I hear a guy cough, right next to me, and it wakes me right up, because, who the hell is that? Let’s get these eyes open, see what’s going on here, if I’m in jail or in a shrubbery at the park,or what.
The eyelids creak open. Hmm, I’m in my own room. Kind of bright, so the sun’s all the way up. There’s a hissing sound, too, like static on the radio, turned down really low. And some vague bit of urgency in my head, somebody in there waving a flag about something. Got to do better than that, little mental flag guy, whatever you’re talking about.
Headache. Very bad headache. I close one of my eyes again, lifting my head just an inch or so, moving only my neck. Son of a bitch, there’s someone right there, under a blanket, on the other side of the bed. Seriously, who the hell is that?
Check myself for pants, see if I’m gay all of the sudden. I’ve got pants on, okay, so far so good.
Not really judging the idea of sudden gayness – I mean, if you wake up gay, then you’re probably pretty excited about the idea, because now you’re gay and it sounds awesome. The great thing about being gay would be, then you’d be after dudes instead of girls, and dudes really, straight or gay, not a bunch of tough nuts to crack.
But that’s not it at all. I don’t want to be gay any more than I want to be awake, and the pants tell me, I’m only one of those things.
Well, we’re not quite positive yet, are we? I sit up and yank the blanket off the snorting, coughing figure beside me, check to make sure he’s wearing pants too.
It turns out to be The Pork Chop Kid – a guy named Jason from Skyline Chili. I don’t know why we call him The Pork Chop Kid, except that I’m the one who named him that. And the other thing I don’t remember about him is why he’s passed out in my bed. But the good news is, he’s wearing pants, too. So, neither of us are gay, unless we’re really shy, or just really bad at it.
“You comfy, there Pork Chop?”
Now he turns around, one eye open just like me, and we size each other up, come to terms with our situation like Popeye looking in a mirror. He says, “What the hell are you doing here?”
I point the eye around the room, at the desk, the typewriter, the big cardboard cutout of Clint Eastwood from Unforgiven, that I stole from Blockbuster. “This is my bedroom, Pork Chop. You’re in my bed.”
Pork Chop shakes his head doubtfully, closes the eye again, turns back around to get some sleep. Hard to blame him.
But no, I think if we both went back to sleep right now, we’d run the risk again, of waking up gay, and as cool as I’m sure I’d be with that after the fact, it doesn’t sound very fun while I’m still straight. People are so mean to gay dudes, you know?
So I get a hold of one of my pants legs and pull myself up to a sitting position, and I spot a bottle of water on the floor, pick it up. When I drink it, I feel my eyeballs rehydrate. Splick! Splick!
An afterhours last night, that rings a bell. Let’s see, we threw some cards around, watched Animaniacs, made two loaves of bread worth of French toast – the pieces really aren’t hooked together meaningfully, just some stuff that happened, very late.
The Pork Chop Kid says, “Something smells bad. What smells bad?”
Not going into that right now, way too tired. “My first guess would be me. Second guess, you.”
“Smells like something’s burning.”
Which reminds me of the hiss I was hearing, when I woke up, so I crane my neck and there’s the problem, my lamp has been knocked over, the shade’s off, and the light bulb is cooking a sizzling black circle into the carpet. I reach over and set it up again, pour the rest of the water on the smoking crater.
Well, that was close.
I get up and my brain starts pulsing out my eye sockets and ears. Into the bathroom, wash my face, brush my teeth, and then downstairs, where I find five other knuckleheads sprawled around in various chairs and couches and even on the floor.
So back on up and into my room again, and I sit at the desk in the only chair possible, in the whole apartment, looking at the Pork Chop Kid, shaking my head.
He seems to hear it, speaking without moving at all. “You were bitching about a Final all night last night. Don’t you have a Final, like right now?”
Ah, yes, I recall, that would be the urgent mental flag man. I grab my clock and turn it around, and it’s ten-thirty. I’m a half hour late for my Psych exam, and they only give you an hour to do it.
So I take ten seconds to think it through – that’s not going to make or break anything, ten seconds. I figure, I can get over there now and use what time I have left, or I can clean myself up, go straight to the guy’s office in a couple hours, start tapdancing. That second option would be more likely to work if I actually knew the guy, but I don’t think I’d recognize my Psych professor if he woke up between me and The Pork Chop over there.
I give myself one more sigh, and then I spring into action.
Out the front door, unlock the mountain bike – it’s raining a little bit, but that’s good. It’ll be like a shower. Then I’m pumping pedals, sizzling down 13th Avenue, right off the curb into High Street. The cars go crazy, honking, screeching, a really loud noise that might be an accident I just caused. You got to drive defensively, man, people are nuts.
Hop the curb on the other side, between two girls in rain slickers; they have to leap apart as my tires whine between them. Cut right through the Wexner Center, my body not liking it, little spots floating in front of me, stomach saying, let’s leave a trail of French toast so we can find our way home.
Move your dog, move your dog, move your dog.
Bump right down a set of concrete steps. No watch, no phone – it’s 1993. Can’t keep checking my time every minute, just have to pedal.
Got to take the extra twenty seconds, lock the bike up when I get to the right building. Run now, and it’s way back in time – Hungover 1993 Tom does not like to run, nor does he do it well, or quietly.
A girl I know from class, just vaguely, is leaving the building as I hit the doors. She says, “Oh my god, what are you doing?”
“I’m late. What time is it?”
She tells me – I’ve got less than fifteen minutes. “Here,” she says. “You’ll need this.”
Holds out a number two pencil. Hell, yeah, I’m going to need that. I snag it and thank her and then blast through the door of the sprawling classroom, drawing expressions of alarm and surprise from the several dozen students who aren’t finished yet. Who wants to make eye contact? All right, that’s what I thought.
There’s the Psych professor, Mister Whatshisname, easy to spot behind the big, big desk. He’s got a beard – for stroking in deep thought, I imagine – and he wears a sweater with a tie under it, and someone needs to make a decision about his hair for him, long or short.
My tennis shoes squirk all the way up to him, leaving a trail like a snail. Hard to see out of my glasses, because of the rain, so I yank them off, looking around somewhat theatrically for an exam.
For a Psych professor, this guy’s not very calm. His face shaking, he says, “What are you doing?”
There’s no reason to screw around. After today, I never have to see this guy again.
“I need to start,” I tell him.
He looks at his watch. That’s what a lot of folks did back then, before everybody had a phone. Wore clocks on their arms. Crazy world.
“The exam’s almost over!” Using a whiny voice, but I’m not cheating. I’m the opposite of cheating.
“Almost,” I agree, sort of pointing at the word, in the air. “I need to start.”
He snorts a little, sounding like old Pork Chop. “Well, I don’t have any more exams,” he says.
Like a kid telling me he’s not going to be my friend anymore, or that he’s out of cookies. I shake my head at him; find yourself another sucker. “See, that doesn’t make any sense. What would you have done if I got here on time? You telling me, you didn’t bring enough for the whole class?”
Now I get a nice, satisfying honking noise, like a very tired duck. He gets an exam out of a little attaché case by his feet, and I snap it out of his hands, and when I sit down in the nearest desk it sounds like someone just dropped a trash bag full of squids.
Fifty questions, matching and multiple choice. Let’s do this thing. Twelve minutes, that’s about thirteen, fourteen seconds per question. Bam, bam, bam.
When I turn it in, I pick up half of the exams in the stack, slide mine in the middle, and drop the rest on top. Like hiding a card in a deck. Don’t hate me, baby.
I tip him a wink and he does not return it. And two days later, I find out I got a B-.