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It Feels Worse
By John Levenstein

Author, College Dean, and Author's Grandmother after she took a hat in the eye

I should have known life after college wasn't going to go smoothly when my grandmother took a hat in the eye. It was the end of my graduation ceremony, and the dean called out merrily, "Now look out! Here come the hats!" Later, when my grandmother was trying to collect from the insurance company to pay for an operation, the dean claimed to have said, "Now some of the students may choose to throw their hats up in the air, so cover yourselves, for fear of injury." This doesn't have the ring of truth. Anyway, most of us just shrugged and tossed the mortar boards half heartedly, catching them on the way down. These were rentals, we had to return them to get our deposits back. But a few of the students, in high spirits, wound up, flung their mortar boards, like Frisbees, into the crowd…and Grandma went down like a sack of potatoes.

Now if you think this sounds funny in retrospect, well, you can really only imagine how funny it was at the time. But my life was pretty great right then, and there wasn't a lot that was going to bring me down. I'd carved out a niche for myself in college, putting on a comedy revue every semester with my best friend and writing partner, Mike. I had my first serious girlfriend, the long suffering Edith. And I'd even decided to try my hand at writing as a career. So I said good-bye to Edith, who still had a year to go, and would have to stay behind, ever faithful, to one day be reunited, and Mike and I headed out to Los Angeles, in a blaze of glory, to seek fame and fortune.

Six months later, eating shit, feeling like failures and frauds, with no money and no prospects, Mike and I took action. We made a batch of pot brownies, put together some mixed tapes, and took off to drive cross country, back to the site of our greatest triumphs.

Sometimes I wonder how the trip might have been different if Mike had made the tapes, and I had made the brownies. Mike was a big guy, about six foot four, two hundred forty pounds. A man of enormous appetites, he'd failed all three of his roommates out of college. Any attempt to keep up with Mike was folly. Was he a giant? Let's not get carried away. But there was something larger than life about him. A brownie for Mike made for a pleasant driving experience. A brownie for me made for imaginary hazards on the road. For some reason, it was mainly a problem when Mike was at the wheel. "Look out!" I'd suddenly scream. Or "Whaa-nooo---never mind." Mike was pissed. "Don't do that, man." I of course was indignant. Given that I was seeing phantoms, did he really expect me to remain silent? Yes, it would be more convenient if I weren't hallucinating the silhouette of a deer in the middle of the highway, but, since those were the cards I'd been dealt, it seemed to me that I had a responsibility to warn him.

Mike was unmoved. But the tapes would invariably bring us back together. They were compilations of our favorite songs from college, with bits of comic relief mixed in, mainly from this old forty-five Mike had that covered the entire history of baseball in ten incomprehensible minutes. It opened up with James Stewart narrating ("It begins in the spring, every spring, for a hundred springs…"), then cut to a couple of kids running outside ("Hey, Ma, the kids are playing baseball!") We all remember Lou Gehrig's noble good-bye, but this record included Babe Ruth's less graceful exit ten years later, when, dying of throat cancer, he addressed the adoring Yankee Stadium crowd: "You know how my voice sounds? Well, it feeeels worrssse." Mike and I thought this was hilarious. And as we crossed the Rocky Mountains, putting behind the bullshit Hollywood value system that hadn't recognized our genius for five long months…we almost didn't notice the three men in the pick-up truck chasing us.

Mike studied the rear view mirror. "I think the guy behind us is flipping me off." I strained to see. The driver nodded, pointed as if to say, "Yes, you," then emphatically gave us the finger. There could be no mistake. Fuck us.

The guy gestured for us to pull over. Mike and I debated the pros and cons. We drove like this for a while. Fuck you. Yeah you. Pull over. Mike and I hoped the driving and venting would somehow mellow them out, but when we finally decided to pull into a gas station to face our accusers, they jumped out of the pick-up truck, furious. Curiously, the extra driving had only served to further enrage them. "I don't know how you drive in California, but you're in Colorado. You cut off a buddy of mine back at the pass, and he CBed to tell us what you done. I don't know how you drive in California--I know how you drive in California, I was stationed at Camp Pendleton--but that's not how we drive here in Colorado."

I immediately sold Mike out. "I was in the passenger seat, I don't even know what's going on." Mike stepped forward, shaking hands like he was running for mayor, apologizing profusely, and the men seemed to settle down a bit. "It's just that you cut off a buddy of mine back at the pass, and he CBed me. And that buddy of mine…is my Daddy." At which point Daddy pulls up, gets out of his car, "God damn, I don't know how you drive in California," and it starts all over again. The other men try to calm him down, Mike offers his most sincere don't-hit-me-Daddy apology, and the man gives him a long hard look. "If you were a little bit bigger, I'd eat you for breakfast."

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