There actually isn’t much to say about my second date with Maria, other than it was wonderful. I was smitten, and we dated for a couple of months. But ultimately I still wasn’t able to give her the kind of relationship she deserved, and she decided we should take “a pause.”
We didn’t speak for a while. Even though we hadn’t known each other for all that long, the pain of not having her in my life was so great that I immediately reverted back to a near constant state of inebriation just to distract myself from it.
It was somewhere around 11a.m. on a Saturday in early May. I was busy sleeping off a pretty substantial hangover when my phone rang. It was my best friend, Justin. In what would be my first mistake of the day, I answered.
“Woooooooooo. Get up man, it’s time to hit the river!” Justin’s voice boomed on the other end of the line. He sounded like he might still be drunk from the night before; or maybe he’d just started drinking again immediately upon waking up. Either was a possibility.
Me: Yeah, about that…I don’t think I’m gonna go.
Justin: What!? I got you a tube in the back of the car and everything!
He got so excited for these excursions. I had a vague memory of promising him I’d come over a Car Bomb somewhere around 2 that morning. But the idea seemed much less appealing now.
Me: Dude, I feel like ass.
I could hear our other friend Kip in the background. “He isn’t coming is he?” Kip wasn’t a big fan of mine sometimes; nor I his. It wasn’t because we didn’t like each other. It was just that we were easily the most strong-minded, stubborn personalities in the group.
Justin: Come on, man...I got a bottle of vodka. Kip has 99 Bananas...
Me: 99 Bananas? Sounds like a gay porn…
Justin: Just come. I promise as soon as you hit the water, you’ll feel better.
In what would be my second mistake of the day, I listened.
I pulled up to the launch site around noon. Kip was pulling the tubes out of the trunk of the car, and Justin was filling up a Mountain Dew bottle with vodka. In that moment, the very thought of consuming alcohol made me want to gag, but at the same time I knew it was the only way I would make it through the day. Hair of the dog, as it were.
I was prepared for the water to be cold. The river is always cold. But what I found out upon putting our tubes in was that in early May, it’s REALLY cold. My initial reaction was to get out, climb in my car, and high tail it back to my bed. In retrospect, this would’ve been the right call. Instead, I took my first shot of the day. Mistake #3.
The plan was to start near the radio towers, and float down to the zoo. All told, the trip was supposed to take about four hours. What we hadn’t accounted for was the river being extremely low, and the water moving much slower as a result. After we’d been out for about half an hour or so, we realized it would take closer to six hours to run our full course.
Things were pretty uneventful for the first couple of hours. Justin and I passed the vodka, while Kip stuck to his 99 Bananas.
Me: So, Kip, can you actually taste the penises? Like, is it penis FLAVORED? Or is that just an advertising thing so your people will gravitate to it?
Kip wasn’t gay. He actually had a serious girlfriend. But he was drinking a liquor made for college girls, so I couldn’t resist making fun of him.
Kip: Fuck you dude; it’s good. And it tastes like bananas.
Me: That’s what I said...penises.
Justin told us about his recent foray into online dating. He called it ‘expanding his target market,’ which I’m pretty sure was just code for ‘I live with my parents and I’m having trouble meeting women.’
Justin: This one girl’s profile said she liked bad jokes, right? So I’m thinking, I got this. I mean, I’m the KING of bad jokes.
Justin: So I sent her an email with the subject line, ‘bad joke.’
Me: Ok…what was it?
Justin: What kind of bees make milk?
Kip: Oh no…
He started laughing hysterically, which made Kip and I laugh as well. Not because the joke was funny, but because Justin had this contagious laugh. It was somehow guttural and high pitched at the same time. It couldn’t be ignored.
Me: So did she reply?
Justin: Not yet.
Kip: How long ago was that?
Justin: A week, maybe.
Me: Yeah…maybe next time don’t lead with that one.
Justin: Well, no one’s been responding, so I don’t know if it’s because of the joke.
Kip: What else would it be?
Justin: Well, the first sentence of my profile is that I live with my parents.
Me: It’s WHAT??
Justin: I figured I should be honest.
Kip: Dude, no. No no no no no. Why…why would you…no wonder no one is responding!
Justin: Well, they’re gonna find out eventually anyway right?
Me: Well, sure. But that’s something you wait until after you’ve met someone to tell them. You know, meet for dinner, spend a couple of hours charming them, and THEN drop the I live with my parents bomb. And hopefully by that point they’ll be interested enough to overlook it.
Kip: Yeah, I gotta agree with West on this one. Ha…hi, I’m Justin, I live with my parents. Wanna go out? Nice.
Justin: Actually, my screen name is B is for Bob.
Justin: They don’t see Justin first. They see B is for Bob.
Me: B is for Bob?
Justin: Yeah, all one word.
Kip: So….BisforBob…wait, doesn’t it look like Bis for Bob then? Are you sure they don’t think you’re bisexual?
Justin: Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that.
Me: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, oh my God, you’re never getting a date again.
The trip continued like that for a while, taking shots, smoking cigarettes…by about 3 o’clock the water wasn’t even cold anymore. Of course, that could’ve been due to the fact that we were all getting VERY drunk.
We came to a fork in the river and decided to take a break on a nearby rock. As we were trying to decide which direction to go, I slipped on some moss and fell, landing with my shin directly on top of a stone. Even in my inebriated state, it HURT. Bad. I decided that to dull the pain, I should take a few more shots. Mistake #4.
Not long after getting back on the water, we met up with another group of tubers. Let’s describe them as ‘country.’ Normally, we probably would have ignored them and continued on our way, but three factors were working against us: 1) We were drunk, 2) there were girls, and 3) they had beer.
So we linked up for a while. They were nice enough, but they probably came to regret offering for me to ‘help myself to the beer.’ One thing you may not know about me is that even though I’m not very big, I can put down some alcohol. After my first couple, I started randomly challenging the guys to chugging contests. Even in my mentally incapacitated state, I put every single one of them to shame.
Eventually we parted ways with our redneck brethren and journeyed on toward our final destination. There was just one problem.
I’d had enough of it.
Apparently we were within a few hundred yards of the zoo when I paddled over to the far shore of the river, climbed out, and started stumbling into the woods.
Kip: West, What are you doing?
Me: Ah’m done! Ah’m done, n' Ah’m goin’ home!
Justin: Dude, the zoo is right there. I can see it.
I pointed aimlessly into the woods and said, ‘NO…you guysh go ‘head. Ah’m gon’ go to my car n’ go home.’
Justin: Your car is 5 and a half hours back THAT way!
Me: Wha’r’you talkin’bout? Ish right up there.
Kip: Um, no…it’s not.
I stared at them blankly for a moment, then turned around and started walking again. Justin turned to Kip.
Justin: What should we do here?
Kip: I guess just let him go. Katie’s waiting for us at the zoo.
And so let me go they did. I had no shirt, no shoes, and no wallet. I was clothed only in swim trunks and a life vest. The last time any of my friends saw me for more than five hours I was walking into a dense forest with no clue where it ended and no idea where I’d end up.
My next memory is of walking along a sidewalk, and looking down at my feet. They hurt, but I couldn’t figure out why. I stopped and looked around. There were houses, a four lane road, and a gas station on the other side of the street.
Where am I, I remember thinking, and how did I get here?
I walked across the street to the gas station, thinking they could help me. But when I got there I still couldn’t put a sentence together coherently enough to ask for assistance, so I left.
I walked up and down every street in the vicinity, trying to make heads or tails of where I was, but I couldn’t do it. It was still afternoon when I started, and by the time I made it back to the gas station the sun had set.
I wandered around the store for a while, probably looking like the strangest homeless person anyone had ever seen, wearing only swim trunks and a life vest. I was still quite drunk, and on top of that, now I was getting hungry. I had no wallet to pay for food, so I took a bag of Doritos and started eating them right there in the store. I walked out without paying, but unlike most thieves, who would at least have the courtesy to leave the scene, I just sat down on the curb outside and continued eating.
Apparently, the owner took umbrage with this, and called the police.
Not too long after that, two police officers showed up. Cop#1 was considerably older than me, but Cop#2 appeared to be about my age. By then, I’d finished the chips, thrown the bag away, and was wandering around inside the store again.
Cop #1: Sir, may we have a word with you?
Luckily, by this time I’d sobered up enough to at least interact somewhat coherently, so I followed the officers outside.
Cop #2: Sir, did you steal a bag of chips from this store?
Me: I don’t have any chips.
I remember being proud of myself for not lying. I didn’t have any chips.
Cop #1: The owner says you’ve been wandering around this area for several hours. What are you doing?
I decided to be honest. The only problem was, I didn’t know what I was doing.
Me: I was tubing with my friends. We got separated.
Cop#2: Tubing? Where at?
My brain still wasn’t functioning well enough to explain the day’s events, so I just pointed and said, ‘zoo.’
Cop#1: The ZOO?? That’s miles away. How the hell did you get here?
Me: I dunno.
Cop#2: Well where are your friends?
Me: I dunno.
Cop#1: You just don’t know much of anything, do ya son?
Me: No, sir.
Cop#1: You know we could arrest you for public drunkenness right?
Me: Yes, sir.
Cop#1: Holy shit…the zoo. The zoo! You’d have had to walk through at least a mile and a half of forest just to come out on this side of town! Where are your shoes??
Me: Ummmmm, not sure.
The officers turned around. I honestly think at that point Cop#1 had made up his mind to arrest to me, but then something miraculous happened. Cop#2 put his hand on Cop#1’s shoulder and said ‘look, why don’t I handle this one?’ For some reason, Cop#1 agreed and left.
Cop#2 turned back to me.
Cop#2: I’m assuming you don’t have a phone?
Me: No sir, s’why I came here.
Cop#2: But you never used the phone here?
Me: Honestly, this is the first time in several hours I’ve been able to think straight enough to talk.
Cop#2 started laughing. “Good lord, how much did you have to drink?”
Me: Hard to say, really…
Cop#2: Well, look, I’m gonna let you use my cell phone, but you need to get in touch with someone, or I’m gonna HAVE to arrest you for public drunkenness. Ok?
Cop#2 handed me his cell phone, but in that moment, my mind went completely blank and I couldn’t think of a single person’s number. I knew if I told him that I was done for, so I did the only thing I could think of—I called my own cell phone and pretended I was leaving a friend a message. I hoped it would buy me enough time to remember someone’s number.
(By the way, I listened to the message I left myself the next day. It’s still one of the funniest/most embarrassing things I’ve ever heard. The mix of drunkenness and fear in my voice was priceless).
Cop#2 and I sat there talking sports, girls, and drinking for about half an hour before he said ‘doesn’t look like your buddy’s gonna call you back. You want to try one more person?’
I nervously took the phone. For a second I was sure that despite his best efforts, Cop#2 was going to have to arrest me. But then, by the grace of God, I remembered my friend Joseph’s number. I called, and he answered.
Post-script: I ran into a Maria about a week later, when her restaurant was catering an event outside my office. We agreed it was good to see each other, and decided to meet for coffee. Like an idiot, I told her this story. Let’s just say she was not impressed.
Fellas, here’s a helpful hint, even if your girl acts like she finds the boy act cute, she eventually wants you to grow up and be a man. Telling her stories like these do not help her to see you as husband material. But even though she rolled her eyes and called me a moron, there was still something there. Our story was far from over…
But more on that later.
A few notes:
1) That episode marked a turning point in my life. After that, I never did anything that stupid again. Did I do stupid things? Sure, but I never again pushed the limits of the law or fate as far as I did that day. It was my rock bottom.
2) I am eternally grateful to the cop that didn’t arrest me that night. He had every right to. Hell, he probably should’ve. But he didn’t. Sir, I don’t know if you’ll ever see this, but if you do, know that if you ever need anything I am in your debt.
3) Almost exactly a year later, I went back to the store and paid for the chips. I would’ve gone sooner, but I was too embarrassed. I walked in and gave the cashier two dollars. She looked at me with a confused expression. I said ‘this is for some chips I stole a year ago,’ and left.