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The Real World

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By Michael Nagrant

In May of 1995 I’d just completed my freshman year at the University of Michigan, a year that kicked my ass faster than the thirty-second first-round drubbing Mike Tyson gave Marvis Frazier in 1986. It was the second hottest summer on record in the Detroit area since 1870. As a child of air-conditioning (the ambient temperature in my parents house always hovered at sixty-eight when my father wasn’t kvetching over electricity bills and worrying the thermostat), and with no window or central AC unit in my cheap summer rental, a second-floor walk-up, the incessant heat of that summer wrung sweat from my pores like water from a dish towel. Sporting a constant sheen, I would have been a perfect extra in the Kathleen Turner and William Hurt noir film “Body Heat.” It was also the first time living away from my parents without academic responsibility and I was ready to blow off some steam.

One of my housemates included an “X-Men”-loving comic-con type who preferred black trench coats, sported an ass-touching ponytail and whose email name was “Logan” (Wolverine’s real name, dontcha know?). There was also a small-time marijuana dealer/part-time pizza-delivery driver who often called in sick to watch “Geraldo” episodes, a turf-management (read: grass farmer) major from Ohio State and a wily sex-obsessed alterna-girl who rocked the patchouli incense and covered up her many tattoos with a white Oxford button-down while working as a waitress at the expensive restaurants you always took your parents to when they visited you at school. It was like “The Real World,” but “realer.”

Of course, as a devotee of the MTV show, and with three seasons of episodes under my belt, you’d think I’d know the rules of living with strangers, the most cardinal being that you don’t hook up with your roommates. But, as strange as it feels and as gross as it sounds, when a girl eats carrots from your toes, it’s hard to just say no. The alterna-girl had a food fetish thing going on, and one night in our second week of living together, while she was munching on a bag of baby carrots next to me on the couch, she stuck one between my big and first toes and then sucked it out. This led to more heat behind closed doors. After a few nights, I realized I didn’t like being a human dinner plate, and spurned further advances which led to a two-month cold-shouldered standoff.

Food continued as a theme. Frozen pizzas, which, in addition to Spaghetti-O’s and Hot Pockets, is what we all lived on, started disappearing from our common freezer. In protest against the unknown pizza stealer, we all quit doing our individually assigned chores, hoping to punish the other roommates who were stealing our food. No one took out the trash or washed dishes for three weeks, until one night we discovered the pot dealer and his friends rifling through our pizzas, thus ending in a fight between turf-management dude and pot-dealer replete with broken glass from thrown forty-ounce bottles. No one ever did go back to doing the dishes, but the trash eventually got taken out.

That year was also the second release year of Sam Adams Triple Bock, an extreme eighteen-percent-alcohol beer that looked and tasted like maple-syrup-infused motor oil. The “X-Men” dude, who also had connections to a liquor distributor, brought home a case one night and drank with the turf-management major and me. Unaware of the eighteen-percent alcohol, we drank the beers as if they were Natural Light. Soon the three of us were racing John Deere Gator utility tractors at top speed (20 MPH) across the UM golf course in the middle of the night (turf-management dude had keys as a summer manager). We picked up the hole flags and started jousting. It was all fun, until “X-Men” dude crashed his Gator, ripping off a sprinkler head.

It wasn’t all play. As a budding pre-med student (that worked out well) I worked as a patient transporter at the University hospital. One of my responsibilities was doing morgue runs, that is transporting recently deceased folks from their rooms to the hospital morgue. By the end of the summer, it was eerily easy how what had once freaked me out, moving a body from the portable stretcher to the refrigerated slab, became almost comfortable. One afternoon, the power went out in the staff elevators and we had to use the “public” elevators in the front to transfer a body. Watching hospital patrons’ faces as they looked at the white-sheet-covered body and realized they were standing next to a dead person was wickedly entertaining.

You’d think after that summer, I’d have matured, but I was nothing but a wiser fool. The next summer I shacked up with one of my best friends and his longtime girlfriend, a college grad who eventually became a porn star. (Brianna Beach is her stage name; you can look it up.) Though I wasn’t there, one of our common friends swears that he was propositioned for a three-way by my roommate and the girlfriend. With no personal sexual hi-jinx on the horizon, I instead spent one night with friends drunkenly throwing various heavy fruits including a whole watermelon off our third-floor balcony just to witness the pulpy carnage. They say heat and youth make you do stupid things. Put the two together and you might as well be Jessica Simpson.

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