“You a terrorist, boy?”
“No sir, I’m just an LSU fan.”
-Dialogue between Halliburton employee and Janos Marton, 10/05
Alex got into Crystal’s car with Ronnie, while Josh, Janos, and I rode in Subi. I pulled the car onto the on-ramp and almost immediately lost Crystal in construction traffic. This was unfortunate because we didn’t know anything about LSU and had neither Ronnie nor Alex’s phone numbers. However, we were versatile and in road trip mode, so I pulled off an exit to a gas station to survey the alcohol situation with Janos. We had three-quarters of a handle of Smirnoff Razz. To complement, we purchased six bottles of Boone’s Farm (I wistfully thought of Come As You Are and Derby parties from yesteryear) and an eighteen-pack of Bud Light. It turned out campus was a mile away from the gas station, so twenty minutes later, the three of us were walking alongside the homecoming parade, armed with an overflowing backpack of wine coolers, beers, and vodka. The parade was extraordinary in its level of celebration. There were no less than twenty cars, each crawling slowly down the road around the main quad, advertising the Homecoming court members with marquee banners as students threw candy and body paint to the crowd. We walked alongside this display, past tents where alumni families had set-up barbeque areas and children played touch football, and finally settled down beneath a large oak tree on the far side of the meadow.
Janos sloppily finger-painted the letters of the school on his forearm as we each broke open a bottle of Boones. I lay my head back against the autumn grass and stared through the branches, wondering how high I could tilt my Strawberry Breeze before it would trickle sticky all over my bearded face. We sat in a three-man circle, picking grass stalks systematically and letting the festivities settle into ambient melody to our Saturday afternoon.
An hour, five Boone’s Farms, three beers, and two trips to the restroom in the Visitor’s Pavilion later, we remobilized and started walking up the promenade along the defunct parade route. Janos led the way, marching around languid personas like a real-time steeplechase, the whole while engaged in some staggering monologue about Lyndon B. Johnson’s response to Hurricane Betty. We still have no tickets, nor do we know where our friends are, Josh offered. Janos Marton turned to the two of us and while walking backward in front of us, tossed his arms on our shoulders.
“No talk of that, Josh Potter. This mission is ours and ours alone.” His twisted, knotted hair tossed around before his fiery eyes as he grew more animated. “Don’t doubt this university! Jesus Christ, Huey Long is rolling in his grave over your… your resounding disbelief in the nature of our mission. Huey Long tells us that the time has come for all good men to rise above principle, and look at you Josh Potter, worried about principles like tickets and location. We will rise above. Onward!”
Janos lurched forward into the center of an alley of alumni tents. It is difficult to fully capture the brilliance of a drunken monologue by Janos Marton, but if I had to peg it in historical context I’d call it a cross between William Wallace encouraging his kinsmen in the face of sure defeat and Hunter S. Thompson nonsensically deriding his Vegas ether-ridden surroundings. The man marched forward with heavy steps, parrying the slower pedestrians and drawing a path for Josh and me to follow. He stopped suddenly.
“Guillermo, look at that tent!”
I turned and saw an alumni tent flying a Haliburton flag. My stomach turned in anticipation of trouble, and sure enough Janos was halfway to the tent across the gold and purple sea of LSU fans. By the time I caught up to him, he was in the midst of a conversation with one of the Haliburton alumni, politicizing and chatting it up as he does. Cordial as hell, “just happy to meet a Haliburton employee here at the big game, you all excited about them fighting tigers,” and various etceteras when from nowhere a ruddy mustached man pushed his way from the middle of the tent to our edge and grabbed Janos by the shirt.
“Are you a terr-o-rist, boy?” he angrily shouted. His breath was laced with enough bourbon that I could smell the Southern Comfort from behind my best friend, the good half-Hungarian, half-Indian, brown-skinned and longhaired, and only two-term Dartmouth College student body president in history. Janos threw his hands up. Josh had arrived by this point and watched the confrontation hesitantly from Janos’ other shoulder. The three-hundred pound Southerner stared warily at Janos as the other Haliburton employee stepped back and laughed. Janos was confusedly terrified.
“Uh, no sir, not at all.” Janos paused. “Just an LSU fan, that’s all.”
The man grunted and released Janos, turning his attention back to the large plastic cup in his hand and away from our side of the tent. We fled immediately as the other Halliburton employee apologized to our receding backs. That was the only personal experience I have ever had with the Halliburton Company.
Our next course of action was to acquire game gear as soon as possible to prevent such Patriot Act tactics from further derailing our Homecoming experience. We signed up for college credit cards at a booth across from the on-campus tiger pit, where the school kept a live Royal Bengali Tiger named Mike. In return for our false applications with false phone numbers and addresses that listed Pass Road as home, we threw on gold and gray LSU t-shirts. We spent the next thirty minutes sitting in a small knoll with our backs to the tiger pen, drinking beers out of our backpack and watching children play touch football before us. It was a good nod to my own memory, as the children ran the same quarterback sneak over and over again. We assigned arbitrary names to the kids marching up and down the thirty yard field: Tough Guy, Sidelines, Sixteen. My favorite player was Tough Guy’s little brother, Little Guy. Little Guy was pushing a half decade in age, looking for cues from the giants all around him, lining up next to Tough Guy on every play, getting runover by Sixteen on hikes, springing up in the dust, chasing the opposing quarterback fruitlessly, and doing it all over again each play. Watching Little Guy’s sweat run down the bones of his dirt-caked cheekbones made me think of things that we could almost forget. I drank my beer and watched until their parents broke up the game, and the three of us stood up to finally try to find tickets.
By now it was nearly four o’clock, but our logic was so: the economy of scalping had a finite time during which value kept itself artificially high before it would collapse below the price floor and tumble down to affordable prices. Therefore, if we waited long enough, the scalpers would get desperate enough to offer us prices we unpaid servants of servants could afford. On top of all this, LSU was playing Appalachian State of all teams for its homecoming game, a Division II school it had never before competed against. The stadium couldn’t possibly be filled to capacity for this game, even for Homecoming. Right? Right, Josh affirmed as we made our way through the crowd along the periphery of the stadium.
We were rounding the third gumbo station when Alex and Ron burst out of the lulling crowd, forkfuls of dripping jambalaya in hands. Their dilated pupils barely acknowledged the surprise of our encounter, and the blue cooler they were flanking was definitely part of the equation.
“Ay, boys,” Ronnie grunted between chews. I turned to talk to Interiors Alex, but he had already disappeared back into the purple sea of fans and children. It turned out that after arriving on campus and settling for the possibility of randomly running into us at some point in the afternoon, Alex and Ronnie had spent the last two hours of their time purchasing tickets from scalpers, five at a time, then re-selling them for profit. They had done this enough times to have started with seats in the third tier of the stadium and upon Alex’s most immediate return, had acquired six seats eight rows from the field. Brilliant. I ate a spoonful of jambalaya and smoked a cigarette, and we carried the cooler and a folding chair over to the tiger side of the stadium for the incoming homecoming parade. Janos passed out in a chair in the middle of oncoming parade traffic and we had to drag him back into the crowd where he continued to snore through the drums and the horns, sunglasses in place. It reminded Potter of “Weekend at Bernie’s,” which was so on point. He slept like this for another forty minutes before we woke him up to go drink vodka with us.
Alex and Ronnie went in with Crystal, who wordlessly followed Ron around this entire time. However, drinking was not allowed in the stadium, so the two J’s and I settled behind some shrubbery at a nearby dorm and swigged more vodka. Josh began smoking cigarettes, which meant he was pretty drunk as Josh only smoked when he drank. We ran out of beer, which meant it was time to charge the stadium, burst through the barbaric gates, and watch Tigers tear up Mountaineers or whatever the poor Appalachian State mascot was. Janos came up with a brilliant idea to circumvent the drinking rule— we poured Smirnoff into Budweiser bottles and brought them in sticking from our pockets, brilliance in a nutshell. We flew through the turnstile, found our eighth row seats, and heartily cheered our stealth by clinking our bottles. The security guards descended upon us within seconds.
“Sirs, give me all the bottles you have on you.” It was only then that we began to realize our extreme error of substitution; this was funny later but irksome at this point to hand over close to twenty ounces of vodka to LSU security. Oh drunken stealth, as clever as any wild, inhibition-free tough guy, sneaking through that museum on that mission to steal that Ming vase or the equivalent through glassy eyes. No, no, distraught and caught, we contemplated our loss sadly before the ridiculous university brought their ridiculous tiger onto the field and then we cheered boisterously. Mike the Tiger, if only it had been you instead of Keggy the Keg, I mused between bites of popcorn. The poor displaced animal circled the stadium echoing with Cajun screams of approval. Mike returned to his cage and was carted off the field.
The game was blurry. Someone sitting behind us knew one of the Appalachian State cheerleaders by name, which we then shouted endlessly until Cindy stepped out of line post-cheer at the beginning of the second quarter, threw her hands up, and asked from eight rows away whether she knew us. LSU was just trouncing the other team, so I think we left Ronnie and Crystal and descended through the tunnels of the complex just after halftime. We retrieved the rest of the vodka and our backpack from the shrubbery from earlier, and marched on to a keg stand taking place in the middle of a field. We got some beer and continued on some time, through the dark mist of the October field before we realized we had lost Alex. Undeterred, we wished him luck wherever he was and continued on to drop the bag off with Subi on the far side of campus, then to the bar scene of Baton Rouge. We did just that, but lost Potter in the process who was content to end his night in the backseat of that car.
We were down to two, and down to a fifth of the handle or so left from the vodka. Janos and I walked through the damp grass, skirting circumferential quad paths for a direct route, through the dew to the bright lights of the bars. Along the way we decided to climb part way up a fire escape to drink the last of the vodka, where we talked about family. I wish often that I could remember more of what was said- I later worried that it was important. But honestly, it was all a blur straight into an open air bar full of sweat and loud music. I drank as much as I did the entirety of the day, and it kept going down as the lights staggered and flailed in oval halos across the fields of my sensually failing vision. Lights. And women.
I blacked out and came to making out with someone in the back of a pick-up truck. Rather than perfume or femininity, she smelled like sweat. Terrified, I sat up and gathered my immediate guesses about the situation, whatever subliminal facts I had gathered in the spaces I couldn’t remember. Janos dancing with some girl and me interrupting him to yell “hang out.” And this person, a kindergarten teacher. A Waffle House blonde wants me to come to the hotel ten miles out of town. I had been making out with this woman.
I confusedly tried to get to my feet, and fell out of the truck bed onto the gravel parking lot. Undeterred, I stood up, said good night, and sprinted back through the bar. Janos was nowhere. I ran through out into the night, where the street was pooling with the drunken sway of 2 a.m., through and back onto campus, running until I realized it called attention to myself so walking until I realized I had no idea where I was so then finally sitting against a wall, pulling my cell phone out, and acknowledging that it was very much out of batteries.
Throughout time many a man has been passed on the street, lost and alone, on some rock in Neolithic times, outside a way-station pub during the Middle Ages, head in hands outside the Chicago Greyhound, kicking the can around the train station at Roma Termini. And now I, another man whose silent pride had me sitting helpless, staring at a blank cell phone. Of course I didn’t know where the car was. All I had was Josh Potter’s phone number scrawled on the back of a business card. I breathed out and stared into the cracks of the sidewalk sprinkled with a new, light rain.
“Hey man, you alright?”
I looked up to see baggy blue jeans, a red jersey, headphones around a neck, a doo-rag. I collected myself accordingly, swallowed it all in my miserable solitude, and asked.
“Do you have a cell phone I could use for a second? Mine is dead and I’m kinda lost.”
The kid shrugged and reached into his pocket.
“Yeah, I got one.” He handed me salvation in the form of Nextel’s bluescreen. It was 2:45 a.m., I noted, as I thanked the guy and dialed the phone number in my pocket.
“…hello?” Groggy Josh.
“Josh, you have to help me, I just made out with the most enormous woman I’ve ever made out with—“
The cell phone owner started laughing so hard that he was leaning with his hands over his knees. I smiled politely and continued explaining my tenuous situation to Potter, who listened with a sleepy interest and gave me the name of the building Subi was parked in front of.
“Whose phone are you talking on?”
“Hey,” I turned to the kid. “What’s your name, man?”
“Brawn,” he said, still laughing at me. “My name’s Brawn.”
I hung up and asked Brawn which direction the building was.
“Aw, that’s over on the west side of campus…do you know where the pond is? (No.) You know what, it’d be a lot easier if I just walked you over there, it’s only a bit out of my way, I’ll walk you there.” Brawn led me through the night mists of the deserted campus, littered with beer cans, and talked with me about LSU, the state of SEC football, and Joseph Addai. Twenty minutes later, I was waving good-bye to him and getting into the driver’s seat of Subi, where Janos lay curled in the trunk and Josh Potter had taken the passenger seat.
My first memory as a child was getting my left ankle broken in half as a result of sticking it in the spokes of my father’s bike while riding on the back. I was three and we lived in Japan. That may seem irrelevant, but my second memory was the burgundy backseat of the guy’s car that drove my father and I to the emergency room for emergency ankle reconstruction. Some guy driving around the Naval base that drove us to the ER, in and out of my life at such a crucial moment, then gone. I never thought another cameo in my life would hold similar significance until now, remember the sight of Brawn walking up through the haze of the sodium lampposts, replacing his headphones carefully, bobbing his head slowly to his nightcap lullaby, turning a corner around a building and then gone forever. I closed my eyes and slept.
I woke up the next morning with a wicked cough and curled up in the backseat as we made our way home. The three of us stopped at a Burger King attached to a gas station and I hazily grabbed what I thought was a bottle of cough syrup to quell my insistent throat, swigging half of it back and figuring that’d do the trick. Only 20 minutes later as I fell to my knees in a Louisiana bathroom stall did I realize I’d purchased Brand X Nyquil instead. When my friends finished breakfast, they had to wake me up from semiconsciousness and help me to my feet to get me back to the car. When I came to, we were already back in Biloxi and Finch of all people was standing in the middle of the field. As Janos went to greet and I stumbled to my feet, Casey’s mother appeared to hug me and tell me they were leaving. And that I had no idea what this and all of us meant to her son. I put on my hardest smile and wished them the best before slinking back away from the building and toward a few stragglers sitting at the remnants of the Termite campfire. I sat down defeated, looked over at a woman half asleep in a sleeping bag, and then introduced myself to some guy who’d just returned from a 3 week long drunken hitchhike through Virginia, Denver, and Juarez. He was Ryan Quinnelly, and that’s when I met him.
But in terms of LSU, yeah. That’s how it all went down.
Didn’t you leave your glasses in the Burger King bathroom?
I was laughing for the entire second half of this story. Ladarla in the truck? I remember you rambling on Brawn’s phone about a pond, and me saying something like, “Guillermo, here they call it a bayou” and hanging up on you. Also, we slept late enough into the morning that people were tapping on our windows and taunting us like zoo animals. I’m not even sure it was a legitimate parking space.
Thank you for this, Guillermo. I will never forget this or you, brother.