Nick Suss' Sober Downtown Adventures

from Nick Suss

Feb. 1, 2014, 7:37 p.m.

“If you don’t want to associate with us, then you are against us!”

Someone yelled that at me on a sidewalk. Of all the stupid, intolerant, falsely correlated, borderline slurs that have ever been thrust at me, this one sticks out for some reason. It was out of context, ironic, rude and above all else incorrect, but it left me pensive. I’ve never been a proponent of the you-against-us mentality of black-and-white people, but it seemed like everyone else endorsed the ideal that night. How could I be open-minded when no one else can?

It’s no secret I have trouble getting out there sometimes. I’ve always been social, but I’ve never been the right kind of social. It’s tough to explain. But I want that to change. I want to be the best me I can be, and that involves putting myself out there once in a while. That’s what I resolved to do for 2014. So I concocted a hair-brained scheme. But that isn’t really a true assessment of what the scheme was. It would have been the opposite of hair-brained for most college students. Dare I say, it would have been bald-brained.

But I digress. My resolve was strong and my journalistic inquiry stronger, so I devised this plan as an experiment. I would push myself to my limits of shame and fear. The idea of engaging in an activity that at its core contrasted with my very identity was surprisingly exhilarating. So exhilarating that I simply had to do it. I, Nick Suss – quasi-hermitic, self-righteous, rule-following college student – would embark on a journey to downtown Athens.

Of course, I wouldn’t do it alone. That would be irrational. I’m not as awkward as I portray myself, but me walking around downtown by myself for any period of time would just be a waste of my time. So the question became which spirit guide should I journey with? Would it be wiser to bring a friend with a different mindset than my own or the same? An experienced partygoer or a novice? A Jedi or a Padawan? I think that reference pretty much summed up my choice, I would bring someone like me.

So I asked my buddy Glen if he wanted to join me in this odd social experiment. He rather eloquently said something to the tune of “Hell yeah!” That’s why he was perfect for this experiment. He was enthusiastic enough to join me wholeheartedly but not bombastic enough to domineer over me. For this was to be my awakening. This was to be my night to become one of the many, instead of the figurehead for the few. Glen’s assistance was merely the most important formality.

We decided we would leave my apartment at about midnight. It was a brisk Friday night, cold enough that most people would flock indoors rather than uncharacteristically herd themselves outside. Once again, the oxymoronic nature of my life, ladies and gentlemen. Preparation was key. We prepared by doing very Nick and Glen things before hand to feel comfortable. (Not that he was aware of this. I think he just thought we were killing time or being anti-social idiots like normal.) We watched TV. We recorded a podcast. We played NFL Street on the PlayStation 2. But when the clock struck 11:30, I became anticipatory. I changed out of my entirely-too-comfortable t-shirt and gym shorts into a Georgia-red collared shirt and long khaki pants with a reversible belt flipped to brown. I capped off the look with my signature red hooded sweatshirt – you know the one – and my ratty white sneakers that are perfectly comfortable. I figured not many people would be looking at my feet. I contemplated shaving, but decided that would take too long. Also, I didn’t want my face to get cold. It probably wouldn’t have. Once I stepped outside I realized that the characterization of the weather was nothing but an overdramatization. It was likely a crisp, black 35 degree night. The mercury may have dipped below freezing by the end of the night, but that was a lifetime away.

I brought a notebook and pad in addition to my phone, wallet and keys. You can take the boy out of his element, but you can’t take the element out of the boy. As I walked down the stairs out of my apartment, I queried to Glen whether he thought we were being stupid in trying this. I don’t remember what he said. I think I was just asking the question to be dramatic, have something to set the stage of the write-up. I already began to regret my decision. I looked for an out. Desperately, I hoped I would get sick on the spot or that every bar would mystically transform into a Build-a-Bear workshop, which I assume would dissuade drinking. (Who knows? Maybe assembling a teddy bear would actually be a fun drunk activity.) I figured that I couldn’t procrastinate the inevitable. I was quite happily wrong, as I noticed the light on in the apartment of a friend who lives in the same complex as I. I barged in to say hello, something I don’t do nearly enough. There were four people in the apartment, a cleaner, nicer replica of mine. For good luck, I decided to take a shot at their toy basketball hoop from the doorway. I heaved an airball. They screamed redemption. I clanged a shot off the front of the plastic rim. They told me to take one more try. My third and final shot rolled around the inside of the rim and then fell out. I was angry, so I ran up and decided to dunk my own rebound in. Yet again, I missed.

I knew it would be a rough night.

Glen and I left the apartment after being there just five minutes. The others were supportive of what we were doing. Also nondrinkers and non-partiers, they thought what we were doing sounded fun. In fact, I explained to them all of the ground rules. Glen and I would simply walk around the perimeter and the inner-streets of the city, looking for people to talk to. We wouldn’t drink, as that would be illegal for both my 19-year old self and my 20-year old compatriot. Similarly, we would not go inside bars or clubs which require 21-year or older status. Using a fake ID is both unethical and defrauding the legal documents of our great nation. Plus, it’s scary. Finally, we would not allow ourselves to give up and leave before the bars closed, which was to be around 2 a.m., I supposed. That allowed us a solid amount of time to interact. We didn’t fancy ourselves Jane Goodalls, masters of immersion into the unknowns, we just fancied ourselves awkward weirdos trying to establish ourselves as real collegians. At least that’s what I thought we were doing. I didn’t interview Glen or anything. He was just moral support. And a pretty important part of the story. But we’ll get there.

As we cut through the very campus I walk through day after day en route to the other side, my mind raced faster than Usain Bolt through the lanes of an airplane toward the bathroom after he had just eaten Taco Bell. Glen’s presence comforted me. We started hyping what we were doing, as if we were the first people ever to go downtown. I joked that we needed hype music. I said I felt like Thunderstruck should be playing. Then I corrected myself and said we should be listening to Dirty Deeds. So I began to sing TNT. I was nervous, okay. And in my defense, those three songs do sound pretty darn similar. After my snafu we began to reminisce as we often do. Before I knew it we were at the intersection of campus and the city streets. If life has ever provided me with a metaphor, it was that.

We waited. Nervously, I fidgeted staring at the DON’T WALK signal flashing in front of the outward-facing façade of the Five Guys across the street. The aroma of the burger joint meant nothing to me. For the first time in my life, enjoying the party was more immediately important than hunger. I was momentarily impressed. But that moment ended real quickly. We looked behind us. A group of five girls, dressed to part-ay, inched up toward us. From afar, I noticed them. I told Glen it was go time. He agreed. The light turned red. We crossed. They passed us. The moment was lost.

For any of you who believed my bull from earlier about the social experiment, you are really gullible. This was about girls. What else would it be about? Glen had dated one girl in his life for real, and the two of them were together for more than two years. He had dates sprinkled after, but he barely acknowledged the fact that he was the more experienced of the two of us. As for me, well, you know my history. I had a prom date, a disastrously hilarious blind date and a blind date that ended with me being too awkward to pursue another date. In four sentences, I described our littered pasts with the fairer sex. So when I say we wanted to get out of our shells, have no false pretenses. We wanted to see if we could be ourselves but still meet girls. Before I go on, I’ll let you guess the answer to that question. … … … Anyway, Glen and I had realized in the past that we are far more interesting when we are together. We have a raw sort of repertoire with one another where I feed off of him and he feeds off of me that people, even girl people, seem to like. That’s the main reason I thought this pairing was perfect. As great as we are together though, there still was the small matter of getting people to talk to us. That, that was the true problem.

After crossing the street we had the simplest dilemma of all time. Where should we start? The gridlike pattern of downtown Athens isn’t directly conducive to wanderers. It’s more of a stop-and-go town. We walked about 40 or 50 yards before we heard yelling. I was instantly attracted. As they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and I wanted a whole mess of fire. As it seemed, three itinerant preachers were reciting, rather inciting passersby with, the book of Revelations. I asked Glen if he wanted to talk to them. He said no, but he did want to walk by them to see what they would say. So we carefully watched the streetlights, it was imperative we did not jaywalk, and eventually crossed the narrow, one-way street to listen closer to the preachers. The delineation of personality types between the three was oddly Goldilocks-ian. One preacher was too fiery. One was not fiery enough. The one actually reading from the Bible was just right. I decided to speak to the preacher who wasn’t fiery enough, much to the dismay of Glen. I was accompanied in speaking to this stoic man of God by a blasted symbol of what is wrong with the college environment. Already drunker than a Fitzpatrick on St. Patrick’s Day, this shouldn’t-be-allowed-to-spawn-children, ingrate of a man started preaching his version of the word at the preacher. If I remember correctly, his exact words were: “I talked to Jesus. He told me that any f*g c**t can get into heaven!” The ticking time bomb of a preacher ran over and responded to him: “YOU ARE A LIAR! YOU HAVE NEVER MET JESUS CHRIST AND YOU NEVER WILL!” That’s when my Catholic guilt hit me.

You see, I have never fervently supported the idea of surprise conversions on the streets. I count myself as religious, I read the Bible before bed most nights and I go to Church every week in my defense, but I think that the attacking attitude that these men exhibit is not in tone with the message of the church. That being said, I didn’t want them to think I condoned what the drunkard next to me had said. So I cleared my conscience with the mama bear. (That was the bear that wasn’t mean enough, right?) I told him I just wanted to know that I was totally down with what they were doing and I didn’t want them to think I was associating with the drunken masses. Just when I thought my conscience had been cleared, the papa bear gussied on up and yelled the quote that still shakes my bones a week later. He punctuated his rant by pointing his finger toward the ground, as if gesturing that I would be damned to eternity in Hell if I didn’t distribute literature as they were. I told him that wasn’t what I said but he didn’t care. After negotiating one pamphlet away from them rather than a whole stack, Glen and I were on our way.

When Glen and I were in high school, we had some weird traditions. For instance, no matter where we were standing or sitting, if we were together, Glen always had to be on my left. On the football field, at lunch, in a restaurant at night, Glen always was my left hand man. Another little tradition we had was that we would take a lot of For-Lack-of-Anything-Better-To-Do laps. By that, I mean that in the time between the ending of pre-school workouts and the first period bell, he and I would weave through each and every hallway of the school, often passing every classroom in the building at least three times. It was a spectacle to watch, like an awkward, adolescent NASCAR event. He in the left lane, I in the right, we wheeled through the corridors unaware of just how odd our act of boredom was.

Part of me thinks that those past experiences dictated what our night downtown was like. After we had our brief encounter with the preachers, we walk two blocks straight into the heart of downtown. Except, the big problem, the heart of downtown isn’t where the party is at; that, as we learned, is on the fringes of town. So we hung a sharp left and walked past a few homeless people before crossing the street. We took another left, then a right at the Georgia Theater. Before we knew it, we had walked for 10 minutes, spoken to no one, and were walking into a seedier part of town. I told Glen I knew where I was, which I did, but he could tell that I was unsure of why we were heading in this direction. It was at that point that I remembered we were headed in the direction of a concert venue I had attended three or four times in the past. We agreed that would be a good place to start our night.

We lied. As we starting approaching the venue, we heard heavy metal seeping through the paper-thin walls of the club. Normally open-minded when it comes to music, I was scared out of my pants. I could tell the guttural noises were affecting Glen too. So we neared the club, our hearts beating in unison with the accelerated BPM of the exact music I assumed the preachers would have detested the most. We saw an ATM outside of the lounge and decided to use it to get cash so we could get in. Glen and I both withdrew some money and then made up some excuses of why not to go in. It was probably almost over. That’s a little too much to start off with. They’re probably doing heroin in there and I don’t want to get addicted. That sort of stuff. So we looped down the road again, and before we knew it we were back at the arch, exactly where we had started. Thus ended For-Lack-of-Anything-Better-To-Do lap number 1.

We had no idea what to do next. As a speeding ambulance whirred by us, derailing oncoming cars from their paths, we counted the cars lucky. At least that had paths. We were men out of our elements, trying to conquer not only a new environment, but our age-old anxieties. We decided to trace a different route, this one avoiding the preachers, the only people who would have recognized us. But first we took a brief break to walk on campus. We stopped at the frozen-over Herty Field, easily the most beautiful part of UGA’s campus, especially at night. I felt a sense of overwhelming displeasure during this moment. I looked at Glen.

“This is where we belong,” I said to Glen, gesturing down at the rigid earth below my feet. “That, that’s not us.” Teeth chattering, I pointed across the street to the hustle and bustle of the busy downtown avenues and alleyways. He asked what I meant. “We belong on this field, by ourselves, not with that kind of scene. That’s not us.” He disagreed. I got over myself. We had about an hour and a half left in our experiment.

This time we stayed straight down Broad Street. As we waited at the intersection that separated campus from downtown – the one that backed up to Magnolia’s, the one bar I’d ever been inside, over a year before – we encountered our first crowded city street. In front of us lied the fountain of youth. We gazed as young men and women loitered and lounged, rushed inside and obscured their true ages. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a girl getting out of a taxi bus. She was wearing way-too high of heels, especially given her, ahem, condition. I tapped Glen on his shoulder, naturally he was standing on my left, and told him that she was going to “bite it.” I often joke that watching drunk girls walk in high heels is like watching a baby deer learn how to walk. Not this girl. She just looked really, really drunk. She took one step off the curb, into the open street, mind you, twisted her ankle and fell head first into the cold, black pavement. A turning car screeched to a halt, avoiding at all costs squashing the young woman like a bug on a windshield. Her friend ran after her. I asked Glen if we should try to help her. Then we heard sirens. A police officer was on his way over to survey the scene. Glen managed to deadpan the word “no.” We walked away, never turning back.

We walked past two or three busy lines of strangers waiting to get into bars before Glen recognized someone. I honestly, don’t know who he was, but Glen contends that he graduated from our high school a year before us. They shook hands, I introduced myself. He introduced us to his girlfriend. For the record, this girl not only graduated in the same class as me, but also lived in the same dorm as me last year. She swore she and I had never met. I didn’t push the subject. The former acquaintance of Glen’s asked us what we were planning on doing that night. We told him we were new to the whole downtown scene. Then he asked us if we were on Molly. The answer, obviously, was no, but it was interesting that we gave off that vibe. I looked over at Glen. His eyes were ridiculously dilated, but I had been with him all day, so I was aware that was just adrenaline. And maybe a little bit of caffeine. The two known strangers walked away and wished us good luck. We needed to regroup. We walked into a pizza joint, sat down, and decided to craft an actual plan.

Actually, only I sat down. Glen decided he wanted a drink. A sodapop to be specific, he wouldn’t break the rules of the night, or you know, the law. So I sat by myself. There were other people in the pizzeria, but all of them sat on the right side of the restaurant. We alone inhabited the left. That seemed about right. We were the only ones that night who weren’t right, after all. When Glen returned with his black cup, I queried as to what he was drinking. He answered Coke. I looked over my shoulder and noticed the Coca-Cola freestyle machine. So I asked again. “Just a Coke?” He answered in the affirmative. “Of all the 1,000 drinks you could have chosen out of that miracle of a machine, you picked plain old Coke?” He once again answered in the affirmative. I was dumbfounded. He could have picked Cherry Coke or Vanilla Coke or Orange Coke or amalgamated all three. But no, he simply went with the basic flavor. Then he smirked.

“Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it,” Glen said. “Out of all the options, leave it to us to pick the most boring choice.” I started laughing uncontrollably. He was right. That was the perfect microcosm of the night we were having. We were young, fit, funny college guys who admittedly do well with people when we’re together. But we wouldn’t branch out. We were just plain, old Coke. We decided that would be a turning point. We would begin talking to anyone who wanted to talk. And even if they didn’t want to, we would open our damn mouths. So what if it was awkward? We were gonna make the best of the worst. We were reinvigorated. I waited for Glen to finish his drink, but he said he would take it with him. I peered out the window and noticed a guy wearing a Bazinga! t-shirt. He seemed like a likely target to begin our night.

So we strutted out the door. Chests high, heads higher, we pushed our way out the door like 22-year olds returning to a high school prom: slightly ashamed but definitely too confident to show it. We turned left, and Glen approached the man in the Big Bang Theory shirt. Glen looked him dead in the eyes and said “Bazinga!” The guy looked down, shrugged and said “yeah, I guess.” I laughed. Then Glen stopped and said, “We love that show too!” The man seemed unimpressed. He turned around. Glen looked at me and said, “Your turn.” So we began to retrace our steps.

But before that began, we traversed the same intersection from before. Lo and behold, the same girl still sat there. She hadn’t been booked yet, her friend and a boy that hadn’t been there previously looked like they were cleaning her up. I posited again if we should talk to them. That was met with a more fervent no the second time. So we decided to push forward.

The next few minutes of the night were rather uneventful. Any time we were stopped at a corner with people, and by people I mean girls, we took turns trying to chat them up. Nothing. My favorite such encounter of the night came a little later. Five girls were talking about whether or not they should try to jaywalk. Two of them threw caution to the wind and skipped across the street. They reached the next sidewalk unscathed, but three remained behind. The girl closest to me remarked she was scared to jaywalk downtown. I leaned forward, carpe’d diem, and said “Don’t worry, we’re scared too.” She stared blankly at me, so I repeated myself. One of her friends slurred her next line at me. I heard “You’re smug.” I began to laugh. I asked Glen if he had heard that. He thought she had said “You’re smart.” I liked it either way.

After five or six such awkward encounters, our confidence was admittedly shaky, but we were slowly gaining it back with every person we recognized downtown. And that was a lot. Where we come from feeds into Athens like the Nile into the Mediterranean. What started as a single coincidence turned into an eerie string of ghosts from Christmases past. Sometimes it was just a person standing on the street who we talked to for a brief moment. Other time(s) we had to follow someone to get a good glimpse of if which actually knew them. On one odd occasion, someone actually walked up to us. Certainly drunk but definitely acting friendly, he charged at us, as well as another former Lambertian we happened to be talking to, to exchange pleasantries. Then we started talking. Turns out, he reads all of my stuff on the Red & Black about UGA football and loves it! I had a fan! He was inebriated and very well may have been exaggerating, but I was excited nonetheless. This meant I at least could account for one read on every article I write. But anyway, we got to conversating, Glen, the former classmate and I, and ended up spending about 10 minutes wasting away, talking Bulldog football. (If you remember the episode of Seinfeld titled “The Subway,” it was a lot like the conversation Jerry had with the nudist about the Mets.) But before long, his fraternity brothers swept him away. It was the fraternity equivalent of the cloud of dust that follows Pig Pen around in the Peanuts comics. At that moment, we were Willie Nelson once more, on the road again.

We then walked down the only roads we hadn’t yet. We still paused to talk to some people and we never gained any traction in that department, but we became distracted by our noses and inner temperatures. It had gotten cold outside and we smelled a gourmet cookie joint to our left. We immediately entered and order one fresh cookie each. I told Glen this would be the perfect place to meet girls. “Girls love cookies,” I said, unaware that I was talking out of my stomach and not my brain. The cookie was glorious. Then a group of two girls walked in. They looked at us and we at them. Glen, like George McFly, took a big gulp of his milk and turned around. You see, there was no place for them to sit. Chivalry Town, population Us, here we go. So I looked at them, stood up and asked if they wanted our seats. Not only did they say no, but they picked up the one free chair in the place and took it to the OTHER END of the establishment. They were so appalled by our outward act of kindness that they retreated as far as physically possible away from us. I was incredulous. Glen was incredulous. We just kind of stared at each other. We finished our snacks and tried to call up a friend we figured would be downtown. He didn’t pick up. As we were leaving though, he called Glen back. He told Glen none of his friends wanted to come, he was in no shape to come downtown alone and was sorry he couldn’t come. We understood. C’est la vie of a real college student.

We took one more lap. By the time that lap finished, it was 2 a.m. It was closing time, time to open all the doors and let you out into the world. We sat at the Arch, marbleizing ourselves, waiting for someone to engage us in some sort of dialogue. No one did. So we got to talking about us. We talked about a lot, but mostly about a friend of ours from back home. We spoke about how he was one of the few people we knew who had seemingly seamlessly modified his life to fit into the college perspective. He didn’t change as a person, but he was nonetheless different. We tried calling him. He didn’t pick up. Can’t blame him though, after all it was after 2 a.m. As the idiom goes, nothing good happens after 2 a.m. I cited that as truth. Glen agreed. We voyaged back to my apartment.

And that’s what we did. We laughed, we lamented, we made jokes at our expense. In effect, we just wasted two hours of our lives. We didn’t meet anyone, we didn’t change anything about ourselves or anyone else in the town. So in the grand scheme of things, our experience was meaningless. To the outside observer, we went into the night the same way we came out of it. In a sense, nothing changed at all that night. But in a much more personal sense, I think there is at least one silver lining. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, my favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. When rereading it last night, I came across a quote that might be my new favorite quote.

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say “I find no pleasures in them.”

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I think that is what I was doing all along. I’ve always had trouble putting myself out there. I said that earlier in this post. If that was the goal, I succeeded swimmingly. It’s tough to break years worth of trends and habits, especially when you’re habits differ so drastically from the norm. But I think it’s okay I couldn’t do it all on the first try. So I didn’t instantly become Mr. Popularity on my first night on the town. It would be weirder if I did than if I didn’t. The whole purpose of the night was to not let my younger days slip slowly through my fingers like sand. So maybe I am against them like the preacher accused me of being. Maybe because I don’t associate with the drinkers and maybe I’ll always be awkward around that kind of activity. But I don’t want that maybe to turn into regret. So do I regret my sober adventures downtown? No. I regret that I probably won’t do it again unprovoked.


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