Nothing Witty About Regaining Wits

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This is the fifth episode of my short story about culture shock on Homecoming Day at a private college in the South. The first four episodes were, in order, “Different Goals, “A Taste for Mischief,” “All Fall Down,” and “A Stroke of Smoke.”

“Well,” Charles Dough reported, “I finally got Christian to answer one of my texts. “He says he still needs an hour.”

Marcy Trask thought, Well, perhaps we should get a room. She didn’t say it. Charles didn’t even think it. He didn’t have it budgeted. He was pretty sure the next time he saw Christian, he was going to owe him money.

“We could get some beer and go up to this little park above campus,” Charles said. “You know, it’s funny. I don’t turn twenty-one until January. Isn’t that something? I know where they’ll sell me some beer. I used to work at this store on weekends. Me and the owner are cool.

“It’s kind of ironic. You know, most of the time, when people say something is ironic, it really isn’t. But … it’s ironic that marijuana doesn’t impair you for very long, but, yet, it stays in your system longer than most anything else.”

“It’s not fair, is it?”

“Nope. Science doesn’t give a damn about fairness. Science just is, man.”

“What’s your major?”

Charles smiled. “Psychology,” he said. “At least we’re not talking about the weather.”

“No, I’m serious. What led you to psychology?”

“The pot’s wearing off, isn’t it?”

“A little.”

“Okay, Marcy. Here’s the story. When I was a freshman, I took an elective psychology course. One day, early in the term, the professor announced to us all that he knew some of us were coming to class high. He said he didn’t know which ones, but it was just a reliable estimate. He said that, the way the mind works, it probably wasn’t the best thing to come to class high, but, if we were going to come to class high, we also should get high before we took the tests.

“I said, shit, this is for me.”

“That’s so funny,” she said. “Maybe that’s what I need to study.”

“I should say, you know, I’m not really quite as much of a derelict as you probably think,” Charles said. “I’m doing okay. I’m on course to graduate on time. I’ve got, like, a two-point-eight. It’s pretty good. I don’t stagger around campus stoned, as a general rule, all the time. It’s Homecoming, and everybody makes such a big deal of it, and Christian and I thought we’d sort of celebrate the Anti-Homecoming, and that’s why I played soccer this morning, and then I just … got high and decided … I was going over to the game dressed like I was, playing, all sweaty and shit. And stoned. Very stoned.

“In a way, it’s kind of bad. I ate one of those brownies, and then I was thinking, well, what a waste of good weed, ‘cause, like, it took Susie so much of it to, I think, make this pot-enriched oil or something, she tried to explain it to Christian, and he tried to explain it to me, but, now that I’ve been high all fucking day, it might not be that big of a waste, but I still don’t like it ‘cause it’s not good to just be completely jangled all day long. And I really did something stupid because I was just high as hell and thought it would be funny.”

“Which it was,” Marcy said.

“Yeah. Funny as hell.”

“Funny as fuck. Can you imagine what’s happened to Mr. McCutcheon?”

“I’m sorta scared,” Charles said. “I hope the police ain’t involved. I guess, if they are, maybe they’re campus cops. Public safety. We call it Pubic Safety. The cruisers, they got ‘Public Safety’ written above the fenders. Christian took a Swiss Army knife one night and peeled the ‘L’s’ off one of those cars one night when we were just walking by one of the frat houses, and the cops were raiding it or something.

“They’re cooler than the Sheriff’s Department. Some of them actually got a sense of humor. I can’t believe I gave that old man that brownie, though. It was so spontaneous. I just had this feeling, like, you know, this old asshole coming up to me, it’s destiny. It’s fate. I couldn’t pass it up, man. And I ain’t never been on pot brownies before, neither.”

It took a little longer, but Marcy finished off her half of the pizza. Charles paid the bill.

Tripp McCutcheon was disappointed that Marcy hadn’t found him. He didn’t want to face his parents. Trent was seriously pissed at him for not helping get Dad to the car. He didn’t care. He didn’t want to make that scene. He had been passively waiting for his girlfriend, and, now, reluctantly, he had to move. His folks were going to walk right out the door across the walkway, and Dad would be stoned, and Mom would be drunk, and Trent would be pissed and sulking.

Tripp decided he’d hitchhike, bum a ride, maybe even, God forbid, walk to an old frame house in a neighborhood just beyond the opposite side of campus. He was playing tennis at Calliham next year, and he had become buds with several of guys on the team, and those guys lived in that house, rented it, and sold marijuana out of it. The Number Three singles player was a freshman named Joel Something Italian. It was ridiculous Tripp couldn’t think of the name. They were buds. Joel was his source, his contact. He needed some.

Marconi was his name. Joel Marconi. Or was that the name of the dude who invented the radio telegraph?

Jonny McCutcheon had gone to the game with no plans other than to be his usual condescending, snobbish, and in control. Now the sun was sinking, he was sitting in his Calliham College folding chair, and he was drunk and something else. He couldn’t think clearly but was vaguely aware that something had gone terribly wrong. He was on something.

Marissa was drunk and irritable, but Jonny could tune her out. Trent was restless, stuck there because it was obvious he was going to have to drive his parents home. He wanted to go to the rec center where he could shoot pool with his cronies on the Our Redeemer golf team and sneak outside from time to time to smoke in the parking lot.

Everyone else had left the VIP lot. A van from Boylston Catering was parked on the edge of the road. Three men sat inside, waiting to dissemble the McCutcheon’s pop-up tent and pick up the dirty pans.

“Look at that old bastard,” Manny Garcia said. “He’s drunk on his ass, just sitting there, trying to get sober enough to leave. My wife, she’s gonna be so pissed. We were supposed to go to the movies.”

“Ain’t nothing happening here,” Roland Sturkey said. “Let’s go get some beer. They ain’t leaving in the next few minutes. What you think, Jerry?”

“I’ll drink a couple,” said the third, who was sitting in a folding chair because the van had only two seats.

“We’ll drop Manny off, let him get home,” Roland said. “Me and you can clean the shit up.”

“We better pick up a flashlight,” Jerry Lindsey said. “It’ll be dark by the time we get back.”

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The campus had a jogging path, part of which included the double-sided avenue that ran past fountains down the Calliham College mall. Regardless of the path used – up and around Doug Tussle Stadium, the dorms, the tennis courts – almost everyone ran “the hill,” which was a narrow, paved path above Lake Highlander that included a small park at its high point, complete with a horseshoe pit and picnic tables. No one was jogging at dusk on Homecoming.

Charles Dough and Marcy Trask trudged up the hill with a six-pack of Sam Adams in a zip-up bag that was supposed to provide insulation and keep it cold. They sat at a concrete picnic table, and Charles had always wondered how the tables had gotten there, as the path wasn’t wide enough for trucks.

“It’s good to get a little sweat circulating,” Charles said as he screwed off the cap on a beer and handed it to Marcy. “It’s good you’re wearing a long-sleeved shirt. Mosquitoes probably carry you away, otherwise.”

“This is beautiful,” she said, gazing across the lake.

Jonny McCutcheon was, by dusk, gathering his wits about him. He had been naughty, and then he had been almost comatose, and then he had regained the ability to walk, and, finally, he ruminated in the lot, sitting in his canvass chair as if it were a throne. Now he was getting angry.

He carried a cell phone for convenience, not recreation. Jonny wasn’t on Facebook and generally didn’t respond to texts with other texts. He either ignored them or called back. Jonny refused just to succumb to changing technology. That infernal phone – the company issued him a new one at just about the precise point where he knew how to work the previous one – wasted more time than it saved, or it did to those who fell under its spell. Jonny kept it at a distance, just like his sons.

Finally, the imaginary gates in his thick head were opening, and Jonny realized he had been drugged. It was the brownie the hippie gave him. Something had been in it. Eating it had been against Jonny’s better instincts, but he had been drinking, and instincts were in short supply. It had been an unthinking act. He’d have thrown the damn thing in the trash had a can been nearby.

The kid probably thought it a grand joke. He was still laughing about it now. He should’ve known with whom he was dealing. No faggoty little student was going to humiliate McCutcheon and get away with it.

“Marissa, fix me a goddamned drink,” Jonny said. “I’m coming around.”

“Jonny …”

“Fix me a goddamned drink, I said.”

The college’s switchboard was on speed dial. He called, had to punch in several numbers so that the robo-operator could speak with him in English and direct him to the next robo-operator in the Public Safety Department. That bitch played some music for a while, and Jonny had drained most of his bourbon and melted most of its ice by the time he suspected the voice on the other end might be breathing.

“Send an officer to the VIP lot at the stadium,” Jonny commanded. “I’ve got an emergency.”

“Would you like medical assistance, sir?”

“Nope. I’d like criminal assistance. I’d like a student apprehended and, preferably, skinned in public.”

“This is a busy time, sir. It’s Homecoming, and our officers are involved in a number of incidents.”

“Look, whoever you are,” Jonny said. “You would probably be shocked at how much of your salary I pay. Now get a goddamned officer over here, and I mean right now.”

He hung up.

“Dad, why don’t we just go home?” Trent asked.

“Why don’t you just shut the hell up and bring me one of those cigarettes I been watching you smoke? Marissa, fix me another drink.”

“Jonny, don’t you think it might not be a good idea for you to be drinking, since you’ve summoned the police.”

“They’re not the police,” he roared. “They’re Public Safety, which is kind of ridiculous at a private college, but they’re not gonna hassle me. If the circumstances were different, I’d offer them a drink, but they’re gonna find that little shit who drugged me, and he won’t be going to college here or anywhere else come Monday.”

This story is just about ready for its grand finale. Thanks for following along. You may enjoy my non-fiction blogs at, and there are both fiction and non-fiction books of mine available here:


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