(This part 3 of an excerpt from My Life and Harder Times. Pt. 1. Pt. 2)
I tried to date again. I met a woman in one of my journalism classes. Her name sounded vaguely like an item on the Taco Bell menu but I couldn’t remember which item. I seemed able to gauge my interest based on what I’d accidentally call her when I mentioned her to friends. It started out a something like Chalupa. I knew I no longer held any interest when I once accidentally called her Soft Taco, Hold the Lettuce.
We went out to a bar. She told me she had trouble making decisions on her own. I asked her how she made decisions. She dumped a wad of 60 fortune cookie fortunes from her purse onto the table. “When I have trouble making a choice, I pull out a fortune. My mother eats all the Chinese food.”
I think we did karaoke drunk once. Wherever she is, she has my copy of The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, a hardcover encyclopedia of rumors about things like size of WC Fields’ penis and how many male sexual partners Cary Grant had. I’ll probably just find another copy.
I remember little else about her.
I’d been quoted the previous week at a school event sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The event, a hoax beer pong tournament, had been stocked with non-alcoholic beer. The student government president and a MADD representative spoke at the end. On the line in, a reporter asked me why I went. I replied: “I’m here to drink until I forget I’m at Baruch College.” This line was printed with attribution on the front page of the school paper the next day.
I’d developed quite a business in the back of the chess room selling papers to Asian kids who couldn’t speak English and just wanted to get their accounting degrees and leave. I wrote about topics from migrant farm worker relations in the 1930s to the Du Pont company’s work in the Manhattan project. Because I did this, all these guys owed me favors and I had a little gang of tiny Asian guys who’d keep an eye out on goings on within the club hallway while I read and typed and played internet streams of Delta Blues 78s.
There were these guys in the club hallway who would set up a poker table and hold Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments with surprisingly high buy-ins for a commuter school. The school finally cracked down on them, and they came to JJ. JJ offered to rent the chess office for these illegal poker games to these guys for $250 a day. There were two gym rats who ran the table, a jacked up Asian guy and a black guy. This was when 50 Cent was more popular so they’d go everywhere in basketball jerseys, wearing bright red flat bill baseball caps and band-aids on their cheeks purely for fashion.
A meeting was had with all the members of the chess club. $250 was a lot of fried chicken. A unanimous decision was reached wherein the members of the club would now take the timers and chess sets into the hallway for a couple hours a day and the rent money would be spent on promotional events and fried chicken.
JJ had problems collecting rent from the poker guys. JJ didn’t sleep much, because he lived with his senile grandfather and would put in late nights explaining to his grandfather that the women in the Girls Gone Wild infomercials were not in fact talking to him. I told JJ to just change the channel. He said his grandfather always turned the channel back.
One night, JJ sent a group FB message to everyone in the Chess Club to confront the poker guys and get the money that was owed. It was extremely long and unhinged.
An excerpt: “If that nigger with the shitty teeth tries to fuck with you, tell him he’s ugly. Tell him his teeth are shitty. If the chink comes at you pull that fucking band-aid off his face. You guys know what I mean by chink. You know, there’re Asian guys and there’re chinks. If they come at you, tell them you’ll fuck their grandmothers. And rape their mothers.”
Eventually the deal with the poker guys fell through and we all ate much less fried chicken.
I’d moved into a different apartment by then, situated in a floor of an old YMCA that was done up to resemble a dorm hall for kids attending the commuter schools in NYC. I’d struck up a friendship with a Stuyvesant graduate who lived down the hall and spoke like the announcer on the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. I’ll call him D.
D rarely ever left his apartment, spending his days and nights in bed listening to Opera recordings and lurking on College Quiz Bowl internet forums. He read so much Victorian literature that his natural temperament-easy-going, conversational, approachable-was hard to distinguish from behind the wall of slang phrases I have only ever heard him say. I presume they have not been in common usage since the late 19th century.
He’d express surprise by exclaiming “Oh, mother.” He’d express mock-surprise by chiming in “Oh, and they serve decaf in restaurants now.” By some perfect storm of circumstances he brought a girl from a party home one night and in the morning told me excitedly how they’d “necked.”
D was extremely politically conservative and fairly racist. A popular practical joke in the dorm hallway was to go in and ask him about the change of US immigration since 1924 and hear D’s 20 minute rant on the subject while mixing cheap liquor into soft drinks. He was possibly the only person in NYC still giving scientific credence to phrenology. It was far more entertaining than I’m getting across. He seemed like such a relic out of time, like a man dressed up in one of those medieval age theme parks who spoke with the politically incorrect bawdiness actual era. It was hard to take offense because to take offense would be to see Doug as little else besides a strange relic that had happened to float in from another age.
On the weekends he would go to Quiz Bowl tournaments on his own and register as the entire CUNY team. I went with him one time in Boston. We were team CUNY. I got 3 questions, one about Lenny Bruce and one about Neil Young and another one I can’t remember. They asked a lot of questions about the opera. We beat the West Point Academy team 400 to -20.
Doug described Stuyvesant High School-a giant holdover from the 60s or a Larry Clarke film. The students scored drugs in the park late at night. They had sex and did laughing gas in the hallways between classes. He’d been at the heart of a student controversy after releasing a fake magazine cover of him naked on a bed wrapped in a giant flag of Ronald Reagan’s face. He says I would’ve liked it.
His friends were all young Republicans. I was the token communist. His friend Jeremiah always dressed like a rich old man with pinstriped suit jackets and ties. Jeremiah stole a $50 bottle of vintage wine from his father’s basement and gave to D and I. That night we pulled out the large box of paper Dixie cups we kept in the one area of the bathroom that wasn’t covered in hair. We drank 3/4ths of the bottle, shot style, out of these Dixie cups. It was alright.
We were both pretty heavy drinkers and shared an appreciation of bottled champagne leftovers, the champagne they legally can’t call champagne, Andre. When we became roommates, we would refer to Andre as “the third roommate.”
We had neighbors and we’d go to movies with them. Well, one of them. I spent most of my time reading obscure comic books and watching Robert Bresson and Jerry Lewis movies.
We all drank a lot. I would get reports from a friend back home that a woman who lived down the hall from him, heir to a notable sports fortune, had taken a strong liking to Franzia boxed wine. He claimed that before recycling day she’d have the boxes of it piled up around her room that resembled a homeless shanty. She supposedly smelled like fish. Jokes spread around the campus about rumors that she and her boyfriend had decided to name their first child The Fronz. I didn’t stay in touch, and for all I know this may have happened.
(Tomorrow: Strange happenings at the flea market and Coney Island)