SYMPATHY FOR THE COLLEGE STUDENT

by Jason Galore


I may be wrong, but tequila puts you into the oddest moods.

That's what I have to say about a little known but not forgotten period I like to call my college days. Not so much a time for learned study, or even a fake attempt at seeking knowledge. More like a life of sarcastic bingeing. An era for pushing my body to extremes and letting my mind observe the ins and outs of blasphemous self-destruction. We would party all night, cram for tests in the morning and barely squeak by with our loans still intact.

On this particular occasion, my roommate and I were engaged in a little Russian roulette with tequila. Cramped into a tiny room that I swear to God was smaller than a jail cell. You could hardly fit two bunk-size beds in there, let alone any sort of stylized treasures. At the moment, we were in the midst of a deranged tequila party, and as always when one is in the grip of the evil alcohol bug, one begins to loose track of moral and sociological values. This is, in truth, what this story is about. Nothing so loose as to give a happy or even moral ending, just an interesting anecdote for some poor college kids to tell his poor college roommate one night when they are in the hold of liquor parties.

Now, a tequila party is a rather curious event among youths. It occurs in groups smaller than four (television counts as a person) and usually of the same sex. In our case, we had the television on some pro wrestling channel. The radio was blasting but I couldn't make out any of the songs.

What you will need for a tequila party is obviously a bottle of tequila, a shot glass, and a twelve pack of beer. Some people use a lemon and salt with their tequila shots, but this is the Canadian way and at no point should a patriotic American ever take part in such an action. Directions are as follows: pour the shot glass full of tequila, drink, swear, and follow with shot of beer. At no point should any beverage be substituted for beer. This enables you to maintain a cheap buzz without loosing the effects until morning and also dilutes the shots enough to make you not pass out. Reasons behind tequila parties vary, but usually they have something to do with women. All things everywhere have something to do with women. Good or bad.

None of this matters of course. The only thing that matters is that it is now my turn. For a shot. And for a bet.

"Five dollars more says you'll be out first," I stated with absolutely assured confidence.

My roommate, Jeremy, looked at me, clenching the neck of the bottle in his hands and giving me one of those drooling stare downs. "I will take that bet," he managed out of his mouth as he placed money on the table, "But you're gonna regret this."

"I don't think so." I knew something he didn't, even though we have downed almost the entire bottle in merely an hour, I had a very large dinner, putting old me at the advantage.

I moved my shot glass into position and read the writing for the hundredth time. 'Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may be in Utah.' I bought it in Montana. I guess they hate Utah there. His body weight seemed to sway as he handed me the liquid death.

"You best pray buddy, 'cause you got fifty bucks on the table."

After this shot, on his round, his head would hit the pillow and I'd be fifty bucks richer. At least I hoped. I moved the bottle in position over the glass and like a refueling plane I slowly let the liquid flow. Once it was full with the golden brown, I set down the near-empty bottle. My left hand wrapped around a can of warm beer, my right took on the shot. I began to feel my eyes grow weary, but I had to stay up. I had to show him I was the man, as it were. Not to mention the fact that all the money I had in the world was on the table and my tuition was coming up.

"Screw it!" I mumbled and slammed the shot. I was so tore up that one more shot wouldn't make a difference. Wait just a second. I could feel the burn ooze down slowly into my gut, penetrating my stomach and being absorbed through my lining. Bits of me began to go even more numb. I already practically lost feeling in my legs, now I could feel my hands begin to go, but hell if I was going to pass out. My eyes opened. "Oh, yeah," I screamed over the music.

Jeremy looked at me with a terrorized glaze. I could see the fear. I could see the lie he was about to spurt, "This won't be a sweat." I was probably over dramatizing the event, but from my viewpoint his appearance was of a man who knew his reign was over. He knew I was the victor and would claim his championship for only myself. And we both felt that the music played just for me. Only me.

He set his glass ready. His read 'When in Rome...' Mine was funnier, I thought. The actions closely resembled mine in pouring the liquor, closing his eyes, and clenching the bottle for dear life. The shot moved up close to his mouth and he suddenly worked the most impressive display of 180 degrees showmanship I've ever been privy to witness. He straightened his back from his normal perverse arch to a Sunday-school stance. He directed his eyes straight at me and I could feel them penetrating my lifeblood. And just before he took the gulp, a slight smirk grew on his face. Just enough to see that the fear was no longer with him.

Someone bodyslammed someone else on the television.

When he finished, everything seemed to move in slow motion. Now, I'm not sure if my last shot had completely sunk in or if my friend had just been given a dose of adrenaline, but he slammed his shot glass down and wiped his mouth, and when he was done he leaned in on the table. "My money, now!"

"What are you talking about, neither of us has passed out yet."

"Double or nothing," he said with a demonic glare. This was the last ditch effort of a dying horse, usually, but in his case it was genius.

And my overconfidence will cause the death of me. "I don't have fifty more dollars, but I'll put up some collateral."

"Like what?"

"How about my CD player?" Hoping he would say yes. Hell, it was worth two hundred.

His demeanor changed and he grew more relaxed. "I'll tell you what. I have no use for your pitiful CD player, but I do have something else in mind."

"What, my watch?" Little did he know I was already going to pawn that off for tuition.

"No, how about your soul?" Now tequila can cause an interesting transformation in people. It can turn fun-loving humans into gratuitous drills of social deviancy, without as much as a breath of hesitation. In other words it makes people mean.

"My soul," I asked in a very curious manner, expecting an answer. All I got was a disturbing nod. "You can't be serious."

"I am. I want your soul. You will write on a piece of paper and sign it as follows: 'I hereby grant the holder of this title the irrevocable right to retain my soul at any moment from the point of my expiration to eternity'."

"That's goddamn nuts, man. Did you do some coke when I wasn't looking or what?"

"No, just write it and we'll continue with our wager."

I nodded for some reason. To this day, I don't know why, it was a big mistake coming from my camp. I grabbed my notebook from my schoolbag, put pen to paper and wrote word for word what he said right beneath my English notes on Faust. I hated irony.

I ripped it out of the notebook and put it on the table. I tossed him a giant fake smile and put my glass in place. This was the moment of truth. I picked up the bottle and held it over the shot, filling it and then laughing to myself as I brought the shot to my mouth. My eyes stared directly into his and I noticed something not right, but before I knew it I had swallowed. Down she went. My head got heavy and my vision went completely white.

And as we fade out on this entire escapade, a slight footnote is required. I was obviously the looser of the bet and Jeremy got my money. However, I did graduate without incident with a bachelor degree in liberal arts. Very pointless, if you ask me. And Jeremy and I stayed good friends. However, a side note to this footnote of a sound byte, if that's possible, would be that to this day, Jeremy has no recollection of requesting my soul from me. We chalk it up to heavy bingeing. And despite my overactive objections, he still carries the piece of paper in his wallet everywhere he goes. Rather interesting if you think about it. Rather boring if you think about it too long.

Flash-forward about one decade. By this time, I am making a very successful living off of being an independent contractor or as laymen put it, a roofer. My college degree did nothing for me, but my buddy, Jeremy, went on to med school and became a gynecologist. He even wrote a best-selling book called "My Vagina and Me." Sold about a million copies and set him up for life. But this was a good thing because he's the type of guy who will give a kid at a lemonade stand a ten-dollar bill for a five-cent cup of kool-aide.

Part two of our story takes place in a pointless suburb of Minneapolis. So pointless, in fact, that one dares not even mention it for fear of backlash and triviality subjugation. We both have our houses in the area, so we still hang out on weekends and stuff. This weekend, oddly enough my wife was out of town and Jeremy, being twice divorced, decided we should party it up on this fine Saturday evening. Maybe we would hit a few bars, have a few beers, and talk about sports, the usual worthless chitchat that has overcome our real important opinions.

So, Jeremy got to my house around noon and brought lunch. Good old greasy fried chicken. He pulled up in his brand new jeep and pulled out the rock gut food, waiving it in the air as he screamed obscenities. "Beer and chicken, chicken and beer!" And I just started a diet, I thought.

But we sat down at the kitchen table, cracked open a few cold ones, and began devouring our meal. I could feel my arteries hardening.

"So you wanna see a movie or something today?" He asked.

"Nah, we should get outside and do something, it's a beautiful day."

"You sound like a kid."

"I know." Normally, he would totally be up on seeing a film, but recently he has realized that I am the complete antithesis of what he calls 'real cinema.' He had become a complete art house junky who preferred a long, boring foreign jobbie to my Stallone pictures. This was all right, we concluded that I have no taste and he's just anal. It worked out quite nice.

"So I went to the new Francis Bacon exhibit at the museum yesterday," he began, "I thought that they did a rather poor job in the setup. The pieces they chose were captivating, however the presentation lacked any sort of cohesive structure and gave no credit to his growth or patterns."

I had almost no idea what he just said and a good friend is always honest. "I have almost no idea what you just said."

He paused, clenching his lips together in the frustration I caused him. "So, did you watch the T-wolves win last night?" He dropped to my level.

"Yeah, I can't believe they came back in the last minute like that. Especially after trailing by five points like that.

"Garnett did a terrific job, don't you think?" Got something like twenty-six points in the game."

"Man, without him, we'd be a complete waste." I could tell his enthusiasm wasn't there, he had better things on his mind than basketball.

An hour or so passed as we downed a few more beers, and as our stomachs settled from lunch, our college attitudes began to come back.

"Wanna play some ball?"

Now, there's nothing more masculine than two grown men with beer bellies, changing into shorts and T-shirts to gow outside in a driveway and try to throw a ball around and ultimately get it into a ten foot high net whilst trying to outdo each other every step of the way. Of course, it gets better when both men are half-shot and play very badly. The situation gets slightly altered, but none of this is important.

We squared off against each other on the tar. We tossed ourselves around; attempting to look good to any woman whom might inadvertently be driving along on the street. But the sad truth of the matter was that after fifteen minutes we had both succeeded in scoring a whopping four points and were more tired and sober than we ever dreamed possible. And with the impudence of our youth returning, so did our absurdities.

"How about a little wager?" He forced out between breaths.

I leaned down and held my knees, huffing and puffing. "Not this again."

"Are you chicken?" I could see it coming he was about to play me again and he knew exactly how. "I guess I can understand, if I was never able to beat a superior opponent, I'd be a little chicken, too."

"Superior opponent, I'm kickin' you're ass!"

"We're tied, in case you didn't realize." And then the devilish attitude began to lay out his plan. "This time how about some real stakes."

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper that was obviously familiar. And again, he obviously had this planned.

"I bet you want his don't you?" He laughed.

I leaned up against the pole of the net. He doesn't remember this, and yet, he wants to play me. If I weren't already sweating, I'd be trickling some now.

"This is totally screwed, why don't you just give me that?"

"This really upsets you doesn't it." That's the problem with friends, they can read you. Take everything you know and feel and dangle it in front of you like a bloody limb.

"Why would it upset me?"

"Oh it bothers you; I can see it in your eyes."

He was right. I was feeling it something fierce.

"Tell you what, how about I cut you a deal. If you stand right where I am and make the shot, I'll give you back you're little piece of paper and we can get on with the day and you'll feel better," He heckled me.

I nodded quickly even though he was standing quite a ways away. It would probably be a three point shot if there were markings, but I had faith in myself. Faith is the important thing. I guess.

I made my way over to where he was standing. He threw the ball to me and I bounced it a couple times for no other reason than to delay the inevitable. The fear overcame me like a creeping detective who knows the underground secret to a reality compelled by absolutely nothing.

It was around one in the morning that night and Jeremy had left an hour ago. My wife was due back the next afternoon, but for the time being I was alone with my thoughts. And with a bottle. I had downed about half the night with brandy and was laughing about what had occurred earlier in the evening. Why was I so intense? Why did I care so much? It's funny how when you drown yourself in liquor, questions like that have no plausible answer. Especially when one gets a buzz meaner than a barracuda going.

I flipped through the channels to find something. Something to ease the boredom of not sleeping. I was fortunate enough to have one of those satellite thingies so I could pick up about two hundred channels. And I thought that surely with the bounty of selection I was given, I could find a program to watch. But alas, of course all I had to choose from at this late hour was infomercials and a bad movie I'd seen a zillion times. It was one of those bits with a horrid has-been actor and a suspect director who should have never graduated film school. The type that was fed into a computer and crapped out so the studio could make a few more million. Cheap.

I lifted the remote and shut it off. I was done, fed up with bad home cinema and decided to make my way to the stereo. I stood to my feet. It was everything I had in me not to puke all over the carpeting. I flipped it on and what would you know but good old "Devil went Down to Georgia" was playing. Now I used to hate country music, but for some reason as I aged my tastes just went straight into the gutter and I found myself far more complacent.

I staggered to a speaker and set my bottle down so I could dance. Just like a white hick would do. A drunken white hick at that. As I shook my arms frantically and began my little twists, shuttering my arms to create a faux strobe effect. I was doing it all. Until suddenly I turned around for some odd reason and lo and behold, standing directly in front of me was Lord Satan himself. I could tell because of the red makeup and goatee. The jumpsuit with the horns and tail were also a dead giveaway. For some reason he was a little overweight, but I contributed this to the fact that he's had thousands of years of rule in hell and in all that time, the same color scheme, I'd probably be driven to the comforts of food, too.

"Hello," He said in the most drone of English accents.

I stood there motionless, realizing yet again that I hated irony, what with this damn song playing when he showed up and all. To hell with the weird laws of the universe. I shut it off.

He looked down at his notebook, flipped through a little. "You must be, um, oh George. Yes George Michael?"

I shook my head. "No," I was in shock. I reached for my bottle as he fingered through his notes some more.

"Oh, dear. One second." Now I never would have picked the devil to be British, but then again I never thought he'd actually carry a pitchfork. What made it even funnier was the fact that the pitchfork looked like one of those child-safe thingamajigs you buy for kids at Halloween.

The devil walked to the couch and sat down. "You don't mind?"

I shook my head. Who the hell was gonna tell Lucifer he couldn't sit down on a couch?

He pulled out a set of little round-rimmed glasses and put them on. "Ah, yes. Here we are. Our filing system is a little our of date so I do hope you'll excuse me."

"Oh, quite." I got into it.

"Now, Mr. Harrison."

"Yes."

"Oh good." Dramatic pause. "My secretary and I were perusing through my veritable library of records the other day when we noticed that you are on record as having wagered your soul against me in a drinking game," He made a wincing face, "And with tequila. How droll. Well, it seems it's about time for you to pay up. Now normally I don't work on Saturdays, let alone this late. But with the recent cutbacks, well you know how it is with all the overhead costs of running a modern organization. I see you too own your own business. How's that going for you?"

I pushed through my drunken haze quite quickly and sat down next to him. You'd be surprised at how fast one sobers up when the Lord of all that is evil is standing in you're living room asking how you're job is going.

I was honest. "Well, it sounds like the same type of problems. I work as a roofer and you wouldn't believe how the help is."

"Really."

"Yeah, all I can hire is high school dropouts, practically. Everyone else who's interested is either running there own business or asks for sky-high raises."

He took off his glasses and bit on the ear frame, making the appearance of an intellectual.

"It's so complicated," I said, "The cost for supplies keeps going up by like five percent every year and people complain because I have to keep raising the price." Now I never thought the Prince of Darkness would take an interest in my personal affairs, but it appears I had him pegged all wrong. Sure he looked like a queer, but this guy was all right.

"Well, I would love to keep chatting about all this, but we have eternity to discuss anything that comes to mind and my wife doesn't know I'm out. She'll probably think I'm cheating or something." He laughed and for some reason I joined him. And then it occurred o me what he had said. Sure, the devil seemed like a nice guy, but I don't want to spend eternity down there.

My laughter stopped.

"I have one problem," I said, "I don't remember betting on anything with you."

"Oh, yes. That. Well, you wouldn't. See there was a period around 1989 when I had sort of a lost weekend as it were, when I wasn't quite myself. And well, from the records my secretary pieced together, it appears that I took the appearance of your dear friend. But all's fair, you still lost your soul to me."

This I knew was a mistake. Jeremy still had my soul, on paper at least. And in this day and age that's all that mattered.

I stood up and explained to him that despite his lovely demeanor and positive charm, I would have to decline joining him due to the fact that my friend was the actual deed-keeper to my soul.

"I see, well then I guess I will just have to wait until he dies."

I then took the opportunity to explain to him that my friend was a devout Catholic and would most definitely make his way to the golden city, thereby I get a free ride. This upset him.

"Oh you don't want to go there," He grimaced.

"And why is that?"

"Because all the interesting chaps are in hell."

I thought about this for a minute and realized it was probably true. All the world leaders, most actors, the best musician, everybody of any importance to modern culture was going to be in hell. This much was most definitely true. I've always wanted to hear some new Morrison stuff and we all know he didn't make the cut for heaven.

"Maybe we can cut a deal," I smiled.

And that's just what we did. In exchange for my soul, I would get a nice corporate roofing contract for eternity. Even hell needs housing and I'll have the deal of, well, forever. We worked out a nice contract since the devil didn't like it to get around that he couldn't claim a human soul due to a loophole, and I indignantly called up my friend and told him to come over.

He showed up wearing the cartoon slippers I bought him for last Christmas.

"What's the deal with calling me at three in the morning? You said it was an emergency?"

We discussed, or in other words, yelled at each other for a few minutes until he came up with the piece of paper. I snatched it from his hand and said goodbye.

Through it all, Jeremy was a nice guy. Nice enough to crawl out of bed and send me to hell.

Those are the friends you keep.

Suffice it to say hell isn't a bad place. The food is good and the women are the finest this side of paradise. Te he. The devil does punish sinners, but his idea of punishment is to ban sports other than soccer and pro wrestling. This is my kinda place.

And right now I'm watching this great match with one of my new friends, Bobby Kennedy. One of the wrestlers is a giant and the other died of some drug overdose. Strangely enough this is about where I began -- Watching wrestling, drinking with buddies and listening to tunes. You should hear some of the stuff Jimi is doing these days. It's amazing.

Not much else to say, I suppose.

Words of advice perhaps.

If you're ever in a situation where you can sell your soul for a shot, be sure to choose something besides tequila. There's something inherently awful about a cheap Mexican buzz leading you into the gates of eternal damnation that just never sits right with you.

But that's just me.

I may be wrong.


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Sympathy for the College Student, 2 April 2003