And by something new, I mean something over a year old. This story was originally published in When Red Snow Melts (available here! And possibly other places!) This version is slightly different from the original publication. It’s also a bit late for Feast of Saint Nicholas, which was earlier in the month, but eh. Details. Enjoy!
Paul was a shithead. But he was our shithead.
The three of us, me, Paul, and Jake, we were a crew. We had each other’s backs. Paul wasn’t the leader, but he had this kind of unwavering confidence, this grinning disregard for the consequences of his actions that meant we deferred to him more often than not. When you needed to get something done, you talked to Paul.
It was an indispensable asset when we were all awkward confused freshman. The three of us would be sitting around in the dorm, taking sips of sneakily procured beer, and someone would say, “You know, Pike’s throwing a big party tonight,” and Paul would jump to his feet and say, “Then let’s fucking go!” Next thing you know, we’re outside the frat house talking to a few people we know, meeting their friends, becoming part of the crowd, and seamlessly shifting inside.
I guess that’s the thing about a guy like Paul. He had just enough charm, was just quick-witted enough, just reckless enough that he could spot doors you didn’t even know existed, jam his foot in the frame, and weasel his way inside. It didn’t always work, but it worked often enough, and we looked up to Paul as a badass for it.
When it didn’t work, you got slapped across the face, or thrown out on your ass, or something like that. When you’re a freshman, it’s amazing. It brings the wild sorts of nights that pop culture tells us college is all about it.
But when you’re a couple years older and you start having some real responsibilities, when Paul shows up on your doorstep with that grin and says, “Hey, let’s go do something stupid,” when you know you’re going to say yes even though every sensible part of your brain is telling you to say no, that’s when it stops being so amazing. That’s when Paul stops being a badass and just starts being a shithead.
When Jake and I were in graduate school, we decided we were going to spend a fall semester in London so we could intern for a marketing agency there. Paul who was not in school, who was not really doing much of anything with himself at the time, announced that he was going to come along to because why the hell not. All we could do was sigh and smile and resign ourselves to a few lost weekends.