Trust me...it'll make sense once you read the story.Previous installments: Part 1
. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ
, Cast List
, Flow Chart 1.0
, and Flow Chart 2.0
For me, Christmas break was a time to stock up on some much-needed sleep and juvenation...two areas in which my supplies were running very -- perhaps even dangerously
-- low. And yeah, we still called it "Christmas break" back then, not "Holiday break," "Winter break," "Semester break," "Festivus" or whatever else they're trying to pass it off as these days. And honestly, I'm not trying to be culturally ignorant or insensitive here. I'm not a God person or anything like that. But the reality is, American colleges arrange their first semester breaks and holiday vacations around Christmas. Based on the fact that my local Walgreens is already selling little ceramic Santas, I'd say Christmas is probably the most widely acknowledged and celebrated holiday in the United States. (Yes, my scientific method in this case centers around the sale of Santa Clause-themed merchandise at Chicago-area drug stores. Remember, I'm a writer
.) I'm just saying, if Europeans won't let us call the NBA Finals a "World Championship" because it doesn't involve the entire world, we should call Christmas break what it actually is: Christmas break.
The best part about Christmas break was, without question, having three consecutive weeks to spend with Aimee. Having a bedroom to myself, however, was a very
close second. There was no Heineken light on St. Louis Dr. in Kokomo, Indiana. I was able to sleep in near-to-complete darkness (the "near" being due to my strangely luminescent alarm clock). It was like someone had filled a bucket with awesome and dunked my head in it. The only hard part was getting used to falling asleep on the sloshy and undulating surface of my water bed. Oh yes, I owned one of those strange relics of the 1980s. I still can't believe somebody came up with that idea, let alone managed to sell it to thousands, maybe millions of idiots like me. I mean...a bed filled with water
? The more time that passes, the less sense that makes.
Anyway, sleeping in a room without Mat was great. Spending almost all my free time with Aimee was really great, even if it kind of pissed off my friends and really annoyed my mom (who saw those three weeks as a chance to spend time with her son, who had been in absentia for most of the past four months). The time flew by, the way the best times usually do. But there were a few notable happenings.
My grade report arrived during the break. I had gotten five A's and one B...in Medieval History. I was stunned, because I was sure I'd kicked that course's ass. I had gotten a perfect grade on every exam and paper, and the final had been (for me) a piece of cake. I'm talking chocolate with chocolate icing. I was sure a mistake had been made.
See, I couldn't accept anything less than an A in history. History is the easiest subject, right? I mean, history never changes
. Well, you know, except for that whole "Christopher Columbus didn't really discover America" thing. But in general, history is about memorizing events and dates and then vomiting them back up for fun and fabulous prizes. I could screw up a math problem or fail to correctly interpret gender construction in Fatal Attraction
, but every history question had one historical answer. At least, that's how I looked at it.
Because I am the King of Dorkus, I immediately tracked down my history professor. And even though I'm fairly certain he would have preferred a Christmas break free of annoying students, he took my call. He explained that my B was due to a low grade on my final exam.
"That's impossible," I said. "There wasn't anything on that exam I didn't know."
"Really?" he said, chucking. "Remember the essay question that asked you to summarize the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire?"
I did indeed remember it. I had left the lecture hall convinced that my answer to that essay question had been my shining moment of the exam. The Roman Empire was (and in many ways still is) a source of intense interest for me. So much so that, during the semester, I read books about it that hadn't even been assigned for the course. So, for that essay question, I had written probably four times what had been asked for. I couldn't see the problem, and I told the professor so.
"I agree that it was probably the best essay about the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire I've seen written by a freshman," he said. "But it appears you didn't read the question very closely. The question didn't ask you to summarize the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire...it asked you to Summarize the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire chapter
from your text book."
I was speechless.
"And since you didn't do that," he continued, "you received zero points for that section, which was worth one-third of the total points for the exam."
And so I learned another lesson of college: make sure you finish reading a question before you answer it.
That wasn't the only lesson I learned during my three weeks off. I had been saving up to buy Aimee something special for Christmas, which had meant several extra hours of slave labor at the dorm's food service. But even though I had successfully replaced my first layer of skin with a layer of nasty cooking grease, I hadn't quite earned what I needed for the gift I had chosen. Fortunately, I realized there would be a shortfall ahead of time, so I was able to take the necessary measure. That is, I sold my plasma.
My college town, like many other college towns across the country, had a business called The Plasma Alliance. It was a place where college students and homeless people could "donate" their blood plasma for cash money. I won't pretend to completely understand the process, but here's how it was explained to me. A small portion of a donor's blood is drained out of their body by a machine that separates the plasma from the red blood cells. The machine then mixes the red blood cells with saline solution and pumps it back into the donor's body. The plasma is later removed from the machine and used for scientific research Sounds simple, and for the most part it is.
What's complicated is the rest of the process. Before being allowed to donate plasma, the doctors on site give you an abbreviated physical. They draw blood to test for diseases. They ask you a bajillion questions regarding your health and sexual history. The first two things only happen the first time you donate (or once a year if you continue to donate). However, the questions are asked every single time you go. After the physical and screening, you have to sit in a waiting room with all the other donors. This can take up to an hour. Then the nurses take you into a large room with several rows of beds, each of which is occupied by a person hooked up to a creepy-looking plasma-draining machine. The donors usually look pale and tired...because, after all, it is a draining
experience. (Yes, that bad pun was totally intentional.) However, the nurses won't let you fall asleep. If you start to nod off, they'll come by and yell at you. If that doesn't work, they'll shake you awake.
At any rate, the whole scene looks stunningly Matrix
-like. In fact, if the human race is ever taken over by robots that run entirely off of donated blood plasma, I won't be the least bit surprised.
And that, my friends, is how many college students come by extra beer money. For me, it was a way to buy Aimee a fancy schmancy Christmas gift. Of course, I had already picked it out during Thanksgiving break: a gold ring with a light blue amethyst stone. Blue amethyst was really popular at the time, and my Guy Brain translated "popular" into "girls likey-likey."
But that wasn't the only way that my Guy Brain misled me. It also said that the stone should be shaped in such a way as to symbolize my love. So, of course, I chose a heart-shaped rock. Otherwise known as The Ultimate Cliche.
So, while walking in the moonlight during a light snow shower, I pulled the ring out of my pocket and -- with very sweaty hands -- presented it to Aimee. In typically girlie fashion, she hugged me and cried and put it on to admire it. However, later that evening after showering me with some well-deserved appreciation, she lowered little bit of a boom on me.
"Next time you're buying me a piece of jewelry," she said in a soft tone, "could you consult me first?"
"It's just that, you know, I don't really like blue amethyst all that much," she said. "And, well, heart-shaped stones are kind of cheesy."
All I could do was stare at her.
"I mean, it was soooo sweet of you to buy it for me," she said, "but if you're going to spend the money, wouldn't you rather get me something I really wanted?"
I swear if there had been a rock nearby, I would have crawled under it. Either that or beaten her to death with it. One or the other.
In terms of ripping the still-beating heart out of a man's chest, Mola Ram
had nothing on Aimee. But it was another lesson learned, the lesson being: just because women like jewelry doesn't mean you can throw any piece of jewelry at them and expect them to like it. And I'll tell you this much: I haven't bought a piece of heart-shaped jewelry since.
During the break, I also saw my sister for the first time in five years. My mom arranged the trip and my grandparents drove. This resulted in me being trapped in a car with three chain smokers for four hours. And they all categorically refused to roll down a window. Oh, and did I mention my grandparents only listen to country music and
I forgot to bring my Walkman? That was a hellish ride to Kentucky...and back.
The visit was okay. We got caught up on five years worth of life events in about an hour, and the rest of the time was spent rehashing old memories. I couldn't have been less interested. I'd already lived through all those memories, and I wanted to be home, making new memories with Aimee (despite the ring flap).
The one bright spot was meeting my adorable niece Shelby for the first time. That was pretty cool.
Random basketball aside: Christmas is always the day for basketball double-headers, and I got to watch the Chicago Bulls (behind 28 points by Scottie Pippen and another 17 each from B.J. Armstrong and Toni Kukoc) defeat the Orlando Magic (who got 24 points from Nick Anderson and 20/10 from Shaq). After that, the Phoenix Suns obliterated the Houston Rockets thanks to 38 points and 18 rebounds from Charles Barkley (not to mention 36 points and 9 assists from Kevin Johnson). At the time, the Rockets were a league-best 22-3, but the Suns (who themselves were 19-5) appeared ready to claim the championship the Bulls had denied them the previous summer. Of course, Charles Barkley always was at his best before the playoffs.
Despite some pitfalls -- the B in history, the ring faux pas, the against-my-will trip to Lexington -- I felt completely refreshed and renewed by Christmas break. As Han Solo might have said, I felt strong enough to rip the ears off a Gundar. (Speaking of which, Star Wars fans should watch this
.) In fact, my mojo was so mojo-mazing that I honestly and without irony thought to myself: "I can do this. I can make it through another semester with Mat."
That was, of course, before I actually went back to school.
When I did
return to the room on a chilly Saturday in early January, it was the same old, same old. Mat was there, but not a word was uttered. It seemed we weren't on speaking terms in light of the "bloody smear" incident. Then, on that first night back, Mat brought some young girl back to the room and started sexing her up while I was sorting through my second semester schedule. It was a different girl the next night, after which he once again stayed up until the next morning watching MTV by the light of his Heineken sign.
And that's when I decided I was done living with Mat...one way or another.
Labels: college stories, Livin' Large