The following story is true. The names have been changed to protect the guilty. This is the last and possibly both the most awful and funny of my gross stories.
July 4, 1997 is a date that will live in infamy, in my life.
The roots of this story go back to my friend Mike "Couchpotato." I lived near Wrigley Field in the late eighties, with my friends Dan and Mark. We had parties frequently. Mike would always be in our house on party day early-- so early, in fact, I wasn't even home from work yet. Since there were three guys with three separate schedules living there, we always assumed that one of the other roommates had let Mike in.
We discovered, one day, as we caught him crawling in a back window that we had thought to be locked, that he had been letting himself into our apartment by himself the whole time.
Since Mike started early, he'd end early-- by 9 pm, Mike was asleep on the futon in our living room as a crowded, loud party roared around him. It was dubbed the "Mike Couchpotato Memorial Futon."
But this isn't a story about Mike, except that it was Mike who was always sardonically saying, whenever there was horseplay about, "It's all fun and games until someone gets an eye put out." I assume it was a play on the phrase from the Christmas classic "A Christmas Story" "You'll put your eye out."
More on that later.
The first reason that July 4, 1997 is a day that will forever stand out in my life is that it was the day my first wife asked me for a divorce. It was just a few weeks before I was to start student-teaching. This was made worse by the fact that I was also in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out custody fight with an ex-girlfriend over the custody of our son.
I'd had to apply for student-teaching nearly two years earlier. If I was to drop out of it, I'd likely have to wait another two years. There was no question that I had to do it. And there was no question that I had to keep at least joint custody of my son. And I had no idea how I was going to do it all. It was time to call in the big guns; I had to call in Viktor Zeitgeist.
Viktor has been my co-best friend, along with my friend Jim, since college. He is the bomb. He's been involved in much of my mischief for most of my adult life. In college, we published an underground newspaper-- which got him a CIA file (he's foreign-born) and both of us FBI files. On my 24th birthday, he had a Rickenbacker Guitar birthday cake made for me just because he knew I love Rickenbacker guitars. He's Fed-ex'd me checks when I was in trouble and refused repayment. He's helped me out whenever I've needed it in life. When I was out of options, I really wasn't-- there was Viktor Zeitgeist.
And to top it all off, he now had a law degree.
Viktor happened to be visiting his parents, who still lived in our college town. He told me to get my ass down there and we'd talk about it all.
I drove my little 1987 Toyota Tercel 85 miles per hour down I-57 and got there in a couple of hours. And then my day began to improve.
First, I got to spend time with his family, who are the salt of the earth. They raised four children, three of them boys. Shit-- just raising Viktor had to be like raising five problem children.
Viktor's youngest brother, who was a boy genius (he ran his own internet company out of his parents' house-- I'm not making this up-- they had a huge cable running through their roof, into his bedroom) exposed us to the original South Park short, Spirit of Christmas, which was starting to make the rounds of the internet. It was the most funny, f*cked up thing I'd ever seen to that point in my life.
But the real fun started at the Findlay Walleye Festival.
After a nice lunch with Viktor's family, we headed out to the Findlay Walleye Festival. Viktor's brother, who was a "crunchy granola" type, was giving a hackey-sack exhibition with some friends at the festival.
We headed out there and paid our courtesy call to the hackey-sack exhibition. It was a little surreal-- these little hippy-dippy kids in the middle of all these downstate Illinos corn-fed types. As we were to find, it was only the beginning of surreal.
Beginning with warnings about the flying hackey-sacks, we began to dispense Mike Couchpotato's sage advice: "It's all fun and games until someone gets an eye put out." We left the hackey-sack exhibition and headed over to the riding lawnmower pull.
Not a tractor pull-- a riding lawnmower pull. It was one of the funniest and most fun events I'd ever attended. What was really funny was that there was a real sense of excitement about who would win. I'm pretty sure there was gambling going on. My bad mood started showing signs of cracking.
We continued to dispense our admonitions to whatever ears were there to listen: "Remember-- it's all fun and games until someone gets an eye put out." Eventually we started adding-- "And then it's REALLY funny."
We stayed at the Walleye Festival for a couple more hours. The people of Findlay, Illinois are very nice people, and I will be forever grateful for a wonderful afternoon when I really needed one. I will always wear my Findlay Walleye Festival t-shirt with pride.
We headed to Viktor's parents' house, had dinner, and decided that drastic measures needed to be taken: we needed to head out to the Icehouse.
The Icehouse, in Mattoon, Illinois, is a nasty biker bar. It's filled with the vile, wretched refuse of the earth-- the kind you would find on the "Group W" bench in "Alice's Restaurant." In other words, it was our kind of place, filled with our kind of people.
And to top it all off, an AC/DC cover band was playing that night.
We had a rockin' good time. We continued with our mantra, "It's all fun and games until someone gets an eye put out, And then it's really funny," which of course became funnier and funnier the more alcohol we consumed. The band was good and the beers were cheap. As closing time approached, I was finally in a good mood. I was in a much better frame of mind. The next day, Viktor and I could figure out what my next steps in life were going to be.
The band finished, and it came time for an encore. I was up by the stage at this point. I couldn't quite catch what the singer said when he called out to the band for the encore song, but I did hear the drummer say "I can never remember where the drum solo drops in." And then came the unmistakable notes of the beginning of Golden Earring's classic driving song "Radar Love"
That was it. It was over-the-top. I was lit up like a Christmas tree and they were playing one of the greatest songs ever recorded, one of my favorite songs ever.
When the song ended, and I rejoined Viktor at the bar, I must have been glowing. I had a feeling that everything was going to be okay. And then our evening took the most surreal turn of all.
We heard a commotion near the door. We turned to see a guy punching out another guy. I'd seen some barfights in my life, but this was the mother of them all. It was not even a fight-- it was more like a mugging. A guy was punching a guy's head into a videogame, one of the big Pacman-type things, so hard that the machine was rocking back and forth. We were aghast.
One of us-- I can't remember who it was-- said "Holy shit-- we'd better get out of here before the cops get here."
We began running, two guys in their thirties, like Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, our feet scrambling, but not taking hold.
As we got near the door, we could see the prostrate victim of the assault lying on the floor. We were stopped in our tracks by a most disturbing sight, maybe the worst I've ever seen: the guy's eye had been knocked out of its socket, and was hanging by the optic nerve on the side of his face.
I knew then what Viktor was thinking-- it was what I was thinking. This had been our fault! We'd joked about it all day, and now it had happened. We looked at one another in horror and began running to the door again.
When we got out the door, and the cops were already there. We were like NFL running backs, ducking tackles by the cops. To this day, I can't believe we made it out of there.
We got to his car and drove back to Charleston. We were too wound up to go home, so we went to a party we knew of.
We walked in to the party, still vibrating and jabbering wildly about what we'd just witnessed. Of course, every single other person at the party other than us the were Deadheads-- people who were predisposed to mellowness, but now stoned, they sat there on couches and chairs in a heightened state of mellowness.
"Wow, pretty heavy, dudes" was their only reaction.
We found out later that the guy was okay-- once they'd popped his eye back in the socket and let his fractured skull heal. The awful thing was that he was not even the intended victim (as if the intended victim deserved this). It was a case of mistaken identity.
The end of this story actually came just a couple of years ago. I was out in Oakland, California, visiting Viktor. We were having a libation at the Zeitgest, a biker bar down in the Mission District that is my favorite bar in San Francisco. We were recounting the story to someone. At the end of the story, Viktor looked puzzled; "Don't you remember what you said?" he asked. I did not.
When he told me, I remembered. As we were running out the door of the Icehouse, getting ready to dodge the police, we had stopped, of course, to look down in shock at the horrific sight. We stood for a split-second, looked at one another, and then I had pointed down to the stricken guy, looked up at Viktor and said with a straight face "That's funny."
I am sooooo going to hell.