It was a lovely spring day in the Pacific Northwest, which only meant it wasn’t raining. It was in the mid-fifties and either mostly sunny or partly cloudy depending on your worldview. This was the exact same kind of weather that had sent everyone diving into their closets for sweatshirts and long pants months before but now compelled people to find objects to throw back and forth on grassy areas and caused sweat to stick the shirt to my back. The large top-floor window that took up most of the back wall let in unobstructed sunlight, turning the third-floor classroom into a sort of convection oven. This created a level of exhaustion in the sedentary audience, who each took turns shifting our gazes down at their phones and up again to our classmate giving his presentation. He had taken the senior economics presentation as an occasion that required a sport coat, tie, and a button-down shirt that had the unusual characteristic of turning a darker shade of blue whenever you looked back up from your phone.
I felt bad being on my phone, but I would have preferred if more people had been on theirs during my presentation. This wasn’t from any fear of public speaking, but more because I would rather that they had been looking at something they actually found interesting. The only student who seemed to truly pay attention was named Zack or something like that, though I may have only assigned him that name because I disliked everyone named Zack that I knew. I mean, the lack of common decency required to not only read the presentation slides but then to also ask questions about them is astounding to me.
I cycled from Facebook to my email – both student and personal – and to a picture sharing site, each of which I had combed through less than five minutes before. I would occasionally look up at the presentation, both to see what new shade the shirt had reached as well as to relieve the presenter from having to continually stare at the baseball-sized circle of thinning hair on the top of my head. I missed some hairs at the corner of my mouth when shaving and I absentmindedly picked at them throughout class, intending to just rip them out of my face like a psychopath.
I thought the guy speaking was about to either wrap up or collapse, but he lasted another pint of sweat before getting to questions. The suspected Zack raised his hand which almost gave the girl next to him whiplash when she had to turn away from his unobstructed armpit. The presenter gave an answer that made it seem like he had been paying as little attention to his own presentation as the rest of us had been. There were no more questions from any of the students, which meant that Professor Baker would have to ask in everyone’s stead. Baker looked like an economics professor from a movie which meant a lot of tweed and argyle. He would ask tenured professor questions, which meant he would ramble about his opinion on the topic before saying, “So what do you think about that?” and no matter how you answered you were not quite right.
Maddison had abandoned the melting man in front and shifted her attention to my barbaric method of tweezing. She had blonde hair, blue eyes – all that stuff – but even more than that she seemed like she would be attractive for a very long time. Her face wasn’t going to soften in her thirties or forties, and when her hair silvered it would do so gracefully. All of this would make it hit someone a lot harder if she said that they should just remain friends when that someone asked her out nine months before. I never felt that of course, because Maddison and I were just friends.
The guy finished his not quite right answer and received half-assed applause to show that nobody else was going to ask any questions – even if they wanted to. Baker looked at the clock and said, “We might as well stop here,” which we all knew meant the class wouldn’t end for another ten or twelve minutes. He used this time to ramble in much the same way he did when asking questions, but at least we didn’t have to give a not quite right answer this time. Maddison and I were among the last ones out of the classroom, which was on the top floor and coincidentally down the hall from Baker’s office.
“Raymond,” Maddison started as we followed the rest of the class down the stairs. She always began conversations with the other person’s full first name, even when it was obvious who she was speaking to. This made her one of the few who used my first name at all instead of calling me Cooper or Coop. “How was trivia?” she asked.
“We got second.” We had actually tied for third, but we were pretty sure that the new bartender they had keeping score missed giving us points for one of our answers. Either way, we weren’t that close to the team that won almost every Tuesday. “Are you going to Ladies’ Night?”
“Oh! There’s a DB twenty-one run tonight so I should be out.”
“Who’s turning twenty-one?” By this time, we had reached the bottom of the stairs and were turning toward the doors outside.
“Do you know Nikki Martin? She’s a junior.”
“Yeah, I know who she is.” I knew the name, but I couldn’t put a face to it right then.
“You should come. We’re pregaming at Claire and Heather’s apartment.”
Claire? That was a thought, but accepting an invitation to the birthday party of someone you hardly knew would be the move of a truly socially starved individual.
“Pre-game is at nine, then we’re going downtown at ten.” She said.
“Sounds good.” We were heading down the walkway toward Greek Row, flanked on both sides by tall elms attempting to grow a new year’s worth of leaves. It was a very pretty walk that likely inspired a lot of bad poetry. “Are you doing anything this weekend?”
“I’m driving home tomorrow.” She did this once or twice a month. “What about you?”
“The D-Psi’s are selling wristbands that give you discounts downtown on Saturday.”
“That sounds fun, what are the wristbands for?”
“At The Ivy you get -”
“Sorry, what cause?” she clarified.
“Oh. Child illiteracy.” That was a half guess.
I still can’t wrap my head around people that went home during weekends without cause. It seemed like they had resigned to have less happen in their lives – a timespan I had equated to before one turns thirty. They were arresting their own development, unlike someone like me, who went to the same two or three bars every weekend. At least there was a hope that something would happen on Saturday, I just wasn’t certain what that something might be.
“What are you guys having for lunch?” She asked after a lapse in the conversation.
“I think breakfast food.”
She made a soft guttural sound, “Uhh, that sounds so good.” She drew out the “so”.
“What’s at DB?”
“Grilled cheeses, and I’m probably going to eat a whole tray I’m so hungry.” She drew out the “so”, again. “I didn’t eat breakfast.”
“Huh, well I’ll actually be eating breakfast pretty soon.” She laughed at that even though it wasn’t very funny, another cause for attraction. We each told the other one that we would see them at Heather and Claire’s that night. The path dumped us out onto a street corner, and I cut across the road to the walkway up to the IO house.
After getting up to my room, I closed the door to get to the mirror on the back. The missed hairs at the corner of my mouth had to go, so I grabbed my razor and locked the door to prevent someone from flinging it open and slicing my ear off. I’m not sure who would have been so eager to speak to me but can’t a guy dream about losing an ear in the name of comradery? When I finished I took a multivitamin and fiber supplement. I put both pills in the same bottle so that it would be less of a task to take them. This is just one of the things one can achieve after four years at a state school.
I opened the curtain and window opposite the door. The room had a solid view of Greek row, which was one of the reasons I had picked it. Two of our sophomores were throwing a frisbee in the front yard. They weren’t throwing it to each other so much as to the sidewalk and street next to and behind their partner. I kept hearing the disc skittering on asphalt as I changed into running clothes. By the time I had finished tying my running shoes they had given up the effort and had committed to smoking cigarettes on the bench out front.
It was a little before eleven, so if I left right then I would be done running and back right before lunch was served. I ran my earbuds under my shirt and plugged them into my phone before putting my phone into my pocket. I sat down at my desk and opened my laptop, on which I repeated the cycle of Facebook, my email – both personal and student – and the picture sharing site before I ended up looking through YouTube videos. After ten minutes I wrapped my earbuds around my phone and took off my running shoes.
After another ten minutes, I opened my econ term paper, looking over the most-of-a-page that made up the entirety of my completed writing. It was due in a little over two weeks. The tepid results of my research made it as interesting to write about as it did to present. This wasn’t helped by the fact that graduation was on the horizon, which not only put the brakes on productivity but also flipped a U-turn over a double yellow and started in the opposite direction. I came up with a solid opening line, the wake of which I had hoped to ride throughout the rest of the paper. “Everybody loves a winner, but sometimes it’s good enough to just try to look like one.”
I shut my laptop, slid on my slippers, and went to the opposite end of the hall from my room. I could hear music on in Trevor’s room next to the fire escape, so I pushed the door the rest of the way open. Trevor peaked around his closet to see who had entered.
“Hey Cooper,” he said returning to the mirror on the inside of the closet door. It looked like he had recently showered and was now messing with his bleached hair.
“What’s up,” I replied.
“Not much, did you just go running?”
“No, I’m going to go after lunch. Are you going to the DB twenty-one run tonight?” He was good friends with Claire, so I figured he might have been invited.
“I’m going to the pregame,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll stick with the group downtown though.”
“That’s what I was thinking, I just wanted to make sure that there would be more than two people that I actually knew there.”
“When does it start?”
“I think at nine. Have you gotten your wristband yet?”
“Not yet, are they selling them tomorrow too?”
“Yep,” I said.
“Cool, cool, cool,” he said while checking his phone. “Oh, but guess who’s going to be in town on Saturday.”
I guessed Noah, which was the name of Trevor’s ex-boyfriend.
“Oh shit, really?” Things hadn’t ended well between them, so naturally his returning to town may cause emotional distress to my close friend, and worse than that, might affect my Saturday night.
“Yeah, he sent me an email saying he was. Said we could get coffee if I wanted to talk to him.”
“An email?” I asked, twisting up my face.
“I have him blocked on pretty much everything else.”
“Didn’t he say he got engaged like two months ago?”
“Yeah,” Trevor sighed. “I don’t know what his fucking deal is.”
“Can’t trust those gays,” I said, taking a step back from the doorway. “What you need to do is date a straight gay guy.”
“They’re more trouble than they’re worth,” he said, following me towards the stairs. “Do you know what’s for lunch?”
His reply was a drawn-out, “Yes.”
We walked into the formal room, which for the literally and figuratively uninitiated is similar to a parlor. We would just call it a parlor, but that would sound even more pretentious than formal room. It contained a pair of brown leather couches separated by a coffee table as well as a fireplace that set off the smoke detector whenever we used it. At the end we had entered from, there was a small library with a collection of old yearbooks and out of date legal codes. The dining room was through an archway opposite the fireplace. The tables were placed end-to-end except for the head table at the far end, which was set perpendicular to the rest.
Trevor and I plopped down opposite one another on the leather couches, and each put a foot up on the coffee table. Trevor took out his phone and I did the same, intent on spending the twelve minutes until noon cycling between Facebook, email – both student and personal – and the picture sharing site. Eventually, the freshmen hashers showed up, some still rubbing the sleep from their eyes, and began setting up the buffet-style lunch. They wiped off the tables and laid down cardboard where the hot pans would be set. The last member came in from the kitchen carrying a ten-gallon jug full of the pink lemonade flavor that I didn’t like. They then made half a dozen to go boxes for people still in class. Each got a shoveling of eggs, hash browns, a few pieces of bacon or sausage, and maybe a biscuit depending on how nice the guy making it was.
Everyone lined up behind the hashers, and when I was handed the tongs I gave them several test clicks to make sure that they hadn’t stopped functioning in the two seconds since they were last used. I loaded my plate with eggs, bacon, a biscuit, and filled a cup with the dumb pink lemonade.
Trevor and I sat halfway down the row of tables. Cameron, a fellow senior, moved down the rows in the sure-footed way that made people surprised to learn that he is legally blind. He looked eager to get something solid in his stomach, feeling the effects that come with being on the eighth day of what would turn out to be a ten-day bender. I suspected that was related to his having been dumped by his girlfriend of three years.
“What’s up, guys?” Cam said in the way where it was more of a greeting than an actual question.
“’sup” I returned, salting my eggs.
“Oh, living the dream.”
“Are you going to the DB twenty-one run?” I asked.
“Nikki’s? Yeah. Are you?”
“Nope, just asking.”
“Well, okay then.” He laughed.
I had been unsure if he planned on going out of the chance that his ex would be there. She cheated on him during one of those service-learning trips where they build shoddy housing for people in Costa Rica. This made it worse in my mind because unless they’re in the wake of natural disasters or wars, the free labor ends up causing long-term detriments to developing economies by undercutting local workers. I decided not to tell Cam about that though. He was already going through a lot.
“Champ’s is going to have two-dollar Jager bombs with a wristband on Saturday,” Cam said.
“So, you’re going to be there all day is what you’re saying?”
“No, just most of it.” He cracked a grin. “Hey, do you think Jada will be at the twenty-one run?”
“I was trying not to think of it so I could enjoy my lunch.” I played this as a joke, but I had mulled over the possibility.
“Are you going to choke her again?” Trevor said. By then I knew it was pointless to argue that her mention of liking to be choked having come after we had slept together a few times didn’t mean the two were related, so I instead joined in on the laughter. Some mistakes become penicillin, but most just become things for your friends to make fun of you for.
I grabbed another biscuit after I finished my food and was bringing my plate to the kitchen. After adding it to the stack I stepped aside to check dinner on the schedule. It was spaghetti and meatballs. I returned to my room to put my running shoes back on and ran my headphones back down my shirt and reattach them to my phone. After a few stretches to loosen my hamstrings I walked right past the stairs and into Brad Bannon’s room.
Unsurprisingly he was playing FIFA, Brad being the only person I knew who went to the women’s soccer games because he wanted to see them play and not because he thought that the players were attractive. I didn’t recognize either team playing, which was no surprise either. Soccer questions are rarely asked in bar trivia. Brad sat on the only part of the folded-up futon not being occupied by his girlfriend, Megan, who was lounging outstretched, chewing on one of her fingernails while looking at her laptop.
“How’s it going, Coop?” He said taking a quick glance away from the screen.
Megan gave a, “Hey,” while looking up from her laptop.
“Pretty good,” which was my muscle memory answer no matter how things were in going.
“Did you just go running?” Brad peeled his green eyes – which had been called “pretty” by numerous girls on numerous occasions – away from the elevated TV and saw my outfit.
“No, I’m about to go.”
“Oh, well good for you buddy.” Which like everything Brad said, was completely sincere. “I need to start running again.”
“Yeah, you’re starting to get a little fat,” I said, which was untrue to the point that it was an obvious joke.
“He’s right,” Megan said. Brad’s laugh seemed more forced for this remark.
“Are you going to Ladies’ Night?” I asked.
“Oh, maybe,” Brad said, which meant that chances were slim to none, and slim had left town.
“I might go,” Megan announced. This was done less to entice Brad into going as it was to point out that she would be going out without him.
“You both are coming on Saturday, right?” I asked.
“Yep,” Brad said. “Should be fun.”Megan shut her laptop and began putting it into her backpack. “I’m going to go back to my place.” She said broadly but was still directed at her boyfriend. He paused his game and put his shoes on to walk her home, compelling me to accompany them down the stairs and finally out the door.
 During my presentation on whether or not college football stadiums affect enrollment, he not only asked me a question, but even had a follow up question to go after. Sounds like a Zack if I’ve ever heard one.
 This helped to provide an unintended level of intimacy for some idiot to misread before asking her out nine months before.
 She’s from a small town two hours away, and to get there you had pass by a town of a hundred people called Compost, Idaho. There have been several attempts to change the name – for obvious reasons – but they were all shot down. I’m guessing that’s because if you live in a town of a hundred people called Compost, Idaho, you are likely the type of person that will oppose anything that somebody else says purely because you don’t like being told what to do.
 If you think that’s extreme then you can just ask Vincent van Gogh, but he won’t be able to hear you. He’s dead.
 If you’re looking for me to discuss my research any further prepare to be disappointed, and even if you didn’t want that I still wouldn’t get my hopes up.
 The food here was why I had re-found half of the weight I lost the past summer. The blame definitely goes to the food, and not any personal shortcomings on my part.
 His cornea has been slowly deteriorating, which so far had left him with tunnel vision and night blindness.
 Champ’s is a sports bar that is only kept open so the owner can write it off as a failing business. In order to keep this a reality, they sell liquor close to cost, the draw of which is countered by them encouraging the untrained bartenders to drink on the job and offer terrible service to keep customers away.
 Although his parents gave him a WASP-y name, Brad was actually Irish Catholic. His great or great-great grandfather was born O’Bannon in County Cork, Ireland. The “O” was confiscated when his family came through Ellis Island over a hundred years ago. You can do with that information what you want.