Tag Archives: Ann Arbor

Story of the Day: 2-23-11

Don’t Call Me Dude

I’ve never been good with directions. Just one of the many things men are supposed to do well that I have never quite grasped. I have lived in Los Angeles for five years now, and I’m still a mess every time I get on the freeway. It doesn’t help that the three major highways one uses to get around LA are called the 10, the 110, and the 101. You’d have to be some kind of Einstein to keep those three separate.

Knowing this about myself, it was probably foreseeable that any plan to walk from Zeta Psi to East Quad going strictly through backyards was bound to end in disaster. It seemed like a great idea at one o’ clock on a Friday night, when both Josh and I were seven sheets to the wind. We probably should have taken into account the weather before hatching our plan; Ann Arbor was in the midst of the biggest snowstorm of the year and it was FREEZING. Also, Josh was wearing a sleeveless vest and a t-shirt. In retrospect, not the best idea we’ve ever had.

I’m not sure quite where we took a wrong turn. Zeta Psi was a straight shot from East Quad, about five blocks south on East University. But once we made that first wrong turn, we just kept on wrong-turning.

After about 1/2 an hour of walking, we decided it was time to abandon our backyard plan. What we needed was to find a main street, any main street. Wherever we were, none of the street names were recognizable. We soldiered on through the driving snow, completely off our bearings. Every few blocks we’d see a street we thought we recognized; we’d follow it and end up in yet another completely alien environment.

1/2 an hour turned into an hour turned into 2. We began to get desperate, looking for garages where we could crash for the rest of the night. We wanted to hitchhike, but the roads were frozen over and there were no cars to be found anywhere. I seriously began to wonder if we would make it out alive. Just our luck we’d freeze to death in a highly populated city because we drunkenly thought it would be fun to walk home through backyards.

Finally, after several hours of walking, we stumbled upon an open warehouse where newspapers were being distributed for morning deliveries. We walked in like two visitors from Antarctica, icicles dangling from our body parts. We could barely contain our joy at being given a second chance at life. We walked up to the nearest person, a grizzled old newspaper-delivery veteran and explained our situation.

“We’ve been walking for hours, and we need a ride back to our dorm,” we stammered breathlessly. “Can you please help us?” Reluctantly, the guy agreed to give us a ride. I’m sure there was nothing charming about two semi-coherent college students begging for a ride when the guy was just trying to do his job and get on with his life. But we didn’t give two shits about what kind of impression we were making; we’d survived, and that was all that mattered.

We thanked the man profusely as he drove us back to our dorm. It turned out we were several miles away from campus; how we’d gotten there was anybody’s guess. “Dude,” we told the guy when he dropped us off at East Quad. “We can’t thank you enough. You saved our lives.”

He cast a steely-eyed glance at Josh and me, clearly unmoved by our gratitude. “Don’t call me dude,” he said in a menacing growl, then peeled off down the road.


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Story of the Day: 2-2-11

The Legend of Scary Gary Part 3

Before we could move to New York, we needed a place to move to. Luckily, Don knew an old queen with an apartment in Spanish Harlem where we could crash for a week while we looked for a place. Don’s straight, but he was a musical theater major who worked out all the time, so old queens fell all over themselves to give him the keys to their apartments.

The day we left, Don informed me that we had to stop and pick up his friend Jill on the way. I had no idea anyone was going with us, but Don was the master of the ol’ switcheroo. And more often than not, the switcheroo was directly connected to the possibility of Don getting laid.

Jill was okay, but I didn’t really get much of a chance to connect with her. That is to say, I thought she was just okay at the time … over time we became really close. But that’s a story for another time. On the apartment-hunting trip, at least, we didn’t become best friends. Part of the problem was that she and Don were both musical theater people, and they forced me to listen to the Rent soundtrack all the way to New York and back while they harmonized along in musical theatery vibratos. That was most of the problem actually. The other part of the problem was that she and Don seemed to have a thing for each other and I was the giggling jackass who had invited myself along to their party. But if this was what it took to get me out of my pathetic post-collegiate haze, then I was prepared to suffer.

My roommate Jesse in Ann Arbor was from New York, so before we left, I asked him how to find an apartment once we got there. He told me to check the back of The Village Voice. So as soon as we got to New York, I stopped into the nearest convenience store … which I soon learned was called a “bodega” in New York … and bought a copy of the Voice. New Yorkers will immediately recognize the rookie mistake in that statement – the Voice is free. The guy at the bodega wasn’t even sure how much to charge. He was polite enough to take my money when I offered it, though.

The Voice turned out to be useless. Unless you woke up at 5 AM on Wednesday, the day it came out, there was no chance of you getting a no-fee apartment. We had to go the other route, which was to hire a broker. I’m not sure if it still works this way, but back then, apartment brokers in New York took it from both ends. The landlord would pay them to find a renter, and the renter would pay them to find an apartment. It was not cheap, either; one and ½ month’s rent was typical. My second apartment was right above the realty office. I paid the broker something like $1500 to unlock the upstairs’ door.

After a few days of hunting, we found a place in Astoria, Queens, right off the Ditmars stop on the N/R line. It was small, but good enough for two people. Good enough for two people. Not quite so good for three. But Jill couldn’t find a place, so three it became, with the agreement that Jill would move out after we had settled and gotten our bearings. I was somewhat annoyed with this arrangement, having little interest in becoming a third wheel in my own apartment.

I soon learned that three wheels weren’t nearly enough. We needed four wheels, five wheels. We need an army. It was the only way we were going to survive living upstairs from Scary Gary.

— to be continued —

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Story of the Day: 1-31-11

The Legend of Scary Gary: Part 1

This one might be a little twisty-turny, because the minute I started writing about it, another part of the story popped into my memory banks and I had to readjust the starting point. But it’ll be worth it, I promise. I hope. I hope to promise.

By the way, 1 month of stories, right? Not bad, right? Thanks. And we begin.

I moved to New York at the end of the summer after my senior year of college. That summer, I had been working in the children’s section at Borders in Ann Arbor with no idea of what I should do with the rest of my life. I wasn’t very worried about it, because I was young and that summer was filled with a steady diet of shenanigans. It’s hard to get too worried about anything when shenanigans are on the menu.

Borders was the best place to work, especially in the children’s section, where we got to do fun things like read books to kids at story hour and figure out how to shelf that annoying series of kids’ books with the googly-eyed animals in which the round, liquid-filled googly-eyes jut out 2 inches on either side of the cover.

That was also where I first discovered my fear of animal costumes. Not of encountering them, of being inside them. I was signed up to wear the Curious George costume for story time. The night before I got drunk. Yeah, college! I’m sure the alcohol was still leaking out of my pores when I got into work, but my coworkers were kind enough to not say anything, even though I was about to climb into a fuzzy suit and interact with a bunch of children.

I got the feet and the body on, no problem. It was when they put the head on me that I broke down. “I can’t do it!” I screamed. “Get this fucking thing off me!” I felt so gross and it was so hot and claustrophobic that I knew the minute I got in front of children, I would either pass out or accidentally murder one of them. I had to spend the rest of the morning watching my coworker Meredith valiantly performing the task that I was too chickenshit to do as I reorganized the googly-eye books for the gazillionth time.

When I wasn’t freaking out inside Curious George costumes, I was going through the post-grad motions in the house where I’d spent the previous 2 years of my life. I moved in the summer after my sophomore year with Chris O’ Connell and four strange upper-classmen, and I was currently on my fourth and final iteration of roommates. This iteration was anchored by Lisi’s younger brother Andre and his friends. I loved Andre like my own brother but his friends were punks. They spray-painted their tags all over the walls of the upstairs living room. Not in a drunken stupor, either. They had a house meeting about it. One dude was like, “do you guys think it would look fresh if we spray-painted our tags all over the upstairs living room, even though none of us know how to paint graffiti and our tags look like the scrawlings of preschoolers?” and the other dudes were all, “Totally.”

We had a lot of weird parties that summer with a lot of weird guests. One night we were hanging out on the porch and this older dude with a brushtache walked by and started talking to us. He introduced himself as Carl. He looked like Wooderson from Dazed and Confused with a dash of Hulk Hogan. He was drinking buttermilk out of the carton. He was one of those guys that you think it’s cool to talk to when you’re in college and drunk on a porch but if he came by one of your parties today you would probably call the police.

That night we ran out of beer after the stores had closed. Carl told us if we drove him to his ex-wife’s trailer, he had a case of beer that he could bring back to the house. I was the only one with a car, so I loaded up 2 guys with me … I wasn’t about to go by myself … and we headed out to Carl’s ex-wife’s trailer, which was like 15 miles outside of town at the end of a bunch of twisty-turny-methy-murdery dirt roads. Carl’s ex-wife was so country that her trailer wasn’t even in a trailer park. Just a trailer, all alone, in the woods.

Before Carl went up to the trailer, he gave us some helpful advice.

“I don’t think my ex-wife is home,” he said. “but if she is, she’ll probably try to shoot me. Keep the car running, and if you hear gunshots, get the fuck out of here.”

Sure, we said, nodding vigorously. Of course. Of course we would get the fuck out of there if we heard gunshots.

He nodded and got out. At the door to his wife’s trailer, he looked back at us and gave us a thumbs-up sign. He unlocked the trailer and walked inside while we watched in terrified silence, hyperventilatedly. After a few minutes that felt like more than a few minutes, like several minutes, like maybe even more, Carl came running out of the house carrying a case of beer. He leapt into the car and slammed the beer on the floor. “Go!” he screamed. “Go, go, go, go!”

We went. We went like we were getting chased by Mothman. We went screaming like children who had been terrorized by a berserker drunkard in a Curious George outfit.

“What the fuck, man?” I asked Carl, who was sitting in the passenger seat, chugging a Natural Light from the case. Natural Light! I swear, we went through all of that for a case of Natty Light.

“Oh, I was just fucking with you,” he said.

“Was that even your ex-wife’s trailer?” I asked.

“Yeah, but we’re cool. I’m still fucking her.”

“Cool,” I said. Inside, I was starting to wonder if maybe it wasn’t time to look into getting out of Ann Arbor.

Carl stopped by one more time that summer, but by then we had a bigger concern: Player Black.

— To be continued —


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Story of the Day: 1-22-11

To Catch a Thief

I have never stolen anything in my life. Well, that’s not true. When I was younger I would sometimes go to Perry Drugs in the Clio Plaza and stick one magazine inside another magazine, thus getting two magazines for the price of one. There’s really no reason to buy a magazine as large as Rolling Stone unless you’re going to stick a Metal Edge inside it. 

But that’s not really stealing, that’s just taking advantage of uninterested minimum wage workers. I never grabbed an item from a shelf and stuck it in my pocket, or went into someone else’s room and took one of their toys. That I never did.

I have, however, been wanted for retail fraud. 

It was my second or third week of college, and I was at Tower Records in Ann Arbor with my friend Sofia. They were having a big sale and the price gun was sitting out on top of a row of CDs. I really wanted this CD by a band called Possum Dixon, so I punched myself out a new price tag and voila! $6 markdown. I should have realized from my time spent in the retail trenches that stores do not just mark merchandise down willy-nilly. There was no way a 2 year-old CD by Possum Dixon, a CD that the record label had no reason to promote, would be on sale. Retail logic played no part in my decision, though. I was a rebel. I laughed in the face of logic.

I took the CD up to the counter and to my surprise, they let me buy it. I was feeling pretty good about myself as we left the store. Until one of the security guards stopped me at the door.

“Can we talk to you in the back?” he said.

“What’s going on?” Sofia asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “I”ll handle it. Don’t wait for me … I might not return.”

The guard took me deep into the control room, where the other security guards were waiting to tear me apart. You could smell the testosterone in the room as I entered. 

“Nice job, guy,” one of the guards said. “We got the whole thing on tape.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’m guilty. You saw me. What do I have to do?”

“One – pay us ten times the amount you marked the CD down. That’s $60. Two – never come back here again.”

“That’s it?” I asked. “That’s all I need to do?”

“Yep,” the guard said.

“Do I get to keep the CD?” I asked.

“I don’t see why not,” the guard answered. “You paid for it.”

Luckily, I had my checkbook with me, so I wrote them a check on the spot. I was a little bummed about not being able to go back to Tower, but  there were approximately 7 other record stores within walking distance, so it wasn’t that much of a loss. In retrospect it seems a little weird that they would have a rule where they charged ten times the amount of money I marked the CD down. That’s a pretty convoluted rule. But at the time, I didn’t care if the dude stuck the money in his pocket; I just didn’t want to have to call my parents from jail. 

Unfortunately, the Tower police weren’t very concerned about what my parents thought. About two months later, I got an irate call from my dad.

“What the fuck?” he screamed. “You just got a letter from the Ann Arbor police saying you’re wanted for retail fraud! What the fuck?”

I explained the situation to my dad, and he managed to cool down somewhat. Retail fraud certainly made it sound a lot worse than it actually was. He gave me the number of a police officer in charge of the case and I assured him I would take care of it. 

I hung up and immediately called Ann Arbor police.

“Well, you’ve got two options,” the cop in charge of dealing with price fixers told me. “Number one, you can plead not guilty, and we’ll take you to court. Number two, you can plead guilty and we’ll put you in the first offender program.”

“What happens in the first offender program?” I asked.

“First offender program is a $300 fine, 90 hours of community service, and 6 months of probation.”

That sounded like kind of a rotten deal, especially since I’d already paid the guys at Tower $60 for nothing. But I was torn, because I knew I was guilty. I decided to call a campus lawyer to get some advice.

“Always plead not guilty,” the lawyer told me.

“But I’m guilty,” I said.

“Doesn’t matter,” he answered. “The courts are so backed up that they’ll stick you at the bottom of the pile and you’ll probably never have to deal with it again.”

So I followed his advice. I pled not guilty. And the lawyer was right; I was never contacted again. I felt a little strange about it, because I knew I was guilty and I have a life rule that I will never lie under oath. I have not been able to demonstrate that rule yet, but if I ever end up on Judge Judy, be assured that the other guy is the one lying. 

There are two postscripts to this story. The first postscript is that I wrote a fan letter to the band, Possum Dixon, telling them the lengths I had gone to to get their CD. One night when I was home from college, the lead singer of the band, Rob Zabrecky called me on the phone.

“Hey man,” he said. “I just wanted to let you know that we thought your letter was hilarious.” It was probably the only letter Possum Dixon ever received. 

We talked for a few minutes. He told me the band was on tour with Frank Black, who used to go by the name Black Francis when he was a member of the Pixies. 

“Do you call him Frank, or Black?” I asked. 

“We call him Charles,” he told me.

Before we hung up, I made some really embarrassing comment about how we were now friends. Rob sort of half-chuckled and hung up, never to call again.

The post-postscript is that just last year, I was at the Magic Castle with my friend Ryan, a magician. The Magic Castle is a somewhat mysterious and exclusive LA club where  magicians perform magic for other magicians. You can’t get in without an invite from a member of the club and you have to wear a suit and tie. 

We were waiting at the bar for one of the shows to begin, when Ryan saw another magician he knew.

“Hey,” he said, introducing me, “this is Rob Zabrecky.”

“Rob Zabrecky?” I asked. “You didn’t use to be in a band called Possum Dixon, did you?”

Turned out: yes, he did. Same fucking guy. 16 years later, the guy who’d called me from across the country after I wrote him a letter about how I was wanted for retail fraud for marking down his band’s CD was now a working magician who just happened to be at the same weird magician bar as me and my friend who just happened to know him. I told Rob the story of our coincidental early encounter, but he didn’t appear to remember any of it. It’s possible he immediately remembered my weird comment about how he was my friend and he was feeling embarrassed for both of us. I maybe shouldn’t have ended the conversation by telling him we were clearly destined to be together.


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Story of the Day: 1-20-11

The Ultimate Sweet Revenge: Part 3

My cool guy act lasted approximately 3 hours. That’s how long it took me to get through my first class of the day and realize I’d just made a terrible, terrible mistake. The chances that I would ever get another girlfriend, let alone a girlfriend as cool and gorgeous as Denise, were slim. If she was sleeping with another guy, I would just have to learn how to work around it.

I called her around noon to retract my breakup.

“I think I was a little rash,” I said.

“Maybe,” she said, “but it’s for the best.”

“Or is it?” I countered.

“I think so.”

“No!” I wailed. “You can’t do this to me!”

And so forth.

It did not take long for Denise and I to become friends again. We had to go through the necessary cooling-off period. But I realized after a few weeks of sulking that in my two years of pining away, I had created an image of her that was impossible for anyone to live up to. I also think my fear of losing her became a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that I was so eager to please her I buried the part of me that was attractive in the first place. I’m talking, of course, about my giant cock. I buried my giant cock.

About a month later, Denise began officially dating Tom, as we all sort of assumed the case would be. I had never met him, but I hated his guts. Which, normally I don’t endorse hating the person your ex- leaves you for, because the ex- was the one who made the decision, not the other dude. But when your ex- leaves you for a slickster in a rockabilly band who looks like Leo from Twin Peaks, you may hate him at will.

Back when Denise and I were madly in love, we had chosen our entire class schedule together. Not a day went by that we didn’t see each other, even during the tense few weeks following the breakup. The best of these classes was our film class, which had a screening every Wednesday night. One Wednesday shortly after we split up, Denise called me to tell me that Tom was visiting and he was coming to the movie with her that night.

“So I understand if you don’t want to sit together,” she said.

It was the perfect setup for me to regain a shred of my tattered dignity. This joker might have stolen my girl, but I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of thinking that I was avoiding him. 

“I’d love to meet him,” I said. “How would you and Tom like to come over before the movie and smoke a bowl with me?”

“Um, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Denise asked.

“Totally,” I said. “It is a totally good idea.”

And so it came to pass that I smoked a bowl with my ex-girlfriend and the man she left me for. Tom seemed like a nice guy, but he was no match for my superior intellect and impressive weed-smoking abilities. I was on my A-game, cracking jokes and appearing for all the world to be the hostess with the mostest. (Sidenote: Autocorrect just changed that to “moistest,” which I kinda prefer.) 1/2 an hour into the encounter, Tom and I were the best of friends. So skilled was my performance that he barely even blinked as I pulled out a knife and thrust it into his trachea.

Not quite. But I did get my revenge. Once we were well-stoned, my eyes wandered over to a tiny cowboy hat that was hanging on the living-room door handle. I rose from the couch and grabbed the hat.

“Look at this tiny hat,” I said.

“Huh huh huh,” said Tom.

“You would look awesome in this tiny hat,” I said.

“Hell yeah!” Tom agreed. “Gimme that thing.”

I handed him the hat. He put it on. 

“That is hilarious,” I said. “You know what would be even more hilarious? It would be even more hilarious f you wore that tiny hat to the movie.”

“Huh huh huh,” he said. “That would be even more hilarious.”

And he totally did it! He did it. He may have been sleeping with the love of my life. He may have been a rockabilly rockster with cool hair who probably went on to have a far more successful career than I have had. But I made him wear a fucking tiny cowboy hat in public.

And that, my friends, is the Ultimate Sweet Revenge.

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Story of the Day: 1-19-11

The Ultimate Sweet Revenge: Part 2

It quickly became clear to everyone but me that this relationship was not going to last. Any relationship with that much of a power imbalance is not going to be healthy. I worshipped the ground Denise walked on; to her, I was good enough for the time being if a little out of shape and sort of annoyingly clingy. It was only a matter of time before things got weird. About three months, to be precise.

Denise’s best friend from high school went to college in Kalamazoo, and Denise would visit her there every few weeks. A few weeks into our senior year, I started hearing about these two guys in a rockabilly band. “You’d love them,” she’d say. “They’re so funny.” I was pretty sure I would not love them and they were not that funny. Still, I kept my opinions to myself, knowing that Denise was a delicate flower and all I had to do was act a little wacky for her to fly out of my hand and into the pompadoured hair of some rockabilly asshole.

One weekend, the guys were coming to Ann Arbor to visit. I wanted to be cool about the whole thing, so I called Denise early on Friday evening. “Hey,” I said. “I know Bill and Tom [maybe their real names; I don’t really remember] are coming into town tonight. I’d love to meet them! I think we’d really get along well. So, let me know what you’re doing and I can come meet up with you!” 

Denise did not call me all evening. This was before the age of cell phones. It was even before the age of pagers. My only option was to leave messages on her home phone, which I did repeatedly, in a manner that became increasingly more frantic and desperate as the night wore on. 

I barely slept that night, knowing these two other guys had come into town to poach my girlfriend and didn’t even have the decency to meet me and shake my hand before they did so. At about 8:00 in the morning, I couldn’t take it any longer. I drove my beat up Toyota Tercel over to Denise’s house and let myself in.

Everyone was still asleep when I arrived. It was 8:00 in the morning and we were in college. I crept up the stairs to her bedroom, my heart pounding in my chest. I don’t know where else my heart would pound. That is where it’s located. 

I swung open the door to her bedroom and my heart leapt out of my chest and dropped to the ground with a nasty, bloody splat. Denise was lying in her bed, and she was not alone. One of the two hilarious rockabilly bastards — I wasn’t sure which one — was curled up next to my girlfriend, looking awful cozy. 

Denise’s eyes fluttered open and caught mine. I closed the door and walked down to the kitchen. Keeping my nerves in check as best as I could, I stepped over to the refrigerator and calmly poured myself a glass of orange juice. 

A moment later, Denise ran down the stairs after me.

“It’s not what it looks like,” she said. “I wasn’t about to make him sleep on the couch.”

Of course! Why would she?

After a long night of desperation and heart-vomiting, I knew what I had to do. I would be calm, cool, and collected. I would be mature and nonchalant. I only had one chance to play the situation exactly right, to grab hold of the reins of power and show her that I could step up and be a man when the situation called for it. 

“Denise,” I said. “I think we should break up.”

And with that, I slammed the rest of my orange juice and walked out of the house.

— to be continued —

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Story of the Day: 1-16-11

The Simpsons Are Talking to Me

I am not a very experienced drug user. Full disclosure: I have smoked a lot of pot in my time, and I will resume doing so as soon as my daughter goes away to college and I no longer have to stare into her innocent, crying eyes as she asks me, “why, daddy, why?” 

But other than that, my experience is pretty limited. I’ve never tried cocaine or ecstasy. Partly because I’ve never really hung out with people who were big drug users, and partly because I’m afraid I would like those drugs far too much if I ever did try them. Heroin or crack or meth, forget it. I’m sure those drugs are fantastic. I mean, that’s why people get insanely addicted to them. So, better to not even go down that path, I’ve always said.

I have done acid and mushrooms in very limited amounts. Acid, I did maybe 4 times in college. Mushrooms I’ve done about the same. In the grand scheme of things, I would say that still counts as relatively inexperienced.

The last time I did acid was with my roommate, A___ (name changed b/c it’s a drug story). My junior year of college, I lived with one guy — Josh — and four women — A___, Kelly, Karen, and Denise. Kelly and Karen I didn’t really know ahead of time but I liked both of them and had a fine time being their roommate. Josh is one of my best friends in the world to this day. Denise I was madly in love with and I had to live underneath her and cry myself to sleep every night as she dated a string of guys who were way cooler than I would ever be.

A___ I’d known since freshman year. Everyone loved A___. She was just cool. And smart, and funny, and into interesting things. Like: she knew a lot about edible insects, and she would hold talks from time to time in which she cooked mealworm muffins and cricket choco-pops and people would come and eat her concoctions and squeal. She was pretty into insects. She kept a pair of Madagascar hissing cockroaches as pets. Sometimes she’d get them out of their cage and let them crawl around her hands. I refused to hold them, because cockroaches are horrendous, especially evil, giant, hissing ones. But to each their own, and at the end of the day, I would rather be friends with someone who kept hissing cockroaches as pets than, say, the president of the Celine Dion fan club.

So, acid. It was a lovely spring day and A___ had some acid and I didn’t have to work so we took a tab each and went to the Arb to get in touch with nature. The Arb was, as you might guess, an arboretum. It was beautiful and remote and the only place you would want to be while on acid at the University of Michigan. We spent a few hours wandering around the Arb and feeling strange. I don’t remember any hallucinations or anything. I never really hallucinated on acid. If you ask me what it’s like to do acid or mushrooms, here’s what I would tell you: imagine the difference between viewing the world on an old school, regular definition television, and viewing the world on an Imax screen. The world still basically looks the same, but it does become bigger, and every little detail takes on new characteristics. 

At some point as we were wandering around, A___ lost her Birkenstocks. I remember this being a pretty tragic occurrence. It almost veered into bad trip territory. Luckily, A___ spent most of her time walking around barefoot and had developed calluses on her feet the consistency of asphalt. So it wasn’t a problem getting home or anything. But they were an expensive pair of sandals and she was pretty bummed out and I remember it taking a lot of gentle words to get her out of her state of despair. So if any kids are reading this and thinking about taking acid, let this be your warning: you might lose your Birkenstocks.

When we got back to our house we were still in the swing of the trip and were terrified to learn that Karen’s parents had stopped by for a visit. Talking to other people on acid is a nightmare, especially if those people are parents. Somehow we blustered our way through the greetings and scurried off upstairs to hole ourselves up in the closet until they left. I’m sure they thought we were retarded.

When everything had settled down and Karen’s parents had left for the evening, we snuck back down to the living room to watch The Simpsons. I distinctly remember which episode was playing, because it was one of the key moments of my life.

It was the original airing of the “Homerpalooza” episode. The episode was remarkable for a number of reasons. #1 It featured Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins, two of my favorite bands at the time. #2 there was a joke in which Otto is on acid and his shoes are talking to him, and we were on acid and had lost our shoes.

#3 is the big one. This is the one that convinced me The Simpsons writers were writing the episode directly for me, and me alone. At the beginning of the episode, Homer is driving the kids to school, when a Grand Funk Railroad song comes on the radio. I am from Flint, Michigan, the home of Grand Funk. Not only that, but one of my best friends growing up (and later my roommate in New York), was named Don Verheeck. Don’s uncle was Don Brewer, the drummer for Grand Funk Railroad. Another of our friends growing up, Jeff Schacher, was the cousin of Mel Schacher, the bass player for Grand Funk Railroad. So Grand Funk Railroad has been a pivotal part of my life since I was just a small child, even though I’ve never really heard any of their music other than the ones we all know. (Believe it or not, we all know more Grand Funk Railroad songs than you might think.)

But that wasn’t all. They didn’t just mention the band in passing. When Homer turns the volume up on the Grand Funk, Bart and his friends start complaining about his old fogey music. “You don’t remember Grand Funk Railroad?” Homer asks, incredulously. “The wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drumwork of Don Brewer?” 

It’s pretty cool for the Simpsons to namecheck your best friend’s uncle. If you happen to be on acid at the time, it’s more than just cool. It’s a sign from God. I don’t know what the sign was telling me, exactly. But I never did acid again.

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