Page 2 columnist
Editor's Note: This column appears in the Sept. 15 edition of ESPN The Magazine.
I finished my freshman year in college with a 2.50 GPA. When my grades arrived in the mail, my father recoiled in horror. Trying to lighten the mood, I joked that it was actually a pretty good ERA. Dad's glare bent my knees like a Nolan Ryan curveball. Finally, he asked, "What did you do all year?"
Fair question. Looking back now, I remember long hours in the library, head embedded in my arm as I snoozed over an open textbook. I remember being unable to use any of the bathroom stalls on Sunday morning because of the various, um ... things in them. And I remember the weekend I drank too much, struck out with many girls and acted like an idiot (wait, that was every weekend).
But mostly I remember everyone from my hall on Wheeler 2. Moving in was like suddenly getting 25 brothers at once. We laughed, we fought, we partied, we procrastinated. Then we procrastinated some more. Scratch that: the prefix "pro" suggests something positive is happening. We were just "crastinating." One wasted day blended into the next.
We played so much pinochle, no nursing home could have handled us. We played so much R.B.I. Baseball and Tecmo Bowl some of us saw the characters as we tried to fall asleep. When the weather cooperated, we played stickball outside for hours. When it didn't, we played Wiffle ball indoors, the games punctuated by insults, Clemens-like brushbacks and those terrifying moments when the ball exploded a fluorescent light, followed immediately by the batter dropping the bat and walking briskly away, like Michael Corleone after he shoots McCluskey and Sollozzo.
Our monument to crastination was Wallball, in which players bounced a racketball into a wall, one at a time. The ball had to bounce twice -- before it hit the wall, then after -- before the next guy hit it. If you screwed up, you got a "letter." Sounds dumb, right? We played for days on end. There was one legendary 30-player game that lasted two hours. There wasn't a girl to be seen. Not a one.
Any game with the potential to cause dorm havoc, injury or temporary paralysis was appealing to us. In Hall Football, players assumed most of the damage: rug burns, face burns, fat lips, unhelmeted heads banging into door frames and knobs. Each game unfolded like the championship in Rollerball. By the end, only three guys were left playing, and dead guys were strewn all over the place. The only thing missing was the burning motorcycles.
Hall Hockey, played with real sticks, featured guys getting checked into cheap plaster walls, shots ricocheting through windows and, best of all, someone accidentally shoving his stick through the ceiling (causing everyone to scatter again). Winners hoisted my roommate Gene's garbage can over their heads, then passed it around like the Stanley Cup. Ah yes, college ... for a mere $16,000 a year back in the day.
For near-death experiences, two games stood out from the rest. The first was actually called Deathball, best described as three guys hucking a tennis ball at three other guys across the hall. This game was so mindless, even I can't believe we played it. "Jai alai" was much subtler: guys standing in the hallway and winging a golf ball against a far wall. No point, no way to win. You simply whipped the ball as hard as you could, then dived out of the way as it zoomed back at you at 500 mph. If your life flashed before your eyes, it was a bonus.
Dorm damage? Incalculable. Injuries? Probable. Fatalities? Possible. When we finished a game of jai alai -- usually when the ball shattered a window or was seized by an enraged RA -- we thanked God, hugged one another and screamed, "We're all winners tonight!" Male bonding at its finest. Isn't that what college is all about?
So here's my advice to incoming freshmen: make some friends. Create some memories, even if they're dumb as hell. Enjoy. And if you end up with a subpar transcript, show your folks this column and tell them, "This guy's grades stunk, too ... and now he's got a cool job!"
If they're still angry, run for your life.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, and he's a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live.
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