|Publisher:||Greenleaf Book Group Press|
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Holy shit. My friends and I graduated from college today. Amazing. What a sad statement that is for our educational system.
The great Albert Einstein once said, "Education is that which remains when one has forgotten everything he learned in school."
Okay, Albert. I believe that makes me educated.
During the graduation ceremony, we listened to various professors and deans hand out awards that we never even knew existed. Not that we would have been in contention, mind you, but maybe it would have been nice to know five years ago, when I began my college life, that there were awards to be handed out upon graduation.
I wanted to be happy for the fine scholars who received those awards while we watched, but I found it difficult. These were the very same folks who always fucked up the curve. And now they were being rewarded for it? It was hard to stomach. I was glad I was wasted.
Ironically, one of these award winners had turned Jimmy and me in during our sophomore year for drinking in the dorms. He was just a douche-bag freshman then. Maybe he was justified.
The guy had lived in the room below us and had his TV and VCR on the window ledge to get maximum reception. And when Jimmy threw up out of the window upstairs, he couldn't have known he would be dousing this guy's entertainment zone in vomit ... while the guy was sitting there playing video games.
If I remembered the incident correctly, however, he didn't actually turn us in the night that Jimmy drenched his entertainment system. It was the next night, when Jimmy and I came back drunk again, and Jimmy threw up again, and this time, the guy had his laundry on his window ledge.
I would've been more pissed about the TV and VCR, but I guess he really liked that shirt.
I still couldn't remember the guy's name, even though I'd met him a thousand times. Hell, they even mentioned his name twice from the stage, but I was way too drunk to pick up on it.
Also, we hadn't gone to sleep the previous night. Instead, we had all sat around discussing whether there were codes in the Bible that foretold the future, just like in that bestselling book that came out that year.
Folks have been looking to ancient documents to foresee the future for many moons. There have been many interesting discoveries — all of which are based on such randomness that it appears as if, with much investigation and sliding of numbers and rearranging of words, you could tell the future from any book in the world. And what better way to sell books than apocalyptic, fear-mongering bullshit?
It usually took a five-foot bong to provoke such a discussion, and this time was no different. We had also been drinking since noon.
We soon realized that our current topic was a new low in the realm of deep thinking. We switched to arguing about Plato and Aristotle, which soon became horribly uninteresting, due in large part to our limited knowledge. After that, it was politics, so we all got a chance to yell. Really, we were just savoring the moment. This would be one of our last great all-night debates.
We didn't want to own up to that fact that everything was all gonna be over soon, but it weighed heavily on our minds as we continued drinking and passing the peace pipe.
Right around midnight, Jimmy, my closest friend, informed me that he did not believe that in our five years of higher education I had ever outdrank him. I disagreed. Because I disagreed, Jimmy and I were still engaged in a drinking contest during our graduation. Now, an outsider might've thought that Jimmy would have had the edge on me in a drinking contest. But that's why such a person would be referred to as an outsider.
Jimmy stood about six foot, three inches tall. He was a huge mountain of muscle. He weighed in at around 230 pounds. I was six feet tall but somewhere in the neighborhood of half of Jimmy's weight, with pretty much zero muscle. But I had an uncanny knack for being an underdog success.
(I didn't, really — but I could bullshit myself quite well.)
As we sat there watching the great accomplishment that was a college education coming to a head, we couldn't help but glance across the auditorium occasionally at each other to make sure we were both still in the contest, as it had become increasingly obvious that it would soon end.
It was an unfortunate circumstance that graduation from college had to interfere with such a monumental task as a true man-to-man drinking contest.
I'm quite sure that everyone I had encountered that day was aware that I was involved in a drinking contest.
I'm not quite sure, though, that it was pride I saw gleaming in my father's eye when I told him loudly over lunch with my extended family just before the ceremony what we were up to. "Goddammit! I'm gonna win!" I told him with enthusiasm.
But there we were. Jimmy and I each had a flask that was to be emptied during the diplomathon.
At some point the next day, we were supposed to be leaving for a backpacking and rafting adventure to Big Bend National Park, in South Texas, where we would be hiking through the Monahan Sand Dunes to the glorious Rio Grande River, where we would then be rafting for five days along the southern border of the United States of America.
We had been looking forward to this trip for weeks.
It was the last thing I remember thinking about before I blacked out.CHAPTER 2
"Oh my god, Becky, look at her butt. It's so big."
That's what I was waking up to: "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot was playing extremely loudly as I tried to get my bearings.
I was hoping not only that I was regaining consciousness in the comfort of my own apartment — which, often enough, wasn't the case — but also that the large black man on my floor beside me was Jimmy.
Had I taken a lover? I reached around to make sure my ass was still intact and hadn't been violated. Then Jim rolled over enough for me to recognize him, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I looked around. My entire flight crew was present and accounted for.
JB was packing a bong. JB was great at packing bongs. He almost appeared to be made for it by some form of intelligent design. He had a short torso and short legs. Hell, I guess that made him short. But he had ridiculously long arms. I guess he was built like a slender silverback ape, but he wasn't really slender; only if he actually were an ape would you say that. And his short torso put him in close proximity to the bowl portion of the bong. He could grab a bag of weed halfway across the room with his long-ass arms while never leaving the airspace of the bong. Amazing. As an added benefit, there was never much risk of his stubby little legs knocking over a floor-kept bong.
Williams was pouring what appeared to be a Jack and Coke, hold the Coke. Williams was the guy you think of as an asshole character in a movie like Pretty in Pink or The Karate Kid. He wasn't the main asshole but the asshole's less attractive buddy. Williams had always been portly (read: fat) and had started losing the thin, dark hair on his head and getting it on his face at around age twelve. When he wore a hat (which was always), he looked to be about our age. When he took the hat off, he looked forty-five. None of the hair regrowth shit ever worked for him. This is why he drank whiskey in the morning and looked like an asshole. He came from a very wealthy family, though, so he was always of the opinion that he looked pretty fucking good to the ladies. He did not.
Devero, my dark-skinned buddy of unknown ethnicity, was arranging what looked like equal portions of the caps and stems from a bag of psychedelic mushrooms. We could never figure Devero out. His parents were both pasty white, yet he was pretty dark. He looked white. He had white features. He was just unexplainably dark, almost brown. He claimed he wasn't adopted. He had dark, straight white-guy hair and a white-guy nose. Just strange. You've gotta think his mom might have thrown a leg up to a Pakistani on the side — or a Cuban. Who knows?
Anyway, that was all of us. Jimmy, JB, Devero, Williams, and me.
"Nice job yesterday, Legs," said Devero while attempting a breakdancing move.
I stretched my mind back, but I couldn't remember anything past the graduation ceremony.
"Legs" was a nickname of mine for my outstanding achievements in foosball. I had the best defensive leg in the league — assuming there was a league.
"Where are my parents?" I asked.
"They caught an early flight home yesterday," Devero said. "After you fell down walking toward the stage and passed out, I think they might've been embarrassed."
"When you finally got up, I actually thought they might stay. Then you threw up everywhere, and the janitors had to clean up the aisle so people could continue to walk down it. Some students had to leave and not get their diplomas because of the smell, so your folks left." He smirked at me.
"They told me to tell you how proud they were. You won the drinking contest."
"I did? You sure?"
"By the time you passed out, Jimmy had been snoring for ten minutes."
I knew that Devero enjoyed the fact that my parents liked him the best of all my friends. I think they liked him out of sympathy for his mom's obvious infidelity, although I held that opinion close to the vest.
"Well," I said, "it may have been poor timing. In fact, I'm sure of it. But Jimmy had to be put in his place. You just don't call a man out like that, especially not while in a debate on the complexities of the human condition."
"A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do," Devero replied. "No one here questions your integrity."
"By the way," I asked, "did a cat shit in my mouth, or is that my breath?"
"Doesn't really matter. Either way, it's your breath," Devero said.
I sat up and gazed around the shitty apartment that I shared with Jimmy. It was amazing that I could even smell my own breath. The fucking place sucked. It was disgusting, with spittoon beer cans all over the place. It was a dimly lit, depressing, unhygienic, shag-carpeted slum.
There were two bedrooms, each of which stank to high heaven, and a bathroom that made the bedrooms smell like a florist's shop. The kitchen and living room were barely discernable from one another; the eight-foot stretch of thirty-year-old linoleum was the only signal that you had entered the kitchen.
The ceiling fan in the living room was down to one blade. It had been a four-blade fan originally, but in our defense, it only had three when we moved in. One blade was lost when Devero decided to prove to us that ceiling fans were so safe these days that you could literally stop one with your head. It cost him five stitches in the emergency room, and he still has no memory of that entire week. The other blade was due to that asshole Williams, who simply had to know the answer to that age-old question: What would happen if you threw a cat into a ceiling fan? The cat was fine, and we ended up beating Williams's ass for being such a dick, but it still cost us a fan blade. We also whacked Williams in the face with that very fan blade when he passed out that night.
So, yup, my place sucked. But it was our castle, and we loved it unconditionally.
I quickly discovered that unlike everybody else (including Jimmy), I had not received my diploma. It also appeared, through word of my faithful band of brothers, that upon leaving the ceremony while being propped up by campus security, I had become aware that I had parked my car illegally. Due to multiple security/parking issues with which I had been associated, my vehicle was at this time being towed. This was because of the school's "tow list." Once a student reached a certain number of unpaid traffic or security violations within a given amount of time, their vehicle was placed on the tow list until all fines were paid. But I wasn't supposed to be on the tow list anymore, because I had paid the fines to clear my record only the day before. I was told that I had to do this in order to get my diploma, but here I was being towed nonetheless. That must have been why seeing the tow truck had pissed me off so fucking much. Possibly I had reacted a tad irrationally. I don't remember.
Apparently, as I was being escorted from the auditorium, I had tried to politely let these fine security personnel know that I was off the tow list, but they wouldn't listen. So I offered some opinions, things got heated; I paid the tow truck guy, and I left. Shitfaced.
It now appeared that if I wanted my diploma, I had to visit the dean of students, Lawrence Horton, a man who was not a day less than ninety by the looks of him.
It was explained to me that he would dole out my final punishment at this fine institution for yesterday's events — of which I had little recollection. One last damn thing and then we could all pack up and leave.
Ever the genius, I made my trek after partaking in some hair of the dog — my old friend Jack Daniel's — and a large hit from the hookah. Then I made my way over to the dean's office to clear this whole misunderstanding up.CHAPTER 3
As Dean Horton welcomed me grimly into his office, I began thinking that perhaps the hookah had been the wrong instrument to bring me into these settings. And assuming that was true, the Jack had been just plain ludicrous.
The dean's office was large and prestigious. Recognitions of shit this guy had accomplished in the last 197 years were hung along every inch of his walls. His desk was equally large and prestigious. Was he compensating for something? Maybe not: Maybe the guy was hiding a huge elderly penis under that desk.
All I knew was that he looked three feet tall behind that thing. He had huge ears, too — almost alarmingly huge, like Yoda. But he had the voice of Darth Vader, and he commanded respect.
Dean Horton asked me to recount what I thought the events of the day before had been.
In the spirit of candor, I provided him with a very factual account of the events that had occurred as I recollected them, with absolutely no variation from the truth whatsoever.
"Well," I began, "I had been pretty nervous leading up to graduation. It's a pretty major event in any person's life. And finals were really tough on me this time. I was taking some difficult classes, and I was so nervous the night before graduation that I didn't sleep.
"So when my name was called to retrieve my diploma from the stage, it all just kind of came down on me. The pressure was intense, you know? I collapsed. And I was so nervous, and maybe some food disagreed with me; my seafood smelled really fishy last night — not fishy like suspicious, but maybe. But more likely fishy because it wasn't fresh. And I think it all just kind of hit me at once, and I threw up."
I shook my head.
"I'm real sorry about that," I said, with a combination of cockiness and sheepishness.
I paused to hit him with an appropriately contrite look before barreling on. "Anyhow, as I was being led outside for a breath of fresh air, I noticed my vehicle was being towed, even though I was supposed to be off the tow list. After a brief discussion, the security officers and the tow truck guy let me have my car and leave."
"So that's what happened?" asked the distinguished old gent.
"Yes, sir," I replied. "That's about it." I was gaining that confidence you get when you almost start to believe yourself.
"Would you mind if I read to you what the head of security on the scene, one of the gentlemen who escorted you out and helped with the tow truck incident, had to say?"
"Not at all, sir," I replied, although I didn't particularly like where this could potentially head.
The dean looked down at an official-looking paper in his hands. "As Mr. Hamilton stood to walk the aisle to receive his diploma, he stumbled a few feet and fell over, sprawled out in the middle of the aisle. It appeared as though he had fallen asleep.
"We tried to wake him, and he shook us off violently and stood up, telling us something about us not knowing shit about Jerry Garcia and the way the world should be. After another couple of steps, Mr. Hamilton began vomiting. He smelled overwhelmingly of alcohol, and his speech was very slurred."
Dean Horton gave me a piercing look over the tops of his glasses before returning to the security guard's statement.
"We tried to carry him outside away from the building. As we were carrying him, he kept telling us that he could see that his car was being towed and that it shouldn't be. He became belligerent.
"Then he broke free and ran toward the tow truck driver. He began poking him in the chest and cursing at him. He called him a 'stupid motherfucker' multiple times."
My god, it was priceless hearing the dean say that.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hubris Falls"
Copyright © 2019 Matthew Hiley.
Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
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