Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Most Anticlimactic Keg Party Ever (Post-Uni)

My roommates and I were feeling pretty good about ourselves. I had just been interviewed by the organization that I am currently with and told that my prospects were excellent, and they were on the verge of completing their college programs, and already had some decent jobs secured. So we knew that we'd have to start acting grown up. Eventually.

But first, it was decided, that we would have THE KEG PARTY TO END ALL KEG PARTIES. The ultimate blow-off to our adolescence. After all, we were all in our mid-twenties, it was time to take that step forward. We invited all of our childhood friends, people we went to school with, acquaintances from around town, anyone who we thought would be interested.

Anyone who has planned a keg party knows that logistics are very important. Where the kegs are placed, how many of them you have to buy, how much to charge each person, etc. Serve too little food and everyone gets too drunk too fast and the party sucks. Serve too much, and everyone gets full and no one drinks the beer. The type of beer is also important. And there are few things worse that sitting around on a Sunday afternoon trying desperately to get your money's worth by sitting around that last three-quarters full keg and passing the nozzle around between four bloated, desparate drinkers.

So, logistics experts that we were, we decided on three 20L kegs (which are a bit smaller than the large round ones) with three different kinds of beer. The keg party was to take place on a Saturday, allowing us to pick up the kegs on Friday night, leave them on the balcony packed in snow, and they'd certainly be ice-cold by the time Saturday evening rolled around. One of the guys volunteered to pay for the kegs by credit card, and he would be the one collecting money on Saturday, and just pocket the cash.

We had everything planned out. The brewery across town carried the kegs, and closed at 6. My buddies were usually home from school at around 3:30, and I got home from work at around 4:15. That gave us an hour and 45 minutes to make a trip that usually took about 40. And we had never actually ever been to this brewery, and the directions were a tad odd. And because I'm volunteering all of this precise information, I'm sure you can guess that something went horribly awry.

At around 3:30, I was starting to pack up my shit at work - I usually worked until 4:00, but I had forfeited a break to get to leave a bit early and make sure that I wasn't holding anything up. I looked outside and I saw some snow starting to fall. At 3:35, it was a total whiteout. A freak snowstorm was coming through.

Now, driving in snowstorms never bothered us. We grew up in the country, and we had seen more snow and slush and ice than Toronto ever would. The problem was that no one else in the city knew how to drive in the snow. Most people never bothered to put winter tires on their cars. Even half an inch on the roads meant hundreds of fender-benders around the city. And I had watched half an inch fall in five minutes.

I got home at 4:00, and I was the first to arrive. Already, a bad sign. The guys came in about 20 minutes later, as a drive back from college that should have taken 8 minutes took 35. The snow was already up over our shoetops. But we decided to press on, even after we checked the news and heard that the worst was yet to come.

Onto the expressway, and we were just praying that we wouldn't see a tractor-trailer on its side in front of us. After a few minutes, the wind picked up and we didn't have to worry about that, because we couldn't see anything at all. We were crawling along, the only thing visible were the outlines of brake lights in front of us. We heard tires spin, brakes screeching, and every time, we prayed that we weren't driving straight into a multi-car pile up. Then, everything stopped.

In the best of times, Toronto's expressways are pretty slow going. They are, after all, the most used sections of road in North America. That's right, North America. Busier than New York City, busier than LA. Look it up. Add a freak end-of-season snowstorm to the mix, and you've got total gridlock.

We sat idling in the car, still nowhere close to our destination point, which we weren't even confident we'd be able to find in good weather conditions, and our window of opportunity was steadily closing. We were stuck on the expressway for over an hour, and we knew that we couldn't continue like this. It was 5:30, and we still hadn't done half the trip. Defeat started to set in.

"I don't think we're going to make it, we might as well find a place to stop and wait out the storm."

"Yeah, it would be kind of lame to die searching for beer kegs. Imagine our tombstones?"

But I never lost hope that we would find a way. If for no other reason, that if we managed to pick up the kegs, it would make for one of the greatest shared experiences that we've ever had, and we've had quite a few.

"Fuck that guys, we're not giving up."

"We'll, what do you suggest? We've got 25 minutes left before the brewery closes, and I guarantee they're not going to wait for us in this weather."

"First thing's first, we have to get off the expressway."

"WHAT? ARE YOU CRAZY? We don't even know this part of town at all, and even following the proper route, we don't know whether we can find this place."

"Hey, all I know is that we're never going to make it while snails are passing us at the side of the road. We know that we have to go west, and all of Toronto's roads split off of Yonge St. into East and West. So we just have to find a road that goes west, and make sure that the numbers keep going up, that way we know we're headed west."

"Then what?"

"Then we stop at a gas station and ask for directions."

An audible gasp was heard in the car at the thought of asking for directions. I didn't like the idea myself. We were all guys, after all.

"And you think that some gas jockey is going to know how to find this brewery?"

"How couldn't he? He's a gas jockey. He probably knows every place to purchase alcohol, and whatever else you want, within 20 square kilometers."

"Can't argue with that logic."

So we took the next exit off the expressway.

5:40 pm. The wind died down somewhat, so we could see a bit further in front of us. Unfortunately, solidly a foot of snow had fallen since we left home, and nothing was plowed. We weren't even sure what side of the road we were driving on, or whether we were on a road at all. The traffic had subsided a bit as people were starting to get home, but there were still a lot of people stuck in their cars.

5:44 pm. I start to get shit on for my decision to veer off the expressway, as it seems that all hope is lost. Toronto has a gas station on every street corner, but we've gone 7 blocks without hitting one. Goddammit. We try to read the street signs to find out where we are, and they're all caked with snow and illegible. Goddammit.

5:47 pm. We find a gas station and my buddy whips in and gets the directions. The guy starts giving him street names. "Fuck that, we can't read shit out there. We need landmarks and stuff to go by". True to form, the gas jockey draws him a detailed map with little pictures and such. We invite him to the party.

5:51 pm. According to the map, we're about 5 blocks away. But then, the guy tells us to turn right on a one-way street...that goes left. Goddammit. We double back and get all turned in circles. The driver pulls over to the side of the road, defeated.

"Fuck! We were so close!"

Just then, the sky cleared just enough that we could see, three stop lights away, the brewery. With 9 minutes to go. Of course, we hit every red light, and pulled into the parking lot at 5:58 pm. Doing about 90.

5:58 pm. The lights are starting to go out at the brewery, and we see the guy fiddling with his keys to lock the door. We knew there was no hope...unless...

The driver hammers the gas and heads straight for the door. He pulls the emergency brake and goes into a fishtail, bringing the passenger side door in line with the entrance to the brewery. Shotgun flings open the door, undoes his seatbelt and leaps out, on a dead run before he hits the ground. He stops running about 15 meters before he gets to the door, and slides the rest of the way, slamming his face into the door at 5:59.


After completing the 360 fishtail and stopping, the other three of us slammed into the door right behind him. The store clerk looked at us and kept going to lock the door.


"The three kegs?"


"Oh well, alright then."

So he let us in. We got the kegs, the pumps, and everything.

"So, how are you guys going to pay for this?"


"Ok. No, wait. We've already shut down the visa and Interac thing. I hope you guys have cash on you."

The four of us look at each other in panic. Fortunately, I had already gotten to the point where I had shunned debit cards and paid for everything in cash, so I had about $180 on me. Problem was, the other guys had to find about another $100 between them. We were down to toonies and loonies, but we just managed. I think that the four of us combined had $4 to spare.

And we walked out, kegs in hand, savouring the sweetness of victory. It was all we could do to not start drinking them that night, for all that we went through.

Now the party.

You know what? The party wasn't even all that great. I can't even remember a thing about it.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Rise and Fall of Carlos (Uni)

"And in my mind I'm every one of you..."

The Smashing Pumpkins, Porcelina of the Vast Oceans

*If this post doesn't convince you I could benefit from some professional help, nothing will. :)

On several message boards, Don Carlos is my screen name now, but when I was younger, there was a time where he was his own person, and referred to as such by myself and others. He was the Superman to my Clark Kent, the Hulk to my Bruce Banner, the Spider-man to my Peter Parker, the ROJ Luke Skywalker to my ANH Luke Skywalker...

I never thought I'd owe so much of my social development to my first-year Spanish professor. In first-year Spanish, we were all assigned Spanish equivalents to our given names. Since my name is Chris, it should have been Cristobal. However, since there was another Chris in the class, I was given Carlos.

Towards the end of semester, there was a snowstorm and my Spanish exam was rescheduled. So my prof called me at the residence, but my roommate answered the phone. Not remembering my given name, she asked if "Carlos" was there, to which he answered "Carlos? There's no Carlos here..." and I said "no wait, that's for me, I'm Carlos". With all my floormates partying in my room at the time, the nickname instantly stuck.

So the joke became that Carlos was my suave Spanish alter-ego, like a womanizing superhero type of deal. And somehow, over the next few weeks and months, that prophecy began to manifest itself. See, being raised in a strict household with a sick mother meant I had to repress a lot of stuff. A LOT of stuff. I always had to be responsible, couldn't ever slip up, couldn't rock the boat. Girls, cars, sports, being popular, even though I wanted all those things, I had a black cloud hanging over me that I couldn't escape. And even in university, I had so conditioned myself that even though I was doing my darnedest to break out of my shell and really let loose, a lot of things I wanted to do were so far out of character for me that I just couldn't clear that mental hurdle. That is, Chris couldn't, but Carlos could. So I started to create a new personality for myself.

Carlos didn't have a past, and nobody knew him and nobody had any expectations, so I could pretty much build him from the ground up. Carlos lived in a world of no consequences, did what he wanted and everything was based on the next party, the next date, the next drink. As university should be. And the more I slipped into the alter-ego, the realer he became, the more a life of his own he assumed. Chris never wanted to upset people, tried to make people happy, kept to himself, internalized things, pined away at crushes he'd never bring himself to talk to. Carlos, having none of the baggage that Chris had, looked at himself in the mirror and saw a guy who was over 6 feet tall, slim, with piercing blue eyes, who was also funny, was a pretty good athlete and had a good head on his shoulders. And from that self-assessment, grew a confidence that bordered on cockiness, and he became brash, aggressive, and obnoxious. And everyone loved him.

Sure, people liked polite, reserved Chris, but Carlos, he was the life of the party. Chris was the "friend", Carlos was the guy who went home with the girl on his arm. In essence, Carlos was the guy who picked on Chris in high school. In my own mind, Chris had become boring, tired and weak, while Carlos was new and fresh. So that stronger personality began to emerge more and more.

Professional wrestlers will say that their characters are based on their real-life personalities, but they're amplified so they can project their personality throughout an arena, radiate their aura throughout a screaming crowd. The negative is that the adrenaline rush of putting your amplified self out there is addictive, and many wrestlers start to have trouble turning "off" their personality. Much the same way, Carlos became the dominant personality. The problem was that Carlos was a made up thing, a shell. So people would become attached to Carlos, and there was the inevitable letdown when relationships got deeper, after the initial rush, and Carlos gave way to Chris. And all of a sudden, the confidence was gone, the life of the party guy was gone, Cinderella's clock struck midnight and all there was left was the bookworm who always wondered why people didn't respect him, but let everyone walk all over him.

I had a bad experience in my third year, where Carlos had picked up, well, a variety of women. In
the same room. At the same time. Well, that wasn't a bad experience, per se. But out of that night grew a relationship that lasted for about 6 months. But the poor girl was bounced around constantly from the-world-is-my-oyster Carlos to needy, insecure Chris. And she wasn't exactly the picture of mental health herself. So ill-fated from the start, she dumped me for another guy, became an alcoholic, and the last time I saw her was a few years ago, where she staggered drunk out of a bathroom with her shirt tucked into her grandma panties, which were pulled over the top of her pants. I sure know how to pick 'em.

But, for as bad a fit as we were, Carlos was some pissed that there was always Chris behind him to ruin everything. Carlos came to the realization that he was incomplete, but he'd rather be incomplete than have someone like Chris to complete him. Carlos was the one who put the brains and brawn to its proper use, Chris never capitalized on what he was given. Besides, Chris was just as made up as he was, a fake personality put on to please his parents that fooled himself into thinking he was a whole person. Chris dropped the ball, it was time for Carlos to take center stage.

Carlos' first decision was not to return home for the summer. I found a job at the university to avoid having to go back to my parents, so I could have a summer completely alone with my newfound confidence, without anything to bring me down. Without Chris as the ego to Carlos' id, I went on a 3-month adrenaline high: I could talk to girls without even giving it a second thought, asked people for their numbers and actually got them, I didn't even care if they were seeing someone else, because Carlos believed there wasn't anyone better than him.

I even picked up a girl who had been saving herself for marriage, but she and her fiance broke up. And well, she couldn't say she was saving herself for marriage anymore after Carlos had his way with her. With Chris pounding away from his shackles and praying that Carlos wouldn't do anything rash, Carlos shut him out and proceeded to end up hurting someone that was unlucky enough to be with the wrong guy at the wrong time. She got clingy (can you blame her?), and Carlos dumped her over the phone. And he still wasn't done.

Carlos had so taken over by the time the next school year rolled around that people who hadn't seen me over the summer noticed the change. The id had totally taken control, and I was basically a walking, talking pheromone. It was to the point where, literally, I could walk onto a dance floor, pick a girl, summon her and start making out. And it was starting to get too easy. And it should have been fun, but it wasn't. Because Chris, that conscientious little bastard, wasn't happy. Somewhere, his voice of reason, however quiet and unassuming, became a little more convincing. But why?

Because over the course of the summer, I had met someone when I wasn't ready. When I wasn't trying to turn up my personality, when I wasn't expecting someone to befriend me. I was in a pretty vulnerable spot, locked out of my room with my guitar in my arms and my luggage strewn about the hallway. And she said hi. And we just talked. And I never thought anything of it, never tried to impress her with Carlos' bluster and nonsense. So I never got the chance to be anything but my real self, my true self, and she thought that self was pretty cool. And the more I learned about her, the more I learned that even though we seemed like complete opposites, she was just like me: an unfortunate upbringing had forced her to fabricate a personality that wasn't quite her own, and she was trying to find herself, just like I was. But one day, she saw what Carlos was, and thought he was a dick and didn't want anything to do with him. And it really made me feel bad. And I knew that I somehow had to find myself, to accept that I was Carlos and Chris, and somehow bring the two halves together. As usual for me, that meant a walkman, some tapes, and a long walk in the woods.

I left campus and kept walking. In a small town, I was lucky enough to have hiking trails, etc. around my house to lose myself in. But in the city, I had to walk for an hour and a half before I found someplace where I could really be alone with my thoughts. I climbed a large rock and laid down under the autumn sun, and felt the cold of the rock below me and the coolness of the breeze that sent shivers up my spine, but at the same time, the warmth of the sun beaming down on me. And I realized that I had spent my whole life making myself into whoever everyone else wanted or needed me to be, instead of being what I wanted to be. Chris had to be who he was to keep his parents happy. Carlos was who I thought everyone else wanted me to be. In my constant need to feel accepted, I had never really accepted myself. And I decided that from that point forward, I accepted everything about me. I accepted that I could be confident and insecure at the same time, funny and serious, moody and level-headed. I accepted that in certain situations, my perceived faults could become my strengths, and vice-versa. I accepted that I'm a complicated person, and that dealing with that would be someone else's problem. All I could do was be honest with myself, and accept that I would never be all of what anyone else wanted me to be, so I might as well be comfortable with the person that I was. At least then, I'd make one person happy.

So after 10 hours in the woods, I emerged a changed man. I accepted and embraced all of myself, Carlos, Chris, the parts of me I'd left behind, the parts of me that had yet to emerge. Because all of it was me.

So since the start of my fourth year of university, I've been blessed with an inner peace that comes with knowing that I've found who I am. And having bounced around from one personality to another helps me as a manager, when sometimes you need to use kid gloves, and sometimes you come down with the iron fist.

So, you ask, whatever happened to that person that I met unexpectedly that summer?

She's Brandon's mom.