It’s 1991 and I’m in college, living in Gainesville, studying behavior modification and barely scraping by because I’m too lazy to get a proper job. I eat ramen noodles for dinner at least five nights a week, I weigh 145 pounds, and I share a two-bedroom apartment with three other guys to cut costs. One is a guy I grew up playing soccer with, who built his own bong out of PVC pipe and spends most of his time getting high and watching the Weather Channel. One is a friend from high school who transfered to UF after visiting for a weekend and discovering how much time we spend getting shitfaced and trying to get laid. The third is a guy we met on campus who’s something like 6’8” and listens to Garth Brooks and earnestly asks us to start calling him “Cougar.”
On the rare occasions I find myself with a few dollars in my wallet, I indulge one of two appetites. Having subsisted for months on rations of ramen noodles, white rice and plain spaghetti, my first inclination is to spend it on food. This means going to an all-you-can-eat pizza place across the street from campus. It’s called Lord Munchees, but we’ve nicknamed it The Lonely Guy Buffet, because the only people who ever eat there are hard-luck Y-chromosome sad-sacks like ourselves. The pizza is barely edible, but it fits our budget.
The other option is music. The World Wide Web is still in development and Napster is eight years in the future, so the only reliable way to get your hands on new music is to trade cassettes with your friends (a strategy which, unfortunately, requires having friends) or buying it yourself at a real-life brick-and-mortar store.
Gainesville, being a college town, has a number of such outlets, including three that sit within a single square block of each other: Schoolkids, Hyde and Zeke, and Bobaloo’s. The latter is a run-down shack next to the post office filled with used vinyl and stinking of mildew. Hyde and Zeke is a small but well-stocked shop that leans heavily toward “alternative” and college rock (Nirvana’s big bang is still months away, so for now this means bands like the Pixies, Jesus & Mary Chain and the Violent Femmes) along with a heavy dose of your edgier mainstream stuff (I remember buying the David Bowie re-issues at Hyde and Zeke a year earlier).
Our favorite, though, is Schoolkids. Mainly because it’s bigger and has a wider selection. But also because it carries a lot of obscure indie and hardcore records, heavily supports local bands and — perhaps most importantly — because the employees are all punker-than-thou slackers who can barely be bothered to sniff at the CDs you choose to purchase, let alone ring them up. As indifferent and/or downright contemptuous as they are, every once in a long while when you bring your bounty to the counter and sheepishly reveal it, one of the clerks will perk up and say, “Oh, dude, you’re gonna love that Slint CD, it’s so rad.” (Except they won’t say “dude,” because even in 1991 that shit is openly mocked.) As fucked up as it sounds, to a shy, insecure, music-loving kid, there is no greater validation.
And but so anyway, on one of these trips to Schoolkids, I’m using my hands to iron out a wad of wrinkled up singles while this hipster named Miles rings up my brand new copy of Fugazi’s “Steady Diet of Nothing,” when I notice a box full of promotional cassettes — cassingles, they call them — sitting on the counter. I pick one up and study it. “This any good?” I ask, and Miles says, “Dunno. Some new band. Comes out next month, I think.” So I figure what the hell, and throw the cassingle in the bag as Miles hands it to me.
One of the inevitable things about cramming four young, testosterone-fueled guys into a small apartment is the fighting. It’s constant. Someone has always had a bad day. Someone always wants to watch one TV program while you’re watching another. Someone always just got dumped by a girl. Someone always drank the last beer. Someone always left their dirty dishes in the sink, or their dirty laundry on your desk chair, or their pubes on the soap.
So you fight. You call each other names. You call each other’s mothers names. You want to start throwing punches, but you don’t, because you can’t, because you’re adults now, and you’re sophisticated college types, and you still have to live together, and rent’s due next week. And plus you’re wimps and you’re afraid of physical pain. You’ve never even been in a real fight, after all. What if the other guy kicks your ass?
So fisticuffs are out. Instead, of course, you resort to passive-aggressive guerrilla tactics.
One night, I’m lying on the couch with Bong Guy watching the NASA channel, which is showing a satellite view of Earth from so far away that you can barely tell it’s Earth, and which also has such an impressive depth of field that you feel like you can see into infinity.
Or maybe that’s just the weed talking. But either way, we’re sitting there, chilling out, enjoying a quiet night at home, when our roommate — The Transfer — appears at the front door. He’s not alone, he’s with his girlfriend, who we don’t particularly like. She strikes us as pretentious, and not just because she insists that we call her Cynthia rather than Cindy.
They sit down and start telling us about their evening — they went to dinner, and they saw a movie, they ran into our friends Greg and Wendy at the mall and all sorts of other day-in-the-life minutiae that seems excruciatingly dull and impossibly annoying when you’re baked out of your mind and trying to stare into infinity through a TV screen.
Eventually, Cynthia picks up the remote control and says, “You guys aren’t watching this, are you?” And before she even finishes saying the words, she’s changing the channel to “The Golden Girls.” Seriously?! “The Golden Girls”?! (And, by the way, a word to the wise: When you’ve done more bong rips than you can count, do not under any circumstances allow yourself to be trapped in a situation where you might possibly be exposed to the sight of 60-year-old Rue McClanahan making single-entendres as she leers at young men. I couldn’t get an erection for like three weeks.)
And I do mean trapped, because first of all, this is our home. And second of all, we’re so goddamn stoned we can’t even tell where we end and the couch begins, so separating ourselves from it and leaving the room is about as likely as Cynthia joining us for dinner at The Lonely Guy Buffet.
After an hour of this shit — they aired back-to-back episodes, for cripes’ sake — Cynthia stands up and says, “OK, I’ll see you boys tomorrow,” and walks with her nose in the air toward the bedroom The Transfer shares with “Cougar.” The Transfer looks at us apologetically and follows, closing the door behind him.
Bong Guy and I glance at each other as he mouths the words, “What the fuck?!” I breathe a comically deep sigh of relief, and reach for the remote control. In seconds, the soothing strains of the Weather Channel wash over us and we’re back in our happy place. This Doppler Radar is fucking beautiful, maaaan.
And then we hear it.
Bong Guy slouches visibly and stares up at the ceiling as if appealing to god himself. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I say.
The Transfer and Cynthia are fucking. They’re not just fucking — they’re fucking up our high.
Bong Guy points to the remote control in my hand. “Crank up the volume,” he says, suddenly excited. I hear him but I don’t move. “No, wait,” I say. “I have a better idea.”
I peel myself off the couch and go into the bedroom I share with Bong Guy and dig around in the closet until I emerge with my prize. It’s the cassingle from a few months before. When I brought it home that night, we all listened to it together and within the first minute of the song, we agreed it was the biggest, most steaming pile of fecal waste we’d ever befouled our ears with.
The song was “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors.
I walk back into the living room and stare at Bong Guy with a self-satisfied smirk on my face and I hold up the cassette. He recognizes it immediately and begins to laugh.
I slide it into the cassette player, crank the volume all the way up, and press play.
Then Bong Guy and I walk together into our bedroom and shut the door. About three minutes later, the music stops abruptly and a few seconds later someone rattles our doorknob, which we’ve locked. “You guys are fucking assholes!” we hear The Transfer yell. And without ever saying a word to one another, Bong Guy and I lie in the dark in our beds and giggle for what seems like hours.
And as I drift off to sleep, I wonder if I’ll miss all this one day when I have a place of my own.
No way, I think. No fucking way.