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Just wanted to let everybody know, I'm going to try to alternate this week between Livin' Large and the 2008-09 Worsties. The key word in that last sentence is "try."
So this past weekend I went to Kokomo to help my aunt celebrate her birthday. We did this by singing karaoke at a little dive bar called the Hi-Mark Restaurant & Lounge. It's the kind of place where you have to pee into a trough and a Captain and Coke costs only $2.75. The featured songs included such country classics as "Everybody Dies Famous In A Small Town" and...you know what? I kind of spaced out after that one, but it seems like most of the other songs were chosen and performed in the same spirit. Small town blues, small town love, small town living...mostly country. (I sang a little Meat Loaf and covered "Kryptonite" by Three Doors Down, in case you were wondering.)
The point is, this little sojourn into my very rural past reawakened memories of my final years as a Kokomoan, an era that ended when I graduated from college. (And I mean ended immediately. I graduated on a Saturday afternoon and moved into my Oak Park apartment Saturday night.) These weren't memories only of what happened, but also how what happened made me feel. Maybe the fumes and toxic waste from the car plants in Kokomo have a hallucinogenic effect, but the trip made me realize how cynical and perhaps even bitter some of my descriptions in this story have seemed. I know it's been my tendency to ridicule the feelings I had for Aimee and the way I behaved while in the throes of first love, so I should also point out that that was the happiest I had ever been in my life to that point. In fact, I had prior to that never believed I could be so happy. So while my sappiness was embarrassingly sappy, it was the best and most honest emotion my 18-year-old self had ever felt. Life is tough. People should always be grateful for whatever euphoric happiness they can find. And I'm happy I got to experience the crazy.
Anyway, back to the story.
After coming to the conclusion that Mat and I would never, under any sane circumstances, develop even a basic friendship, I decided to start pretending he simply didn't exist. Mat seemed more than okay with this unspoken decision, and we both settled into pattern of completely ignoring each other. Well, almost completely. We still took phone messages -- which, obviously, was more of a task for me than it was for him -- but that was the extent of our relationship. Strangely, this made living with him a little easier. It was like mentally filtering all the crap out of your life.
I even made out new no-talky status into a little game. I was determined not to speak to him or even acknowledge his presence until he spoke to me first. I bet myself a new pair of basketball shoes that I could do it...and I really needed a new pair of kicks. This bet went my way for about three days. Then I came back to the room one day after classes to find Mat sitting behind his desk with his head in his hands.
It was odd to see Mat home in the late afternoon, because that was when he had basketball practice. Mat didn't care about much at school. He cut classes and ignored homework, but except for a couple slipups, he always fulfilled his obligations to the men's basketball team. Therefore, the fact that he was seemingly skipping out on practice got my attention.
But I couldn't speak to him! My pride -- and new basketball shoes -- were on the line.
I was (more or less) caught up on homework and I had some time before I had to work at the food service, so I flopped down on my bed with the intention of taking a short nap. Mat continued to sit unmoving on the stool behind his desk. I remember thinking he looked a little like The Thinker, you know, if The Thinker was dog ugly and suffering from a migraine headache instead of battling with a powerful internal struggle. (Those are Wikipedia's words, not mine.)
"Fuck me," he said softly to himself. Then he slammed one of his ham-sized fists down on his desk. "FUCK ME!" he repeated.
As much as I wanted to pretend Mat wasn't there, my curiosity was piqued. I began mentally running through the list of what might be troubling him. Girl problems? No, he couldn't have cared less for anybody other than Shelly, and as far as I knew everything was fine between them (mostly because Shelly was living about 2,000 miles away). Classes? Probably not, since he had been kinda-sorta going lately, and as I had discovered there was little chance he was going to get kicked out. It didn't seem to have anything to do with his recently deceased friends either, since he was angry and not sad.
Next he threw a pile of random items off his desk while yelling, "Fuck!"
I just kept repeating to myself: don't talk to him don't talk to him don't talk to him don't talk to him don't talk to him don't talk to him don't talk to him don't talk to him don't talk to him.
"I'm fucked," he said, again to himself. "It's over."
Over? What was over? Wait...he was angry, he wasn't at practice, and he was saying "it" was over. Had he been kicked off the team? Was he finished at our school?!
I had to know. Finding out that Mat was moving out of the room was more important than pride and basketball shoes.
I sat up. "Dude," I said, "what's up?"
He didn't answer immediately, and I half-thought he was going to maintain our unspoken vow of silence. Then he said, "I'm Prop 48."
I had no idea what he was talking about.
When I didn't respond, he said, "They said I cheated on my SAT. Now I gotta re-take it or I'm off the team."
The "they" was the NCAA. An investigation had turned up the shady little fact that Mat and a few other prep students had been allowed to take their SAT under questionable conditions. (In case you don't know, the SAT is a standardized test for college admissions in the United States.) Those questionable conditions included being left alone and unsupervised in a school library to complete the test without a time limit. I'm sure you can see the potential benefits of a situation like that.
Proposition 48 -- which officially is NCAA bylaw 14.3 -- defines academic requirements that must have been met during high school for a college athlete to be eligible for financial aid, practice and competition. Since the conditions in which Mat took the test invalidated the results, he was no longer eligible for...anything.
"Holy shit," I said, and I really had to fight to contain my sadistic glee. "So, you're, like, going to be kicked out."
"Not yet," he said, crushing my spirits. "I have to re-take the SAT and get an 820, or I'm out."
I almost laughed in his face. I had scored almost that much on the verbal component of my SAT. It was easy to choke back that laugh when I suddenly realized what a nerd I was.
"Think you can do it?" I asked.
"Fuck me, I don't know," he said. "I don't know."
Mat was schedule to re-take the SAT before Thanksgiving break. He had been provided (presumably by the athletic department) a stack of test preparation manuals. This meant Mat had to do something he hadn't done while he'd been at college, maybe something he hadn't had to do for years: study. And boy oh boy, his study process was a test case in unintentional comedy.
This is how it went. Mat would come home at night and state out loud (although to no one in particular) "I've got to fucking study." Then he'd clear off his desk and set out all his books. Sometimes he'd sharpen a pencil or two. Then he'd flip through the prep manuals for five to 10 minutes before letting out a deep, shuddering sigh and announcing, "Fuck me, I need a study break." Then he'd make a couple phone calls, go to the bathroom, wander up and down the hall to see if there was anybody to chat with, and maybe go downstairs to buy a hamburger at the grill. Eventually he'd return to the room, sit down and flip through the manuals for another five or 10 minutes before his next study break. He would keep this up for hours, during which he might accomplish as many as 30 minutes of actual studying. Then, around midnight he would collapse into bed as if he was suffering from complete mental exhaustion.Welcome to my world
, I would think with an internal snicker.
I really don't know how Mat spent his days. He still had classes to attend, but he was no longer allowed to practice. What he did with his newfound free time was a mystery. He wasn't studying, I can tell you that. Studying was too much of an effort...and it wasn't in his nature. He spent his evenings trying to do it, and watching him lip read his way through an SAT guide was like watching someone with a head would try to read random words out of a medical dictionary. I loved it.
For my part, I was hoping like hell that he would fail his SAT (well, score below 820, anyway) and get booted straight back to Holland. I probably would have sacrificed a small forest animal to make that happen. Although with the way his preparation was going, it didn't appear as though a sacrifice of any kind would be necessary. The joke went that signing your name to the test form was probably worth 400 points, so any idiot should have been able to get an 820. But Mat wasn't any idiot. He was a special kind of idiot who wasn't accustomed to using his brain for anything other than bridging the gap between his ears.
I figured he was doomed.
"So do you think they'll move somebody else into your room if he gets kicked out," Aimee asked.
I hadn't even thought about that yet. "I don't know. Maybe they'll let me just keep the room as a single."
"It would be great
if you had a single," she said in a breathy, dream-like voice. I don't know if she meant anything by that, but it got me fired up nonetheless. So now my daydreams started to include having Aimee all to myself in my single room.
One night, Mat was in the middle of one of his study breaks when he actually started up a conversation with me without any prompting on my part. That was probably a sign of how desperate he was not to study. Anyway, after a few minutes of idle chatter, he said, "You know what being Prop 48 means don't you?"
"What?" I asked.
"I can play ball at the Co-Rec now."
"Yeah," he said. "I'm gonna go over dere with some of the guys in the hall in de next day or so. You wanna come?"
"Oh hell yeah," I said.
This was going to be very interesting. Very, very interesting...Part 21
Labels: college stories, Livin' Large