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“What year do you think I graduated?”
The tipsy, long-legged freshman blonde I was talking with staggered back a few paces. She took a sip out of a Coors Light beer can that she had been smearing with guacamole residue for the past five minutes and flipped her silken hair back over her shoulder. She hiccupped, adjusted her neck and gazed up at me. She answered.
“Uhhhm, I don’t know, 1980?”
“1980?” I responded. “What! No, I’m only 37!”
“Oh my God,” she said. “You’re my stepmother’s age.”
I didn’t cry. I didn’t have to. I just shook my head and walked away. I walked back towards my tailgate section, where 10 of my closest buddies from my days as a student and football fan at the University of Southern California stood, inebriated and buzzing – longing for those glory daze of yore. Back when Notorious BIG was still alive and Sublime played our fraternity parties. Back when my major and the quality of my fake ID was all that mattered. Back when tailgating on campus was for the old, creepy people – and we were the future generation, heckling the 40-year-olds for showing up with beer bongs – trying to get some Alpha Phi to show them her tits…
1980. Really? Are you serious? I was FIVE! I couldn’t believe it. I silently fell down into the area on campus where my buddies were hanging out. I slouched down towards the cooler and grabbed a beer. Well before I sat down on my portable beach chair, my friends could tell I was upset.
“Yo, Z, what’s up? My buddy Spencer asked.
“Oh, nothing. Just that that freshman girl over there thought I was 54 years old.”
Tailgating is a time-honored tradition amongst my friends and me. Once a year we pool together about 100 bucks a person and blow it on beer, cheap food, snacks and football tickets to see the mighty USC Trojans football team play at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Most of our day is spent ogling young college girls on campus, drinking beer, throwing footballs around and reminding each other of all the amazing times we had in college. The majority of the afternoon is for us to pretend we are 20-years-old again. In fact, over the past 15 years since I graduated, I think I’ve maybe sat through one whole half of a live football game. The score? Well, as far as were concerned, a win is a good thing, but most of the times we have done this, we are so wasted by the time kick-off rolls around, we don’t feel it necessary to even go to the actual game anymore.
The fact that this freshman girl thought I was nearly 20 years older than I am, reminded me of how naïve, unworldly and young we are in college. Students think they are doing great things and studying interesting subjects and having meaningful relationships, but in reality, most of them are using the four years as a crutch to get by without facing the real world of work, marriage, children and bills. Most of them think there are jobs waiting outside the campus with six-figure paydays and keys to executive bathrooms. Even I was guilty of this. Back in the 90’s, I thought that by studying Broadcast Journalism, I’d be offered the first on-camera sportscaster spot that became open at NBC here in Los Angeles within two or three weeks of graduation. What I realized many years later, is that my degree meant jack squat. And based on the success I have had in my career thus far? I might as well have majored in Bongwater.
Saturday, September 22nd started out not unlike any other tailgate day my friends and I participate in. We loaded up on greasy food, found the few USC memorabilia T-shirts we might own and barely scoffed at paying the $25.00 parking fee in a local structure by campus. (The fact that I had no problem dropping 25 bucks on parking – whereas I am angrily putting off my son’s $25.00 AYSO Soccer registration fee because I think it’s too high – makes no sense to me…)
My old roommate Spencer wore a red, collared USC shirt. My friend Neil chose a 50-0 USC/UCLA score recap shirt and a black USC baseball cap. Our pal Riley was wearing a #55 hockey jersey – if only to start new conversation with super-fans. As for me, I spent the previous week trying to manufacture cheap t-shirts that we could sell on campus to stupid college kids that read: “IT’S BANG A FRESHMAN DAY!”
The printer wouldn’t let me make them.
We made it to campus around 9:00 in the morning, and had cracked cans of Miller Lite by 9:03. We strolled near our old dormitories and hangouts, noting that the school had severely upgraded everything since we left campus back in 1997. Back before the Staples Center was built and the surrounding campus became desirable Back when it cost me $425 a month to live with three dudes in a full shag-carpeted condo across the street from a grocery store parking lot were a dismembered female body was found in a dumpster the year before we moved in. Back when the school was an affordable $25,000/ year. (I took out roughly $92,000 in student loans. So far, 15 years later? I’ve paid back 18 bucks).
Where once stood rusted volleyball nets, now stood a sprawling quad full of shirtless Greek system Gods and Goddesses. Old dormitories looked like Westin Hotels. And the on-campus bar, “Traditions” – which once sat about 20 people (ten comfortably) – was recently transformed into a cavernous USC-themed booze playground that resembled an ESPN Zone in Las Vegas.
Yes, the times had changed with us. And nearly everything I did that fine Saturday, made me realize just how far removed from college I truly was.
The first questionable thing I chose to do after being mistaken for a 54-year-old, was pull out a bottle of red wine. Not some $7.99 Trader Joe’s bottle of cheap Pinot swill called “Nosedive” whose label features an actual nose skydiving, but a legitimate 1994 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select. I’m talking about a 152 – dollar bottle that I bought at a wine auction in 2010 for half the price. A bottle you either save for an anniversary – or lose when your teenage son has his friends over in ten years and they find the wine cellar in the basement. Still, having pretty much shunned beer recently for my new red wine obsession, I figured this was a terrific bottle to share with my best buddies from college on a grassy patch of tailgate where a delicious bottle of wine would offer a fresh alternative to Miller Lite # 19… Oh how wrong I was.
“Dude, seriously?” Riley snorted as he watched me use my Reef flip-flop with the attached corkscrew to get the bottle opened. “Red wine? Are you gonna take your bra off when you drink it?”
“It’s 97 degrees outside!” Neil offered.
“What is that, two-buck Chuck?” Spencer chortled.
When I explained to the guys that it was, in fact, a significant bottle of 1994 Napa Valley gold, they laughed, cracked another canned beer and continued taking stealth cell-phone pictures of the crew of scantily clad Kappa Kappa Gamma girls playing wiffle ball 30 feet away. As I poured my glass, I knew it was a wasted bottle, but I figured I’d try to enjoy it anyway.
“That ball was outside!” I yelled at a fraternity pledge who had been acting as the umpire during the wiffle ball game. Before I could get into a Billy Martin-like argument with him, I let him look over at me and size me up. I knew what he was thinking: Great, another old, jerk-off alumni who is trying to be funny around the sorority girls. After I tried to put on my best I was once on ESPN broadcaster voice and call some humorous play-by-play, I quickly realized just how out of place I was. 37-years-old. Married. Two kids. Somehow still thinking I would be able to get the female response I used to get back in college -when my nickname was “The Oil-Rigger.”
Fact is, my two-and-a-half-year-old DAUGHTER is closer to her freshman year in college than I am. Yes. When I graduated college, the majority of today’s freshmen were three and four-years-old. I was already taking PROPECIA for crying out loud… Today? My six-year-old son’s kindergarten costs roughly $25,000 a year. As for USC? Typical tuition starts in the $54,000 range. You also need about 1000 points higher on your SAT to get in than when I slid by with a 1050 back in 1993… (I’ve decided that my kids are going to University of Phoenix by the way.… ONLINE.)
So there I was. Sipping $50/glass wine from a red plastic cup, watching five tank-top sporting, wiffle ball playing frat dudes – with names like “Blaise” and “Carson” – try and work their magic on a crew of sorority girls. Girls who I once would have once easily convinced to come “power hit” a bong-load with me in my apartment as we listened to Blues Traveler 4. Girls who I once would have taken CD shopping on a date. Girls who think I graduated college in 1980.
After a few drinks, I took a trip to the port-a-potties near the Von Kleinsmid Center – a building where I had once aced a few classes on gerontology and gang relations. I remembered it well.
The port-a-potty lines were long and the sun was blazing hot. Somehow, I knew that there were bathrooms in the building somewhere, but being that my memory was a little hazy, I decided to just use the filthy port-a-potty and get back to finish my wine before getting down on some Costco bar-be-cue rib dish Riley was amassing. So, I stood there in line, along with about 75 other older people, awaiting a chance to relieve themselves.
After about 15 minutes or so, as I started to inch closer to the front, a young kid around 21 came bounding by with four Duct-taped beer cans in his hand. (Apparently a new college fad is to Duct-tape together your beers into some sort of beer-saber so you can defeat a Sith Lord by the end of the tailgate)… When he handed his girlfriend the beer-saber and strolled past the line we were all standing in, he looked directly at us, and laughed. His next words were the ones that hurt the most…
“Standing in the port-a-potty line? What a bunch of NOOBS!!!”
Noobs? No. Sorry, You can never call me a noob. I used to know every toilet on campus. From the row of thrones near the bookstore to the hidden journalism school former darkroom toilet in the basement, I was the king of finding a bathroom at USC. This little fucker just called me a NOOB? I used to be on Attack of the Show! For three years! We practically invented the term “noob.” I planned on confronting the prick when he came back and demanding an apology.
He was back in three minutes, his bladder emptied, as I still stood in the never-ending line from hell.
He grabbed his girlfriend and his beers and went off to chase more college glory. I ended up peeing in a honey bucket that had a USC-logo baby diaper smeared on the floor. Perhaps I was a noob indeed.
Even though the tank-top kids had to leave the game to fetch their frat masters some more beer, the Kappa Kappa Gamma wiffle ball game was still going strong. Somehow, Neil (a one-time NorCal 5-tool baseball prodigy) was recruited to throw batting practice towards the girls as they giggled and whacked plastic balls towards Tommy Trojan. I managed to sneak myself into the game as the catcher, hoping for just one blissful Lingerie Football League– like play at the plate… As one girl after another stepped up, I began ribbing them the way Yogi Berra might have back in the glory days of baseball.
“What’s your major?” “Ever date a Jew?” “Need a date for your spring sorority formal?” “Nice grip — lucky bat…” It went on and on. Until this blonde girl named Jessa took her gum out of her mouth, turned to me and told me to shut the hell up.
After we somehow got three outs, we demanded that we get to bat. Jessa – who told me she was a senior – made her way to the mound and began stretching like Jennie Finch before a College World Series Softball game. I got scared. We all did. Still, the experience had turned us into college kids again. And we all loved it. Somehow, these girls let us into their game and we were happy to be the creepy old guys who were willing to play nine innings against an infield of short skirts and memories.
It was old-timers day at the ballpark and we didn’t give a FUCK.
Then, Jessa yelled that she needed a drink. You have never seen a crowd of more desperate, overweight men run towards a girl than you did that afternoon to Jessa. It was like a bench-clearing brawl where we all rushed the mound – but with beers in hand. Somehow, however, she decided against a beer and went for a sip of my glorious wine… I was thrilled. As I broke down the currant undertones, floral notes and chutes of ember in the bottle, she took one sip, spit it out and said, “That’s the worst thing I have ever drank in my life!”
My buddies nearly fell down laughing.
Down 5 – 0, I finally got up to bat. Riley had led off with a double and Neil had singled him over to third. I had a chance to drive in a few runs here, and like most men who play sports around a bunch of women, I really felt like I wanted to do a little better… become that high school jock I never was. Make up for batting .117 my final year of Little League. All I knew, was that I refused to strike out – that would be the worst thing in the world. I had one motive. I needed to go yard.
Jessa readied for the pitch and leaned back on the mound. After throwing me two dastardly sliders – which I had fouled off – I knew she was coming with the heat. I looked at Neil, and he knew she would throw it as well. It was then, that I decided to go for the laugh once more.
“Throw me a cock-high fastball,” I said.
Jessa laughed. In fact, everybody laughed. The comment I had stolen from a Sports Illustrated writer discussing locker room quotes that never make the paper, prompted more uproarious laughter than we had all experienced during the entire afternoon. And right there, in the southern California sun, for a brief moment, I felt like I might have been back in college once again. Running the game. Getting the laughs, having the right major and preparing for some crazy booze and pot-drenched after-party in my apartment. I cracked my neck and stepped in the batter’s box.
I was so energized, I felt like the time was right to try and regain my manhood. It as time I got a second opinion on when a hot, young college girl thought I had graduated.
Jessa looked into her sorority sister’s glove as I heckled her one more time. She shook off the sign.
“Hey, Jessa,” I said. “What year do you think I graduated?”
She paused and looked back at me. She made eye contact. I gave her my best “Luke Perry” smolder – forgetting that this girl had no fucking idea who the hell Luke Perry even was. She responded.
“Uhh, I dunno – 1984?” She said as my confidence drained from my body.
She threw me a cock-high fastball.
I swung at it, and I missed…
Zach Selwyn, Los Angeles California, September 24, 2012