In honour of the “Back to School” feel that September always has, even for those of us whose school days are long gone, some lessons I learned outside the classroom during my days at Crazy Go Nuts University
Lesson Number One: There are three kinds of men in this world
It doesn’t look too bad, I thought as I checked out the crowd ahead.
I joined the line at Clark Hall Pub after having completed my last final exam for the fall semester. I was in my first second year at Crazy Go Nuts University. Back then, campus pubs were quite lax about bar capacity rules; they generally let people in until there wasn’t any room to move. A lineup usually meant that you had an hour or more to wait, but the turnover at the pub that evening was pretty brisk. Even though I’d just joined the line and there were a dozen or more people ahead, it looked as though I wouldn’t be waiting longer than twenty minutes.
A girl joined the line behind me. She was a head shorter than I was, with light brown hair cut just longer than a bob and brown eyes. She wore a red Arts jacket (as an engineering student, I wore a gold one).
“Boszhe moy!” she exclaimed, looking at the line.
“You speak Russian,” I said in response. “That means something like ‘oh my goodness’, right?”
“That’s right! How did you know?”
“I just finished my last exam,” she said gleefully. “Russian.”
“Na zdrovye“, I said. That phrase I’d learned from Ukrainian friends in high school.
We struck up a conversation in line. About a half hour later, we made it into the pub, where the conversation continued right through last call, which during those Puritanical days, was 1 a.m..
I walked her back to Waldron Tower (also known as “Wally World”) and we exchanged let’s-do-this-again-sometimes and a hug, after which I walked home, light-footed with infatuation.
It then dawned on me that all I had was a first name and a residence building. In the euphoria of it all, I’d forgotten to get her phone number.
“I know a guy who works at the front desk of Waldron,” said the go-to guy. “He should be able to dig up her phone number, and I could get it to you…”
“Hey, that’s great!” I said.
“…for a price.”
“Sure. What d’you want, a couple of beers? [Moscow] Mules?”
“No. Nothing so…pedestrian. I want…a wombat.”
Although every student was given a mainframe account, very few actually used them. Back then, the user ID for your account was your student number and your password was created by some program that created semi-random pronounceable passwords like
A wombat was an account that was not used by its owner and whose password had been sussed out, usually by a brute-force program that used the same algorithm as the random password generator. They were rumoured to exist and were highly sought-after by Crazy Go Nuts University’s nerds.
Luckily, I knew someone who might know where I could get a wombat. He called himself the Silver Bullet.
Silver Bullet was the uber-nerd at Crazy Go Nuts University. He had the standard nerd appearance of the day: stringy, greasy brown hair, glasses, pallid complexion, skinny as a rail. He took it one step further: since the department of computer science had no jackets of their own (you simply wore the Arts and Science jacket), he did what any self-respecting geek would do: he made on himself. His was a demin jacket with “QUEEN’S COMPUTER SCIENCE” spelled out in old computer chips. He pointed me in the direction of a fourth-year student who’d made a habit out of collecting wombats.
“Hey,” said the Wombat Collector, “you’re one of the guys who runs the Star Trek club, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” I was the Helmsman of the Crazy Go Nuts University Star Trek Club. My role was to do PR and advertising, a role I was chosen for because I moved among nerds and “normals” and because I’d made a name for myself as a cartoonist.
“You draw all their ads, right? Where Wesley Crusher dies a horrible, painful death?”
“Yeah.” I’d made a rep for myself with those.
“Draw me a couple and I’ll give you a wombat.”
(Wil, if you’re reading this, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I was young and needed the wombat.)
E. and I were in semi-regular, somewhat flirty contact. We met once a week at Clark Hall Pub, but being a younger, stupider version of my present suave self, I had no idea how to push things past the dreaded “friend zone”.
Valentine’s Day was approaching, and my friend Lori (who would later go on to be my sister’s classmate at the University of Toronto’s Masters in Community Health program) had come up with the concept of condom-grams — little valentine’s cards that came with a condom. I sent one with a cute note to E.
Valentine’s Day fell on a weekend that year, and E.’s parents decided to pay her a visit. During their visit, E. got buzzed by the front desk. In Waldron Tower, every room had an intercom set into the wall so that the front desk could notify you if you had a visitor or a package waiting.
“E.,” said the old lady working the desk that day. “You have…you have…a…a…thing…for you at the front desk.” There was a certain tone of discomfort in her voice.
“A thing?” she said into the intercom. “What kind of thing?”
“It’s…oh, I can’t say it. What kind of sick person sends these things?”
“What’s this all about?” her father asked.
“It’s…it’s…one of those…CONDOM-GRAMS!” said the old lady, the disgust and horror plainly in her voice. I have no idea what her parents thought of the whole thing.
Let me say right now that I am glad that one doesn’t traditionally include one’s address in valentine cards.
Later that month
I don’t know why I opted to stay in Kingston for “Reading Week” (a week in mid-February during which university students get a week off). But there I was, singing karaoke at Alfie’s Pub, quite looped from an evening’s drinking.
I went home at about midnight (we’d started early) and was about to collapse on the couch and watch some TV when the phone rang. It was E., sounding a little tipsy.
“Come on over!” said E. “M. and I are drinking screwdrivers and dying our hair, and we’re the only ones on the floor!”
I threw on my jacket and motorbootied down to Waldron Tower.
E. and M. greeted me at the door in white bathrobes and showercaps, martini glasses in hand.
Thank you, God! I thought, mimicking the line from Animal House.
I’d like to tell you more, Gentle Reader, but that’s where my memory stops. The next thing I really remember is waking up in the hallway, the cleaning lady trying to nudge me awake with her vaccuum cleaner.
“Ah, Mr. deVilla, we meet again,” said D.
“Yes, but this time, it will be different.”
D. was my floormate at Leonard Hall during our first year. We were both engineering students in the class of ’91, and we went to the previous year’s Science ’91 semi-formal on a double date together. It ended disastrously with my date pining for old boyfriend and his date pining just because…well, she was like that.
We ended up referring to that evening as “The Double Date of Death” and this very evening as “The Double Date of Death II: The Revenge”. I believe D. was dating someone at the time and I was taking E. as my date.
“Well, Joe,” said D., “the odds against this one being like last year’s mess are zero. I mean, last year was a total freak thing. Once in a lifetime.”
“Yeah, just one of those things that you’ve gotta go through, I guess,” I said. “Well, let’s go get the girls.”
As you may well imagine, the date was a disaster. D’s girlfriend was feeling ill that night, and E. had eyes for another engineering student. She spent most of the evening jealously eyeing him and She Who Was Soon To Be Impaled On His Magical Pork Sword. And possibly his Incredibly Huge Nose.
While we danced, E. kept her gaze locked on this other, lesser boy. I decided to experiment a little and positioned myself so that in order to face me, she would have to have her back to him. As I moved, she turned her body to face me, but her head stayed rotated so that she wouldn’t lose sight of the Other Boy.
“Her head nearly did a damned 180,” I said when I complained a couple of weeks later to M.. “She was like Linda Fucking Blair.“
“Linda Fucking Blair” became a catch-phrase among our group for the rest of the year.
A year later, I’d been seeing a new girl for about six months. E. didn’t approve of her one bit.
“Joey can do so much better,” said E. to M. “What’s she doing with him?”
“What do you care? He’s happy.”
“Well, she’s just so…I don’t know.”
“Sounds like someone’s jealous.”
“No. I’m. Not. I just think he can do better.”
My marks were low enough to get me an academic dismissal from Crazy Go Nuts University.
Catching one’s girlfriend in flagrante delicto and then getting dumped is a tried-and-true dramatic device used to get a movie off to a running start. In real life, it tends to bring things to a screeching halt.
After months of negotiations with both the Deans of Arts and Science and Engineering, the vice principal and the Rector, and thanks to letters of recommendation from my old profs and my employer as well as strong computer science marks, I have been accepted into the Computer Science department on double-secret probation. The schmoozing and business communications skills learned from this experience will pay off in spades when I enter the working world.
M. was in Toronto (it wasn’t Accordion City yet) and in celebration of my return to Crazy Go Nuts University, she took me to see Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. After the movie, we went out for coffee, during which she decided it was the best time to drop the bomb on me.
“Er, I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just say it. E. and D. are now an item.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess that means the Double Date of Death II wasn’t a complete disaster. Just mostly. For me.”
“Well, I know this isn’t going to magically make things better,” she said, and then proceeded to tell me of E.’s disapproval of my now ex-girlfriend.
“E. was going through a rough time earlier this year while you were away.” she continued, “and at one point, she said something I think you might like to hear.”
“She said, ‘You know what? There are three kinds of men in this world. Scum, art fags and Joey.'”
Reinstated as both a student in the department of Computer Science and a DJ at Clark Hall Pub, I returned to Crazy Go Nuts University.
I recounted the story to George after an evening’s shift at the pub. It turned out that he already knew.
“I mean, what the fuck?” I exclaimed. “Really, man, what the fuck?”
“In her own way, she did like you.”
I leaned back into my chair and took another swig of Crown Royal and Coke.
“Well. the important thing is that I’m back,” I said.
“And ready to strike out again!”
“Big talk from someone who’s either scum or an art fag,” I replied.
“And going by the PageMaker splash screen art director hair you’re sporting, I’m leaning towards art fag.”