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I had been at the Great Wolf Lodge for roughly an hour when a drunk and angry ex-firefighter threatened to kick my ass at the indoor water park. He was pissed off at me for disrespecting the “sanctity” of the Great Wolf Lodge… I am 100 percent serious. Let me start at the beginning…
Spring Break. These are two of the most beautiful words in the English language… if you are a child. To parents, these words concur up feeling of hopelessness, anguish and despair. And for some reason? Today’s elementary school kids get two whole weeks off for “Spring Break…” TWO WEEKS! When I was a kid we got TWO DAYS. In college we only got a week. And as far as I recall, it wasn’t even a thing in high school.
But sure… the rigorous schedule of counting, handwriting and connect the dots can be so gruesome and torturous for a second grader – that a two-week vacation at the end of March is exactly what the school nurse ordered… So, if you’re like me, you suddenly begin scrambling to find activities for your kids to do during this gratuitous vacation. So, you make plans…
You drop $75.00 to go see shitty movies like Sherlock Gnomes.
You gain 12 pounds by not being able to go to the gym on your regular schedule. And, in some extreme cases, you agree to take your kids to the GREAT WOLF LODGE for two days…
Which is exactly where I found myself last week, riddled with anxiety as I nibbled on a chicken finger ten feet from a wave pool full of screaming children. Praying for death.
If you have never heard of a Great Wolf Lodge, let me put it this way… Consider yourself lucky. With 13 locations across the country, the kid-friendly indoor water park is to people like me the end of the fucking world. Known for its indoor water park and “wolf-themed” decor, the franchise has drawn families from far and wide to spend their entire monthly paychecks on shitty food, arcade games and the guarantee that you will contract the Norovirus within three spins in the “Lazy River.”
I mumbled something under my breath as I loaded the car, preparing to journey down to the hotel with my wife, our second grade girl and my very unenthusiastic pre-teen who was pissed because he was missing roughly 48 hours of the video game Fortnite.
The drive down was actually somewhat exciting. I was anticipating the water park summer days of my youth, when I met a cute girl in line at the snack bar, chatted up an 8th grade crush and passed a Sony Walkman around with my buddies listening to Straight Outta Compton. Those days were nothing but innocent and fun… and I was hoping my kids might make some amazing memories of their own…
When we arrived, however, my entire demeanor changed. After looking for a space in the self-parking garage for 30 minutes, I was met with the sudden reality that there were a lot of people here during Spring Break. I mean, a lot of people. Like, thousands. And all of them had kids. Small, sweaty, stinky, gross, fat, weird, uninhibited kids…
My first moment of clarity happened when I was presented with a pair of felt “wolf ears” as I entered the lobby.
“HOWL you doing today!?” A bubbly 20-something dude named Bryan asked.
“PAW-SOME!!!” I responded sarcastically.
“Woah! Someone’s got the Great Wolf spirit!” He screamed. “AWWOOOOOOOO!”
I looked around at the hundred of fathers traipsing through the lobby wearing these ridiculous wolf ears… The looks on their faces all read the same: FAILURE.
There is a certain look a man knows when he runs into another man at a place like the Great Wolf Lodge. It is a look of defeat. Of mediocrity. Of deficiency. Like we all expected to be the dads who take our kids in Hawaii or something, but ended up at the Great Wolf Lodge in Anaheim. I recognized this look on every man’s face I encountered.
We checked in and got to our suite, which we were sharing with another family we knew from from LA. Everyone changed into bathing suits to go hit the indoor water park. A small part of me was hoping it would be a fun day, and after all, as long as they had a jacuzzi I figured I could kill a few hours relaxing and hanging out with strangers.
There was no jacuzzi.
And the water park was massive. And loud. And it smelled like feet.
“Daddy! Come in the lazy river with me!” My daughter squealed.
I took a deep breath and stood up. I took off my shirt and walked over towards the lazy river. The first thing I noticed about the water park was that somehow, I had THE BEST BODY THERE.
In my 42 years, I have never been the “ripped” guy at the pool. Ever. Even when I was 18 I had the beginnings of a dad bod and now, at my age, I had been keeping trim and eating well to the point where at the Great Wolf Lodge in Anaheim, California, I was a SWIMSUIT MODEL. Seriously. I was 30 pounds lighter than the average man. My wife, who has always been in terrific shape looked like Hannah Jeter posing for Sports Illustrated. We were “Anaheim 10’s…” and pretty proud of it.
As I strutted around my new Adonis-like physique, I watched as my daughter slowly dipped into the lazy river among what seemed like hundreds of other kids. I put my leg in, noticed it was much colder than I had anticipated, and began walking around the river behind her.
And then some kid’s fleshy leg rubbed up against mine under the water. I froze. It was like in Star Wars when that Dianoga Monster rubs up against Luke in the trash compactor. A gross little bare human leg rubbing against my inner calf. I stopped to gather myself. I felt like a part of the #metoo movement. I was rattled… And then another kid wrapped himself around my chest for support as he floated by… I shuttered. Looking around, I suddenly became keenly aware of little yellow swirls of urine accumulating in certain areas. I also counted three loose Band-Aids and numerous clumps of hair floating in the water. A few more kids hit me with inner tubes as they raced by and finally, when a little girl wiped her snot off of her face and tossed it into the water beside me, my afternoon at the water park was OVER.
“Baby, I’m getting out,” I yelled as she floated down the river.
Her frown broke my heart, but the place was already too much for me. I was done. I had been at the Great Wolf Lodge for less than an hour.
After drying off, I noticed the small line of men waiting for beer. I grabbed my “Wolf Band” which had my credit card and room number on it, and bought my first beer of the day. It was 3:30, but if I was going to get through this place, a buzz was certainly needed. Looking around, I noticed that day-drinking was certainly the norm here, like the way it is in airports when people order beers at 7:00 in the morning and nobody thinks twice about it.
After paying, I turned around, noticing three men behind me waiting for drinks. Two of them had “Lakeland County Fire Department” shirts on. The other was shirtless, proudly showing off a fading Tazmanian Devil tattoo from the early 90’s… I toasted the guys with my beer.
“Gentlemen,” I said. “What happened to us? We were all once virile men… with dreams, passions, desires… goals. NOW? We’re on vacation at the fucking Great Wolf Lodge. What the fuck, am I right!!?”
Suddenly, the shirtless man took a threatening step my way and got directly in my face.
“Are you disrespecting the LODGE, bro?” He asked in an accusatory way.
I wasn’t sure if he was serious. I laughed.
“Sounds like you are,” he continued aggressively, the vapor of liquor prominent on his breath. I felt scared. I backpedaled.
“No, man.. I was just, you know – joking-“
I was taken aback. If I said the wrong thing here, there is no doubt in my mind that this guy would start throwing punches. And whereas a pool fight might be the perfect excuse to get banned from the Great Wolf Lodge forever, I decided to lay off. Meanwhile, his friends tried to calm him down.
“Don’t get into another fight, Jim,” his friend told him.
Another fight? Holy shit… this guy Jim was out here kicking dad’s asses all day.
“No, man, I was just joking around, you know…” I mumbled.
“No, I don’t know, bro,” he said. “I’m a retired firefighter… I don’t back down from shit.”
And then, suddenly, there was an extremely loud wolf howl coming from the wave pool – This was the signal to swimmers that a fresh set of waves was about to begin… 200 kids screamed in delight as the call of the wolf echoed through the waterpark.
“Ohhhh shit, what’s that?” I asked the guys.
“That means the waves are starting up…” Jim said. “That’s the call of the Lodge, bro… you better embrace your inner wolf… because like it or not? You made the decision to come here.”
He was right. I could make the most of this experience and embrace my inner wolf… or make myself suffer.
“Hey man, I’m sorry – it’s my first time here… I was just making a bad joke…”
Jim calmed down. His whole demeanor changed and he became aware that he was not in the octagon, but was at the Great Wolf Lodge. If he had wanted to kick my ass, he would have… but my honesty seemed to have chilled him out.
“Screw it,” he said. “Sorry to get up in your face, bro… come on, I’ll buy you a beer.”
Jim and his pals bought me another beer and I returned back to our deck chairs and told the story to my wife and her friend. They weren’t interested. They were concerned about something much more important.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Apparently, another mom had just told my wife that Pink Eye was going around the lodge that weekend… The woman’s two kids had been infected on the water slide and her husband was in the hotel room with his eyes swollen shut.
“Welp, I’m fucking out of here,” I said.
I took my beer upstairs and went to the bar to watch a baseball game. As I walked back through the water park, I began observing a few things.
I never realized how many adults have tattoos of their children’s baby footprints.
I had no idea that BIG DOGS Clothing was still a thing. There were also a lot of “Exercise…Eggsercise…Eggs are sides… Eggs are sides for Bacon” t-shirts and ‘water pun’ shirts. Like a picture of a snail holding up a seashell to his face beneath the words “SHELL-FIE!”
Finally, the majority of these adults seemed fine eating garbage for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One dad in line at the snack bar even highly recommended the pork nachos.
I thought we were in Anaheim. Somehow we ended up in Wisconsin.
Upstairs, I found a few other dads watching the Dodgers game. I made some new friends – including a pest control guy from Alhambra and a Target general manager from Riverside. We drank a few beers and talked baseball. As a way to make my new pals laugh, I recognized Bryan, the same guy who had checked me in earlier, eating on his lunch break. I approached him.
“Hey Bryan, quick question… do they have a Great Wolf Glory Hole up in this piece?”
The bar got silent. My new pals hid their laughter. Bryan did not seem amused. Within 30 seconds the bar manager tapped me on the shoulder.
“Just a reminder, sir…” He warned. “This is the Great Wolf Lodge… not the Great Wolf of Wall Street Lodge.”
My afternoon concluded in the arcade, where the kids have given up on video games requiring any sort of skill in favor of games where you spin a wheel,… and win tickets. It’s not even a challenge. It’s just a prize wheel. When I arrived, I found my daughter hoarding what looked like 15,000 prize tickets.
“I’m saving up for the stuffed wolf!” She said. I saw the wolf on the wall. At any CVS store across the country, this dumb little stuffed animal would cost $3.99. My wife told me they had already spent $60.00 trying to win it. I went back to the bar.
That night, after ordering pizza to our room, my wife and I shared some wine as the kids fell asleep. At that moment, we heard a rustling in the hallway. Peeking outside, I noticed two security guards dragging a very drunk man from his room.
“How long has he been drinking today?” They asked his wife, who looked terrified.
“Since brunch, I think,” she said.
“We’ll take him to the first aid area and get him some fluids… We’ll check back in 30 minutes.”
I asked the lady what had happened.
“It’s just my dumb husband… every time we come to this place he gets blackout drunk.”
“That makes two of us,” I said, raising my wine glass.
She shut her door on me.
The next day we were set to check out. I was excited to get home and back outside – as we had been indoors for roughly 18 hours straight. The Great Wolf Lodge is like fucking Vegas in that way. You have no reason to ever leave the place… I started packing and preparing to head back to LA.
“Wanna meet us at the pool?” My wife said.
“We’re not leaving?” I said.
“I figured the kids would want another day at the pool,” she said. “I mean we paid for it.”
And just like that, we did a second day at the water park. At this point I officially gave up. I began day-drinking at 11:00. I howled every time that dumb wolf noise started in the wave pool. I contemplated buying a Great Wolf Lodge t-shirt in the gift shop that was on sale from Halloween (Or as they put it… HOWL-ween…)
Deep down I knew that finally, I had reluctantly embraced my inner wolf.
I looked around the pool again. I was a little bloated from the first day and slightly hungover. I was no longer had the best body there. I was one day into my “Midwest” period.
I went over to our deck chairs and ordered the pork nachos…
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On December 28, 2012, during a visit to my in-laws house for Christmas, I took my family to a Chuck E Cheese in Poulsbo, Washington. After receiving the proper safety stamps, smothering my body in hand sanitizer and shelling out $40.00 for three cups of tokens, I noticed that behind the counter, in a non-descript homemade metal serving area that looked like a sink from my high school chemistry class, were four taps reading “CHABLIS, BLUSH, BUDWEISER and BUD LIGHT.”
Their display resembled something from the Prohibition that one might have found at a speakeasy in the south side of Chicago in 1931. It looked like a nine-year-old designed it.Didn’t matter, I wanted a beer. After all, I was feeling a little on edge, and 300 screaming maniac kids sneezing and running all around Chuck E. Cheese seemed a lot easier to deal with should I have a pitcher of beer on hand.
I inquired about buying a pitcher of the Bud Light, but was quickly told that the keg was kicked. The young lady behind the counter recommended the Budweiser, saying that is was “Really the Red.”
I told her I wasn’t interested in wine, but, as it turns out, the “Red” was not red wine, but a local “red brew” from nearby Silverdale with an extremely high alcohol content. Knowing that would probably do the trick, I ordered up a pitcher, paid the young lady another $14.00 and went off to challenge any nine-year-old takers in games of mini-basketball Pop-a-Shot.
Following a 45-16 drubbing at the hands of a 12-year-old named Jayden, I sunk into our family booth and proceeded to pound three of these red beers in under an hour. Suddenly, I was feeling like I was a 12-year-old a kid at a friend’s birthday party in 1987. I was engulfed in the dazzling lights and sounds of the Chuck E. Cheese. I chased strange kids around the game room in a game of tag… I took my daughter up into the plastic maze/slide and let a bunch of kids tackle me… I sat and posed for dumb pictures with my family and a giant, stuffed mouse on a cheap amusement ride… I was truly, the super dad of the Chuck E. Cheese, and my wife smiled at me as I approached her with a wad of gum stuck in my hair and a red pizza sauce stain on my t-shirt.
“You really are the best dad,” she said before kissing me.
As my buzz began to fade, I knew I would have to get another beer before we went home to keep the ride going. Deciding to skip dinner due to the plasticene appearance of the so-called cheese on top of the rubbery pizza, I took down two more Reds and packed up the diaper bag. My son ended up winning 498 tickets – which he quickly traded in for a stuffed mini-Spongebob and a pencil. Two pieces of unadulterated crap that retail somewhere around 75 cents. I didn’t care, though. It was a great time and he had a blast playing all of the games and winning tickets. Best of all, I was leaving Chuck E. Cheese with a tremendous buzz and a newfound love for dark beer from the Pacific Northwest.
That was the last thing I remembered from that evening.
The next day I woke up around 10 a.m. to hear my wife cursing me out from the other room. She was saying something about me falling off the bed in the middle of the night and waking up our daughter. Having no recollection of this, I stumbled to my feet and looked helplessly for my eyeglasses. When I couldn’t find them, I made a point of acting as if nothing was wrong, even though my head was pounding with the thumps of a million five-year-olds dancing across my temples.
“You’re in trouble,” she said to me, glaring as I walked into the kitchen.
Her mother laughed. I squinted for any answer in the mid-morning Northwest gloom. All I could find were blurry shapes and rapid movements, mainly my kids, who sat eating cereal and playing with their new Hannukkah and Christmas toys.
“What are you talking about?” I asked
“Do you not remember what you did last night?” She offered.
“Oh, you mean when you told me I was the best dad ever?”
“I can’t even look at you right now.”
And with that, I ran off to the bathroom where I threw up a mountain of fluid and a distinctly unfamiliar mystery meat. I found my eyeglasses in the wastebasket by the toilet.
According to my in-laws, we had come home after Chuck E Cheese and I split a bottle of red wine with my wife’s dad. When his neighbor Mike, a European guy who makes homemade beer and cooks a mean pork pozole, invited us over for some beer tastings and food – we both accepted. From then on, I proceeded to run a little “blank tape.”
My wife informed me that I had arrived at the door three hours later with my pants around my ankles. I was slurring and proceeded to pop my contact lenses out of my eyeballs and throw them across the room without knowing where my glasses were. After nearly falling through a plate glass window and severing my carotid artery, I demanded that my wife turn on a porno film on the big screen television – before yelling at my mother-in-law to “go the hell to bed already.” I passed out on the couch and was carried to bed by wife and her dad.
When this was all relayed to me by my wife, who just hours earlier had been commending me on my parenting skills, I let the situation slowly sink in. As I attempted to swallow a 16 ounce coconut water and wiped the never ending sweat from my brow, I began to think that it might be a good time to take a real close look at what WebMD had described as “my drinking problem.”
I spent the rest of the entire day in bed and/or in the bathroom, vomiting. It was one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced – not unlike those 24-hour bugs that have been going around where you puke and sleep forever, convinced you are dying.
I hated every minute of it, especially when I was incapable of playing with my kids because I was in too much pain. Embarrassed and ashamed, I took a vow of sobriety on the afternoon of December 29, 2012. I also vowed to chronicle my efforts in my journals, which I have been fastidiously keeping since my 16th birthday but had grown a little lazy about recently. I was sort of hoping that the non-drinking would re-inspire me to keep a more comprehensive diary again, but instead of logging activities and hours in the following pages, I mainly focused on the extremely difficult task of avoiding alcohol at all costs.
What follows are lifted directly from my personal journals beginning the day of December 29th and continuing on until I broke my streak. I hope this either inspires you to face your demons head on, or continue drinking responsibly so you do not end up trying to turn on a DVD of Little Orphan Anal in front of your wife’s parents over the holidays.
Sobriety Journal. Aka The Non-Rum Diary.
Dec. 29, 2012
Day 1: OOOOOOOhhhh God. I have been puking for 9 hours straight and I don’t even have any food in my body… I think I just threw up knee cartilage. Last night was a lost bender of epic proportions, coming to a head at the neighbor’s house (Mike? Mark?) Where I drank his homemade 14% alcohol Belgian Tripelbock after nearly killing 6 beers and some wine during and before dinner. I don’t remember the end of the night, but the wife said I arrived at the in laws door with my pants around my ankles. My last memory was beer at Chuck E. Cheese – and my kids playing arcade games with those disease ridden tokens. All I found was this picture crumpled up in my wallet of me slamming a beer with my finger up my nose.
Shit, maybe I got roofied. Roofeed? How do you spell that? More than likely, I put my hand in some kid’s snot that he wiped on the “Mousecalator” and inhaled it, which is what undoubtedly caused this massive bodily excursion.
I have to uke again…
Dec. 30. 2012.
DAY 2: Wow, a day after hangover. Maybe I’ll have a bowl of Honey smacks and watch Breaking Bad on DVD all day… Wife is in the other room talking about going to the mall or something. Not me. I’m still laid up… No more booze, ever. Period. I’m serious. 100%. Even though its New Year’s Eve in 2 days and were invited to a party in LA thrown by the guy who owns the Coldwater Wine Company, I will refrain… It’s been 15 years of this shit time to grow up and be a man. Fuck it, man… Robert Downey jr. got sober. So did Dick Van Dyke and Richard Dreyfus and Nick Nolte…I think… Maybe even Slash… wait, is Slash sober? If Slash is sober, I can be sober. Although I only seem to over-consume wine and beer … I think Slash was mainlining jet fuel at one point… I don’t know… I don’t want to have to keep explaining myself- especially once my kids are old enough to wonder why daddy is staying in bed all day. I talked to George Carlin’s daughter Kelly once… She told me she spent every morning of her childhood wondering when her parents would wake up and play with her… Apparently they had a blackout curtain in their room to keep out that evil sun. Luckily, I’m in Washington State right now and the sun is nowhere to be found. WE go home tomorrow… thank GOD.
(15 minutes later)
My wife’s brother just brought over a six pack and a bottle of wine and I turned him down! I think I’m cured! Who needs Dr. Drew- fuck that guy! I will never crave booze again!
Dec. 31, 2102
DAY 3: I want booze. So badly. Just some wine or a beer or something… DAMN! And it’s New Years Eve! What the hell. I’m so exhausted. We’re invited to about three different parties but I don’t want to go to any of them. I’m probably gonna do the lame West Coast dad thing and watch the ball drop at 9 pm on an East Coast feed— that is very very sad. Two years ago I took ecstasy and covered myself in body paint with a crowd of naked strangers in an apartment in Glendale. Yeah, I was in a shithole in Glendale and I was on ecstasy and I felt like I was being licked by the tongue of God. It was awesome. Now, I’m two nights sober. I feel awful Head cloudy, body still in shock… Maybe it was the pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food I consumed last night in an effort to curb my body’s sugar cravings… Who the hell knows. It is 8:31 at night and I don’t even think I can make it to New York New Years… So I am signing off, asleep at 8:34 on New Year’s Eve.
Jan. 1, 2013
Day 4: I feel a lot better! Might even attempt to go to the gym and run today… But I don’t know. We’re invited to a friend’s house for football and wine later and they always have the best French Bourdeaux. How the hell does that happen? Man, when you are not drinking, THE WHOLE WORLD IS AN OPEN BAR!!!
(later that night)
I just told my wife I had a late night meeting, but in reality, I’m off to the grocery store to buy some more ice cream. Seriously. I am lying to my wife so that I can go eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in the Gelson’s parking lot. Alone. Jesus. Some men have affairs, I sneak off to have sex with pints of Cherry Garcia.
January 2, 2013
DAY 5: Back to the gym, finally sweat out the remnants of that night. I smelled like a beer on the treadmill. It was sad. My mom and my grandma fly in later tonight. My mom will immediately wonder why I am not drinking. She is a two bottle-a-night of chardonnay drinker… I normally stay up with her and talk, but this might be the time I don’t. Damn! I love drinking with my mom!
January 3, 2013
DAY 6. My mom and I had this conversation last night beginning at about 4:45 in the afternoon.
MOM: “Why aren’t you drinking?”
ME: “I had a rough night last week and I’m taking some time off.”
MOM: “You loser! Open some red wine and play Scrabble with me.”
Somehow, I managed to not drink with her and I went to bed early. The last thing my mom said to me before she went to bed was,
“I really hope this isn’t a permanent thing. Think of your mother, won’t you?”
I will say, my mom is one of my all time favorite drinking buddies. We sit and play old records and run through Scrabble games until two in the morning – usually forgetting to finish because we both get so loopy that we begin placing words like “Oughta” on the board and accepting them. Meanwhile, my grandma, who is 90-years-old and still sharp and hilarious said to me, “I don’t care if you stop drinking forever… you NEED to stop biting your nails!”
I love my grandma.
Jan. 4, 2013
Day 7. One week! Wow, I went one week. I still haven’t found much inspiration to write or play guitar or anything, but my son and I played his new Wreck it Ralph Wii game for five hours straight today! Not that playing video games is productive, but it was something, right? Oh man, I sound like all the stoner gamer geeks I used to work with at G4. So that’s what sobriety leads to? VIDEO GAMES? Shit, I might as well go get a bottle of Jim Beam right now. BTW, my mom and grandma went to Orange County to visit my sister, so I’m back to exercising and reading this great book on Bonnie and Clyde. Makes me happy I never shot anybody.
Jan. 5. 2013
Day 8. OK, I was at a film screening tonight and they had an open bar. I had sparkling water with lemon, but I was craving alcohol. You know how we Jew are, anything free, we WANT IT!! Especially the red wines they had… and the Pilsner beer… Oh man. Anyway, I ended up drinking my first Coke in about five years. It was like drinking a Snickers bar. Jesus. I switched to Diet Coke, but my buddy Eric told me about all the studies and the chemicals and the fact that Diet Coke causes cancer and depression… My God, once again, I’m better off drinking.
Jan 6. 2013
Day 9. Well, I just bought a six pack of Buckler non-alcoholic beer. It tastes alright, but is definitely lacking the sweet, calming trace of alcohol. I cracked one about two hours ago and drank it within three minutes. I drank the second one three minutes later. I killed the six pack in 28 minutes. Now I feel bloated and somewhat satisfied, as if there was a placebo affect to the whole thing. Whatever the case, my mom comes back tomorrow and I have an audition for a Toyota Commercial.
Jan. 7, 2013
Day 10. Fuck fuck fuck you Q Q Q Q DICK. Fucking dick fuck fuck this sucks fuck you dick dick balls dick.
Jan. 8, 2013.
Day 11. FUCCCKKKKKK YOOOUUUU!UU!U!UU!U!U! I want a drink I want a drink I want a drink drink drink dnrindinrindikkkkkk. I texted a few sober friends and asked them how they deal with all of this and they sent me back the clichés we are all familiar with. Cigarettes and coffee… meetings… ice cream… My one buddy, a former coke-monkey named Bobby wrote Dude, substitute one addiction for the other… why do you think I got divorced? I’m a cooze hound!
Jan. 9, 2013
Day 12. I have officially crossed the threshold! I truly believe I may not ever have a craving again. I’m exercising, nailing my auditions (Toyota callback!) and I’ve slowed down on my Ben and Jerry’s to half a pint a night! This is the beginning of a whole new me! I will write tomorrow. I LOVE this!!
That was my final entry into the Sobriety Journal.
I made it 12 full days before being invited to a party where they were serving Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Sea Smoke red wine. I looked at my wife, who knew that the minute I saw the Sea Smoke (my favorite) I would be done for. She grabbed me and looked me in my eyes.
“Look, Zach,” she said. “If you think you can have just a couple of glasses, I think you should. BUT, remember, drink water, stay in control and you don’t have to POUND the wine. Enjoy it, sip it, you know?”
I looked into my wife’s sweet face. She was sticking by my side no matter what I did and I loved her for it. I knew she was my rock, my confidant… my unofficial “sponsor” if you will and the fact that she trusted me to know my limits meant more to me than anything in the entire world at that moment. I kissed her and promised to be responsible and careful and I watched her walk away into the party to hang with a group of women who were discussing their unnecessary scarves in the 60-degree Los Angeles winter night.
I rolled up to the bar and took a long hard moment to gather myself. The waiter poured me a decent glass of Sea Smoke and told me to enjoy it. I swirled the red lava around in the glassware like a vinyl record and let it settle a few times before placing my nose up to its fortuitous aroma. I inhaled deeply, taking in the fine grape, the chutes of ember and the floral notes. This was GOOOD wine. The best wine to break a fortnight of sobriety with. I slowly pressed the glass to my lips and swallowed the heavenly liquid until my body turned warm with familiarity and melted into a séance-like calmness. I felt alive. I knew I was going to be able to conquer this demon – and practice the finest art of them all… The art of moderation.
The next morning I woke up on the bathroom floor, fully clothed and in a fetal position.
I had no idea where my eyeglasses were…
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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