I majored in binge drinking at college.
Like many graduates my current career has nothing to do with my degree. Although my ability to consume excessive amounts of alcohol in a short period has served me well on a few occasions, bachelor parties and holidays namely. I was a diligent student, and throughout my four years, I never neglected my studies.
One evening, in particular, stands out as when I put my higher education to good use. To be clear, it was a memorable night, but some of the details remain hazy to this day.
It was a weekend in October of my freshmen year. My college chum Chris Brandoff invited me to his hometown of East Moriches, Long Island. After swinging by his mom and dad’s for a quick hello, we went to a party at his friend Lauren Barmula’s house in the neighboring West Hampton — a clean and polished hamlet.
The home was a large and well appointed ranch-style four bedroom with a finished basement and pool. Lauren’s parents were out for the evening, and she was hosting a small gathering of exceptional drinkers. The men especially were professionals at chugging large quantities of beer during drinking games such as Boat Races, Kings, and Asshole. They also had the ability to suck down pints full of Captain and Coke. A saccharine sweet cocktail that makes me shiver to this day when I think of it.
A few hours later, we were cracking up at things that would not be funny at all to someone sober, and we would surely forget about by the morning. I was well beyond the legal limit to operate my legs, but I was miraculously standing in the kitchen sipping on a red solo cup of Coors Extra Gold; a nutty beer that has the aftertaste of licking the business end of a nine volt.
Out of nowhere Mark Jansen, a portly, square headed 19-year-old, slapped the bottom of my cup as I was drinking from it. The warm brew splashed onto my face and up my nose. The cup crinkled from the impact, and I dropped it on the floor. The room of well-sauced men and women erupted with laughter. The loudest being Mark’s cackle. I stood frozen, beer dripping from my face, and asked a fair question.
“Why did you do that?”
“Why not?” Mark responded.
He had me there. It seemed like an aggressive act from someone I barely knew despite our expedited friendship sponsored by alcohol. I had a decision to make. Laugh off the incident or throw a tantrum. I chose the former. All praised me for my sense of humor and calm demeanor, except Mark. He kept cackling. One eyewitness told me that “Mark is just a douche” to make me feel better.
I was merely acting cool. On the inside, I was seething. I usually would have shrugged it off, but booze heightens everything, especially the thought that someone has disrespected you. People act irrationally over the smallest things while intoxicated. Just watch an episode of Cops or The Real Housewives.
I began to plot my revenge. Smashing Mark’s drink into his face would not make us even. I needed to answer back with something extreme. I couldn’t let these new friends think I was the kind of guy to be pushed around. I internally spitballed options. Slapping the back of my hand to his nuts perhaps? Painful for sure, but not good enough. Ice cubes down his underpants? Too juvenile. No, this is something I would have to stew on. I poured myself another Coors, peered at my new enemy, and pondered the possibilities.
I woke up, or I suppose I came to, in the dark lying on a hard surface wearing a Coors Extra Gold 12 pack holder on my head. I pushed myself upward into a seated position and heard a squeaking sound. I had passed out on the ping pong table. Ideally not while others were playing.
My right eye was stubbornly shut. I scanned the room to get my bearings like a pirate surveying the hull of his ship. Incidentally, I recently learned that pirates wore eye patches not because they were missing an eye, but because it prepared the eye for the darkness for when they were below deck. Interesting?
Anyway, my eye adjusted and I appeared to be in the basement. A large, green couch was nearby, and I wondered why I opted to rest on the table tennis platform instead. The decisions of a drunk never make much sense.
I was still very inebriated, but I reached deep into my memory bank. The last thing I remembered was marching around with the 12 pack on my head chanting “I’m Spartacus.” Lauren’s boyfriend Sean was there convulsing with laughter. But what else happened? In a flash, a moment popped into my head. A full cup of beer. My face covered in said beer. A cruel cackle. Two words rang clear like a voice from God: Mark Jansen.
Yes, Mark Jansen pranked me, humiliated me, laughed at me. Vengeance would be mine. I would find him. I would make him pay. I attempted to slide off the table gracefully, but toppled onto the floor, landing on a sneaker that jammed into my rib cage.
I got to my feet much like a toddler; my arms stretched outward balancing myself as I swayed. I wobbled my way to the staircase. I lifted my left foot to climb the first step and missed. Luckily I broke my fall with my forehead. My Coors Extra Gold helmet tilted to the side. I adjusted it to fit straight, the flaps hanging over my ears. A warrior must look presentable when fighting his enemy.
Better to crawl up the steps instead of risking another face plant, I thought.
About 10 minutes later I reached the top and dragged myself into the adjoining kitchen. I grabbed hold of the edge of an island counter and pulled myself upwards. The stove clock read 3:37. A perfect time to exact my revenge. Now the search would begin for the despicable Mark Jansen.
I walked gingerly through the home. Everything looked new to me, and for a brief moment, I thought I was in the wrong house. Like when Robert Downey Jr was found passed out in a stranger’s bedroom back in 90's. Then I saw my baseball hat under the kitchen table, and I knew I was in the right place. It was eerily quiet, a far cry from the riotous game of flip cup hours earlier. I went to the living room, and there was a sofa there. I walked up to it and then jumped in front of it. No Mark.
I traveled farther, down a dark hallway. I reached a closed door and opened it slowly. The room was pitch black except for the moonlight shining through a small gap in the curtains on the double glass doors. I saw the silhouette of a large figure lying in bed with his back toward me. I crept closer. It was a portly, square-headed man. It was my nemesis. The poor sucker was out cold.
“You’re mine now Jansen,” I whispered.
Without a plan in place, I improvised. I lightly jabbed his kidneys.
“You like that,” I said.
Mark groaned but didn’t wake up. I wasn’t the only one who overdid it that night. My jabs turned into combinations. Left, right, hook, uppercut. His body moved back and forth like a boat tied to a dock.
“You like that,” I repeated, louder and louder.
I was lacing into him now. I let out a maniacal cackle. At that moment, a woman sat up from the other side of the bed.
“Who’s there!” she screamed.
Startled, I blurted the first, and only, thing on my mind.
“It’s Mark Jansen!” I shouted, before darting out of the room slamming my shoulder into the open door. I bit my lip to keep from yelling.
I kept running, but my body wasn’t ready for sudden movements. I smashed my hip into a small round table.
“Fucker,” I said, as quietly as possible. Although being quiet now seemed pointless.
I bounced off most of the furniture along the way like a pinball. The empty 12 pack jostled on my head, and I put my hand on it to steady it. I had no idea where I was running to since I couldn’t even remember the house. I scurried into a small room that was off the kitchen. It had art on the walls, a table with crystal decorative pieces, and a tiny bench with curved wooden armrests. The seat looked old and uncomfortable. I sat down and held the 12 pack in my arms. I tried to catch my breath while replaying what just happened.
Who was that woman sleeping with Mark Jansen? She must have been in her 40s. I don’t remember her from the party. Shit, Michael Jordan could have shown up, and I wouldn’t remember. I bet Mark’s kidneys are hurting bad right about now. I got him good. Maybe his old lady girlfriend can rub ’em for him. That’ll teach him to mess with me.
I laid down on the baby couch, my head and shoulders bent over one side, my legs hanging over the other. I fell into a deep slumber.
I woke up to somebody shaking me.
“You can’t sleep here,” a deep voice boomed.
“Just leave me alone!” I begged, turning into a jagged fetal position.
“This is an antique asshole.” The voice snapped.
I slowly opened my eyes. The room was bright. Standing before me was a large man with a salt and pepper beard.
“Mr. Brandoff?” I asked, incredulously.
“Do I look Mr. Brandoff?” the man retorted, angrily.
I took a better look at the man. He was portly, square-headed. He rubbed at his side.
I slowly got up. My neck felt like someone ran over it with a golf cart. The rest of me was as sore as if I played tackle football the night before. I left the room with the man behind me. I entered the kitchen. Huddled around the island was Lauren and a woman in her late 40s. If the woman’s eyes could have shot daggers, I would have been stabbed to death.
“Hey Gabe,” Lauren said, breaking the tension. “This is my mom.” The woman forced a grin.
“Good morning,” I muttered.
“And I’m her father,” the large man bellowed, stepping around me. All three of them stared at me.
“Were you in my parent’s room last night Gabe?” Lauren asked.
“I don’t think so. I don’t even know where your parent’s room is.” I said, squirming.
“Well somebody was in there, and it wasn’t Mark Jansen.” Mrs. Barmula said, without taking her eyes off me.
I thought of making a run for it, but I had nothing left in the tank.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you both,” I said, changing the subject.
“Where’s Chris?” I asked, looking at Lauren desperately.
“He left,” Lauren said.
“What?!” I said, “He was my ride.”
“Have some orange juice, and I’ll take you to the Brandoff’s,” Lauren said.
“How about we just call you a cab.” Mrs. Barmula said.
“That’s a better idea.” Mr. Barmula added, exhaling loudly through his nose.
He winced slightly. Perhaps a shooting pain from my fists of fury? I wanted to explain that I meant to give the middle of the night beating to Mark Jansen. It’s simply a case of mistaken identity. It could have happened to anybody. I didn’t know what you looked like Mr. Barmula and you have the same build as that prick, Mark Jansen, especially in the dark and on account of me being severely drunk. Let me make it clear I’m not criticizing your build. You have an excellent build. Husky. Strong. Look, Mark smashed a beer into my face, and I was seeking to make things square. Surely, you can understand that as a fellow man Mr. Barmula. And why didn’t you wake up while I was punishing your soft sides with my steely knuckles? You must have had one too many yourself, so you are keenly aware of the unpredictable effects of alcohol. I got it in my head that you were out of town, not just out for the evening, so this is partially your fault. Don’t let this little incident define your opinion of me Mr. Barmula. I know you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but please, I don’t make a habit of punching parents while they sleep.
But I said nothing.
Lauren called the taxi company. I sipped on orange juice. I closed my mouth as I burped. I could taste the acid of the OJ mixed with a nutty, battery flavor. The four of us stood at the island in painful silence.
My cab came what seemed like days later. I rode in the back with the window down for some fresh air. There was something in my back pocket. It was a torn, square piece of cardboard. It read Extra Gold. A souvenir I unknowingly grabbed.
I stuck my head out into the crisp autumn air and vomited onto the pristine blacktop of West Hampton at 40 miles per hour