I am asked on a fairly regular basis to tell more stories of my youth, specifically stories that took place in college when I was supposed to be earning a degree, but instead spent half a decade pickling my brains. This is because a lot of my readers like to live vicariously through me living vicariously through my past self. (That’s two generations of vicarious living in case you are keeping track, which you aren’t). I’m usually more than happy to oblige because these stories always bring a smile to my face, especially when one of my friends consequently sends me an email to remind me of something related that I’d totally forgotten. “Dude, that’s so funny! And then you rode that police horse around the quad while wearing a Speedo made out of duct tape and parking citations! Hahahaha!” Uhhh, yeah.
But truth be told, five years is a long time to be drunk, high, and out of your mind, and for every (literally) dizzying peak, there was a lot of down time spent sleeping it off, reading on the porch, or
lurking in the bushes outside the women’s dorm watching TV. Many, many days passed during which the most exciting thing that happened was getting to abuse the credit card company that was stupid enough to give me a credit card when they called to try to collect. But every once in a while, I’d get on a roll.
The year before I lived in The House That Made Baby Jesus Cry, I lived in a house with several musicians. We had some fun times in that house, some weird times, but it was more or less a normal college house full of bohemian living and mild drug use. Then everyone but me left for the summer. Leases were signed for twelve month terms, but it was common to pay a year’s worth of rent during the ninth months that school was in session. And even though most people were paid up through the summer, they usually opted to spend their summer at home, working jobs to save up for the upcoming year. That summer, I decided that living rent and obligation free sounded like a lot more fun, and so I stayed.
The landlord, of course, wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity to make a quick buck, and so he quickly re-rented the empty rooms to people willing to pay a whopping $110 a month (all utilities included). Since there were very few students in town, the collection of people that soon filled up the house were locals who were more likely to be looking for a party than an education. The vibe of the house quickly changed from college-bohemian to end-of-days-hedonism. As the only active student in in our house, Yuri, a Russian attending summer classes, took it upon himself to answer the phone one day and discuss this situation with my mother.
“Hello? Ah, you are Greg’s mother, no? You should tell your son to come home. He drinks too much. I am Russian, I know what I am talking about.”
We had a lot of fun that summer, doing shit like drunkenly calling 911 at 4:00 AM to demand that they turn off the rain so we could play Wiffle-ball, eating mushrooms at a cricket match, and visiting a roommate who landed his ass in jail while we were tremendously high. But there was one day, one twenty-four hour period, when shit got really out of hand.
It began innocently enough, with the mail being delivered. It was ten in the morning and I was (of course) sound asleep when one of my roommates looked at the mail that had just been pushed through the mail slot and woke me up with a shout. “Greg, you got something from the IRS!” This was expected, and a big deal. Uncle Sam, in the days preceding the internet, took his sweet fucking time sending out refund checks. So although I had long since filed my return, I had yet to see my refund for all the hard work I’d done the summer before. But at ten in the morning on this day, it arrived. I had two hundred dollars in the form of an instantly cashable check in my hands.
I quickly got showered and dressed, and then we set about converting the check into cash, and then into something more useful, namely alcohol and drugs. We took a roommate’s car to the bank, and then to a liquor store down the street from us where we splurged and bought a keg of Heineken, a huge upgrade from what we used to drink which, if memory serves, was watered down horse piss. Unfortunately, the trunk wouldn’t open and in order to fit the keg in the car, another one of my roommates had to walk home.
Darren arrived back at the house about twenty minutes later, as we were just finishing setting up the keg and getting the first couple of good cups of beer out of it. “A cop almost shot me in the face just now,” he announced as he walked up the stairs of the back porch. Darren had been playing with a squirt gun that morning, one that looked alarmingly like a .45 automatic. While he was walking home, playfully squirting it in the air, someone called 911 to report a deranged lunatic with a powerful handgun walking down the block. “So I’m minding my own business when a cop screams FREEZE! DROP THE WEAPON, DROP THE WEAPON, DROP THE WEAPON! I threw it down, put my hands up and looked over my shoulder. There was a cop standing behind a tree with his gun aimed right at my head. If I had turned around to see what was going on before I threw the squirt gun down, he would’ve shot me right in the face.”
The cop instead gave Darren and his squirt gun a ride home. We kind of didn’t believe Darren’s story at first, but that soon faded as the cop walked around the corner and handed the squirt gun to Darren. “You left this in my cruiser. Do everyone a favor and leave it in the house next time.” He didn’t accept an offer of a free beer for not shooting our roommate, who everyone agreed, probably had it coming anyway.
The afternoon was spent drinking idly while occasionally coming up with an incredibly stupid idea, like playing Dizzy Izzy. Dizzy Izzy, for those of you who don’t know, is a relay race in which each team’s runners chug a beer, run twenty yards, pick up a baseball bat and place one end on the ground and the other end on their forehead. They then spin twenty times around in a circle and try to run back and tag the next person on their team. As you can imagine, this is an exercise in non-Euclidean geometry and while it is high in the laughs delivered department, it is also results in bloody noses, concussions, and the occasional snapped limb.
Finally, as evening approached, word had spread that there was a keg at my house and various well-wishers and hangers-on began to appear. By this time, the keg was getting a little light, so we got donations from the newcomers, I topped it off, and we got a second keg of beer. Another friend came over and wanted to know if I wanted to buy a quarter ounce of some excellent pot. As luck would have it, I did indeed want to buy good pot, and so I did.
Darkness descended, and things started to get weird. The party got bigger, and louder, and more and more people showed up that I didn’t know, including the guy who offered to sell me, for two bucks a hit, blotter acid that came in a large sheet that looked like the cover of the Eagle’s Hotel California album. Darren and I each ponied up a couple of bucks. I seem to remember he ate some sky, and I the top of a palm tree.
The acid came on, like it always does for me, with a twinge towards the back of my head which creates a brief, white spark in my vision. Only this time, the spark was more of a jolt of electricity. “Darren, I think I’m gonna be really fucked up here” I said as I looked over to Darren and saw that he was lazily waving his hand in front of his eyes, the international symbol for “I see tracers!” or, if you’re out in public, “Please come and arrest me!”
We spent the next couple of hours laughing wildly and getting involved in various party activities such as standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs, trying to hurdle a car tire that someone would roll down from the top. We also tried to create a beer slip ‘n slide, and I seem to remember trying to see how high we could stack our furniture in the back yard, or maybe it was in the living room. The driveway? Shit was starting to go sideways.
This is when Darren and I decided to go on a field trip. When I had moved into the house the previous fall, I moved about a half-block away from my old pad, a house that had been divided into apartments. Darren and I walked over, went in the back door, and went down the stairs that led to the basement. In the basement there was an easily picked lock that would open up the landlord’s side of the basement which included a lot of basement type stuff, and also a key grinder. Yes, we had decided that after ingesting oceans of booze, great pot, and very strong acid, the smartest thing that we could do was illegally enter a residence to make illicit keys.
Fortunately, we got distracted in the basement by a fire extinguisher, which I promptly blasted all over the place, and a gallon of metallic silver paint with a roller, which we stole and took home. We then proceeded to the roof of our house where we painted a twenty foot diameter peace sign and right above it, the word “SQUISH”. I’d say that it made sense at the time, but clearly we weren’t making any sense at all.
We spent the rest of the evening in the attic, going through random shit that previous tenants had left behind, and at one point I punched a one foot wide hole in the side of the house with a hat rack (an incident which, a month later, resulted in a roommate falling off the ladder to the attic, screaming, with a bat tangled in his hair). We were spent.
Now for those of you who were stupid enough to play around with acid in your life (and really, it’s a super hardcore drug, and fucking around with it isn’t such a hot idea), you know that usually when it wears off, you are wiped and wind up dead to the world for twelve to eighteen hours. But every now and again, you’ll come down feeling more or less normal, or, if not quite normal, somewhat functional at least. One time, two friends and I came down off of acid at seven in the morning, took some more, and went out golfing.
This was one of these mornings. As we sipped on beers at 5:30 AM, we decided that what we needed was some breakfast. “You know what would be fucking awesome right now?” I asked. “Steak and eggs!” Although for once I had the money to buy a decent meal, we had three other problems: The nearest 24 hour grocery store was far away, we didn’t have a car, and we were in no shape to drive anyway because we’d been drinking for over seventeen hours.
These problems were solved by our roommate Frank, who was still up drinking. Sure he was drunk, and he’d been smoking my pot throughout the evening, but he was willing to drive and more important, he was willing to convince another roommate (Noah, who was asleep) to get his girlfriend to let us use her father’s car. I’m going to restate that. A roommate’s unconscious girlfriend was woken up at 5:30 AM and agreed to lend her father’s car to three people who’d been partying since roughly noon the day before. Obviously we didn’t have a monopoly on bad decision making.
We took off in the early morning with Frank in the driver’s seat, me in the passenger’s seat, and Darren sitting behind us. Before we got one mile, Frank barked at me, “Give me everything in the glove compartment.”
“C’mon, c’mon, give me everything in the glove compartment.”
“What’re you looking for?” I asked, as I started pulling stuff out including maps, the owner’s manual, registration, a checkbook…
“Just give it here,” he snapped, and snatched it all out of my hands. He then rolled down his windows and flung everything into the street.
“Dude, what the fuck?” Darren and I asked in unison.
“Hahahaha!!!” answered Frank. “Let’s have some fun!” He then gunned the engine and pulled into the first subdivision he could find.
We carved out a swath of destruction for the next fourty-five minutes, leaving destroyed mailboxes and garbage cans behind us wherever we went. At first, this panicked Darren and I who just wanted some steak and eggs. After Frank reminded us that, “Hey, I’m the only one who’s going to go to jail, what the fuck are you worried about?” we settled down, even going so far as to offer ideas. “Frank, fishtail that garbage can into that mailbox…” SQUEEEAL… CRASH! BOOM!
Finally, we decided to make our way to the grocery store, stopping at a stop sign to remove an orange construction cone caught under the car. “Uhhh, Frank,” I said as I walked around the front of the car. “You’re going to want to come look at this.” The entire front end of the car was mangled. The grill was splintered to pieces. The headlights were cracked or broken. Even the fender was messed up, with the part that’s supposed to wrap around the side of the car sticking straight out instead.
“What’s the big fucking deal?” said Frank. “It was like that when we got out of the grocery store, right?”
We got home and started a small fire in the back yard to grill our steak and eggs, I guess because we felt like veteran outdoorsmen or something. I don’t know, we were out of our minds, and back into the beer as we got ready to eat. After eating we went back in to get high. Unbeknownst to us, this caused our roommate Yuri to seek a quieter place to sleep, namely the couch on the back porch. A few minutes later, we were recounting the fire extinguisher incident in my old landlord’s basement when Darren expressed surprise that the contents were a dry powder, and not foam or liquid.
“Nahhh, I think it’s all that powder shit now,” I said as I pulled our fire extinguisher off the wall and looked at it. “Yeah, see? Ours is too,” and to prove it, I uncorked a blast out the back window, through the screen. Yuri, still unable to sleep, looked up and saw what looked like smoke pouring out of a window.
“Fire! FIRE!” yelled Yuri as he ran into the house. I remember thinking to myself, “Ooh, what luck! I just happen to have a working fire extinguisher in my hands right this very minute!”
Seeing me with the fire extinguisher, Yuri assumed that I was already fighting the fire and so he was confused when I asked him where the fire was. “Where’s the fire?” I asked. “Fire! Fire!” yelled Yuri. It took several moments before Yuri disgustingly concluded that his roommates were total idiots and stormed off to try to sleep someplace quieter, like the middle of an intersection.
After laughing this off with more beer and a joint, we decided to cook up some more breakfast and headed to the back yard again. Since we were running low on wood, however, we decided to look in the utility shed that we’d never really looked through before. In there we found several old, rotting picnic tables, some picnic benches, old chairs, and enough wood to start a large bonfire, provided that we had some sort of fuel to really get it going. “Guys!” yelled Darren. “Look what I found! Kerosene!”
In no time at all, we had a bonfire going in our back yard with flames leaping fifteen feet high. This caused us some concern, actually, as either the power line or the phone line to the house (we weren’t sure which) was a mere five feet above that. And of course, we had no charged fire extinguishers with which to battle the blaze. So we stood there, drinking beer, nervously watching the fire. But our incredible, idiotic luck held and the fire began to die down before the insulation on the line began to melt or anything. This is when we decided to throw a bunch of old aerosol cans into the fire.
Anyone who has ever done this knows exactly what happens when you throw an old can of spray-paint in a fire: It sits there for a deliciously long period of time, waiting for you to come closer to see if the can has maybe rolled away from the flames when all of a sudden… BOOM! It blows the fuck up in a major way. We had five cans and decided to put them in there all at once. But because we were smart (wink), we went up onto the roof first. The idea was that the best place we could be while watching was behind the apex of the rooftop, just barely peeking over and watching the fire so that the cans wouldn’t hit us as they shot into the air. The fact that we were dangerously fucked up while on a rooftop didn’t phase us a bit. Hey, it gave us a chance to admire our peace sign.
We got into position as Darren dropped all five cans into the fire and sprinted around the side of the house, climbed the roof, and took his spot next to us. Just as he did so, a cop walked into the back yard. “Hello?” he called. “Helloooo?” Fuck.
I slid down the roof a few feet and peered over the side. “Hi! What can I do for you?” I called. The cop walked around the side of the house and looked up at three guys holding Solo cups full of beer.
“What’re you fellas doing?” he asked.
“Oh, you know, catching some sun, having a few beers…” said Darren.
“And having a bonfire,” prompted the cop.
“Oh. Yeah, having a bit of a fire too.”
“At 9:00 in the morning.”
“Well, umm, yeah. We’re getting an early start,” I offered.
“I can see that.”
The cop then told us that we were not allowed to have any kind of fire in our back yard, let alone one of the raging variety. “And even though ignorance of the law is no excuse, you fellas look like fine upstanding citizens who certainly didn’t intend to violate any laws,” the cop said, breaking every sarcasm meter in the entire metro area. “So if you let the fire die down until you can put it out with a bucket of water or something, I’ll let it slide with a warning.”
The entire time this exchange was going on, we had five cans of spray paint, ready to go off like bombs, right around the corner. We thanked him, nodded, added “Yessir” and “No sir” where appropriate, anything to get him the fuck out of there before those cans went off. And once again, our stupid luck held. He was in the car and had just gone around the corner when the first of the cans erupted with a large BANG, the can clattering to the ground a full thirty seconds after it went off.
This was the limit. We’d pushed it far enough. We slammed a few more beers as we watched the fire die down and then put it out. We went inside and just as I was headed to my room, the phone rang. “I WANT TO TALK TO FRANK, RIGHT NOW!” yelled an irate man. As I held out the phone to Frank, he looked at me with a slowly dawning look of realization on his face. “Oh FUCK! The car!”
Yes, Noah’s girlfriend had driven her dad’s car home, and dad was none too pleased with the shape of it. “You have fun with that, Frank.” I laughed as I headed off to bed. I slept for almost twenty-four hours.
There is luck, there is dumb luck, and there is blindingly insane, never in a trillion years kind of luck. We had the latter. At the start of our jag, we almost had a roommate shot to death. In the next twenty-four hours we violated numerous drug laws, committed a Breaking & Entry felony, as well as theft, destruction of property, vandalism, drunk driving, violated city ordinances against having fires, and blew a bunch of shit up for good measure. We should have been arrested, jailed, burned, shot, overdosed, and blown up. But we got away with all of it. ALL of it.
As I woke up the day after, I walked into the living room and saw Frank chatting amiably with the owner of the car he trashed. They looked over at me and began laughing. “Ok, guys,” said the father. “Try to keep a lid on it next time, huh?” He shook Frank’s hand, slapped me on the back, and walked out of the house laughing.
“Holy shit,” I said, not quite believing what I just saw. “What the fuck did you say to him?”
Frank smiled and said, “I told him the truth. All of it. The acid, the fire, the mailboxes… Hell, I even showed him your giant peace sign. About half-way through he stopped being pissed and just started laughing.
I know that there are plenty of people, plenty of kids in the world that have problems. Serious problems. Things don’t go their way. They get unlucky. They get hurt. They get scarred. They even get killed. That is a shame. I feel bad for those people, I really do. And I am in no way trivializing any of the bad, horrible, fucked up things that can happen to people. But every once in a while, I look at my life and wonder how it would’ve been different if I had to suffer consequences for some of my more extreme behavior. I can’t help but think that I might have been better off, in a way.
Because luck being what it is, extreme good luck has a way of turning around and biting you in the ass later on, turning itself into bad luck. If you grow up thinking that you’re immune to bad things, you stop guarding yourself against them. And that’s when they happen. You aim for the mailbox, but hit a tree. You fall off the roof. You blow your hand off fucking around with spray paint cans and fire. You trash a man’s car, and he beats your ass for your trouble.
“Oh, and I told him that you were driving,” said Frank. And I laughed because, for a little while longer at least, I knew my luck would hold.