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My Advice to the College Bound


college or bustAll around the country a great odyssey is in progress. Students are finally getting their wishes and leaving home to head off to colleges and universities everywhere. In some places, classes are already starting and so this advice may be coming entirely too late as it is, but I feel compelled to try anyway. I do not have any children of my own and so will never be in the position to take someone to school, help him or her unpack the car, and get all the luggage and accoutrements into the dorm. Even so, I’m calling on my own experience in a huge public university back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we took notes on a slate instead of an iSlate. Pass it on as you will. It comes from the heart.

Here goes, in no certain order of importance:

1. CHOOSE YOUR ROOMMATE CAREFULLY. Do not, under ANY circumstances, pick your BFF as your roommate as a freshman. No better method for destroying a friendship exists in the annals of civilization than trying to co-habitate the same space as a person you have known and ostensibly loved for a big chunk of your life at a time in both those lives when everything about the two of you is in flux. You are better off taking the luck of the draw than trying to keep the friendship alive by rooming together.

2. BE RESPONSIBLE. You have been screaming at your parents and the rest of the world just how responsible and grown up you are. Well, now is your chance to ACT LIKE IT. Don’t talk about being responsible — do it. Set an alarm and go to class on time, even the 8:00 AM ones you were insane enough to sign up for. Go to bed on time. Study as much as you need to.

3. DO NOT TRUST ANYONE YOU DO NOT KNOW until he or she gives you ample reason to do so. You are in the “real world” now and that world is full of predators. I’m not trying to scare you, but this isn’t a stupid horror movie. If you get in with the wrong person, you could end up in big trouble. You CANNOT tell a book by its cover. Ted Bundy was movie star handsome, brilliant enough to run for office, and executed for murdering at least 30 COLLEGE GIRLS. Watch yourself. Eventually, you will make friends who will go to the wall for you and when you do, look out for each other.

4. REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. College is a time of challenges — to your beliefs, your ideals, and your character. You’ll be pressured to “change” in some way or another. Ignore the hype. If you love Jesus, don’t become a militant atheist just because a professor says so. Don’t dabble in Wicca just because the cute boy down the hall claims to be a high priest. Don’t change who you are just for the sake of changing. After all, being who you are got you this far, right? Of course, if you’re an asshole, by all means change. No one likes an asshole.

5. GET A PLAN. I’m where I am right now because I am the poster child for goal-less wandering. I wouldn’t trade my years in teaching for anything, but to be honest, I backed into education as a major. I NEVER sat down with myself or anyone else and figured out where I wanted to head in life and what I needed to do to get there. I just floated along and now I’m paying for it. Set goals, do research, decide what needs to be done and go do it. Alternatively, just go with the flow, but if you do, don’t be surprised when you are 43 and wondering, “How in the Hell did I get here?”

6. WATCH YOUR MONEY. Once again, I’m speaking from painful, personal experience. Unless you or your parents are exceptional planners, you’re already looking at student loan debt. Don’t add credit cards and other money suckers to that mountain as well. When I was in college, we didn’t get pre-approval credit card forms. Back then, they sent us a real live credit card and all you had to do was call and activate it and start burning plastic. I never turned one down and that’s why I live in a single-wide trailer instead of having a log cabin on the Bitterroot River in Montana like one of my buddies from high school and college.

7. AVOID STUPIDITY. Don’t make stupid choices, don’t hang out with stupid people, and don’t do stupid things. This is the era of social media. Any stupid move you make will be worldwide before you get back to your dorm room. The night I passed out on the steps of Tillman Hall stumbling back from the Esso Club, I didn’t have to worry about anything but security guards and rain. Try that nowadays and you’ll be on someone’s Facebook page in a skinny minute. Get drunk and strip on a table at a frat party? Hello, viral YouTube; goodbye future promotion opportunity. Ignorance is fine; it can be cured with education, but — to quote Ron White, “You can’t fix stupid.”

8. DON’T BLOW YOUR FUTURE TO HAVE FUN TODAY. You will be faced with a dictionary of choices in your freshman year. You can choose to party or study; go to the game or to the library; drink that one more drink or switch to water; have sex with that person or not. Binary choices. Yes or no; this or that. Choose wrong and you actually could screw up your entire future. Of course, that could never happen to you, but I watched it happen to people I knew and cared about. It only takes one bad decision and you could end up in jail, with a disease, with an unexpected baby, with a ticket out of college, or even with a headstone if it’s bad enough. Trust me on this one and don’t insist on finding out for yourself.

9. ACT LIKE YOU’VE GOT SOME SENSE. Your generation didn’t invent sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll so don’t act like you’re a rock star. For example, if you are at a party, do not, under any circumstances, drink ANYTHING offered to you unless YOU break the seal or YOU pour the drink. Once you set a drink down, consider it gone. Why waste a good drink? See #3 above. If you are tanking in a class, act like you’ve got some sense, swallow your pride, and go get help. Pride is a piss poor excuse for failing out of college. You will usually know what the right thing is to do whether you want to or not– do it. That is what acting like you’ve got some sense means.

I hope this helps some. Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

Modern Day Mos Eisley

The crew I used to run with in high school. This is us the morning we left for Senior Week.

The crew I used to run with in high school the morning after graduation just before we left for Senior Week.

The debauchery goes by many names: First Week, Sun Fun Week, Beach Week, or just Senior Week. I’m referring to the two-week period in late May to early June when hordes of hormone fueled recently graduated teenagers descend upon the strip of sand and water known in the Chamber of Commerce literature of Horry County as “The Grand Strand.”

Beach Week has been a tradition around the south for as long as anyone I know can remember. Daddy told me several stories about his teenage trips to the beach in the Wonder Years of the 1960s. Mama and her best friend, Carolyn used to ride down in CP’s 1965 Mustang convertible just to watch the boys go by.

That was a different time though. If you want a documentary of that particular era in the life of the Grand Strand, find a copy of the movie Shag and take notes. It’s a superb movie and from all I can gather from my older friends and family who knew the beach “back when,” it’s pretty accurate.

By the late ’80s though, action on The Strip was a little different. The bikinis covered much less, the kids had much worse manners, and no one had a clue how to dance correctly. Beach Week had evolved into a secular version of Carnaval. Looking around on the main drag, one can almost hear Obi-Wan informing young Luke Skywalker, “Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” Just like Luke, none of us listened anyway.

We left for the beach the day after graduation, 3 June 1989. Robby and I were riding together. His graduation present from his dad and stepmom was a snow-white ’89 Chevrolet Beretta sport coupe. To this day, I have never seen a whiter white on a car. It was a glorious piece of Detroit steel. Of course, we weren’t driving it. Robby’s dad, Bobby, forbade Robby to take this beautiful French vanilla wonder down to the coast. Bobby had been to Senior Week in his day plus he knew the two of us extremely well. For example, my driving reputation was so horrible, Robby (and a lot of my friends now that I think of it) couldn’t ride with me if I was driving the car. Basically, he didn’t want the Beretta totaled before it needed an oil change.

So we took the four banger doo-doo brown Subaru. At least it had a sunroof.

If I’d known how much my life was going to change on this trip, I’d have paid more attention to the details. Unfortunately, we never see the good times when we are in the midst of them. It’s only looking back when we can say, “It never got better than that” or “I wish I’d have know x so I could have done y.” For instance, I had no way of knowing that long bumper to bumper ride to the beach would be one of the last times I would ride with Robby, my best friend since second grade. Our paths were starting to diverge; I just didn’t know it.

We stayed at The Rainbow Court Motel. It was a “second street” accommodation meaning we had to walk across the main road and past the beachfront hotels to get to the sand. I knew a lot of girls who stayed in the beach front five-star palaces like The Yachtsman, but their parents were paying for their trips. Community Cash overtime stocking and bagging was paying for mine. Gas and everything cost me less than $200 for a week. Of course, eight of us were staying together (at least that’s what we told the manager — it was really more like 24) so someone was making a mint.

The first night we were there, one of the sophomores from our school who’d tagged along with another group from my class went nuts. He was a serious stoner even at 16, but he had broken the ONE rule, nay COMMANDMENT we had laid down — you can do all the drugs you want, but BUY THEM AT HOME! Any fool knows to never buy baggies from a stranger, ESPECIALLY AT THE FREAKING BEACH. Seriously, people from all over Hell and half of Georgia are milling around the beach during the first weeks and they love to screw over dumb, gullible teenagers. This kid couldn’t pass up a deal though. Unfortunately, his “bargain” turned into much more than he bargained for. Whatever jerk he bought his dime bag from had laced the pot with angel dust — PCP, and my friends, PCP is a bad day in powder form. This kid absolutely flipped out. He was hallucinating and screaming about glowing purple spiders and running around like a madman — buck naked, of course — and at the beach, attracting attention like that is a BIG no-no.

Myrtle Beach Police Department contracts with every surrounding department to get enough extra help for the two-week tsunami of teenagers. The contract police are tired and cranky and let me say, those boys don’t play. Back then a public disturbance charge — and running around in your birthday suit definitely fit the criteria for “disturbing” — would get you a $238 fine, but even worse, since most of us weren’t 18 yet, we couldn’t pay our own bail which meant a call to the parents to come get you. I’d heard horror stories about guys whose moms and dads had to come get them from the beachfront hoosegow. Getting in trouble anytime is bad; getting in trouble when your parents have to drive five or six hours to come get you is a whole other level of trouble. I know if I’d gotten arrested, which I almost did (more on that later), I’d have just ridden home on the roof rack or in the trunk. No way would I have sat next to Mama (or Daddy either) for the long road back.

Anyway, this kid is going crazy so we had to get him inside and shut up before the heat came down on all of us. It didn’t help matters that someone had come up with the brilliant idea to go get his sister AND his girlfriend who pitched right in to help by going all hysterical and weepy just as soon as they saw him. Wonderful.

We lured him inside with promises of showers to drown the glowing purple spiders. Getting him to calm down proved a bit more problematic. This dude was about 5’9″ and 115. It took EIGHT of us to get him under control and the eight of us were all wrestlers or football linemen. We were not small guys. Once we got him sort of wedged in to a couch so we could handle him better we took turns holding him down for the four hours it took the stuff to get through his system. Looking back, we probably should have dragged his naked butt to the hospital, but that would have raised many, many questions we had no good answers to, so we did the best we could.

That was just the first day. It didn’t get any better for me.

I’ll tell you some more later on. For now, know that I love y’all and keep those feet clean.