My First Night in College

Disclaimer: I have tried to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity in some instances I have changed the names of individuals and places, I may have changed some identifying characteristics and details such as physical properties, occupations, and places of residence. 

The best summer of my life wound down. Senior Year 2010 (a.k.a Sen10rs!) was flush with graduation parties featuring Four Loko, Kan Jam, and half-finished cigars. Late night chats on where we’d wind up in the next few years were capped by ankle mosquito bites in dimly-lit backyards. Cases of watered-down beer were finished while backward caps and mid-calf socks were doted on. The last summer of little-to-no responsibility was filled with rec league basketball, backyard beer pong, late-night Taco Bell, and softball games.

The guys who signed on to play D1 football shipped off first in August. Slowly each friend was called to leave their hometown for their next destination. Fewer and fewer friends were home to hangout until finally my time in early September had come to head down to Maryland. My college of choice? The newly crowned Loyola University Maryland (formerly known as Loyola College). I drove down to Baltimore in my dad’s Toyota Sequoia, trunk and backseat filled to the brim with clothes, high school sports memorabilia, pillows, fans, electrical outlets, cereal, pretzels and everything else a typical freshman dorm is adorned with in the first week. I bid Mom and Dad farewell and turned to face the most expensive young adult’s camp in the country: College.

On the schedule for that day – as would be nearly every day for the next four years – was picking up alcohol. This involved leaving the freshman hall with an empty backpack and coming back thirty minutes later trying to pass by the bored sophomore working the front desk like an inconspicuous Hunchback of Notre Dame. “Play it cool!” Next on the agenda was drinking said alcohol in a tiny dorm room while playing the hottest new music. In late 2010, that included the hit of the century “The Club Can’t Even Handle Me Right Now” by Flo-Rida, which, as you know, went on to break every conceivable record in music history. That, of course, was until it was easily passed by “Like a G-6” by Far East Movement featuring my favorite group of all time, The Cataracs.

I don’t quite remember how we made friends in the first few weeks of freshman year, or to my more politically correct acquaintances, “First-Years.” Making friends came naturally through the people you knew from home or whomever was standing nearby at the time. You don’t really remember when you met or how you began laughing together, but suddenly, ten years later you’re still in the same group text together. Maybe you were both rapping the Ludacris verse in Justin Beiber’s hit song, Baby.

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For me, that first night started with my high school buddy Ronny (name changed) inviting me up to his dorm on the fifth floor of Flannery O’Connor Hall. I was on the second floor just below him. Although I was only 17 years old at the time, I had been drinking since I was 13 or 14 – first sipping on Coors Light and Mike’s Hard Lemonade with my friends from elementary school and making fun of whoever made a grimace first. It all tasted horrible, but we were too cool and tough to admit that, of course.

To this day, Captain Morgan rum still scars me. Where I grew up on Long Island, beer was the poison of choice unless, of course, you were able to get your hands on a much-coveted Four Loko (the Original which, next to the nuclear bomb, is man’s most powerful yet destructive creation). In New York, you could essentially buy beer at any 7/11 or gas station if you had the confidence.

High school parties in my area meant 12-packs of Natty Light. Over the course of my young drinking career, I learned to pace myself to exactly twelve beers. Nothing more. I could get very well drunk, but at the steady, leisurely pace that I allowed myself to. I like to think I was a responsible teenager… The steady consumption of watered-down beer allowed me to predict my behavior to a degree. After around the third or fourth beer I’d start to feel good. I’d talk and shout a bit more gradually over the course of an hour or so. The legs would start moving and bopping to the songs playing. By the eighth or ninth beers, things would get a little fuzzy and move a little quicker.  Like the scene in any movie where the camera is directly on the main character’s face as he wanders through the party and everyone on his side is blurry. By the 10th, 11th, or 12th beer – depending on how my tolerance was doing at the time – I was three sheets to the wind. Certified drunk. But I didn’t ever really blackout in high school. Maybe on a couple of occasions but never did the lights completely go off.

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Oh, how that would change when I got called up to the big leagues at University.

I got to Ronny’s room at around 8pm and was introduced to a slew of characters. There was Mark, a tall Irish-Catholic with a mop of long dark hair and athletic build. There was Joey, or as he told us to call him, Jumanji – who, not surprisingly, looked like the little kid from the original Jumanji movie after he turns into a wolf – a short, muscle kid with earrings and a flat brim baseball cap. Mark and Jumanji had grown up together in the same town, attending the same elementary school, the same high school, playing on the same sports teams, and were now at the same college, sharing the same dorm room with each other. (They would later go on to study abroad together, go on vacations together, and even get the same job at the same accounting firm upon graduation.)

In addition to Ronny, Mark, and Jumanji – the room was full of guys I knew from my hometown. Guys I had known through mutual friends. We had attended the same parties, knew the same people, or had played sports together growing up. All of us had the same background – Irish families from the tri-state area, went to catholic school, played youth sports (probably lacrosse) and applied to the same six or seven northeast colleges (Holy Cross, Fairfield, Providence, Siena, Marist, etc. etc.)

As was the custom, a backpack was emptied in the to mini-fridge. Cans of dented Natty Light and a handle of Captain Morgan were pulled out. Shitty music was played from a shitty speaker – at a volume loud enough to keep us satisfied, but low enough as to not attract attention from the RA’s patrolling the halls for underage drinking.

I happily drank my share of Natty Light, maybe some Miller Lite reluctantly thrown in there. It wouldn’t be a true story of underage drinking unless the beer was a little warm. It goes down easier that way, they say. It’s sad but also kind of true…

For some reason, we had to rush. There was a shuttle bus that would transport all the under-age drunkards to downtown Baltimore to the famous, or infamous rather, Reefer’s.

My first thought was “Wow a shuttle bus? For free? College is awesome!” I was used to calling taxis and getting overcharged for five-minute rides. As we looked out of the window of the top floor of the dorm, we saw a dingy yellow school bus and scantily clad freshman walking up the hill to wait in line. What a sight.

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An internal warning to myself as I write on: These are all memories that came to me weeks if not months after this night. The next morning my mind was completely devoid of any memory of the events from here on out. I forgot almost 100% of what happens next, until slowly things came flooding back as I walked around campus over the ensuing days, weeks, and even months. There may be other events, conversations, or things that occurred beyond this that have been forever wiped from memory. If you’re reading this and remember, please call my hotline.

We ran out of beer, so it was on to the Captain Morgan. As I said, I never drank liquor in high school. I honestly don’t remember even taking shots in high school. I strictly stuck to beer. Not by design. That’s just what was always more readily available, and it didn’t taste like complete and utter shit.

We chased shots of the awful smelling rum with Glacier Freeze Gatorade. I downed maybe three or four shots before leaving for the bus. I remember getting up from the edge of the bed where I was sitting throughout this pre-game and having that “Holy Shit” realization that I was beyond fucked up. I needed to take a roadie, but since we were out of beer I adapted to my environment. I grabbed a bottle of blue Gatorade, poured out half and filled the rest with Captain Morgan. One distinct memory that proves how messed up I was… I poured beer into the bottle as well. It was a concoction of warm beer, Gatorade, and rum. If that’s not a clear indicator of things to come I don’t know what is… Sorry, Mom.

The bus lights hit me with a bright flash of fluorescence to snap me from my liquor daze. I stumbled through the empty back seats and found a seat. After a few minutes we took off, and by the midway point of the ride, I started looking for a safe place to relieve myself. After all, I’d had a dozen or so beers and a handful of shots in my bladder at that point. One might say “Couldn’t you hold yourself? It’s only a 20-minute ride to downtown Baltimore.” One does not know Brennan bladder. I peed in a back seat directly on the floor. I now apologize to all those involved but let’s be clear, I wasn’t the only one guilty of it on that bus.

After a dazy twenty minute ride through the city, the bus dropped us off and we still had a few blocks to walk to get to the bar. I remember looking at my surroundings, the first time being in downtown Baltimore, a.k.a. the Inner Harbor. The ‘ol Brennan bladder came knocking again so I ran behind the bushes in front of an office building to take a leak, then sprinted to catch back up with the crowd as we walked to the bars in Fell’s Point.

Every college has its magical freshman bar. The repulsive sweat-stained, beer-soaked, dingy lighted sawdust bar where memories are made and true love is found. The bartenders do things completely illegal in any other establishment and the rules of regular life seem not to apply. The music is better than anything you could have hand-picked yourself. Reefer’s was exactly that. It was also a nightmare.

The bathrooms. My god, the bathrooms. After my second visit to Reefer’s I realized flip flops or long pants were simply not doable. Water shoes may have been more practical. The leaking toilets produced a two-inch flood with a perimeter extending well beyond the front door, where there was an especially high volume of foot traffic of girls in heels, flip flops, boat shoes, and open-toe sandals.

This, my friends, is the point in the story where nearly all semblance of memory fades. In fact, my entire philosophy on what constitutes “memories” changed that night. My idea of brain function and the body’s ability to manage blood alcohol content has shifted. The human brain during a blackout is like the Kennedy assassination: something I will always be fascinated by but never truly understand. And I don’t think we’re meant to.  I’ve put in enough reps  to feel confident I understand the nuances of a blackout. There are different types, I think. Everyone has their own unique experience but there are certainly different flavors of blackout.

  1. The first and most obvious form of blackout is called Night Night. This is when you literally forget everything, and that stinks. You can’t get that night back.
  2. Other times, you think you forgot everything and then you see a picture, and about 40% of your night comes back into your head. This is usually the more common one in college. This is most classically called the Brown-out.
  3. The last type – and this is my favorite – is when you wake up with hope. You may not remember a ton, but then you piece together bits of the story piece by piece. You start to see clues – a new stamp on your left hand, a lei flower necklace on your bedroom floor, or a rip in your shirt. You run to your roommates and they start dying laughing. Oh no, you think. It’s not as fun when you do something really embarrassing, but when it’s just some silly things like a spilled drink or a failed pickup line, these are the most fun blackout searches. I call this the Hardy Boys Blackout because it’s a bit like a detective conducting an investigation in a dark Netflix series:

“Is there anything else you’re not telling me?”

“Well… there is this one thing….”

There is a picture of me from that night with my arm around my friend Kenny, who I knew from home before college. I look happy as a clam, and luckily it’s a pretty normal picture. But after that, it’s lights out. The details that follow were either told to me or came back to me in waves in the next few weeks.

To this day, my friend  PK says he’s never seen someone fight harder to convince everyone he was OK. I sat down at a booth by myself, again convincing everyone I was perfectly fine and to just leave me alone. There may have been some very smooth attempts to talk to the fine young women sitting near me, and I’m sure those conversations went swimmingly – leaving them wanting more, but alas, I had a blackout to get to.

I’ll just cut right to the chase, I threw up multiple times in that booth. No memory there. PK still tells me he’s astonished that not one person noticed as I spewed all over. He was keeping his eye on me and saw me barf once, twice, and a third time – keeping caution that no bouncer would grab me before he did. I simultaneously thank and loathe PK for what he did next, but at least someone was looking out for me. He decided not to delay the inevitable and picked me up by my shirt, pushed me through the bar to the exit, threw me in a cab. He told the driver to take me back to Loyola. I had been inside Reefer’s all of thirty minutes.

Within sixty seconds I was launched from the cab by the taxi driver and asked to pay him $50. I assume he didn’t ask politely… Before I could respond I looked into the recently-vacated backseat to find Kyle Brennan-grade puke all over the floor. I kindly handed the poor taxi driver all of the cash from my pastel shorts.

I walked a few more blocks to try to sober myself up. Again, this was my first time in Baltimore at night. I had no idea where I was. These were the days before iPhone maps and Blackberrys were the hot phone of choice (RIP Brick Breaker). Normally I have a good sense of direction and can figure out the layout of a city pretty easily, even when I’m drunk. But I think you and I both know, I was in no state to recognize my surroundings and think logically at this point. Remember, I was seventeen years old, roughly fifteen drinks deep in a city I had never been before with no cash in my wallet.

I remember scoping out office buildings near the water for a good spot to relieve myself. In my memory, this could have been five minutes or two hours. I honestly don’t know, but I think it was a long, long time. I peed behind a building and somehow hailed another cab to take me north on I-95 back to campus.

This time I thought it was a good idea to sit in the front seat of the taxi.  It certainly eliminated the possibility of throwing up on the back seat, which made sense to me. The taxi driver was a Rastafarian, or that’s how I remember him at least. He was smoking a joint and offered me some. I was excited to take it since the mere handful of times I had smoked pot in my life, it actually did a good job of helping my nausea. We finished the joint together, listening to Jay-Z songs, and for whatever reason asked him if I could buy some weed off him (I didn’t even smoke weed at all at the time) before realizing I had just handed the last of my cash to the poor taxi man prior to this more generous taxi man. That turned out to be a good thing.

I didn’t even know where I was supposed to get dropped off on campus. I don’t even remember where I told him to drop me off. I hadn’t seen the school at night, I didn’t know the street names or the landmarks, or if the taxi drivers of Baltimore knew the protocol of dropping students off at Loyola.

There is something you need to know about me before we proceed because I think it’s important. A weird part of me comes out when I’m blackout drunk. I like to pretend that I’m a covert operative on a mission and that someone is following me. I read so many Jason Bourne-type books that I drunkenly like to fantasize about myself in similar situations. My friends will all tell you about my rapid departures from bars and Irish exits. It’s usually because I’m blackout drunk and want to look over my shoulder with the Bourne theme playing, throwing my jacket inside out and blending in with the crowd. My dreams are usually some version of this:

This particular night, I told the cabbie to drop me off on a discrete side street in the neighborhood surrounding Loyola’s campus. Why, you ask? Because there might be a sentry in the woods snapping high-res photos of me. The spies always know to get dropped off a few blocks away in case someone is trailing them. Totally logical. Did I know how to get back to my dorm? Nope, but I didn’t want the suspicious cabbie to know where I live and report back to the crime-boss.

I must have awoken from some stupor because suddenly I was magically back at the front door of my dorm building. I tried using my newly issued student ID card to swipe into the building but it wasn’t working. Weird. Maybe there’s a back entrance? Yes! That’s where I had moved in my big bulky stuff with my parents that morning… I hopped a fence, stumbled in the process, getting dirt and grime all over my shirt, shorts, and arms and tried the back door. Nothing.

I called my roommate John – who I had literally met that morning. Our dorm room window was conveniently the first window on the ground floor right next to the entrance so I was able to stand outside and wave at John. I apologized profusely as I barely knew the guy and here I was at 3:30 in the morning asking him to get his dumbass roommate into the building on the first night out.

After several calls and lots of waving, John confirmed that he did NOT see me. Weird. I was literally standing right in front of our dorm room window. It would be impossible for him not to look right at me through the window. Maybe I was in the wrong place? Maybe there was another building on campus that looked identical to mine and I was at that building instead, which would explain why my keycard access was getting denied. That makes sense. I tried doubling back a few times, switching from the front entrance to the back entrance, stumbling several times in the process. As Jason Bourne would do, I tried jimmying the handle and picking the locks – a skill I do not possess in any way whatsoever, by the way. After a few more attempts to swipe in with my keycard I was convinced that the school either locked the dorms after a certain hour, or there was a conspirator in the works purposely trying to thwart my college experience. Most likely the latter…

Suddenly an alarm went off. I froze. “Oh shit,” I thought “I just woke up everyone in this building on the first night of college and they’re all going to know it was me.” I thought a spotlight was going to shine on me like one of those prison break scenes in the movies. Honestly at that point, what the hell? I just wanted to get to bed. If a siren gets me there, so be it.

Next thing I know I hear police sirens. I think “Why do the cops need to be here?” Then I quickly felt relief as I realized,  it must just be the campus police coming to unlock the door and turn off the alarm system. Phew, no sweat.

As I started to feel better knowing I’d soon be let inside the building, and that this would all be a big silly ‘whoopsie’ on my first night, a man stepped out of the entrance. Only the man was a forty-year-old in underwear with a bat in his hand. He looked angry and scared. I sobered up immediately as I looked around me and realized where I was… I was nowhere near the Loyola campus or my dorm building. As my world flashed in milliseconds I scanned my surroundings and suddenly realized I was standing on the back patio of a nice home in a suburban Baltimore neighborhood. I hadn’t been near my dorm building. Instead, I was so drunk that I had been hopping fences from backyard to backyard in this suburban community a mile and a half away, trying to break into the sliding glass door of this poor man’s house with my Student ID card thinking I was on campus the whole time.

A Baltimore City police cruiser slowly approached from the road, his red and blue lights blaring in my eyes. Upon sight of a police officer, every chemical in my body fought as hard as it could to appear sober and explain the misunderstanding without slurring. My adrenaline was surging at an all-time high.

I don’t know what kind of acting performance I put on that night, but in that moment… I became Daniel Day-Lewis. I was Daniel Day-Lewis, Al Pacino, Tom Cruise, and Denzel Washington rolled into one playing the role of the most sober and reasonable human being on the planet. Despite being caked in dirt and grime from the spills I took hopping backyard fences, my adrenaline and improvistational wit enabled me to convince the officer and the alarmed homeowner that this, in fact, was a big misunderstanding. This was NOT where I parked my car.

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The cop told me to hop in the cruiser. The front seat, thankfully. No cuffs were necessary. I never felt more privileged in my life. Here I was wearing a button-down shirt, pastel khaki shorts, and boat shoes, being driven by a Baltimore City cop in the front seat of a patrol car back to campus and dropped off after “accidentally” attempting a B&E in a suburban Baltimore home at three in the morning. Let’s just laugh it off! That is privilege, folks.

I thanked the officer profusely. He was black, by the way. I wouldn’t normally add that detail but feel like I should mention that. We actually had a nice conversation on the car ride back. He told me his son had just started college too. “He didn’t by chance move into Flannery Hall this morning, did he?

No,” he laughed, “he just started at the University of Maryland.” He gave me a good talk about just being responsible and I told him I knew I messed up. It felt like a dad having an “I’m just disappointed” conversation – which honestly, is kind of what I needed at that point.

When I finally got dropped off in front of my new home, my keycard access worked and I stumbled into the lobby of my dorm building. I can’t quite remember if this next part occurred that night or possibly another night, but it did happen. Regardless, over the years I’ve added it to the story because I think it ends nicely on this note. 

There was a girl who I had a crush on for over a year. I knew her back home and we had moved into the same building together that morning. That night, at close to four in the morning, covered in dirt and maybe even a little blood after being driven home by the police, I figured now was the perfect opportunity… I knocked on her door, and after a few minutes, her roommate answered, eyes squinting into the bright fluorescent lights of the hallway. I strode in confidently and immediately faceplanted on the floor – putting an endcap to my first night of college.

We would do it all over again the next night. And you can’t learn that kind of life experience on a Zoom call.

Drink responsibly, kids.

-KB

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