Shark packaged up the “rendering” and sent it home to my parents.
Even though I should’ve felt like I was walking on eggshells in scripture after that first fuck-up, I still had trouble behaving myself with Kel sitting next to me. As such, triggered by no major offense in particular but just because we never shut the fuck up when we were supposed to, Mr. C decided to move Kel over to the opposite side of the room in an attempt to break up the madness. Instead of solving the problem however, the relocation only inspired Kel to go out of his way to be an even bigger dick than usual.
On another glorious school day during which our holy-rolling instructor had been attempting to instill in us some biblical wisdom, from across the room I could tell by the way in which Kel’d been so intently focused on scribbling in his notebook that he’d been up to something – because I know Kel, and Kel never took notes. But since everyone else in the room had been trying to copy down every word of what was said in preparation for the next all-important exam, he blended right in with our classmates. Initially, Mr. C. couldn’t have suspected a thing.
Moments later, I and everyone else on my side of the class would find out that Kel had been making a Wayne’s-World-inspired sign that read “THIS MAN HAS NO PENIS” which he held up while Mr. C had his sweaty back to us and was writing on the board. His side of the room couldn’t really see it and didn’t know what was going on but my side loved it.
With the crowd warmed up, Kel got busy scribbling a second sign. When the time was right, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, a Where’s Waldo hat as well as a stick-on replica of our teacher’s quarter-sized, triangle-shaped soul patch then held up the new sign which read “HE BLOWS GOATS, I HAVE PROOF” and ended up getting caught red-handed. And all Kel had to say for himself – in a super-exaggerated version of Mr. C’s UP accent – was, “I’m ‘sore-rie’ ‘a-boat’ that.”
I swear I’d never seen a grown man’s face turn so red so fast. It was classic.
Over the course of the next couple weeks, since Kel had been on his best behavior, I too played it relatively cool in scripture. This peaceful epoch lasted until our class had been taking a big test which counted for a certain percentage of our grade when fate backed me into a corner.
My sixteenth birthday had been when I’d gotten my first cell phone. I didn’t have that many friends and really didn’t have much use for the thing. In fact, the only purpose that my having a cell phone served was so that my worrisome mother could be able to check in with me and make sure that I hadn’t perished in some freak accident, gotten struck by lightning or whatever other terrible shit she might’ve imagined happening to me that my having a phone couldn’t possibly have prevented. Since nobody called me and I didn’t know what texting was at the time, I didn’t have any need to switch my phone to silent – I, in actuality, didn’t even know that phones came with a “silent mode.” Looking back, I don’t even know why I’d been carrying my phone or why I had it turned on in class, but I’m glad I did. Had I not, the following never would’ve happened.
As we’d been in the middle of taking this macho-ass supreme-o test on which everyone had been intently focused, the instantly recognizable opening chords of “Misty Mountain Hop” began blaring from my nether region. I had become that guy.
I always hated it when people’s phones went off in class. It mostly happened to stupid girls who’d get super embarrassed by the incident and would apologize profusely while fumbling through their bags to find and shut it off, appearing to everyone in the room as an incompetent moron. I didn’t wanna be seen that way. I felt I was better than that. I had respect for myself. So, when everyone in the room looked up from the end-all be-all scripture test we’d been slaving away at and stared at me in silence, awaiting an end to the disruption, I chose the unapologetic path.
“Yeahhhhhhhhhhh,” I picked up the phone and answered it like Lil Jon. “Yo shorty, what it do?”
Everyone in the class was blown away.
“Hang up the phone Tim!” our teacher growled.
“Uh-huh, yeah,” I put my feet up on the desk in front of me. “Yeah, I can talk,” I responded to my mom on the other end who’d been calling, hoping to leave a voice message concerning my ride home from baseball practice.
“Hang up the phone right now Tim!” his face was now visibly red.
“H-h-hold on a minute,” I cut my mom off as she’d been asking who it was that’d been telling me to hang up the phone. “Ay, yo!” I said after cupping the receiver and looking up to make eye contact with Mr. C. “Keep it down over there. Canchu see I gots my bitch on da phone?…Yeah, sorry ‘bout that,” I said into my Nokia as I stood up and walked out of the room to finish the conversation in the hallway.
With my heart racing, I eventually returned to the class where I’d discovered that my test had been torn to pieces and that I’d automatically received a grade of zero for being such a cocksucker. On top of that, I was forced to surrender my cell phone which would have to be retrieved from the The Shark in the dean’s office on a later date.
Because I needed to ace every test from then on out to avoid spending the rest of my life “flipping burgers at McDonald’s” as they’d say, that was pretty much the end of Jack’s and my scripture class romp. Nevertheless, with my stress level piling ever higher over the next two-and-a-half years, I continued with the shenanigans in other courses as my already shitty, resentful attitude towards school work became decidedly worse.
While most of my classmates joyously exchanged news of acceptance letters during the spring of senior year, I as a directionless eighteen-year-old absolutely burnt-out by the workload that was to “prep” me for a higher education couldn’t stand the thought of four more years rotting away in a classroom. I’d sit around the house pissing, moaning and procrastinating about my options until my mom had finally had enough of my depressive mopery, choose Marquette University, selected my major in journalism and even set up my class schedule for me.
Looking back, I suppose this was for the best even though I was way too immature at the time to make the most of my $40,000-per-year education. Like a lot of people make the point of saying, “How many people know what they wanna do with the rest of their lives when they’re only eighteen-years-old?” I sure didn’t. In fact, I was so immature that unless my teachers were talking about tits, ass and fucking or shit, piss and boogers, I didn’t wanna hear about it. If only I could’ve taken some time off to figure myself out before rushing into university with the sour taste still fresh in my mouth that’d been left there by the high school overload, maybe I wouldn’t have been so irresponsible with such a great privilege.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I had an awesome time at college but, educationally, took very little out of the experience. As the ignorant little jag I was, I thought that my major and most of my classes were “totally fuckin’ gay.” Freshman year criminology was probably the only course that I found genuinely interesting but even then, I treated it as if it were high school scripture class.
“Yeah, uh…” I began with my hand raised in the auditorium where class was taught, “…so, if one Siamese twin kills a dude against his brother’s will and gets convicted of the crime, do they both have to go to jail? And also, how do they handle it if they give the dude the death penalty and the other twin can’t survive because they share the same organs?”
The teacher was stumped.
“Yeah, uh…” I asked on a different occasion, “…so, if a post-op transsexual kills someone and gets convicted, do they send him or her to the prison of their original sex or their post-op sex?”
He again didn’t have an answer for me.
On the third occasion, our teacher had been talking about the Singaporean punishment known as “caning” which is something that I describe as a public version of Kevin Bacon’s ass-paddling, fraternal initiation in Animal House.
“Yeah, uh…” he already knew what type of question to expect from me, “…so if a paraplegic or someone else who has no feeling in their legs and ass gets convicted of a crime that’s normally punishable by caning, do they come up with an alternative way to deal with these criminals? I mean, aside from losing face from having their asses spanked in public, there’s really little incentive to deter this caliber of people from committing these crimes.”
He was stumped again and people laughed but I kinda felt like a jackass. I thought they were good jokes and all and I liked sharing them with my peers, but something didn’t feel quite right about class clownin’ in college. I was unhappy with my situation as a student which was nothing new, but I felt totally lost, like I had nowhere to turn to.
Before college, I’d only gotten drunk a handful of times but had immediately recognized the effect this strange brew had on me. I felt it was something I could use not only as a tool to mentally remove myself from life situations I didn’t wanna be in, but also as a sort of permission or excuse to go ahead and act on every depraved whim or passing fancy that happened to cross my mind – ones I might not have had the audacity to carry out as a person with conscience still fully intact. In short, it made me feel like Stanley Ipkiss when he put on The Mask. I couldn’t get enough of the newfound depression-dulling exemption from self-inhibition that drinking had provided and, once away at university, ended up fully embracing the frothy temptress.
Whether on a long weekend home from college or on Christmas break, I always packed up and brought along my drunken Milwaukee lifestyle. At the age of eighteen, a typical night out with my intoxicating mistress in Chicago’s Edison Park neighborhood would often begin with ultra unnecessary and wholly sickening back-to-back power hours at my kitchen table followed by a two-block stumble to a neighborhood dive called Nick’s Pub.
During that time period, the front door of Nick’s Pub had been bounced by Salami Sam, one of the kids Gerald Garner had met at fat camp in the movie Heavyweights. When I say this, I don’t mean some Salami Sam lookalike had been keeping this establishment in order. I mean that the actual guy who portrayed this character back in the mid-90s stood large and in charge regulating the place like Warren G. Although Sam looked to me like his stint at Camp Hope and the time he’d spent Perkisizing hadn’t done him very much good, it had nonetheless been an honor to routinely get dragged out of this establishment by the man who delivered such memorable lines in the 1995 cult classic as “Hey new kid, come get these salamis off my back,” and, while getting ready to jump in the lake, “Watch out for Salami Sam!” Needless to say, slurred versions of the quotes had filled the air at Nick’s Pub on a nightly basis.
On those drunken evenings spent wasted at the scummiest place in the neighborhood, my antics were as mindless as I’d been at the time. Even if I had money in my wallet, I recall thinking how suave I was stumbling back and forth along the bar, reaching in between customers who’d been awaiting drinks then swiping and jamming each and every pile of tips into my pocket in hope of using that money to get exponentially more loaded. When tips were out of reach and on nights when my wallet happened to be empty however, I’d often resort to plan B and stoop so low as to slam every unattended drink I could get my hands on. When caught I’d perpetually use the line, “Oh sorry, I thought that was my drink.” Although this worked some of the time, it was pretty obvious I hadn’t actually thought the drinks were mine during times I’d gotten caught stealing unopened beers from buckets or shots which’d just been ordered, poured and set on the bar moments beforehand.
Of course, whether I’d obtained my drinks using money that wasn’t mine or just plain old picked up and chugged someone else’s half-drinken one with a cigarette butt floating in it, I’d most often end up taking the empty bottles or glasses and carelessly tossing them on the tiled floor. Although they didn’t always break, when they did the sound of shattering glass never failed to catch the attention of dear old Salami Sam and his other bar-bouncing cohorts who’d drag me out of this little hole-in-the-wall and toss me out onto the street. These stereotypical neighborhood wine-o style evictions had always been followed by the longest two block trek ever – a journey perpetually full of tripping, falling, staggering, crawling and half-assed attempts at breaking whatever toilets, televisions and other garbage people had left out in the alley to be hauled away.
Once home, I more often than not ended these nights by pissing all over my bedroom. Popular targets for me had been the wall, the screen of the television, into the oscillating fan and sometimes even directly on my brother as he slept. Even though my bro had every right in the world to be mad at me, I’d turn the tables and get angry with him when he’d tell me to stop urinating on him and to take my business to the bathroom.
On nights that I wasn’t able to ingest all that I “needed” by closing time or by the time I’d been removed from the premises, I’d head home and wouldn’t go to bed until every last drop of my parents’ booze in the house had been completely demolished. Although many of these late night sessions had been self-destructing solo missions, on several occasions when I knew there’d been enough to go around, I’d invite a few similarly minded partners-in-crime to come and help me handle the dirty work.
During a couple of these group nightcaps which’d often involved as much alcohol intake as some people’s entire night on the town, a neighborhood buddy named Schmit – a dude who happened to be teaching English in Thailand when I’d be making my visit – would make an appearance and booze it up until the crack of dawn. The instance which stands out most clearly in my mind had been the time we decided to have an after-hours Louisville Chugger session in my backyard.
For those of you non-sippin, non-pourin-up, KY-jelly-packin’ asses out there unfamiliar with this diversion, Louisville Chugger – or Dizzy Bat as it’s known to some – is a game that directs contestants to take a beer, pour it in the hollow end of a long skinny whiffle bat and then chug the contents as fast as you can while those “on deck” count in unison timing you. However long it takes this “batter” to drink the beer is how many times he or she has to spin around the bat in the most nauseating position possible – that being doubled-over with your forehead on one end of the Whiffle stick while the other end remains in place on the ground and serves as the pivotal point for your body to shuffle around. When this task is completed, the hapless, disoriented individual is to look up towards the “pitcher” whereupon they have to swing the bat and smack an empty can that will be underhandedly tossed in their general direction. If the batter “strikes out,” the entire process is to be repeated – literally ad nauseam – until contact is made with the can.
So, on this particular summer evening – or morning I should say – the two of us, a guy named Barrett and a notoriously heavy hitter named The Hoff got to my house around 3am and decided to help ourselves to “one or two more beers” that’d been leftover from my mom’s birthday party. In actuality, after I’d busted out the old Louisville Chugger, “one or two more beers” had turned into the consumption of an entire 30-pack as well as a 1.5L bottle of Bella Sera Pinot Grigio. Because of this, I blacked out hard as fuck and don’t remember the events that followed. However, my mom who we’d woken up with our boisterous merrymaking that’d been fueled by her treasure trove would later fill me in on what’d happened.
“I don’t know what type of game you were playing – why anyone would wanna spin around like that is beyond me – but I was pretty sure that I was about to go to jail from having an underage kid die at my house while drinking.”
What she’d been referring to there was how The Hoff, after having chugged and spun, looked up to hit the can, swung, missed, lost his balance, took about ten quick steps trying to stay standing, gained quite a bit of momentum and crashed head first into one of the 4×4 wooden posts supporting our fence.
“Yeah, and his whole body slumped to the ground. He was just laying there,” she said. “He looked like he was dead. So then you and the other guy…who was that guy? Not Barrett – the other guy.”
“Yeah, Schmit. You and your friend Schmit went over and started messing with him.”
Disregarding all standard medical precautions that should be taken into consideration when dealing with a person who has a potential spinal cord injury, I was told that Schmit and I had approached The Hoff and started shaking his limp unconscious body while shouting lines such as “Get up pussy!” “You missed!” and “Now you gotta do it again!”
It seems from the perspective of a younger Schmit and a younger version of myself that there really was no excuse permissible for stopping drinking, not even knocking yourself unconscious because you’re too drunk to maintain your bipedalism. It was this shared love of the drink, an unfaltering dedication to inebriation which served as the foundation of the now antiquated let’s-get-together-and-blackout relationship he and I once had. Even though Schmit and I don’t really kick it no more, back in early 2011 I couldn’t wait to see how hard my similarly devoted drinking buddy had been boozin’ it up out in Thailand.
As well as a scan of the original picture, below is a copy of the letter sent home in response to Mr. C’s discovery of Jack’s artwork on my desk in sophomore year scripture class. Shout-out to my mama for holdin’ on to this shit for all these years. Love you, ma!