The Occasional Side-Hug

In high school, Zach's soccer team called him "the Constipator." On and off the field, he congested any chance his opponents had at scoring. In high school, even though he wasn't popular, he had a reputation. But that's not important anymore. The Constipator, now attending a mid-size university—the kind too small for fraternities, but big enough for co-ed cheerleaders—now has a great task in front of him: reclaiming a status equivalent or greater than that from high school. "Ahhmmm," Zach said (meaning where do I start?) the first time he realized that he no longer held "the Constipator" title.

The students of Minnesota's Champlain University were not impressed by his new clothes (hand-me-downs from his sister), his faded khaki hair (a combination of a mullet with a comb-over) or his style of conversation (avoiding eye contact and moaning). Zach not only didn't fit in, he caused the rest of the student body to question their own personal worth and hygiene. His idea of health differed from most people's. While most students on campus believed in the "five-second-rule," for the amount of time food can spend on the ground before it's uneatable, Zach strictly followed the "it's not scissors rule." He ate many substances of food, but only Jell-O and Lucky Charms regularly. His idea of health differed from most people’s. Zach's skin above his right elbow elevated and formed two tones of a pink rash because he went the first week of school without a shower and refused to cover his thirteen year old, lily and rose patterned, mattress with sheets. "Ahhmmm," (meaning I feel sick) are the first words Allan (a navy student from New Jersey and the son of a butcher/hairstylist/jockey), Zach's roommate, heard from him as he emerged from under their bunk bed with his left hand in a warm chocolate pudding snack pack (only one week past the expiration date). In fact, most of Zach's first meetings involved pudding and sickness. Soon, Zach found out that people don’t like mixing pudding with sickness. Five out of the five students and teachers Zach met in his first week of school avoided him--he was a considerable distance from reclaiming "the Constipator" type status. Even so, he still managed to find the approval of his peers—kind of.

"Zach, if you jump off of that, I'll give you five dollars" Zach's dorm room neighbor, Taylor said. That's why Zach's ankles are swollen now. Some cantaloupes are smaller than the size of those ankles (a lot tastier too).The five dollar proposal served a more powerful role than an exchange of goods. In his mind, "I'll give you five dollars" meant "I will give you my respect and the occasional side-hug." Sacrificing his ability to walk was worthwhile. However, before this final attempt, he fought diligently to earn "the Constipator" status in the eyes of his school, particularly the group he lived with.

That particular group called themselves, "the Dirty Dozen." The Dirty Dozen, if any group could be, seemed like the perfect match for Zach. The group hated the radio because it felt that creative expression didn't grow there. The members appeared to hate it when groupthink hindered the innovations of the individual. Zach fit because he had creativity and operated as an individual. The campus acknowledged the Dirty Dozen by reputation: the group that lasted a week without showering. When Zach recognized the quality of this group he said, "Ahhmmm" (meaning "Finally, a group that will give me respect and the occasional side-hug). Their friendships were established during that week without a shower. In that time, differences, allegiances, or social status didn't matter. That week was beautiful and sacred to them. It was the start of something.

"Ahhmmm," Zach suggested to Allan in an attempt to find his respect.

"What? Why would you . . ."

"Ahhmmm."

"There's no way you can fill it up in two hours," Allan asserted and pointed to an empty gallon of water."

"Ahhmmm."

"Taylor, come here! Zach says he can fill this jug with pee by the end of the night," the whole dorm floor heard Allan shout. Taylor, accompanied with eleven floor mates, went to Allan and Zach's room. The room never was very messy, but always in accordance with Zach's health code—eight out of the eleven men accompanying Taylor refused stepping past the separated pieces of computer and pudding to enter.

"So you're going to fill it up in one hour?" Taylor asked.

"No. He's not filling that up in my room" Allan said to Taylor.

"Ahhmmm."

"There's no way he can do it. No way, man," Taylor said to provoke Zach.

"There's no way!" Taylor's eleven companions chanted.

"Ahhmmm," Zach replied.

"No way!"

"Ahhmmm." And Zach drank two liters of flat root beer. And Zach filled the jug plus six IBC bottles. Still, the group didn't give him any more respect than what a person who pees in a bottle deserves.

"Ahhmmm," (meaning maybe if I pull the fire alarm, the guys will respect me) Zach thought to himself. 2 am is when Zach's floor sleeps. Zach doesn't. Zach hammers on his carpet, and watches TBN. Hammering and TBN didn't get Zach the respect he wanted, so he pulled the fire alarm.

"Who pulled the fire alarm?" murmured the bloodshot crowd. Protocol requires that the dorm is evacuated in the event of a fire alarm. Because Zach stayed in his room, he didn't hear their murmurs. Unfortunately, Zach lost respect the night he pulled the fire alarm, and that's what led to the swelling of his ankles.

Besides the two failed attempts for gaining respect, Zach tried several times to integrate himself into the Dirty Dozen—the group that consummated their friendship through the week without a shower. Since then, they haven't included anyone else--it was more convenient that way. To them, adding a friend would be like rewatching three seasons of Smallville in order for a newcomer to catch up.

"Zach, if you jump off of that, I'll give you five dollars" Zach's dorm room neighbor, Taylor said. Zach stood over the fire escape, three stories up. "Ahhmmm" (meaning this is my chance to gain their respect) Zach thought to himself. This time the Dirty Dozen watched in amazement. With the rest of campus also watching, Zach still held his confidence, like a man that hasn't realized his fly is down. The blue railing separated him from achieving his glory—he lunged through it.

He jumped. He stuck the landing. Unfortunately, sticking the landing meant that his ankle swelled. All the momentum the forty foot jump developed halted as he said, while everybody watched, "Ahhmmm." The grass he landed on looked unaffected, but his ankle swelled to the size of an amateur cantaloupe. Zach looked more confused than hurt. It didn't matter, though. Because during the fifth second of his airtime, he felt greater than "the Constipator" could have ever. Even so, most people on campus still don't talk to him or give him the occasional side-hug. The Dirty Dozen took him in, though they aren't looking for any more friends.

The End.