In 2007, I was one year removed from college and in the workforce. I was part of a foursome of buddies that hung out almost every weekend.
The players were Kenneth, Barry, Owen, and me. We’d been friends since high school and were doing a good job of maintaining our bond. Ken, Barry, and I were out in the world trying to be adults, Owen was a year behind us in school.
Kenneth and I spent our Monday through Friday making cold calls in entry level sales jobs. I can’t speak for Ken, but I hated every day. Barry got himself into a better spot. He worked some family connections and landed a sales job with an expense account. Ken and I were making the standard 39k and Barry was on track to make six figures in his first year. He deserved it. He is a hard worker and a crafty prick. He’s made a habit of picking up lots of bar and dinner tabs.
Owen still being in college allowed us to hop in the time machine and briefly relive the glory days.
Barry had a place in Southie and Ken had shacked up with a roommate in the North End. I still lived at my parents house. Around 1pm on December 31, 2007, we met over at Barry’s. We traveled light, I packed a backpack with a fresh set of undies and a toothbrush. We hung up our “going out clothes” on the little flip down hooks in the back seat of Barry’s car.
On the way out of town, we grabbed a few cases of beer. At 38 years old, a six pack of beer lasts me two months. At 22 years old, on a night out, I’d drink six beers an hour until my lights went out. We hopped on I-90 headed west before picking up 84 to Connecticut. It’s an eight beer and three piss ride from Boston to this patch of the CT shoreline. We chugged beers, had a bunch of laughs, and were subjected to Barry’s burnt CDs of holiday songs and the Gin Blossoms.
We arrived 3 hours later at Owen’s place. His school felt like adult summer camp to me. The upperclassmen lived in rented houses on the beach while the underclassmen lived in the dorms. I’d been down here to visit Owen a few times and knew a bunch of other kids who went here too. I always wondered about these beach rentals. Who owns these places? I can’t imagine pouring your life savings into a beach house that you rent to college kids.
Barry parked at Owens and we headed inside. Looking back, our plans for this night were odd. We had made dinner reservations at some decent restaurant that was 30 minutes away and would sandwich that between shifts of heavy binge drinking and destruction.
We started our night by walking down to the bar to pre-game. It was the type of place where the crowd would be eight deep around the bar. Men who were belly’d up at the bar would always have the tough decision to make about using the restroom or standing their ground. It was not rare to see dudes having a sneaky pee against the wood paneling that was holding the bar up.
We walked to the bar in our going out clothes. In 2007, we’d be wearing lucky jeans and untucked banana republic button ups. The jeans would be baggy and the cuff frayed from being stepped on in the back. We’d mat down our hair with gel except for the very front which we’d fluff into a cute spike. We had on bad Aldo shoes or sneakers. Barry would have a different outfit on. Fashion was important to him even back then. He’d have on skin tight jeans, cooler shoes or a boot, and some kind of 200 dollar tee shirt. He was already building an impressive watch collection back then.
We each had 5 fast $1 draft beers and a shot or two and then hopped into Barry’s car for our dinner reservation. The restaurant was called Splash and I remember being some of the only people there. We ran up a big tab of booze and fancy appetizers. We finished up with a toast, Barry got the check, and we piled back in the car for the trek back to the beach. We thought nothing of being eleven drinks deep in a car at this point in life. We still had hours of drinking ahead of us.
We parked the car back at Owen’s and cracked a can of beer for an 18 second walk. We were headed over to a larger house that was having the big NYE shaker with a rented tent covering the patio.
We’d reached the point in the evening where it makes sense to do a little mental inventory to see how fucked up you are and where you are in comparison to the group. Am I the most fucked up? The least? In the sweet spot right in the middle?
I took the inventory. It seemed we had a one horse race on our hands. Owen was still at the height of his college drinking powers and was going to go the distance. Barry and I seemed to be in decent shape with no stumbling or slurring yet, but Kenneth was about to lap us. We could feel him pulling away. He was starting to look like a bobble head doll and saying hilariously outrageous things with no filter. He had found a spot leaning against one of the shiny aluminum tent posts.
Owen was mixing it up with classmates while Barry and I wandered over to fill our red cups at the keg. We left Ken alone for a few moments. We waited in line at the keg for a minute or two before someone passed me the little rubber hose. I gave the keg a couple of pumps and filled Barry’s cup. I put the plastic nozzle over my cup and pushed the trigger. While my cup was slowly filling with sudsy Busch light, I scanned the covered patio briefly and I’m glad I did. A line of white kids in great shape with curly hair flowing from underneath their beanies was walking into the party. I knew immediately that it was a chunk of the men’s lacrosse team. Their entrance took them right past Kenneth’s post. To my horror and also my secret delight, he made a big show of slapping the first four or five kids' drinks out of their hands to explode on the floor before the sixth guy figured out what was going on. Ken was using his arm like a humpback whale flipper slapping the ocean. Raising it way overhead and bringing it down heavy into the guy's hand and his beverage.
Let’s pause for a moment. Maybe an hour before this, a group of girls that knew Owen stopped by our little foursome to say hello. Ken jumped into the chat by immediately saying something offensive. At this point his lights were flickering, threatening to go out. He wasn’t leaning on his post yet but had figured out how to rest his rib cage atop his hip in a way that turned out to be structurally sound and kept him on his feet. Just before the young women could slap him or respond, Owen chimed in.
“We are so sorry Sara, this is our pal Kenneth, he’s disabled and we thought we’d try to show him a fun night out. He doesn’t get many chances to do this.”
“Ohhh, Sara responded. I’m sorry, I was about to call him an asshole. Are you sure he should be drinking?”
“One hundred percent. He’s fine,” Owen replied.
Now the group of women were fawning over Ken like he was a newborn puppy. They were talking in the loud slow voices that feel appropriate for someone who is developmentally delayed.
This brings us back to the whale paddle. Ken got through a bunch of the guys’ drinks and then settled against his pole with a heavy giggle. The lax bros started looking at each other with equal parts confusion and surprise. Those feelings quickly shifted to regular old anger. They surround Ken like sharks. They are about to start verbal and physical assault when Sara comes flying across the room to put herself between Ken and the bros.
“What the fuck is wrong with you guys? She starts. Don’t you know this guy is retarded?”
The r word goes off like a grenade on this side of the tent. Record scratch. People stop in their tracks. Time slows down.
“Oh shit, the captain of the lax team begins (probably a Reese or a Blair), we had no idea. Sorry man.” He’s patting Kenneth lovingly on the back and the rest of the guys are scrambling to pick up their cups and tidy up their mess. From across the room, Owen, Barry, and I are stunned into an open mouthed silence followed by the kind of laughter that has us grabbing fistfuls of each other's shirts and shoving each other.
I think I carried Kenneth home at this point and set him down on a couch at Owen’s place. I tucked him in and he seemed like he’d be fast asleep in no time. I tiptoed out the door and closed it gently behind me.
Twenty minutes later, Owen is showing me his Motorola Razr with a text on the screen. It reads, “Hey Owen, I stopped by your place to see if you were home. There’s a guy in his underwear wandering around your place and he’s covered in cheese.”
We dashed over to have a look. By the time we got there, Ken was fast asleep but it was clear that he had gotten into the tostitos and queso in a big way. He’d fallen asleep with his hand still in the bag and had left cheesy footprints from the fridge back to his spot on the couch.
The night winds down and is punctuated briefly by a fist fight in the kitchen that Barry started and won. He said something shitty and punches were thrown.
I don’t remember where we slept. The last thing I remember is waiting outside Barry’s car in the morning so we could get out of there. Might have been our last trip to a CT beach.