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"These breadsticks are the best
," Susan said. As if to drive home that point, she tore off another piece of one, stirred it around in some cheese sauce, and popped it in her mouth. It probably says something about me at the time that I found watching her eat breadsticks mildly erotic. Of course, I was 18 years old. The way my hormones were raging back then, I would have found watching Susan floss or perform simple math to be a turn on.
She was right though: those breadsticks were the best. Back when I was at college, there was a humble little pizza place called the Stripe Shop located in the basement of the Memorial Union. It was classic, and a favorite of the students who camped out in the Union all day to study. It has since been replaced by a diner, which I felt (and still feel) was an affront to humanity. Things change, I guess. Hell, there's even a freaking Starbucks in the Union now. That's not right.
But the here and now is not part of this story. And back in the day, Susan loved to study in the basement of the Union, munching breadsticks and kicking back in one of the many uncomfortable all-wood booths located across from the Stripe Shop. Although I much preferred to study in my room, the chance to hang out with my pledge sister occasionally lured me out of the Mat Cave for some very valuable fresh air. If you could call the confines of that slightly musty basement "fresh air."
"So," Susan asked as I crammed most of a breadstick into my mouth (she had a real talent for making inquiries when my mouth was full), "what's going on with Aimee?"
I had told Susan all about Aimee of course. I suppose a smoother cat would have played coy (read that: lied) and told the girl he was crushing on that he was single and in no particular hurry to be tied down. Not me. No sir, most definitely not me. About a half-second after Susan had asked me if I was dating anybody, I spilled my guts, telling her The Aimee Saga
from beginning to end. Not only was this move self-defeating -- there's no better way to kill a girl's interest than to tell her you're in all-out, crazy love with someone else -- it was way too much information. The end result was that Susan developed an instant dislike for Aimee (as did most people I explained the situation to), although she would sometimes ask about the status of our relationship out of what I'm guessing was morbid curiosity. After all, monitoring the situation was like watching a clown car smash headfirst into an oncoming train.
I hesitated. Aimee and I hadn't spoken since our little blowup
, and it was embarrassing to admit that what we had might be over for good, both because I had gone on and on and on
about how much I loved her and because what we'd had was, well, nothing. It felt like we'd broken up, but, generally speaking, you have to be dating somebody to have a breakup. It's sort of like how you can't play a game of basketball without a basketball.
"Uh, well, we're not exactly talking right now," I said.
"Is there a difference between 'not talking' and 'not exactly
talking' or am I missing something?" Susan asked. I couldn't tell if she was curious or being sarcastic. Looking back, it might have been a little of both.
"No. We're just not talking," I admitted reluctantly.
I wouldn't say Susan looked happy, but she certainly appeared satisfied by the news. "That's a relief."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I said, getting offended. Again, someone with even a hint of smoothness might have tried to turn this situation to his advantage while talking to the girl he was crushing on. Instead, I got angry and defensive.
"Well, she wasn't very nice to you. She wasn't horrible to you or anything, but she didn't act like someone who wanted to date you, which is what you
wanted. Isn't it better to get all that out of the way so you can move on and date someone else?"
Again, this was a perfect opportunity. Not only was she right, she was also the girl I was crushing on
. But instead of hitting on her, I insulted her. "You don't understand what I'm going through. I bet you've never even been in love," I said.
Yeah. That was the wrong thing to say.
"Uh, I think I have a little more experience with love than you do," she said. Then she whacked me between the eyes: "And I've actually been loved back
I deserved that, of course, but I wish she would have done something more merciful, like kick me in the groin.
I must have looked stricken, because Susan immediately apologized and tried to make me feel better by offering me the rest of the breadsticks. It was too late, though. My mood was now a particularly dark shade of black, so I returned to the dorm feeling much, much worse than the shit I'd been feeling like when I left.
When I got back to the room, Mat was in a state of manic panic. He was pacing around our tiny living space saying "Fuck me fuck me fuck me fuck me" over and over again like a mantra. Whatever was up had him so distracted he didn't even notice me come in. (Or maybe he noticed and just didn't car). He kicked over the trash can. He dug his fingers into the top of his head, which was slick with sweat. He screamed out loud.
Meanwhile, I stood in the doorway transfixed. My giant-of-a-man roommate looked like Scooby Doo during a chase scene
. All I could think was: what could possibly freak out a seven-foot, 300-pound black belt in Judo? Was there a band of ninja assassins on the way? Killer robots? Godzilla?
"Dude," I said finally, unable to control my burgeoning curiosity, "are you okay? What's up?"
"Aw, fuck me!" Mat said. He looked totally helpless, on the verge of tears even. "I'm out. I'm kicked out!"
He'd been kicked out?! I felt this crazy surge of excitement. "What? Why?" I asked. I needed all the details. Not because I cared or anything like that, but because I wanted to make sure he'd really been kicked out before I got my hopes up.
"My teachers called, all of dem," he said. "I guess dey've been calling for duh last couple weeks. Dey failed me, man. Dey failed me out for not going to class!"
"All of them?" I asked.
"Yes!" he said and I honestly thought he was going to cry. "I didn't know, man, I didn't know!"
"Didn't know you were supposed to go to class?"
"I didn't know you could get kicked out for not
going!" he said, knocking some books off his desk.
"What are you going to do?" I asked, hoping that he'd say something like "pack my things and take the next flight back to Holland."
"Aw, fuck me, I gotta call Coach D." Coach D was the assistant coach in charge of recruiting. From what I'd gathered by talking to Mat, he also spent a fair amount of time monitoring the freshman players because, well, he'd recruited them.
Mat made the call. He had to try a few different numbers, but he finally got a hold of Coach D.
"Coach D," he said, "aw man, Coach D, I'm in big trouble!" He then spent several minutes awkwardly trying to explain a situation that boiled down to "I failed all my classes because I never showed up to any of them."
Once Mat was done explaining, he said, "Coach D, I'm sorry. It's my fault, it's all my fault, but it's so confusing. I don't understand what I'm s'posed to do 'cause I'm not from here."
Wait...was he playing the "I'm a foreigner" card? Really?!
"Okay, okay I understand," he said, after which he hung up and resumed pacing around the room. I was mildly disappointed that his panic seemed slightly less panicky.
"So, uh, what's up?" I asked.
"Coach D said he's gotta make some calls," Mat replied.
Then all we could do was wait. After another half hour or so of pacing, Mat finally turned on MTV and collapsed into his giant chair. He wasn't watching TV though, not really. He was totally zoned out. It looked like he was trying to accept his fate.
A little over an hour later, the phone rang. Mat just stared at it for a moment, then leapt to his feet to answer it. "Hello?" he said. Then he listened very intently for the next several minutes.
Finally, and to my great disappointment, Mat hooted in triumph. "Aw, thank you, Coach D! Aw, thanks, man! You saved my life!"
Coach D said something that caused Mat to calm down. "Yeah, Coach D. Yeah, I understand. Yeah, I will. I will. I know. I will. Aw, thank you, Coach D. Thank you so much. Okay. Tomorrow. Yeah." Then he hung up.
"Yeah!" he screamed, pumping his fist in the air.
"What happened?" I asked. The curiosity was killing me.
"I'm not failed out!" he yelled. "I'm back in all my classes with a 'C' as long as I do my homework and go to most of the rest of duh classes dat are left."
"Are you kidding me?!" I said. My disappointment was probably pretty obvious, but he didn't notice. He was too busy celebrating.
"Nope!" he said in answer to my question. "No joke!" Then he put his hand up for a high-five, which I did, mostly because I was in shock.
"Wow," I said. "that's...amazing."
"I know," Mat said, dropping back into his chair with a deep, self-satisfied sigh. "It's good to be a baller!" He pronounced it "ballah."
I sat back down at my desk. I was stunned. Forget the fact that my roommate had been saved from his own laziness and stupidity. I couldn't believe that my school's athletic program would engage in that kind of academic dishonesty. Changing five grades from an "F" to a "C" was a pretty big switcharoo. I suddenly realized I'd been naive to assume that this sort of cheating only went on at the "bad" schools.
Once the relief had fully set in, Mat started making some phone calls so he could relate his Near Fail Experience. I had to listen to him retell the story a half dozen times, and each time he made himself sound like some sort of conquering hero. He was so happy that, after he finished his last phone call, he showered, got dressed up and went out, presumably to party.
I guess it really was good to be a baller.Part 15
Labels: college stories, Livin' Large, they never should have closed the Stripe Shop