After last week’s column, I didn’t want you all to think that I had gone ‘soft’ so this week I’m going back to where it all began.  This is all about my first summer in the seaside land of perpetual adolescence, and poor decisions with minimal accountability.

It was the beginning of the summer of 1988.  I had just graduated high school with a solid 1.7 G.P.A. and was off the leash, away from home, and on my own for the first time.  These were the formative days of what would prove to be the greatest four months of my life–at least until the births of my children.  I had my whole life ahead of me and the world was my oyster.  (I never quite understood that phrase, but I’m using it anyway.)  It wouldn’t be until many years later that I would discover I applied way too much hot sauce to that oyster.

I arrived during my “senior week,” which turned out to be the first leg on the path to a long and colorful journey.  As you’ve probably surmised from my opening statement, I had just recently, narrowly escaped the clutches of secondary education.  In the final quarter of my senior year I had actually seriously considered flunking on purpose, in order to enjoy one more year of eligibility playing high school football.  How pathetic is that?  As it turns out, administration didn’t really want me coming back and pulled whatever strings they needed to get me walking across the stage and out their door.

I had been the starting quarterback of my school’s football team.  The team was very, very good and had an impressive knack for making me look much better than I was–at least on paper. We had one “go to” play that we used often and with remarkable success.  I would throw a quick screen pass to our incredibly talented and athletic halfback behind the line of scrimmage.  The ball usually traveled approximately nine feet in the air. He would then routinely scamper 85 yards for a touchdown, often breaking anywhere from five to 11 tackles along the way.  I can’t count how many times the play went down exactly like that.  In our local paper however, it would simply read that I had thrown an 85-yard touchdown pass.  Had you simply read about the event and not witnessed it, I sounded pretty impressive.   Are you beginning to see how stats can be grossly inflated and deceiving? It’s kind of like reading Ben Affleck’s film resume without ever having seen him act.  On paper, one could be inclined to think, “yeah, I can see why he has an Oscar”. But in reality…

So I rode the coattails of my extraordinary teammates for a few years.  On occasion, I would even be delusional enough to get caught up in my own hype.  I was sort of the Trent Dilfer of my high school.  No one ever called upon, or expected me to win us games.  My job was simply to not lose them. I don’t recall ever completing a pass longer than five yards.  So at the end of my less then illustrious high school football career, had you only read about my stats and numbers on paper without having ever seen me play, it would be perfectly logical to think; “How is this guy NOT playing in college?” I quickly accepted the harsh reality that nobody at the next level was seeking a hundred and fifty pound quarterback with small hands, a weak arm, a bum knee, a self-destructive personality and lifestyle, an unjustly inflated ego, and a 40-yard dash time of approximately 6.8 seconds.  Therein lies the first fork in the road of my life’s decisions.

I told that story for two reasons, neither of which is that I am a rapidly approaching middle aged man who feels the need to qualify his own existence by regaling you with tales of his teenaged accolades and athletic prowess, (or lack there of).  I hate those guys!  I mean I truly and deeply despise them with each and every fiber of my very being down to the core of my soul.  I strongly believe that any man of this age who feels despicably compelled to woo you by living vicariously through a long forgotten version of himself because he has nothing else of any substance to discuss should be flogged repeatedly with a freshly caught flounder.  Have you noticed that every time I’m really bitter and/or passionate about something it manifests itself into a run on sentence?  The first reason for me to lead with this story is simple. It was yet another shameless opportunity for humorous self deprecation which is the proverbial “dead horse” that I have, and will continue to beat repeatedly. It’s kind of my thing. When your name sounds just like the word ‘cynical’, it’s not easy to sugar coat things.

The second reason for this as my set up story is to convey the message that believe it or not, I was at one time athletic.  I had up to this point, spent a lot of time in and around the gym taking pretty good care of myself.  (It should be noted here that I’ve not returned to a gym since that stage of my life.)  I had treated my body like a temple.  Here-to-fore however, I would engage in a long path of treating my body much more like an amusement park.  This is a pattern that, unfortunately for most of my internal organs and an alarmingly high percentage of my brain cells, would last for many years–far too long.  In fact, I’m willing to wager it proved to be proportionately longer than a project of digging a series of tunnel systems in the Boston metropolitan area.  I was about to embark on a lifestyle journey that has me wondering to this day, how and why I’m still alive.  I speak these words not with pride or as a braggart, but with amazement and gratitude toward whatever ‘higher power’ has seen fit to keep me around for this long.

I’ve said (sort of) half tongue-in-cheek that I came to O-Sin City for senior week and never left.  The fact of the matter is that I, along with six friends had rented an ocean side condo for the entire summer.  It was a reasonably spacious dwelling for seven raging teenagers and was a mere 40 paces to the beach.  In the 24 years I’ve lived in this town, this was the only time I’ve lived on the ocean side.  It’s also the last time that I logged any significant beach time.  There after, for some reason the thought of Coastal Highway separating me from the ocean seemed an impassable obstacle. That, coupled with the fact that two of the things I hate most are sand and people, kept me from frequenting the beach, at least during the day. I would still use the beach as my personal recreation area after dark.

We occupied the first floor of a three story, three unit condo building.  It would prove to be a blessing that we had the ground level unit because most of us did not have the motor skills necessary to ascend a stairwell at the end of our evenings.  Our condo had a large front porch.  It was not at all uncommon to find someone sleeping on in the morning.  Sometimes it was one of us; sometimes it was a complete stranger.  It was as if we ran a non-hostile, hostel.

Upon entering the front door, (unlikely it was ever locked), you found yourself in a very large, wide open living room.  The first thing you noticed was a massive sectional couch that was approximately sixteen feet in length.  The couch could be arranged in multiple geometric configurations; we changed it often. It was kind of like playing living room Tetris. If set up in just the right manner, it could sleep three end to end.  It was a deep shade of hunter green and by the end of our first day it had been affectionately dubbed “the big green monster.”  I loved that couch.  It remains to this day the most comfortable piece of furniture I’ve ever had the pleasure of passing out on.  Thank God it couldn’t speak though because none of us would have a future in politics.  I’m pretty sure that if you had donned a pair of those CSI goggles and waived a black light over The Monster, it would look much like an aerial photo of the Galapagos Islands.

Also in the living room was a weight bench and complete set of free weights.  Still to this day, I don’t know why.  The bench was only ever used as a coffee table or additional seating.  Off to the right of the living room was a modest kitchen.  This room would prove to be used much more as a gathering (read: drinking) place then a room for preparing meals.  Off to the left of the living room at about the 11:00 o’clock position was a large square opening rather than a traditional corridor.  Off of this area were all three bedrooms and two bathrooms caddy corner to each other.  The configuration of the bathrooms will come into play later in the story.

Once again, this is going to have to be a multiple part article. I’m going to wrap it up now so as not to lose your interest.  Far be it for me to ever be overly wordy, (wink, wink).  We’ve set the stage, and provided a visual of the setting where most of the season of debauchery took place.  Throw in the ever- present aromas of salt air, stale beer, and vomit and you’ll feel like you were actually there.  Next week you get to meet the cast of characters and read a collection of stories that will amaze, entertain, and more than likely repulse you.  Thanks for playing along.

Until next week,

Syd Nichols

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