You work in the library print center. There you learn about hyena clitorises, play chess, listen to the Afro-Cuban All Stars and get vitamin D deficiency. You give away photocopies to a girl wearing a leopard skin jacket who smiles at you, and to a bearded lumberjack who says hello. Your girlfriend is not happy. You never gave her free copies. She asks for an explanation. You don’t have one. You encourage your classmates to visit you when term papers are due. You feel like you are giving back to the community. You don’t fill out your time card everyday, or wear the right name tag. You show up late, or forget you are even scheduled. You sift through the tills for buffalo nickels and standing liberty half dollars.
You drink and smoke pot before work. Your supervisor asks you if you have just been to the pool. Some semesters you are more intoxicated than others. You share pot brownies and Adderalls if you have them. You’ve been stuck in the Salt Lake airport. You’ve called in sick from Seattle. Your supervisor told you long ago, if you can’t make it to work, for any reason, tell them you’re sick. You marry the toy dinosaur and angel Gabriel on top of his modem, marking a marriage of evolution and creationism. You and he watch Charles Manson make crazy faces, talk gibberish, and say things like “I am nobody,” and “I roll the nickels, I make the money, the game is mine.” He asks you to complete a menial task. You remind him you have a half-ass reputation to uphold. “You do less than that,” he says.
You buy your textbooks from the bookstore, photocopy the assigned pages and return them the next day. You photocopy a picture of a frog smoking a cigarette captioned “How Ribbiting.” And a picture of Willie the Wimp, laid to rest in a coffin that looks like a Cadillac Seville, and a picture of a man jumping crazily from a building, captioned “the alternative to buy low, sell high, was often jump high, land low.” You photocopy a blues man’s tombstone epitaph: “Give me beefsteak when I’m hungry/ whiskey when I’m dry/ pretty women when I’m living/heaven when I die.” You have dreams of stepping into an elevator black hole, or walking up stairs into a cascade of bowling balls.
Your roommate is Monda, like Honda. You found him on Craigslist, met him at the apartment, student housing. He tells you he returned your email because you said you work at the library. You were desperate, living in a station wagon. You tell him to trust you. He says, “I no longer trust. My last roommate stole my rice-cooker and left an inferior one.” You tell him about your values. He asks you: “If I am your neighbor, and I come to your house and kill your sister, what would you do?” You tell him you would call the police, or kill him back. “No!” He says, “You forgive! We are very different.”
He’s not looking for a white roommate. He’s looking for an Asian roommate. But he’ll let you stay for a week. He’s going to look for an Asian roommate during the semester. He’ll let you move in permanently if he does not find one at the end of the semester, four months from now. But he says, “If I have another white roommate, and you find out, kill me, you can kill me.” He’s nuts, but you are willing to live in the river with the crocodile. You move in permanently after a week. One day you ask him if he wants to go to the gym during the afternoon. He tells you, “I no longer go to the gym during the day. The freshman and sophomores are stealing my workout routine.”
The food on your table consists of one twenty-ounce bottle of Vault, three boxes of Honey Oat Flakes, and one sour carton of milk. If you had the real Honey Bunches of Oats, by Post, you’d be one rich son of a bitch. If you had oatmeal, you would be a poor bastard, but you would have a sense of urgency, one that would compel you to write something substantial and successful. This is probably the same reason so many artists are successful in Butte right now. But, no, you have the store brand cereal, and although it is not the most delicious cereal, you don’t feel any sense of urgency to improve your status.
There’s a Cheeto stuffed into your peephole, a bullet hole in the window. Your neighbor Jodie lives across the walkway in the next building. She tells you any guy shorter than 5’5’’ is a midget. She laughs behind their back. She is forty-three, working on her bachelor’s degree, and can palm a basketball. The walls of your apartment are thin and you can talk to your neighbor Jeff, below you, through the air vents. You play guitar with Jeff, who writes a song about a girl making dolphin noises when a guy humps her doggy style.
Your dressers and doors have been ravaged and clawed perhaps by a deranged cat or possibly a wolverine. Your room has no heating vents; if you turn off the space heater the beer will be cold when you get back. You are collecting cans; you’ve piled them up to the ceiling. Next thing you know, you are on hands and knees, it’s 1:00 in the morning, stabbing a thousand nearly microscopic ants, one-by-one with a screwdriver. Your Stats exam is in seven hours.
You want to be like the people you watched in French cinema. They dress well; are not petty thieves. They know when to pour the white wine into the boiling pot of potatoes. They’ve read all the novels, and know all of the plots. They think quickly.
You are a petty thief. You haven’t the faintest idea when to pour the white wine. You are working on buttoning up your shirt and unlocking your bike with one hand, shifting from 2nd to 3rd without putting in the clutch. Ironing is mystifying.
You smoke a Philly on a windy night and realize that smoking is an acquired taste, while typing is an acquired skill. It’s hard to type when burning ash is scattered across the keyboard. If you were typing on a typewriter you could probably drip battery acid everywhere and the thing would still work. Technology doesn’t guarantee a more efficient environment if you have bad habits or addictions.
Out of your window you watch a boy cycle lazily, a cigarette in one hand, a paperback in the other. Two perverts in the parking lot eye each other suspiciously.
The space heater sneaks up on you. “My ass is on fire!”
You were supposed to take the Greyhound to Spokane to catch a flight to Chicago to be home in time for Christmas. But you met a girl the night before who said she’d drive you. She doesn’t materialize; you miss the bus. You and your landlord make a sign and he drives you to the interstate ramp. You hitchhike all the way to Spokane with a family of chain smokers. They drop you off at Home Depot. Your Uncle Steve swoops in and drives you to the airport. Your ten-year-old cousin Hannah gives you 40-60 odds, but you make your flight.
Uncle Steve breaks his ninety-eight-year-old Uncle Bob out of the old folks home to go to a strip club. The strippers ask if it’s okay if they shake their tits in the ninety-eight-year-old’s face. He uses an oxygen mask. He gives the girls the go ahead.
Steve smuggles dish washing detergent across the Idaho-Washington border. It has more phosphates, but works better. He distributes it to his thrilled neighbors. He says the local detergent doesn’t work and ruined his last dish washer.
You are strapped down next to an older woman on an airplane. “Take a cookie,” she says. She smiles at you. You’re munching cookies when you notice a supply of miniature Jack Daniel bottles in her purse. She drinks one after another, and tells you how men ruined her life and all men are evil. She looks directly at you as she speaks. You don’t say anything. By the middle of the flight two ladies are shouting about how awful men are. You ask the male steward if he can locate another seat for you. He laughs and says he feels the same way as the women.
You go to a job interview, and the interviewer asks you if you have any character flaws. You tell him, “People tell me I’m too honest.” He says, “Well that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” You say, “Who the fuck cares what you think?” C.J., at Red’s Bar, in Missoula, tells you that one.
You’re delayed and drinking bourbon in the Salt Lake City airport. You call in to work. The guy next to you tells you about his connection. You’ve road-tripped down to Northern California. You think, you could push pot to Missoula. You remember a story about a guy who kept a python in his car to keep the police away. He kept it in the backseat over his pot. He got pulled over, but didn’t sweat it. What sort of cop would search his car with a python in the backseat? You’re not ready to push pot across one thousand miles with a python in your backseat.
“Can I be a feminist?” you ask after a lecture about clitoris mutilation and how men oppress women. Your teacher ignores you, then says your sandwich smells like a ferret. You’ve read about female hyenas who dominate male hyenas with their giant clitorises. She’s about to write you off, but changes her mind after you tell the class that Oriental is a rug, not a person, and Orientalism is about objectifying a group of people.
Everyone wants to be an authority figure. Even the signs tell you so. No scowling on the bus. Keep your feet off the seats and railings, please refrain from screaming. “No using the computer lab in the English Office,” Maria tells you. You are not a graduate student. A supervisor sees you wearing the wrong name tag. “Hector, you’re not Hector,” she hisses.
A boy walks into the dorm. It’s late; he doesn’t have his key. “Five dollars,” says the R.A. The boy doesn’t have it. He climbs up the side of the building to his fourth floor room. His fingers are freezing as he tries to pry open the window. He pulls at the window, falls three stories onto the roof on the first floor. They scrape him off the roof like road kill.
You’re working on an assignment, are on a roll and will be done in ten minutes, but it’s 11:30 p.m. and you have enough time to go to Jus’ Chillin’ for a smoothie. Do you stop working on your homework now and get to Jus’ Chillin’ before they begin to close? Bad form, but good karma. Or should you finish the assignment and show up just as they are closing? Good form, but bad karma.
You try to write constructive responses to your peers: Jon: you ill-bred donkey, were you on acid when you wrote your story? Please plug your brain back in and rewrite this gawd awful mess so I don’t have to edit your third grade syntax/grammatical errors. Oops, too late, I’ve now spent three hours editing it anyways. Fuck me! I can’t even read five words without finding an error. You make no sense, Jon. The sad and pathetic state of your essay really underscores the loser you must be today! You are a prime example of the half brain dead students this place accepts. Congratulations!
Your photo-booth collage of you and Charles Manson doesn’t go over well with a professor who threatens to fail you after you tell him he made you hate writing, and you plan to drop out to pick pecans and live in a chicken coop.
You’re trying to find your swimming pool, your sanctuary, a moment when all your problems go away. You’re running like a loon in the pouring rain, through neighbors’ back yards. You’re running from reality and the police, wearing dress shoes, intoxicated by moonshine. The police have circled back on you and are speeding down the street. You run around a back yard, attempt to hurdle a wrought iron fence. Your right knee splits open three inches wide.
You consume a mixture of vitamins, Adderall, rum and beer before work at the library. You’re ready to take it to the limit, ride the edge of death, jump twenty-two school buses with your motorcycle, dive under water in a single breath for six minutes. Your friends nearly get you arrested after they throw beer bottles at traffic out of your car window. You don’t know if the destructive elements of your being are going to prevail over the good.
A toothless stoner sells you a “Thank You for Pot Smoking” bumper sticker. You and a friend Gorilla Glue it to an old friend’s bumper sticker while he is at work. He hates pot smoking.
You go to a problem-solving group. One guy tells the group, “My neighbor waters his lawn when he shouldn’t.” The group leader says, “Why don’t you tell your neighbor to stop watering his lawn?” The guy tells her, “I can’t. He takes care of my cats. He grows catnip and gives it to them.”
You buy a planner at Staples but don’t want the receipt. On your way out the door, you stick it in a small box attached to a life-size Martha Stewart cardboard cut-out. When you get home, your mom asks you where the receipt went. It’s in Martha Stewart’s box. Your mom finds the receipt, returns the planner and buys it for you with her teacher discount.
You want to neatly condense your life into one hundred pages. How many pages will you dedicate to college? What are your dreams, goals? Did you ever have any? When you started school, you hoped, by the time you graduated, you would be a decent pool player.
You can hit long shots, medium range shots, slice, stop the cue ball on a dime. Tonight, you played with your neighbor Jeff and a short, bearded transient. The transient talked to himself. You made shots tougher than a cob.
You realize the most interesting students are incoming freshmen, before they pay rent, take some lame job for twenty hours a week, smoke smelly dope, guzzle PBRs, lose their edge, their idealistic, romantic, creative tendencies, their rough edges, antagonisms, feelings of aggression.
You were a freshman, a minority, immersed in a majority culture, in a strange land. You saw its life and essential character so clearly. You were Montana Meth Man for Halloween. Your heroes were Hunter Thompson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and J.D. Salinger. For Christmas your girlfriend back home bought you Generation of Swine and your girlfriend at school Songs of the Doomed.
You have all your notes from college, even some from high-school. Get away from phonies. Do not become corrupted. Life is Monopoly. The green light is a carrot on the end of a stick.
You believe J.D. Salinger was a phony who sought fame and fortune. You realize if you hang out with anyone long enough you’ll see through them. Don’t worry about the phonies, instead avoid people who minimize risk, follow convention, can’t grow, or try to become more successful and happy, or are content to be mediocre.
You learn that it’s not if you win or lose, it’s if you beat the spread. Life is short, art is long. Success is far off and competing with your friends and family and predicting how it will all unfold is futile. It’s like the donut race at a ballpark between the cup of coffee, the bagel and the donut.
Never wonder! If you wonder you can escape the system. The system is not to be questioned. Teachers know everything. The system administers the teachers and the teachers will cram you until facts ooze out of your ears. Do not think for yourself. You are part of the University of Montana, a great system, never question that. There is a superior kind of happiness achieved by giving up your own idea of happiness. Dreams and ideas cannot be measured. They are not facts. They are nonsense. Your first duty is to Montana. You must be obedient. You must believe in unity. Listen to your teachers, remember what they tell you. Seek their approval at all times. Do not ask why.
You find it impossible to write sarcastically.
You see a bumper sticker that reads: “What if the hokey pokey is what it’s all about?” You have a few of your own. How many grease stains on my pants? When will I wash them? Do dogs understand sarcasm? Dogs do not understand sarcasm, you learn, after you tell your dog to run, into an on-coming car. Why don’t blind people skydive? It scares the dogs. How do OCD people put registration stickers on their license plates?
You’ve hashed some horrible nonsense together. Do you turn it in? You hide outside the classroom door. Class is starting, you breathe through your nose. You think: Wait till he reads this, he’ll crucify me, then staple the paper to a wall of shame, like a mini-mart clerk does fake I.D.s. It’s the best writing you’ve done all semester.
After three and a half years, you’re fired for borrowing three records: Django Reinhardt, Traffic, and Art Tatum. You tried to scan them into the computer to check them out but they didn’t have barcodes. So you told your boss you’d bring them back when you were finished with your term paper. Word gets to the top you have stolen the records.
After you’re fired, you go home and write the library supervisors a page long letter. You write about the lessons you’ve learned at the library, about listening to others, respecting others, working through problems. You ask them to look at the big picture, what kind of person you are, what character you have. You haven’t worked anywhere else for the past three years. You tell them you would never steal from the library. You bring them five copies of this letter on photography paper you borrowed from the library copy center. You’d like to keep the library on your résumé.
You’ve learned your lessons, passed your classes, done your time, paid your dues. You fried your nerves in the face of Monda’s nunchucks and your brains at Alien Abduction. You graduate. You’re free to go and apply for work.