This is Blahsmopolitan, a weekly column about one freshman’s misfortune as he navigates his New Adult Life in Chicago, and the songs that soundtracked it. New stories are posted every Thursday, alongside a curated Blahsmo playlist available on Apple Music and Spotify to complement your reading and get you through the week with some new music. This week, our columnist gets a lesson in weed culture, outsmarts some sorority girls, and goes home with a stranger in hopes that you can learn from his mistakes.
Before I begin this story, I want to be very clear on my feelings about U of I. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a god forsaken land. God has left the building, and 18-21 year olds have been left to their own devices to roam the Earth and think of new mixed drinks and hazing methods. This story takes place within the span of 24 hours. It took 24 hours to do all of what you are about to read. U of I is where innocence goes to get tied up by all four limbs and attached to pygmy horses, yanked at with just shy of the correct force to totally sever it- forever in a limbo between responsibility and debauchery.
If you have even the mildest case of FOMO, I do not recommend going for any longer than a weekend. If you are a person like me, who does stupid things for the story, do not go at all. I am already considering going back to have more material for this column. It is the sort of place where every time you go out, you will be greeted by some sort of mistake that informs who you are to your very core, and you will never regret it, but you will almost definitely fail your classes if you have even the slightest dwindling in your willpower.
Last Friday night, I got a bad feeling.
Now, I am not the sort of person who is allowed to say that they have a bad feeling about anything, because I have a bad feeling about everything. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve looked up at the top of the Sears Tower, peeking over the world, and thought An airplane is definitely coming. A bomb is definitely falling from the sky right now and if I blink in the next fifteen seconds I am going to miss it and die and I’ll never see the world again. I don’t know what a nuclear blast range is but even if I get inside I am going to die.
Regardless, I proposed a spontaneous trip to my roommates.
“Hey, why don’t we go to U of I this weekend?” I offered up with a casual tone, as every proposal to a college student must be. There are maybe five different ways your invitation can be turned down in college, and in this particular case, I received two.
“I have seventy-five cents in my bank account,” says one. He’s out.
“I hate when things are last minute like that. I’m so behind in my classes,” says another.
I am spared some of the other most common excuses, including “My mom wanted to take me to lunch” and “I don’t know, getting high just seems cheaper and probably more fun.”
One of my roommates is down. We spend $36 dollars on Amtrak tickets and pack our bags to leave at the crack of ass the next morning- I set the dreaded alarm for 7 AM.
Before I know it, we’re pulling into the station in Urbana, and my roommate and I are chugging Barefoot wine as fast as we can.
“I’m being very honest about my intentions in coming to visit,” I text my friend. “Prepare me a pillow, because I have come to die.”
But this is not a story about my alcoholism. This is a love story.
I get in my friends’ dorm, and set down my bags. I’m greeted by two blonde Lithuanians from my high school days- one with a lisp and one who doesn’t talk much at all- and before I know it, I am high.
It all happens very quickly, which is strange considering how complicated the system is to prevent the smell of marijuana from escaping into the hallways. Two makeshift exhaust fans are cranked by the windows of the little room, and a mosaic of dryer sheets is organized on both vents as the air is sucked from the room. A clear Arnold Palmer bottle is bouncing lightly in a bigger sort of thermos filled with a few inches of water. The cap of the Arnold Palmer has a sort of nipple that rounds out at the top to create a little dish for the weed. The Lispy Lithuanian sprinkles some onto it, then guides a lighter to the little pile. This, apparently, is a gravity bong.
As the weed turns black and orange with embers, the bottle fills with thick white smoke, the sort that a genie might live inside. Opening the bottle, then rapidly sucking out all of the genie’s hiding place, the Lispy Lithuanian holds his breath for a moment, then exhales through a toilet paper tube with more dryer sheets strapped onto the end, towards the exhaust fan, and out the window. He shrugs and smiles wide at me.
About seven months ago, I ate a quarter of a pot brownie and was hospitalized, so needless to say I have always pretty much been an idiot walking in the weed world, which is of course the most fun sort of person for weed connoisseurs.
They get to say things like, “Don’t worry, I’ll hook you up with a tiny little hit,” or “Baby grav for baby lungs!” because they know that it may as well be Swahili to me. I do not know what “a lot of weed” is but they seem pretty happy to have the amount they have in their Ziploc freezer bag.
“My friend tried to teach me the difference between indica and sativa before, so I wouldn’t get scammed in case I ever wanted to buy my own,” I tell the Lispy Lithuanian. “I think indica is the kind I like.”
“No, it isn’t,” says Silent Lithuanian. “Indica is for real stoners, people who want just want to lay down and veg out.”
“Veggie tales!” cackles L.L., and I remember this exact feeling. My tongue swelling up and drying out so much that it felt like I was trying to swallow a hundred cotton balls, and the sudden and extreme need to put my head somewhere flat, as though a pure iron helmet was slowly forming around my skull, and that I would just have to wait it out until the sweltering heat of the radiation from my face finally melted it. I remember buying cool ranch Doritos before my first time smoking, and then getting this feeling. They were brand new but tasted stale. Like, 2007 stale. And I felt like I might have had lockjaw.
“Oh, Veggie Tales. Yeah, nevermind I hate that.”
“Don’t worry, I gotchu!” says L.L., and he refills the dish at the top of the gravity bong once more. “This one’s for you. You’ll be fine!”
I do as L.L. says and hold the magic smoke in my lungs as long as I can. I am almost proud of myself, but then I am hacking up my organs, foaming at the mouth and tearing at the eyes, and everyone is laughing.
“Why’d you hold for so long man?!” one asks, as if I should have known.
“That hit was huge!” says another, as if I didn’t know. The genie in my lungs is like, you only get two more wishes. Make ‘em count, asshole.
With my heart in total panic mode, I make my way out of the dorm.
The high has hit me instantly, and I am stumbling around frantically looking for anywhere to sit down.
“You okay, man? You seem worried,” says L.L.
“Yes! I’m just gonna go!” I know how loud my voice is, but I can’t make it come down. I am afraid that if I let myself be just high, and not high and talking or high and dancing, I will literally die. I blast “Groove is in the Heart” and put my phone in my pocket for the walk.
I arrive at the sorority house, which is not a sorority house so much as an apartment that sorority girls live in. It’s someone’s birthday, I don’t care.
We eat cupcakes that stain my teeth and do these shots called Dirty Girl Scouts, where you get on your knees and have a team of three people stand over you with the ingredients- Jessica holds the Hershey’s syrup, Patricia holds the peppermint Schnapps, and the birthday girl holds the whipped cream, of course. It is absolutely essential that these are the girls’ names. They all shoot out their respective ingredients under your tongue at once, and once they are in place, you close your mouth and shake them all up and swallow. It is delicious, and if you are a true creative, I imagine some crushed up graham crackers wouldn’t hurt either.
We play a game called Who Cares Eat Me where everyone writes five nouns on little slips of paper and throws them into a bowl. You pair up with someone else at the party and sit across from them, and when it’s your turn, you draw the nouns out of the bowl and try to get your partner to guess as many as possible in a single minute. The first round is a free-for all, the second allows for only a three word hint, and the third allows for only charades.
My noun contributions include “mimosa,” “gooch,” “Ulysses S. Grant,” “polenta,” and “cunnilingus.”
A girl named Eliana draws “cunnilingus” and a look of utter confusion crosses her face.
“I don’t know what this is!” she says, scoffing incredulously.
She shows it to the sorority girl on her left. “Oh my god, who put that in? I’ve never heard of that before. Too hard, next!”
The group wants to know what it is, and as she turns the word out to a room full of girls who are completely baffled, I remember what a very wise man that I made out with at the pride parade once told me: if you ever find that you are the smartest person in the room, leave. I grab the only sorority girl I actually know, and run out the door.
“Bye Nick!” they say in a chorus of vocal fry.
I am at the bar. I actually look pretty good tonight. I’m wearing this camouflage bomber jacket that I’m really proud of.
My sorority girl friend could not have picked a better place for my visit. The bar is called Kam’s, and it is a truly gross place. Literally every inch of the rubber floor is covered in a layer of sticky alcohol residue that sticks to the bottom of your shoes with every step you take, loudly gripping the soles and absolutely refusing to let go. There is a sort of gated-off brick hallway to the left of the dancefloor where people go to smoke and take pictures, the sort of Instagram mainstay that is annoying but nostalgic every time you see it. The DJ plays strictly mid-2000’s jams, like “Up in Here,” “Fergalicious,” “Hollaback Girl,” and “The Tide is High,” but only plays about 30 seconds of each- the only amount of time that anyone ever really wants to spend listening to those songs. It is perfect.
The drink of choice here is anything stolen, but the specialty is something called a Blue Guy- a mystery concoction that looks and tastes like a melted down blue raspberry Jolly Rancher. They are amazing and I have nine.
For all the curses that have been placed upon me, having White Boy Rhythm is not one of them. I am not a dancer, but I know how to move my ass in time to nearly any song, and I am shameless on any dancefloor. I throw my hands up, perform floor routines, whip my hair like I just don’t care, and I will do it with anyone. All I want to do tonight is dance, so I do.
Soon enough, I see a girl at the edge of the dancefloor crying. Drunk me is somewhere between desperately wanting to help, and unable to resist the drama.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” I ask the girl tenderly.
“It’s my boyfriend,” she says. “He broke up with me.”
“Oh my god, what a douche! How could he break up with someone as pretty and fun as you?”
“No, he’s not even a douche. That’s the worst part. I’m being the douche right now.”
“What do you mean?”
“He told me he likes guys.”
Suddenly, everything changes. I grab her hands.
“Listen to me! Are you listening?”
“Yeah, I’m listening,” she says, sobbing even harder at the physical contact.
“It is not you. I know it seems like that. But it has nothing to do with how attractive you are, or that he realized he liked guys because he tried a girl and you gave them a bad name- that’s not what’s going on here at all. If anything, what this means for you is that you are totally deserving of love. It means that you’re capable of making him realize what he needs, and that’s so amazing! You are amazing. From my experience, having been on the other side of this, you should know that you will always have him- not in the same way as before, but the favor you did for him by being patient and being kind about something that was always in him, is something that he’ll never be able to thank you enough for. You deserve someone who needs you just as much as he needs to be who he is! Now don’t you want to dance?”
She’s really crying now, pulling me in for a hug and whimpering out all sorts of thank yous, but still shakes her head no.
“Come on, let’s dance!” I hold her hands and pull her onto the floor, spinning her around, mouthing along with the song. As I do this, I catch the stare of a guy across the room.
He’s very much my type. Dark hair and features, a stubbly, slightly unkempt beard, blue eyes. He’s looking right at me, and won’t look away. I have never had this happen to me before.
Gay Widow Girl has given herself over to the music and spun away from me, leaving just me and the mystery man. He gives me a sort of head nod toward the brick alley, and starts walking. I follow.
He leans up against the wall and takes out a cigarette. I carry a Zippo on me for aesthetics, and for moments like these. I light his square and lean against the wall, joining him.
“Hi,” he says with a little grin.
“Hey,” I say back, staring.
We don’t talk all night. We sit together at a wooden picnic table in the brick hallway, passing the cigarette back and forth, taking pictures of groups of girls whenever they ask. We move back to the bar, he orders me Blue Guys, we dance together in the middle of the floor like we’re not in the middle of Cornfield Nowhere, USA.
Electricity builds between us that I can feel. We are inches from each other, never touching- just watching each others’ eyes flicker and burn, glazing over and coming to consciousness again at the realization that our gaze is being returned. Songs come and go- the bar stays loud, we stay silent. My chest is incredibly tight but the rest of my body feels warm and loose- comfortable and struck with passion.
Before I know it, The Straw That Broke the Gay Camel’s Back has returned, tears in her eyes, tapping the mystery man on the shoulder.
“Babe,” she pleads. “Can you just give me a hug?”
Her back faces me and He reaches out to embrace her. His eyes never leave me, with a look of mild annoyance.
Sorry, he mouths. I’ll make this quick.
I briefly ponder whether or not I am a bad person. But then “Stupid Girls” by Pink is on and I forget what I was thinking about.
I dance and dance and swipe some more Blue Guys from the bar. Before I know it, His hand is on my shoulder. I turn around, and hear his voice for the second time.
“Do you wanna come home with me?” His voice is deep and raspy. His eyes look almost concerned- maybe nervous, but that can’t be the case. I’m me.
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
He does that head nod one more time towards the door and I walk out with him. We make it about a block away from the bar and he laces his fingers through mine and holds tight.
It’s funny how even when you know it’s just a hook-up, you still have first kiss anxiety. We get to a corner, and he says “I’m having a really fun time with you,” then does a quick lean-in before drawing back again, looking directly in my eyes inquisitively. He reminds me of those rainforest monkeys with the huge eyes. Seeing some trace of approval in my face, he travels the full distance to my lips. My hands instantly travel to his hair as his slide down my back. We make out in the street a while. The best part about this place is that you don’t really have to worry about getting hit by a car, the worst part is that it definitely feels like you could get mugged for holding another guy’s hand.
We walk what feels like a very long time with our hands intertwined. He can’t stop turning his head to look at me. I feel very handsome and I feel very wanted. I have never felt like that before.
We get to his apartment, and we burst and stumble in like how they do in the movies. Lips never separating, breathing heavily, hands uncontrollable, overcome with lust. He grabs my hand and leads me upstairs, first into the bathroom where I sit on the counter and he lifts me up against the mirror, knocking over toothbrushes, mouthwashes, and all manner of things, then to the bedroom where we consummate the fact that we had a really good time together. He tastes like cigarettes, he has sex like he cares.
Sometimes, being young and gay can get incredibly lonely. It can get to a point where you feel like you’re not really a sexual being, but a celibate wingman to your straight friends, a token funny guy that everyone has, a cog in everyone else’s machine. It rarely feels like you have an opportunity to start your own love story. A one-night stand of course isn’t love, but it can be a serious wake-up call. You wake up next to another guy some mornings and you’re like, Wow. Damn. I’m really gay. I’m really in this. Being pursued, being touched, being wanted: those things can remind you that you don’t have to be a footnote.
We wake to the sound of construction far too early the next morning. We somehow manage to wake up at the same time.
I glide my hand over my chin, which has been home to some truly gnarly acne scabs for almost a month, then quickly roll over to pull on a shirt, so as to keep him from seeing the monster I am.
“You leaving already?”
“Yeah, I mean, I figure you’ve got stuff to do. I’m sure my friends are looking for me anyway.”
“Don’t. You should stay and chill for a while.”
I stop pulling my clothes on and look over my shoulder at him.
“Yeah. No rush. I want you to stay longer.”
I get back into bed with him, he pulls the comforter over our heads, and we fall asleep kissing, in unison just as we’d woken up. Hours slip through our fingers, slow as honey. We wake up, kiss again, apologize for our breath, trace fingers across bones and muscles, explain tattoos, hold hands, switch spooning roles, exchange head, bury faces in the crooks of arms, rustle hair, brush the sleep from each other’s eyes, rinse and repeat.
Eventually, it’s time.
“Hey,” he says. “I have to go to work.”
I feel like I should be sad, but I’m not really.
“Okay. My friends are definitely looking for me now, anyway.”
“Okay,” he says with the same grin he gave me when we first met. He springs out of bed, naked as if we had always known each other, and showers while I scroll through my phone. I time my getting dressed with him coming back into the room.
“You heading out?” he asks.
“Yeah. I had a really fun time.”
“Me too,” he says, leaning forward to kiss me again.
I hesitate. “Can I ask you an embarrassing question?”
“What’s your name?”
“Oh,” he says, laughing. “I’m-
“Actually, wait. Nevermind. Don’t tell me. Your name could be like, Eugene, and that would really ruin all of this for me.”
He smiles with a closed mouth, and draws back. “Alright. Well, it was very nice to meet you.”
We kiss once more and I walk down the stairs and out the door. I put my earbuds in and play “Light Upon the Lake” by Whitney. Walking away from his house, I think that meeting him was like going through an entire relationship at warpspeed- the first meeting, catching feelings, the highs and lows, the break-up and the closure.
I look down at myself, walking along the sidewalk, feeling handsome, feeling wanted. It was very nice to meet him.
But I bet it was even nicer to meet me.