Sunday, July 27, 2008

D-193: The Guy on the Couch

As an NROTC Midshipman in college, I was automatically a member of a predefined meathead subculture; even before my first day of Freshman Year. I had spent the week prior to that first day at an Army National Guard base with all the other prospective Midshipmen, participating in a seven day hazing exercise known affectionately as “The Gap.” The Gap was a pretty standard week of military style desolate wretchedness; complete with communal bunking, drill, long runs, screaming and lots of push-ups. The program is cut from the original boiler-plate; break down the individual, build up the team. As transparent as the whole shtick seems to me now, back then it was new and exciting, and I couldn’t help but get caught up in it. I became close with my class, many of whom are my best friends to this day*.

One of the Marine Midshipman from that class, we’ll call him “Big K,” stood out from the word go. He was brawny Central Pennsylvanian country boy; blond, barrel-chested and full of that special Hillbilly retard strength that is only achieved by those who have contributed large portions of their lives to splitting logs.

Early on, Big K was an incredibly successful Midshipman; he was as hard as nails and seemed not to recognize physical pain. I could cite a hundred examples, but I’ll only need one: Big K ran the Marine Corps marathon in boots and utilities. That is just fucking hard-core.

Physically he had all the tools, but his attitude was what really separated him from the pack. If being a meathead were an art form, you could hang this guy in the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa. A product of the ultra-competitive Pennsylvanian Catholic Football League, he modeled his life after Steve Lattimer, the steroid abusing psycho from James Caan’s “The Program,” making me wonder if he really understood what that movie was about. One winter afternoon freshman year, during a seemingly friendly game of tackle football out on the IM field, Big K sniffed out a running play and charged the middle, delivering a vicious high hit worthy of an ESPN highlight reel. The ball carrier, a 120 pound dorm-mate of ours, was knocked cleanly off his feet by the ferocity of impact alone, but in accordance with the kind of fundamental tackling technique that could bring a tear to the eye of Mike Ditka, Big K wrapped him up and drove him into the fresh snow, digging his cleats into the turf with each step. As we all stood in awe, wondering if our small friend would ever walk again, we questioned whether or not that extent of brutality really had any place in backyard football. Big K unapologetically pointed out that he was only aware of one kind of football, and he only played that kind of football one way.

If you happened to be a smart-mouthed, skinny, eighteen-year-old punk, whose hobbies include attending fraternity parties, behaving obnoxiously, and making blatant passes at girls directly within sight and hearing of their boyfriends; it is absolutely essential that you roll with a friend like this. He was not necessarily the most insufferable member of our crew, but he had the ability to quickly diffuse the problems that the rest of caused with a single hard look. He was just one mean dude.

In the meathead culture, drinking yourself just to the brink of hospitalization is customary, and a failure to do so calls your very manhood into question. Big K treated every alcoholic beverage he ever saw as a personal challenge, and he dedicated his life to making all booze disappear from the face of the earth as quickly as possible. His tolerance was nothing short of miraculous, but he asserted himself to overcoming it by consuming mass quantities of the most dangerous substances known to man; such as Bacardi 151 and grain alcohol - usually in the form of an unholy green sludge known as “the hand grenade.”

Once his drunkenness crossed a certain line, the rest of us instinctively formed into a Big K containment quick reaction team, and did everything humanly possible to confine him to a known safe haven where the odds of him being arrested or hospitalized were reduced to manageable levels. We had varying degrees of success, as his behavior was so unpredictable we could easily be caught off guard. Even within the presumably secure walls of his own apartment, he could surprise us by charging the balcony at a full-on sprint and bounding over the railing; splattering himself on the upper deck of the parking garage 15 feet below. Leaving us to just stare, stupefied, at the developing pool of blood, and argue over who was sober enough to drive to the ER. Later we found out that it was an older Midshipman who told Big K that he “didn’t have the balls to jump off the balcony;” this person was either a sick sadist, or he didn’t know Big K.

As time went by, Big K underwent a mutually consensual separation from our group. For our part, it was a simple survival instinct; we simply could not keep up with his increasingly erratic behavior. It was like partying with an angry grizzly bear. He was in the advanced stages of a fall-from-grace of Nixonian magnitude; his behavior was often bizarre and dark, he alienated friends, was arrested a few times, and frightened away girls. He was toxic, and predictably, it ultimately cost him his chance at commissioning as an officer of Marines.

From his perspective, we were not keeping up with his rock star partying habits. His new Tommy Lee persona now included the use of illicit drugs as well as destructive alcoholism, and he simply found friends that could keep up. He would generally come by our house a few times a week before heading out on his evening tour of destruction to “drink his dinner” from our kegerator. After a few beers, we would part ways, and that would usually be the last we saw of him for the evening.

One Sunday morning senior year, I shot out of bed around noon, excited about the beginning of the NFL playoffs. I slipped on my flip-flops, and slogged my way across the living room carpet, which by this point had become a malty swamp due to a leaky kegerator tap that let so much beer out onto the rug, it froze into a dirty beer slushy in the winter (thanks in part to our failure to refill the oil tank, leaving us without heat). I looked over at the used, purple, wrap-around couch, and saw a pile of garbage in clothes on each end; upon further inspection, each pile was actually a person – both appeared to be in critical condition.

The first one, a chronic puker and golden girls fan, woke up without any trouble, and borrowed my car to shower and change before kick-off. The other was Big K. I gave him a shake, and he didn’t stir, so I decided to let him sleep, and got showered up. With about thirty minutes left before the game, I reengaged the sleeping giant. My roommates were starting to gather, and a few other friends had arrived, and we needed the seats that he was occupying on the sofa.

All traditional methods of waking a person up had failed; we shook him, yelled, and poured water on him until the couch started getting too wet, and he didn’t so much as shift positions. In my fourth year of college, I thought I had seen every kind of party and with it every kind of disaster of a human being that is left behind come morning. Whatever Big K had gotten into the night before, was nothing I had ever seen. I began to ask around; who was with him last night? Who brought him back to the house? How much did he drink? It turns out, none of my roommates nor I had seen him at all the previous night, he just crawled here afterward to die on our couch.

Giving up hope on waking him, we just attempted to move him, and reclaim our living room. I grabbed his arms, and two other guys grabbed a leg each and we attempted to lift. I will never forget how greasy his skin was, I am looking for an apt metaphor, but nothing that gruesome exists in nature; his oily appendages slipped from our grasp, and we dropped him back on to the couch, where he landed and slid off onto the floor. His limp body oozed of the couch, his arm slung unnaturally across his face, and I was immediately reminded of the scene in which a dead body is dumped out of a garbage truck from one of the gangster movies that we always used to watch. The image was so disgusting, that one of the leg holders threw up in his mouth. Careful to avoid any further contact with his skin, we grabbed a hold of his legs, and dragged him ten feet into the hallway, bouncing his head off the octagonal base of the coffee table several time en route. We considered that good enough, rewarded our hard work with a beer, and got ready for some football.

To this very day, no one knows where the fireworks came from. There they were, an entire unopened pack of “blockbusters,” sitting in the center of our coffee table illuminated by a single ray of sunlight bursting forth from the clouds and slicing through the musky air of our living room! I may not be much of a religious man, but of one thing I am sure; God wanted us to throw those firecrackers at Big K!

A blockbuster is simply ten ladyfingers, wired together, so their effect is similar to spectacularly loud popcorn popping. The unopened package contained fifty of these devices, but I am quite sure they were somehow replenishing themselves after each throw like Jesus’ baskets of fish. For the next four hours, we lit the fireworks, and giggled profusely as they detonated all around the heap of a man passed out in the hallway. The sound exploded off the walls and echoed in and out of the bathroom, Big K did not so much as twitch. We were equally delighted by the ashy little burn marks they left on his clothing and skin. We watched the playoffs, drank beer, and ignited an endless supply of ordnance in the direction of Big K.

Naturally, at halftime the fireworks throwing led to a cheese fry throwing event; in which we would compete to see who could throw a cheese fry and make it stick, preferably to the face. The winner would be congratulated with a noisy fireworks display.

This continued until about 5:00PM, one hour into the Steelers game. At that time, Big K slowly rose to his feet; I have seen homeless people that looked better than he did at that moment.

“What time is it?” He croaked.

“Five.”

“Oh shit, I’ve got to go to work!” He looked down at his white T-shirt, covered in char marks and bright orange nacho cheese, removed it, turned it inside out, and replaced it. He picked up a fistful of cheese fries, ate one, smashed the rest of the handful into the face of the guy at the end of the couch, and without so much as asking for mouthwash or washing his face, he walked out the door to the deli where he worked. Presumably, he spent the rest of that evening making sandwiches for unsuspecting deli patrons.

*Some such friends, along with their parents, are avid readers and contributors to this blog, well represented in the comments sections. One such parent has even bitched to her sparsely populated States’ congressional representative about some of my issues. Her efforts have exposed the rest of you as lazy and selfish, and you are considerably less valued as members of “The Augmentee” community.

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