Previous installments: Part 1
, Part 2
, Part 3
, Part 4
, Part 5
, Part 6
, Part 7
, Part 8
. And check out the official Livin' Large FAQ
Okay, before beginning this installment, I have a few things to say about Pisa, Italy. Yeah, I know it has nothing whatsoever to do with this story, but it's my blog. So there.
First off, Evil Ted and I went for a run after our grueling 11-hour workday. We jogged by the Leaning Tower of Pisa...I have to admit, that was pretty cool. Now, an interesting thing about Pisa is that everybody eats ice cream. Like, all the time. I'm talking once or twice a day. And every place you go to sells ice cream. Pharmacies, pizza places, cafes, bars, etc. And that's in addition to all the gelato (that is, ice cream) parlors that dot the landscape. Seriously, the gelato stands are to Pisa what Starbucks is to anywhere in the United States.
Our hosts explained that, in Pisa, ice cream is considered to be medicinal
. That's because it's hot as balls here and there's no human way to escape the heat. The pitiful little air conditioner in my flat (that is, apartment) sits over the front door and expels enough frigid air to cool off, well, the front door. If I could sleep standing up and propped against the door, I might actually stay asleep for more than 25 minutes at a time. That and not wake up in a pool of my own sweat.
The extreme heat has apparently made sensations of "cold" or even "cool" intolerable to the Pisans. So much so that most places don't serve ice in drinks. And if you ask, you get funny looks. (But not as funny as the look Evil Ted got when he asked a barista for milk in his coffee. The dude looked at ET like he'd asked for a cow urine frapacheeny.) True story. We were having lunch with our co-workers yesterday, and one of them ordered "ice water." When it arrived, our Italian boss, Richard, grabbed it and said (in a British accent), "Dear God, it's freezing
. Be careful, gents. It's so cold it might burn your mouth. I can barely touch my glass it's so cold." ET and I were actually afraid to take a drink...then discovered it was barely above room temperature.
Let's see, what else. Cars are tiny. And I mean all of 'em. Most people just walk in the middle of the tiny streets because cars tend to remain parked in favor or scooters or what look like 1950s era bicycles. Almost 80 percent of the women wear sexy sundresses, and most of the guys dress like, uh, I believe the word ET used was "dingleberries." Oh, and there are NO fat people. Seriously. It's bizarre, because in America, you can hardly turn around without stumbling into a huge, giggling belly or tripping into the fatty's wading pool of delicious gravy.
But enough about foreign lands. You're here for stories.
Okay, so I failed miserably in my attempt to get a room reassignment. I was stuck with Mat, and he was stuck with me. Things seemed tense at the time, but in retrospect they were still pretty cordial. It wouldn't stay that way, but at the time, I didn't think things could get any worse.
That didn't keep me from plotting his death.
I'm exaggerating of course. Well, mostly. I did have some rather dark and unsavory fantasies. But most of them involved him accidentally walking into a bus or slipping on a banana peel and falling directly into a wood chipper. I had to hope the fates would do him in, because I sure couldn't do it. I've always felt I could probably hold my own in most fights, but I had no illusions whatsoever about what would happen if I tangled with my roommate. Maybe I would have had a fighting chance if I was wearing a shark protection suit made out of actual sharks, or poisonous grizzly bears or something. As it was, my best instrument of revenge...was the mind.
Unfortunately, I hadn't lived with BadDave yet, so I wasn't very cunning. So I started out small. You know, accidentally-on-purpose forgetting to write down messages about important phone calls, including a few from his professors. (It seemed meaningless at the time, but trust me, it bore fruit later.) I drank his last couple sodas. I stuffed his pillow case under his bed, where I knew he would never find it among the bizarre debris field there. (Yes, he missed it, and yes it pissed him off.)
Sadly, these tiny victories brought me little joy. I took the problem to my role-playing group. One thing about these guys: they may have been geeky -- almost retardedly so -- but they were smart and devious. One in particular was a brilliant kid who was studying chemical engineering. BadDave will have to remind me what his name was, but let's call him "Four-Eyes." Four-Eyes devised several insidious plans for slowly poisoning Mat anywhere from mild illness to death. It was both frightening and rather tempting, which probably tells you how fed up I was getting.
But murder is murder, and as much as I didn't like him, he wasn't that
evil. Besides, I would not do well in prison.
Midweek I received another card from Aimee's roommate, Latrisse. But she went one better than that and sent me a care package too. I was really moved. It was my first care package. Several of the guys I'd met had already gotten one from their parents, and I had been mildly bummed about not having received one myself. It made me feel kind of unloved, and I was already have that stupid freshman "I'm just a number now!" feeling.
That night I called Aimee's room, but not to talk to Aimee. I called for Latrisse. I wanted to thank her for the care package. This drove Aimee a little nuts. A few years later and I might have been crafty enough to use that to my advantage, but I was way to inexperienced and innocent to play games. But it got Aimee's attention, and she really warmed up to me that week.
Mat overheard much of my conversation. Despite his constant liaisons, he seemed fascinated by my budding love life. He always paid close attention to my discussions with Aimee, and he was monitoring the situation with Latrisse too.
"Dude," he said, "you need to be f***ing careful. Dat's some dangerous sh*t, playing up to duh girl you wanna date and
her roommate. Dat sh*t will get you f***ed up if you're not careful."
I almost laughed in his giant face. This was strange advice coming from a guy who would make a booty call five minutes after finishing with his last booty call. Then again, I had to admit, he seemed to know more about woman than I did (or at least that's how it seemed to my 18-year-old self). Could he have a point?
"Nah," I said after a few moments of hard thought. "It's not like that. Latrisse and I are just really friendly. Guys and girls can be friends."
Mat then uttered perhaps the wisest thing I would ever hear him say. "Guys and girls can be a lot of t'ings, but dey cannot
Let's be frank here: Mat said and did a lot of stupid, thoughtless, cruel and incomprehensible things while we were living together. But he was almost 100 percent bang on about that. I would learn this many, many times in the coming years, as many a friendship ended in dramatic comedy. However, at that time, it was very easy to dismiss any and everything he tried to tell me.
The next night, I was hip-deep in an English paper in -- I kid you not -- gender construction in the movie Ghostbusters
when the phone rang. Mat answered it, as he almost always did when he was actually in the room, expecting it to be Shelly. But, shock of shocks, it was for me.
"It's dat girl Tiffany again," he said.
"Uh...okay," I said. He handed me the phone. "Hello?"
"Hi Matt! My name's Tiffany!" one voice said.
"And I'm Carolyn!" said another.
"We're your new pledge mothers!" they said together.
"My, excuse me, what?" I was dumbfounded.
"Silly boy," Carolyn said. "Don't you remember filling out a rush form for Alpha Phi Omega."
I don't remember whether I slapped myself in the forehead right then, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was my reaction. I had forgotten all about APO probably less than five minutes after I'd filled that form out. Well, that solved the mystery of why two girls would be calling a socially awkward freshman who rarely left his dorm room.
"The pledge ceremony is this Sunday," Tiffany continued. "It's kind of like an orientation, but it's a ceremony too, so you'll want to dress nice. Dress pants and a shirt, maybe a tie if you're into that."
"You'll get to meet your fellow pledges, ask questions, all that stuff," Carolyn said. "Oh, I almost forgot. You have a pledge sister. Her name's Susan."
It's funny, but even that small handful of information left me a little dumbstruck. I wrote it all down on a notepad and just sort of stared at it.
"If you have any questions before Sunday, or if you want to meet us before hand, maybe get something to eat, don't hesitate to call us," Tiffany said. "In fact, we'd love to have lunch with you. Do you have any free time in the next couple days?"
"Uh, I'm kinda busy this week," I said, palms sweating. "I probably won't have any time until Sunday." What a laugh. I had nothing BUT time at that point in my college life. But the idea of meeting two strange girls for lunch intimidated me.
We agreed to meet at the student center on Sunday at 12:45 p.m. The ceremony was at one.
"So," Mat said with some interest, "what was all dat about?"
I explained it too him and he immediately lost interest. To him, it was probably just another geeky thing his dweeb roommate was doing.
The week passed as weeks tend to do. I was delighted when Mat disappeared on Friday. He had that "two-day disappearance" look about him, and I was almost right. He didn't return until really late on Saturday night, maybe around 4 a.m., when he showed up drunk and alone. He was so beat he actually dropped right into bed without turning on his Heineken light or watching a single minute of MTV. I passed the time playing pick-up ball at the co-rec, hanging out with Nathan, and meeting up with the roleplaying group on Saturday night.
On Sunday I got dressed up, Little Matt style. Unfortunately, I'm trapped in Italy thousands of miles away from my scrapbook, or I'd post a picture of me and my pledge family. Anyway, I wore black dress pants, a dark purple dress shirt and a thin black tie. I thought I looked pretty pimpin'. I mean, I was no Wally "Eskimo Pimp" Szczerbiak
or anything, but I was stylin' for me at the time.
I met up with my pledge moms in the designated place at the designated time, and while I was genuinely happy to meet them, I couldn't take my eyes of my pledge sister. I thought she was adorable. I also thought she was hot. Susan was short, a little busty, with not-quite shoulder-length brown hair and twinkling brown eyes. She also had a nose like Jennifer Grey, which kinda did it for me. (Remember, I had just had my first serious kiss the previous weekend after watching Dirty Dancing
.) She decked out in a very flattering lavender dress and wearing a black choker with a white porcelain cross affixed to it.
I stuck out my hand to shake and blurted out, "HellonicetomeetyouareyouCatholic?"
Hello mouth, I am the foot. Allow me to insert myself.
Susan looked at me like a third eye had just popped out of my forehead. "Uh, yeah, I am Catholic. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, uh, well, you're wearing that cross and everything."
"Yeah. I just think it's cool."
"Oh, yeah, yeah sure, it is. Like, very cool. I really like it."
As awkward as that little exchange may seem on your computer screen, I promise you it was ten times more awkward than that. At least. It was a stumbling, bumbling first impression. And it set a precedent: I would continue to be painfully and sometimes hilariously awkward in Susan's presence.
I sat through the pledging ceremony in a daze. I was really smitten with Susan. Every few seconds I'd sneak a quick peek at her. I guess someone must have slipped some infatuation juice into my cereal that morning.
After the ceremony, our little pledge family went out for lunch at a popular pizza place right off campus. My awkwardness continued unabated, but I managed to sort of contain it. During the discussion, Tiffany explained why she and Carolyn had chosen me as their pledge son. "Well," Tiffany said, "I saw you put down soccer as one of your hobbies. I was really excited about that, because I played soccer for, like, seven years. Most guys put down football or basketball. When I saw soccer on your pledge form, I knew I had to pick you."
It's really funny how things turn out. Some crazy whim had taken over my mind that day and caused me to put down soccer instead of basketball. I never quite understood how or why that happened, considering my obsession with watching and playing basketball. But some strange twist of fate had moved my pen, and so I ended up meeting Susan, who would become the second love of my college life.
Of course, I'd blown the first impression. But I'd get other chances.
When I got back to the room, Mat was still out like a light. I had nervous energy to burn off, so I changed into workout gear and went for a run. When I came back, I heard Mat singing in the shower across the hall from our room. Bob Marley of course. When he wasn't watching MTV, Mat was either listening to or singing Bob Marley. Or both. I reached for the doorknob and found it was unlocked.
Now let me explain something. The whole door locking thing was a real hangup for me. Things were a little rough in my neighborhood while I was growing up. Rough enough that my mom repeatedly stressed the importance of locking your door. On top of that, school officials, members of the dorm government, writers in the school paper, everybody was issuing dire warnings for students to lock up, even if they were just going down the hall to talk to a friend. I took this advice to heart, and I wanted Mat to do it too...but that was like asking Lindsey Lohan to lay off the magic sauce.
Finding the door unlocked yet again made me snap. It wasn't just the door locking thing, it was all of Mat's shenanigans. I just wanted to get him, really embarrass him, just once.
I locked the door and left the dorm.
An hour later, I returned. The door was locked. I let myself in and the room was empty. However, there was a note on my desk. I still have this note somewhere, and I swear if I find it I will scan it and post it here on the site. Anyway, it was from Mat, and it said, "You locked me out of the room. I'm going to fucking kill you."
Okay, I'll admit: I was terrified. But I also got this totally wild thrill. Oh, and it gets better. By the time Mat got home, he had calmed down a little bit. He still wanted to kick my ass, but not badly enough to actually do it. This is what happened. Mat came out of the shower to find the door locked, of course, and he didn't have his key. He was forced to go down to the main office, which is in a large common room area.
There was some kind of event going on -- to this day, I don't know exactly what it was -- but the common room was filled with students and their families: dads, moms, brothers and sisters. Even some grandparents. And here comes this lumbering giant, soaking wet and wearing a teeny-tiny towel that barely fit halfway around his massive trunk. If you want to know how small that towel was on him, go get a hand towel from your bathroom, fold it in half, and then try to wrap it around your waist. Yeah.
Mat walked up to the front desk, which was manned by a student worker. He explained that he was locked out of his room and requested a spare key. The student worker, citing protocol, said Mat would have to produce his dorm ID before he could get a spare key. Mat not-so-calmly explained he didn't have his key. The student worker insisted. People started gathering around, fascinated by this freakish standoff.
Now, I had believed to that point that Mat had no shame. But apparently he did, and this situation evoked it. He was embarrassed, humiliated, so he began screaming at the student worker. The student worker got scared and supposedly threatened to call the police. Finally, the hall assistant manager showed up and gave Mat the spare key, after which he shambled, still mostly naked, past dozens of staring eyes back to our room.
He was still steamed about it...still embarrassed even. I apologized without meaning it. Then we kind of laughed about it together. Oddly enough, it felt like one of those moments when roommates bond a little. But it was just an illusion.Part 10
Labels: college stories, Livin' Large