and their corresponding emotional breakdowns
by JAMES RAINIS
Life has been rough on you: your prelims have beaten you down like a gang of French Nationalist skinheads encountering a vaguely ethnic guy, your roommates have all just landed better internships than you, and most pressingly, you haven’t gotten laid in literally forever. Like, so long that your condoms (or, for inclusivity’s sake, dental dams) have actually expired. But, in the prophetic words of R. Kelly, it’s the freakin’ weekend, baby, and you’re about to have you some fun. This means alcohol.
Too much alcohol.
You went into the night thinking you were going to be the party’s resident Zach Morris, dropping panties/boxers and freezing time to explain exactly how you’ve been crushing life tonight. Instead, you’re more like Screech or, rather, actor Dustin Diamond—you’re the kind of fuckup that needs to hire body doubles for their sex tape, except you’re also drunk (and horny) as a masturbating Central Park wino. Due to your misjudgment of your sexual attractiveness and excessive use of “negging”—you’ve recently stumbled across a copy of Neil Strauss’s pickup artist guide “The Game”—you have been spurned by an object of your affection and are determined to grind up against a stranger at any cost necessary. And we’re talking any cost: in your mind, your dignity has evolved into a form of liquid currency. As you rampage through Collegetown, yelling and laughing and just generally gallivanting all the while, the world becomes your oyster. Your friends are horrified, apologizing to passersby and trying to reign you in enough that you don’t attract the attention of a cavalcade of Cornell police. At some point, you pee in an alleyway next to a dumpster, marking the territory like a dog. This is your town, dammit, and you’re going to pee where you want to.
You’ve arrived at Pixel and, amid the neon lights, sweaty bodies, and absurdly loud trap music, you suddenly realize you are in your element: white girls are attempting to twerk, bros are pumping fists in some ironically unironic appropriation of Jersey Shore culture, and the friction created between everyone’s jeans could power a small African village. The stickiness of the floor is astounding: compounding the regular beer spill phenomenon is a bartender so smitten with a group of girls—fresh out of a theme part,y dressed in cat ears and devil horns—that he’s been feeding them sugary concoctions that, out of some misguided attempt at politeness, they pour directly onto the dance floor. As you drag your friends, protesting, through the amorphous mass of hormonally charged gyration machines to the stage to give some broke-ass college DJ a panic attack about the well-being of his gear, you black out.
The next morning, you don’t remember much, but you’re alone in your bed and smell vaguely of vomit and shame. You check your phone and discover half-a-dozen texts from concerned friends, and one from a clearly drunk ex-fling that reads “wassup?” Your naughty bits recede into your abdomen at the missed opportunity. You shake your fist towards the heavens, cursing the name of Jose Cuervo.
You almost didn’t leave your house tonight. There was an argument you had with yourself in the mirror. You could be in bed, playing guitar and eating Wheat Thins and generally avoiding all of the anxiety that is part and parcel of nightlife, yet you apply the necessary preparations almost robotically, as if some instinctual directive is forcing you to “have fun.” “It’s senior year!” you imagine your parents nudging, “Be young and make mistakes!” You sigh and pull on a sweater. You debate brushing your teeth, but decide against it. Maybe your pizza breath will give you a little space.
Flash forward and the people around you are ruminating about their time here at Cornell. They seem to have been given the rose-colored glasses typically reserved for the subjects of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.” They talk about how the associates they’ve made in their Greek houses—which they pay for—or student organizations—which they all secretly resent for actions committed in elections past—or secret societies—which they’ve fellated, in one way or another—are the “best people they’ve ever met,” and how they’re so excited to work in New York or Seattle or San Francisco and “totally hang out all the time.”
You are at Ruloff’s. You’ve managed to occupy one of those tables in the front where people can see how much fun you’re pretending to be having, and have diagnosed yourself with a major case of déjà vu, as these same saccharine sentiments were passed around like so many cases of VD four years ago during your senior year of high school. Remember those people? You like their photos on Facebook and get drunk with them on Thanksgiving Eve and talk about how much you miss them, but never do anything to prove that their absence is really affecting your life. Recently, when your mom told you one of your best friends from back in the day had gotten engaged, you were thrown aback. You could’ve sworn they were gay. You text them to congratulate them, but quickly abort the conversation. You are not sure that there is anything to talk about really, except for those boring high school stories you rehash every time you hit up the watering holes in your hometown. “Remember how we tricked crazy old Mr. Marcik into thinking Sam was in an arranged marriage? Remember when Dave tricked you into drinking piss that one time? Remember when Abby blew the bartender?” You grimace at the weird way that time has eroded all of the teenaged momentousness out of those memories. Maybe those friendships were as stupid as the ones you’ve made at Cornell and you just don’t realize it.
Back in Ithaca, your classmates surround you, trying to come to terms with passing from the comfortable bubble of Cornell to the unforgiving real world with the help of Long Island Ice Teas and pitchers of generic light beer. But you, ever the party pooper, stare solemnly into your drink and wonder, is this really it? Did you seriously spend the best days of your lives here, living in dilapidated and overpriced houses, doing pointless homework just to drown your sorrows in alcohol every weekend with people you’re not even sure you like? You know that you should be feeling something—anything—but there’s an emptiness in your stomach that even the most convoluted mixed drink couldn’t fill. A casual acquaintance asks you what’s up, and you start to talk about your feelings of inadequacy and your fear that everything is just a sham, man, it’s all just a fucking sham. You use the word ennui. Your acquaintance, happily drunk off their ass because they actually are fulfilled by their life’s pursuits, excuses themselves and rejoins their cooler, better looking, and more successful friends. This is why nobody likes hanging out with you.
Someone was supposed to bring coke. Were you supposed to bring coke? You don’t remember, but you sure as hell aren’t going to admit culpability to your friends, who are struggling to conceal their erections as they escort a cadre of rail-thin blondes in the direction of their apartment to partake in a little bit of the booger sugar. You get a text. Apparently you could score some from a dude named Randy, so you leave to meet him in the Loco bathroom.
Wait. What the fuck has happened? You used to be a good kid. President of the National Honor Society, second chair cellist in the school orchestra, co-captain of your high school sailing team—everyone’s mom wanted you to be their daughter’s boyfriend, even if all their daughters scoffed at the mere mention of the idea. Sure, it all started with a couple puffs of Mary Jane—yes, you’re so uncool about drugs that you call it that—but it’s all spiraled into the most thorough science experiment you’ve ever conducted. You’ve befriended drug dealers of all shapes and sizes in order to get good prices—there’s one guy who you just have in your phone as “Mushrooms,” and you’re close enough that he’s asked you to help him format his resume, which, in the Hotel School, is the most intimate interaction two students can have. You’ve ingested powders, smoke, pills, and plants into all your natural orifices, though you’ve wisely drawn the line at needles (also, boofing is completely out of the question, as you never really resolved those potty training issues that inspired the anal retentiveness that spurred your success in high school). Now you, the kid whose profile picture is a throwback photo of him riding a camel with his mom during a 4th grade field trip to the Bronx Zoo, are meeting a drug dealer in a bar bathroom and—holy shit, are you about to get raped?
You’re mildly surprised that Randy isn’t the large black man with his arm around the girl at the end of the bar—apparently that’s the president of the Forensics Club, you fucking racist—but the prematurely balding white dude so desperately trying to pull off that goatee that it’s kind of adorable. You follow him into the bathroom and clench your butthole a little, but not too much, because you’re pretty sure that if push came to shove, you could take Randy. He sells you an eight ball for a reasonable price—and yes, you know the difference between a reasonable and exorbitant price for the devil’s dandruff, mostly because this has become your favorite extracurricular activity.
You hurry back to the apartment and all the girls but two have vanished, dooming you to an empty bed this evening. You cut up the drugs, using the Visa Black your dad so carelessly bequeathed to you, snort them, and immediately realize you’ve been ripped off. You got a better high when you snorted a line of Pixie Stix sugar for ten dollars in the 9th grade. Luckily, your friends don’t notice, because they’re about to get laid—excitatory transfer or something like that is causing them to mistake their drunk boner excitement for the stimulation provided by a particular crystalline tropane alkaloid that, frustratingly, is absent from your life at the moment. You spend the rest of the night playing FIFA on your buddies’ couch. Your friends retire to their bedrooms with their lady friends and, jacked up on imaginary coke, have loud sex into the wee hours of the night.
Man, fuck those guys.
Undergrad life is so fleeting, right? It’s an extension of adolescence, where students exercise their newfound freedoms by embracing their most immature and reckless impulses. You recall the absolute anarchy of Orientation Week, when College Avenue transformed from a mere charming throughway into a film-ready version of the collegiate lifestyle, where students betrayed their intellectual sensibilities in favor of Keystone-fueled interactions they hoped would lead to sexual intercourse or, at least, a moment of Instagrammable perfection.
You know better, though. You’re over the drinking games and the light beer. You’re at Chapter House, where grad student clientele are just so beyond all of that crap. Instead of urine-colored water, they have real beer. So many kinds: pale ales, Indian pale ales, Native American pale ales, lagers, stouts, skinnies, talls, something called an Avocado enema—though you don’t really understand what they are and you haven’t really developed a taste for them, you know that they exude sophistication. A folk band is playing and lends the entire evening a polite, homespun ambiance. You feel like you’re in a cool commercial for a sustainable fashion product or something.
While waiting to play pool—a far more civilized drunken pastime than flip cup—you start chatting with an older bearded gentleman, a philosophy Ph.D., and his nose-ringed girlfriend, who is getting an advanced engineering degree of some sort. The conversation goes well enough until it is interrupted by a group of frat guys in the corner. “Chug! Chug! Chug!” they chant, and there’s something animalistic and brilliant about their fervor. You think of the Vikings—or, at least, the image of Vikings that a youth playing video games had instilled upon you—who treated drinking like a religious experience unto itself. These young men are tossing themselves into this ritual with an unparalleled enthusiasm, as if their very existence depended on whether Chad could transfer the contents of his pint down his gullet in an appropriately protracted amount of time. Chad, apparently, is a champion, and no drinking challenge is too much for him. He slams his glass down and it shatters, crushing the spirit of the over-worked bar staff.
All at once the tranquility of the evening is dispelled. Many of the Chapter House’s patrons are rolling their eyes. “Homoerotic much?” jokes the nose-ringed woman, and you politely laugh. But while you struggle to follow some highfalutin conceptual argument about Nietzsche and Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ, you look onto the shitshow brigade reveling in the corner and start to panic. Does adulthood mean an abandonment of, well, reckless abandon? For some reason, does a college degree preclude the use of funnels or shot-skis or pumpkin bongs? From here onward, does a night out on the town strictly mean dinner and drinks, consumed in the manner our parents taught us? You quiver at the thought of a future where body-slamming a beer pong table results not in ego-inflating pride, but a veil of shame and discomfort for everyone involved.
But no, you, being a coward, don’t throw off the shackles of adult expectation to embrace chaos. Instead, you make more snide comments about the “meatheads” and their carousing. You take comfort in your abstinence from any circumstance in which you might accidentally utter something foolish. Instead, you sip your microbrew and exchange exhaustively crafted intellectual barbs with your bearded counterparts, and the circle of self-validation and detachment from all things genuine continues.
Isn’t adulthood fun? ◊