I was always a smart kid - I was sixteen before I broke a hundred pounds, wore glasses, played roleplaying games. My friends were all saddled with obesity or acne or pure social awkwardness. Girls were an unsolvable but enchanting mystery, a puzzle that didn't seem to have any edge pieces, and I'm pretty sure pieces from other puzzles were mixed into the box. So I was a smart kid, but it was at expense of near everything else. I didn't play sports, I wasn't good at talking to peole. I spent weeks and weeks of highschol finding an abandoned patch of hallway and reading a book. The teachers knew to call on me when they wanted a question answered and to move on with their lesson. In return for my bearing the withering gazes of classmates, they let me read whatever I liked through class.
I didn't go to any parties in high school. Well, that's nto true - there was one, the year I graduated, but I'd heard about it more by happenstance, and when I showed up the drunken debauchery was interrupted minutes later by the arrival of the police. Hopping over a fence and fleeing into the night was some of the most terrifying minutes of my life, and I was home hours before my parent's curfew.
I was tightly wound, but I didn't know it. The evils of the Internet were not widely known, and the only real experience I had with flirtation, arousal, attraction - it all happened in chat boxes with perfect strangers, over a 9600 b/s modem in the late hours after my parents had slipped to sleep. Even that was put to an end after a three hundred dollar compuserve bill appeared in the mail. Even the porn on the internet in those days was tame - mostly scanned pictures of playboy bunnies. Or maybe I was just too naive to know where to look.
I had a few female friends - girls who'd found me to help improve a grade, but found me sweet and earnest while they pined for boys with motorcycles and leather jackets. I was just honored to bask in their company.
Suddenly, there weren't parents dictating my homework be accomplished, my chores be done, permission asked before spending time with a friend or going to a vaguely social activity. The first semester, I was a saint. I went to classes, hid out in my room, marveled at having my own computer. I shared a dorm room with seven guys - four to a room, with a shared living room. They were people I'd never have shared time with in high school - jocks, stoners, players. One kept three girlfriends mutually unaware of each other, another had a new girl in his bed every night, a girl who never seemed to mind if the other three roommates were absent or present, who stumbled out of his room in the morning looking dazed and happy and wearing a shirt that hung to mid thigh.
After the first semester, and my parents were pleased that I'd achieved the perfect grades they expected, the dorm room player with the string of girls found me hard at work, reading the books for next semester days before classes were set to begin.
"Dude. Are you going to be the next President?"
I blinked. I was confused. I told him I wanted to be a writer.
He laughed. "What have you ever done that's worth writing about?"
The question floored me. My mind was filled with spaceships and sorcery, superheroics and spies. But it made me think - of Hemingway and Vonnegut, of the lives they'd lead, the adventures they'd had, the beauty of their words and the compelling insights found buried in thier stories.
He shrugged, while I puzzled. "I'm going up to the Hill. Find a party. You want to come?"
But I hadn't been invited to any, I protested. He laughed.
"It's the Hill. You don't need an invitation. C'mon."
He sorted through my clothes, wincing. He wasn't much larger than me - more muscle, and an inch or two taller, but he loaned me clothes and a leather jacket and took my glasses and put them on the desk that had been my sanctuary.
"You need those to see?" I shook my head. I just needed them to read, and I was always reading, so they were always perched on my nose. He grinned.
"If I find you reading tonight, I'm gonna stomp your face in," he said. It was friendly, delivered with a smile, but Kirk - (not his name, but he might as well been Captain of the U.S.S. Coolness for all I knew) - Kirk had beated the living daylights out of the Texas football linebacker in our room two weeks before. Texas outweighed him by soem fifty bounds and stood six inches taller. So I gulped and nodded and willed myself illiterate.
The Hill was only a few blocks from our dorms. It positively swarmed with people. It was the cheap residential area just off the campus, and houses on the Hill were regularly bought and sold every three years, as affluent parents or enterprising students negotiated a sale as sophomores and sold it off as graduating seniors. In my mind, it looked like rows and rows of crack dens - there was no mind paid to mowing lawns, painting exteriors, replacing roofs. Students simply lived in them until they collapsed, and most didn't look like they'd seen the tender touch of a vacuum in years. Marinara was spackled on the ceiling in places, and the backyards of the houses holding keggers were elbow to elbow with people. We passed a cop being stradled by a co-ed in the front seat of his cruiser - while his partner sold confiscated dime bags of pot from an alleyway. Kirk took it all in with a grin - this was his home, his people, his world. School was just an excuse for... this.
He stepped up to a porch - the door was swung open, and laughter and chants of 'chug chug chug' came from within. There was the sweet smell of honey permeating the porch, and a girl in leather pants and a striped halter, with dark circles of black makeup around her eyes, took a drag on what I thought was a cigarette. The smell of honey blossomed into the air. I stepped forward, entranced more than emboldened.
"What's that smell?" I whispered. She glanced over, sized me up - then a fey twinkle danced in her eyes. She took a long drag, then stepped into me. Her mouth moved over mine, and then I was breathing smoke that smelled of honey and spice, my skin tingling from an instant buzz that had as much to do with her mouth and her closeness as the delicious smell and taste.
"Clove," she might have said. I never made it off the porch that night - i traded kisses with a girl that smelled like honey, laughed easily and kissed strangers. Kirk collected me hours later. I didn't have the nerve to make a move, to ask her name, no less her number. We talked about things, but I can't remember what - just an endless buzz of excitement and honey and tongue. The girl on Kirk's arm seemed to giggle at everything he said, smelling of cheap beer and candy-gloss lipstick.
I'd kissed a girl before - awkwardly, and with little more than resentment on her part for my boldness. It had been three years earlier, and I'd never kissed again. She was the first to kiss me - and kiss me - and the next morning I walked to the gas station on the bare periphery of the Hill and bought a pack of cloves.
Kirk was charmed and unimpressed with my tale. "Should have made a move, dude. She wanted you." I interrogated him for hours afte that - he lent me his jacket again, and again we traipsed up to the Hill. He found another party, guided us within. There were no mysterious sirens o the porch, and soon I was having my second taste of college - cheap beer in a plastic cup, followed by another, and another. I became bold. I talked. I dazzled. I charmed. I was sure of it. I drank more beer. I was sick in a toilet. I drank more beer.
I awoke in a ditch, lying in the grass, in the shadow of a tree. I was a half mile from the school, in the opposite direction of the Hill, and no memory of how I'd gotten there - and by then I was hooked on the adventure. I drank until I blacked out, every night - and there were always new faces, new stories, new parties, new houses. When Kirk decided to make a weekend with his latest conquest, rather than just an overnight stay, I headed to the Hill alone for the first time.
I talked my way into a party, Kirk's tutelage making that the easy part. Soon I was downing drinks, passnig them out, working the keg as if I were a seasoned professional, and not a book-loving geek with his first taste of a new life. Or so I thought - I was still sweet, and friendly, and perhaps a bit too earnest for most. But I had drink, and it emboldened me, and people seemed to find the drunken, nerdy freshman newly in love with life could be forgiven near anything.
I remember a night - most of it, at least - that began with a frat party. The kegs were located on the upper floor of the house, and emboldened buffoons leapt fro ma balcony onto a trampoline. It didnt end well for most, but most of the injuries were deadened by drink. I elected to take a less risque method back to the first floor, until my foot hit the first stair an slipped out from under me. Down I went, rolling ass over head, the sudden vertigo and sensation of falling triggering instant nausea. I became a pinwheel of puke, a firework of half digested vodka and Pabst, finally coming to the landing and pushing my way out, keeping the rest of my liquid diet within for a few steps until I could get over the balcony connected to the landing. Then I lost it all, heaving over the side, people pulling away in every direction.
Below, I heard a scream of pure outrage. "WHAT! THE! F***!" A huge fratboy glared up at me, his head and shoulders covered, his girlfriend pulling away from him in disgust. He turned up and me, eyes flaring like the pits of hell, fists balling in the promise of punshment. "Move, you little c***, and you're a dead man!" He bounded inside.
I elected to move. Once he was within, I threw myself over the balcony, landing without so much a sprain, recalling a saying about gods looking over fools and drunkards and counting myself both.
"Dude, you better run," said one of the crowd who'd watched my fountain and its target. He barely held in his laughter. "That's the head of the frat."
He pointed away, and I ran for all I was worth - given my inebriation and my general lack of athleticism, I think pure terror let me get a block before I put my hands on my knees, panting. When I looked up, there was another party - the Hill was a magical place - and I slipped within. I told my tale of woe, and they laughed and promised to shelter me, and soon both hands were full of magical plastic cups.
Half an hour later, i was pleasantly drunk again, the terror forgotten, telling my story to a cushion on the couch next to me. One of the kind patrons who'd allowed me succor paused, leaning over me. "Dude - I think you need to go to a ... a clinic or something." I blinked, confused, the comfort of the couch and the warmth of the packed house making me groggy - and aided in no small part by the volumes of alcohol I'd consumed to make up those I'd lost. He gestured down. "You're talking to empty air, and you're leg's like... twitching. I think you might die."
That, I decided, would be intolerably rude, especially given the protection they'd provided from an enraged fratboy. I looked down at my foot -occasionally twitching spastically, as he'd indicated, and rose unsteadily to my feet. I would depart - I didn't want the burden of my succumbing to the evils of drink to darken their generous door.
So I set back out, and cool mountain air helped clear my head - the grogginess faded, my feet gained renewed confidence, and I didn't pass a single talking couch cusion. I realized that if I was going to continue to ddrink - and I was - I needed something to eat. The Hill was built caddycorner to a small array of cshops and cafes, and at the corner of an intersection, I spotted a coffeehouse opened late. Normally I would have ignored it - I don't drink coffee, and worse, I'd hurt it could counter the ffects of my hard won inebriation. No, I was just hungry, and confident a bit of food could bring me back to a safe level of intoxication. I was ready to pass it by completely when my eye fell on a cookie in the window.
This was no ordinary cookie - it was larger than a dinner plate, stuffed with chocolate chips, the center of it nearly an inch thick and the whole perfectly browned. It was like the gates of heaven opening, and the trumpets of angels rang around it - it was the perfect answer to my dilemma, and just as I thought it couldn't be any more perfect, my gaze drifted to the index card taped to the saran wrapping.
Cookies. 50 cents
I understood how the Buddha felt, as he approached Nirvana. I stepped within, greeted by the smell of dark roast and baked goods. I proceeded to counter, plopped down two quarters, and drunkenly requested a cookie.
The teller nodded, and handeed me the halfling sized brother of the orc that dominated the window. I peered at it, feeling Nirvana slip from my grasp. I had been duped. I made an impassioned point that this was not the cookie which had been advertised. I pointed, drawing a comparison between the relative circumference of the two cookies.
"That's just for display, man. You don't want that cookie."
Oh, but I did. I told him so. He wearily wiped his brow. "That cookie's been in the window for six months. You don't want that cookie." He pushed its minitature cousin toward me.
Oh, but I did. I knocked the tiny cookie off the counter in a fit of pique. Once again, I rearticulated my point, though I had to lean against the counter to keep from falling over. I might have looked a bit green, as well, as all the conflict had driven my stomach into knots. Sensing he was about to be on the losing end of a projectile argument, he held up his hands. "Alright, man, alright! I'll get you the cookie. You jst can't eat it here."
Pleased with their generosity, I acqueisced to his request, taking my prize and meandering down the sidewalk. I unwrapped the saran wrap, and took my first bite. Rather, I attempted to - the cookie had the consistency of set concrete, and my mere incisors were incapable of doing more than indenting the surface. I gnawed, I chomped, I ground my teeth against it, all to no avail. Perplexed, I stared at it, wondering if I should have heeded the words of the teller. Perhaps I should return and acknowledge his wisdom, swallow my drunken self-righteousness, and beseech an ordinary sized cookie.
I had paid two quarters for it! My drunken brain reasoned that the only thing to d was become more strident in my efforts, so I smacked it against a nearby concrete bench.
Victory! A crack appeared. The first three blows only began to crumble the hardened cookie, but finally it split, and another flew blows allowed me to break off a chunk I could manage to fit in my mouth. I chewed, and chewed and chewed, swallowing my first triumphant bite.
It tasted mostly of sawdust and flour, but my victory was not to be denied. I rose, meandering and chewing the pieces of my cookie sobering ever so slightly as I went. A short while later, I encountered another group of late night vagabonds. I charitably offered them a piece of cookie, and the leader of the group - a strappingly tall black man with a shaved head and shoulders you could build a tree house on, took a look at it, and laughed. "Is that the cookie from the cafe?" He laughed again, then looked closer at me.
"Duuuuuude!" His eyes flashed with recognition. He waved and gathered his friends around. "Dude, this is the guy from Kappa Kappa Alpha." he laughed again. "You remember how I told you the President got puked on, and the dude ran off?" He laughed once more, wrapping an arm around me, pointing at me. "This is the dude!"
The others offered their congratulations, impressed, clapping me on the shoulder. I offered them cookie, confirmed that I did recall the event in question, and soon I was swept into their company, feeling like a very short D'Artagnan. All of them towered over me, and when they swept me into the backyard of a house, I saw an impossiblity - here was a house with a keg standing out in the open. There were only a half dozen folks, gathered around them, and at the urging of my friendly comrades, I was encouraged to tell my story - and also how I'd come into the possession of the cafe cookie, a story that similarly delighted. A few of the more daring members tried bites of the cookie, but didn't find it to their taste. They offered me a plastic cup, which I accepted.
The black fellow laughed and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. "Dude, you're like the best frosh ever." The others seemed to agree - and soon I stood in their company, drinking with these hulking giants. Finally, it occurred to me that the chances of them all knowing one another and staning so tall was unlikely to be conincidence, and I inquired.
My black Porthos laughed. "Dude, we're the football team. I'm the wide reciever, this is Matt, our quarterback, this is - " the introductions continued, rattling off positions for a sport I'd seen perhaps once while flipping through the channels, and still remained a mystery. "After we tap this keg, we're going to head back to our place and smoke a bowl."
I inquired as to what this 'bowl' he spoke of was, and I was met by mischievous smiles.
"Best. Frosh. Ever."
There was a blur of drink and emptied cups, and soon we were walking again. I felt I'd been jumped into the tallest gang ever, keeping pace, finishing the last of the cookie as I was swept along to the 'bowl' of mystery.
Soon we were gathered on another porch - and while I was naive, I did recognize the four foot glass tube that was passed my way. I'd seen college movies, and finally what a 'bowl' was clicked into palce in my mind.
The football team partook of illegal drugs.
I was shocked, drunk, and torn. My new friends were friendly, and I'd never really experienced peer pressure before. One part of me felt I should lecture them on the dangers of the gateway drug, but it occurred to me the lot of them were... very tall. I went the route of the coward, although I'll admit that a certain amount of curiosity compelled me as well. I took the tube, breathed in deeply as instructed, and coughed at the harsh sear on my lungs. I frowned, not certain I felt anything, then passed the tube along obediently. When it circled around, I tried again, still to no effect, while the others watched with a certain glee and expectation in their eyes.
A girl sat down next to us, between me and the 'quarterback.' She pecked him on the cheek, adjusted a skirt which barely covered her thighs, then turned and introduced herself. I could see a blue, silken bra peeking out from her blouse, and the lines of matching underwear peeking from atop the short skirt.
"Hi! I'm a creature of impossibly celestial beauty, surely a herald of the heavens, an avatar of the divine."
She smiled brightly, and I thoroughly agreed with her words. As I attempted to form an intelligible response, my body rebelled, and suddenly I was regurgitating cookie onto her lap. She shrieked in horror and outrage, and the football team burst into raoucous laughter.
"BEST! FROSH EVER!" howled one, while another fell back, off the porch, clutchign his sides as he crashed into hedges.
" - I think I peed a little - "
" - he shoots, he scores! - "
" - oh my god, that was epci - "
"YOU GUYS ARE JERKS!" screamed the angel, hopping to her feet and stomping off.
I stumbled after her, intent on apologizing, knocking on the door. She answered, her eyes full of rage, and I blacked out.
I woke back in my dorm room, wearing only the leather jacket. My head hurt like a thousand dinosaurs were stomping upon it, a horrible taste in my mouth and the light stabbing at my skin like razor-edged scimitars.
I stumbled to my closet, found underwear, and staggered to the communal bathroom. I relived a bladder that must have been the size of a prize-winning watermelon, and emerged to a dozen showering guys staring at me.
"My man!" shouted one.
"All weekend looong," grinned another. Perplexed, I was given high fives and pats on the back, and made my way, bewildered, back to my room. I reached into the pocket of the jacket I was wearing, intending to remove it and return it to Kirk and swear off ever drinking again. My fingers ran over silk, and I pulled free a familiar bra - gorgeous blue silk, last seen down the low cut blouse of a spattered angel.
I never deduced exactly how I managed to seduce the angel in my drunken state - or how I slipped away with her, past the drunken football players - or how I managed a performance that apparently lasted all weekend. I never learned her name, never found her again, but I did keep her gift.
I do know you'll never convince me there aren't magical cookies in the world.