One thing I remember from my childhood is listening to an old Steve Martin vinyl that my best friend had. We would sit on his bed and face the rectangular box and huge set of speakers I’m sure were from the 70s. My friend had a few comedy albums that his dad let him listen to, but I preferred Steve Martin’s pedestrian anecdotes to Bill Cosby’s stories about hernias and Fat Albert. It was the way Steve Martin handled the crowd, hecklers to be more specific.
Hecklers are a reality in the entertainment biz, especially when you have a little talent, just a fact of life, really. Amateur comedians usually handle them by calling them out and destroying them—not even poking fun at them, but just stabbing them with every insult that comes to mind. Stupid things that can be heard on elementary school playgrounds: ‘Your mother must have been so ugly!’ ‘You think you’re so funny?!’ ‘Fudge you, motherfudger.’ (Obviously, they don’t say fudge.) I don’t like cussing for stupid reasons, like when an idiot in the crowd is interrupting my monologue on how big my penis is. It’s really pathetic.
But I remember in the middle of Steve Martin’s act, some guy yelled out ‘Do the sorithenrogih!’ I couldn’t understand the last word when I was a kid, and neither could my friend, so we sat there waiting for the silence to be broken by either party. Steve leaned into the microphone and said, ‘I remember when I had my first beer.’ My friend and I laughed, not knowing why, but probably because at the ages of ten and eleven, beer is something forbidden and inappropriate, something you have to laugh at because you heard an adult say it, like “boobies” or “weiner.”
At the ages of nineteen and twenty, beer is not so much forbidden and inappropriate any more, but really just something to supplement a good time on a slow weekend. As are boobies. I remember my first beer. I really do. I was eighteen years old, a freshman in college, and was at the first kegger of my life, which was being thrown by my older sister’s boyfriend at a mysterious place called The Sandbar. My sister’s boyfriend belonged to a fraternity that specialized in cheap keggers and the odd, infamous bar crawl, leaving students throwing up on lawns and curling around toilets in dorm bathrooms. I, of course, did not know this, and pictured a frat party to be something more along the lines of a Princeton class reunion; sipping fine liquor out of thick glasses and drinking perfectly frothed beer from chilled mugs.
Needless to say, I had never seen Animal House and I had never seen Old School, and both would have been fantastically instructional when thinking about what to wear to the party. Even at the age of eighteen, I had the need to be dressed two hours in advance and look perfect for any formal gathering. After destroying my dorm room drawers, I decided on the classic-cool look, something akin to James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, but in retrospect, I looked more like Fonzy in Happy Days; my dark jeans a little skinnier than I thought they were, and my bomber jacket that I bought in accordance to my fashion bible, Gentleman’s Quarterly. My hair was short and tossed, my jacket hung over my shoulder, my black tee shirt loose and dark blue jeans tight, and my new white Converse laced to perfection.
The Sandbox was not an oak library with thick glasses and chilled mugs. The Sandbox was a basement in a shady apartment a few blocks from campus. The cups were red and plastic and cost five dollars each. There was no fine alcohol, but rather Hawkeye Vodka mixed with lemonade, and a warm keg of beer I would come to hate, called Natural Light, or affectionately nicknamed Natty Light. I learned fast that filling up a cup with beer from a keg with fifty other people in the room meant more pushing and shouting than the opening bell at the stock exchange. My first beer was more foam than liquid and mostly ended up as a stain on my white Converse. Needless to say, I remember my first beer.
My childhood friend recently started at the same college. We had both come a long way from listening to records on his floor; he became extremely politically active and responsible, and I became a witty writer who is poor yet fashionable. My friend had a policy in high school, touting it at gatherings that he did not drink and would not in college. I never blamed him for this. I secretly hoped he would stay dry until he was legal, but we all expected it to fail. And it did. And I watched it fail, as I was witness to the man-child’s clash with the toxin known as alcohol.
It was a Saturday night and I was looking for something to do. The four walls of my apartment were closing in and I desired some social interaction. This is what I say when I want to go out and meet people. And that is what I say when I want to get laid. Getting laid to me is like seeing a unicorn on my walk towards campus: it never happens but I still expect it to happen. I never do get laid, mind you, as I have some sort of moral problem when it comes to having sex with a girl who has had any alcohol or who I haven’t had the chance to test for VD. But I would at least like to think I have the mystical chance. So, I texted mi primo, let’s call him Billy, and asked him if he knew of any parties. He texted me back saying he was about to go to one with his new belle, let’s call her Lucy. I invited myself and started to get ready.
By this time, I knew how to dress for house parties. Two and half years and I had finally learned the trick to not looking good, which is the key to getting the attention of the ladies. I threw on an Iowa tee shirt, a loose pair of jeans, and an old pair of sneakers. The more you blend in, the more you stand out. I looked like college-student Ken. I walked to Lucy’s dorm and found when I got there, dorm life hadn’t changed much at all; teens huddled around computers, cheap rum passed around in water bottles, everyone pre-gaming for what they think will be the night of their lives. I gave a head nod and took a seat on the yoda-looking folding chair next to Billy who was watching Notre Dame and Michigan fight it out on ESPN.
“When are you going to be ready?” Billy was apparently referring to Lucy who was changing in a closet that was the size of my bathroom or in layman’s terms the size of a small walk-in pantry. Lucy’s voice was annoyed and tired, as if she had heard the same question repeated several times in the last five minutes, “When I’m done.”
I had done this one before, waiting on the girl to get ready as you wait patiently watching a game. I was about to give Billy some advice on why not to push a woman into an outfit, as she would feel uncomfortable the entire night if she felt rushed, and it was usually smart to shut up and have a beer handy. But he had other plans for the conversation. “That’s what you just said two minutes ago.” I cringed. I cringed for him. His voice was whiny and anxious. He was ready for social interaction. No, Billy. No. “Can’t we just leave?”
“We have to wait for the other girls.” I had no problem with this. I had no problem playing Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja until she was ready. It was like nine o’clock–pretty early for the young college student on the prowl. Billy, have a beer, watch the TV. I wanted to slide that in there but he didn’t let me.
“Let’s just go.”
She burst out of the pantry, dressed in a blue top and short white shorts, and cocked her hip, ready to fire.
“We have to wait.”
If you missed Ben Evans’ first column, An Iowa City Life: “5 AM,” be sure to check it out!