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Tuesday, 10 June
Joyeux Noel

In the summer of 1986, I was anxiously awaiting the onset of my junior year when it came time for me to attend a something of a weird thing that I been recommended for by my school: it was some sort of Notional Future Business Genius thing that I got to attend for the paltry sum of $100 that one of my teachers had put me in for. What it amounted to was that you got to travel down to Boise to take some patently ridiculous capitalism seminars and other dumb crap--I remember having to build a model for a fictional business that the instructors then ran through some primitive algorithm and then told you that you were a failure--well, it was terrible, of course, one of those silly things that allegedly looks good on your college application. I didn't really care; none of us did. It was a fun trip to Boise, back in that youthful time when such an idea could actually be plausible.

(No offense, but Boise is actually about as exciting as a tabletop.)

So we all gathered, we special Future Businesspeople, and listened to revenants such as the potato mogul (seriously) J.R. Simplot rave at us in an auditorium about how he would never hire smokers to work in his ghoulish potato mines. He also railed against "loose women." It would have been incredible had it not been coming from the piston-jawed visage of a literal billionaire mummy who sealed his starchy fortunes on the basis of a handshake deal with Ray Kroc back when cavemen were still working out how to spell GEICO. It was, obviously, tremendously boring, and most of us treated it as a free four days to grab-ass with whomever would allow it.

It's here that I met Noel. He was hard to miss. He was a rough six-foot-six and a not-fat 270 or so person-slash-barbarian, and he was my roommate at the strange, circular dormitory we shared on the BSU campus; he came into my portion of the dorm to greet me, displacing a tremendous amount of air as he did so. I gulped.

"Have you seen the chicks here?" he rumbled. He could have picked his teeth with my femur. I allowed that I had, and we compared notes.

"Have you met Margo?" I asked. She was this curvy redhead I had met and had also successfully avoided vomiting on out of purest flop-fear. I regarded this as a success. (I got nowhere with Margo nor anyone else.)

He consulted his memory, breathing like a bellows, and presently seemed to call up her image. "C cup?" he asked earnestly.

We didn't really spend a lot of time together at that weird little Boise thing, apart from our dorm time. I was pleased on the second night when he appeared back at the dorm with a half-rack of beer, since the man (at age seventeen) appeared to be part Yeti, and who was going to refuse him a beer sale? Noel was a gentle soul, but he also looked like a shaven silverback who would tear off your arms at the least provocation. Also, it was Idaho in the mid-eighties; buying beer when underage was practically a rite of passage, nearly encouraged by local merchants.

Later that year, I got a postcard from Noel; he was off working some terrible job, like smokejumping or something. He included on the postcard the loud message: "STAY GREEN!" With an accompanying drawing of a pot plant. My father smiled toothily at me when he handed it to me, and I wondered if he realized that I had been stealing their bedroom marijuana for the last six months. My father owns guns.

A year and a half later in 1987, I was in line for college registration, trying to make sure I got into the Lyric Poetry class I was desperately hoping wouldn't fill up. (Surprise! It didn't!) And I heard this:

"You've got to be fucking kidding me."

Two lines over, there stood Noel, big as life, provided that you grew up on a light-gravity planet where everyone sprouted up to titanic proportions. Noel's line-sharers blanched at his shout and gave him more space, as if he had suddenly bristled with spines; Noel took no notice of them, except for the girls, whose breast size he quickly and clinically assessed before thumping over to pick me up and shake me like a carnival plushie.

I don't know why I'm even writing this. Noel and I were certainly cordial and enjoyed each others' company, but we were hardly close. Noel played rugby (of course), where his dreadnought presence terrified other teams' players beyond lucidity; I was quickly inserting myself into the theater program and also into as many actresses as would have me, which weren't many, but I figured Noel appreciated the effort. Noel had a part-time job off-campus as a truly fearsome bouncer, while I had a part-time job at the theater doing absolutely nothing. I answered the phones and licked stamps; Noel bounced drunks off of hard surfaces.

I do remember one night. Noel and I had found each other at loose ends, and we wandered the streets of Salem, Oregon, looking for . . . what? I don't know. Noel spotted a sign at a drugstore: "BOHEMIAN: $6.00 CASE." Bohemian beer is, for the uninitiated, a lot like what Taco Bell is to genuine Mexican cuisine; that is to say, an appalling affront to all that is sensible and good and palatable. Bohemian managed to rebottle all of the things that were set free when Pandora fatefully opened that box, and the company's quality control also ensured that the one thing that remained--Hope--was never introduced to the process. To drink Bohemian is the sensorial equivalent of existentialism.

We bought two cases (again, nobody gave Noel any grief about this, other than to simply become ashen in his presence) and took them back to my dorm room and got cracking. Upon his first drink, Noel's spadelike face knotted like a fist; his normally sleepy eyes pinched into a drunk-mauling sort of aspect and he grimaced mightily.

"Jesus Christ, this is shit," he remarked, looking at the puny bottle in his paw. (One of Bohemian's dirty little tricks was to sell cases of 11.5-oz. bottles.) "This is fucking terrible," he said later, by now on his fourth beer. I couldn't disagree. It was almost comically horrible beer; it tasted like someone had wrung out the fluids from discarded, sodden doormats into our bottles.

Eventually, after far too many beers that can be regarded as healthy, Noel left, lumbering off into the night while I contemplated and eventually fell gladly into my ridiculous "long single" dorm bed that always uncomfortably reminded me, in dimension and design, as a sort of undergraduate coffin.

Tap! Tap! Tap! I was awakened later that night around 3 AM. I looked over at my depressing second-story window that overlooked my dorm's truly malnourished, strangled lawn. Tap! Another small stone bounced off the glass. I wearily got up and looked out. Noel, of course. He motioned at me to open the window, which I did, already knowing what was coming.

"You got any more of that Bohemian left?" he shouted. I barked out a laugh, and then threw him my keys.

It's odd the things you remember, the things that are otherwise, for all intents and purposes, fundamentally unmemorable.

J.R. Simplot died May 25, 2008.

Note: Comments are closed on old entries.


I, too, had the honor of attending that summer program. It was in De Pere, Wisconsin, but it was absolutely the same thing. My company was somehow the most successful and I got to speak at the little dinner for our parents at the end. It was awful, but makes for good story telling now. I always win when we start comparing geekiest summer activities.

Comment number: 017387   Posted by: Melissa on June 11, 2008 06:28 AM from IP:

And the potatoes wept.

Comment number: 017389   Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' on June 11, 2008 07:46 AM from IP:

Todays paper made a big deal that this stills happens in De Pere . The kids are sooo excited!

Oh Well, Corey Hart is making you look good. You're only what, 60 games behind at this point?

Comment number: 017396   Posted by: Kev on June 16, 2008 06:03 PM from IP:

Bohemian, as in National Bohemian? That titanic beer brewed (alas, no more) in Baltimore MD? With the rip-off Uncle Pennybags as the dandy advertising logo and mascot?

Nasty stuff. I think Pabst brews it now.

Comment number: 017402   Posted by: deirdre on June 18, 2008 02:02 PM from IP:

i have enjoyed silently reading and not commenting for some time now. now i break my silence to say, wow, you were railed at by the man who owned my hometown. grand forks, north dakota smells like potato processing every day, except when the wind's wrong and it's sugar beets. thanks for the trip down memory lane. and also all the laughs.

Comment number: 017403   Posted by: amelia on June 18, 2008 04:48 PM from IP:

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