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Charlie Hatton
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#19. I won a weekend trip for two to Washington, D.C. when I was nineteen.

I went with my girlfriend at the time, who later turned out to be a raving psycho lunatic. Which I should have known, because she dated a friend of mine the year before, and he told me, ‘Do what you want. But she’s a raving psycho lunatic.‘ Well, I figured maybe he was just a little bummed, or jealous, so I asked a mutual friend of ours what he thought. He said, ‘Do what you want. But she’s a raving psycho lunatic.‘ So I asked some more friends. They told me — in unison, even — ‘Do what you want. But she’s a raving psycho lunatic.‘ Hmmm. I’m starting to see a pattern here.

Still, she was still friends with her old boyfriend, and hung around our house sometimes. How bad could she be? So when we got drunk at a party together and ended up sitting by a low wall on the edge of campus, laughing and talking and sharing some concoction I’d made from random liqours and juices, and she started kissing me, I had two thoughts. One, as you might expect, was this: ‘Do what you want. But she’s a raving psycho lunatic.‘ But the other was this: ‘You know, she’s kinda hot. And she’s kissing me. I didn’t start this shit. How bad could she be?‘ And so, I didn’t stop, and we ended up lying wrapped in a blanket on her dorm room floor, kissing and talking and basking in our lusty drunkenness. We dated for a few months, but it didn’t work out. We had our differences, and broke up. Well, I broke up. Over, and over, and over. Because she turned into a raving psycho lunatic, and I didn’t know what to do. The prophecy had come to pass, and I was the one standing there gaping, as though I’d never been warned. Dumbass.

But wait. Aren’t I supposed to be telling you about our trip? Yeah, definitely. And it was still early on for us when we went, too, so we actually had a very good time. Didn’t do a whole lot of sightseeing around the old capital, I’m afraid. But we had a very good time, nonetheless. Who needs sightseeing, anyway? I got your ‘Washington Monument’ right here, baby!

(Okay, I didn’t really say that. How embarrassing for me.)

Anyway, none of that — though riveting, I’m sure — is particularly germane to the story. You see, the real story is how I came to go on the trip in the first place.

You see, I’m a lucky bastard. Really, I am. I’m not sure that I believe in luck, exactly, but fortune does seem to smile on me rather often. As it did on a chilly Autumn day back in my sophomore year of college…

*wavy flashback lines* *wavy flashback lines* *wavy flashback lines*

Our school sponsored a ‘Flyaway’ contest every year. Maybe a lot of schools do this; maybe your school did/does/will do it. But just in case it didn’t/doesn’t/won’t, I’ll explain. Our ‘Flyaway’ worked like this: on Monday through Thursday, you could sign up for the contest. I forget where or how, but you only had a couple of days to get in, and you could only sign up once. No duplicate entries allowed.

Before I go any further, I should tell you a couple of things about the school I went to. First, it was vanishingly small, with about nine hundred students — even smaller than the high school I attended. Secondly, the college was in a small sleepy family-oriented town of about ten thousand people, in a ‘dry’ county, with few immediately available options for meals. This meant that almost everyone lived on campus, and most of us ended up eating in the cafeteria for lunch and dinner. Dinner lasted from five til seven, and was usually a major social event. Various groups and cliques staked out tables throughout the dining hall, and sat there day after day, meal after meal, year after year. By five-thirty, half the student body was usually crammed in there, and most of the rest piled in by six.

Hopefully, knowing all that will help with the rest of the story. If not, then I just spent five minutes telling you how depressing, isolated, and backwards my college experience was, for no good reason. Yip-fuckin’-pee.

So, anyway, just about all the students signed up for ‘Flyaway’. (Really, what the hell else did we have to do?) And it kicked into high gear on Friday at dinner. At five o’clock, the ‘fun committee’ or ‘Flyaway team’, or ‘losers who couldn’t get into the A/V club’, or whoever, dammit would write out the names of everyone who’d entered, and paste them along the walls of the main dining hall in the cafeteria. Picture a few hundred strips of paper, with names scrawled in magic marker for all to see, pasted high and low in a large circular room with fifteen=foot-high ceilings. Got it? Good, okay, that’s what it looked like.

From there, the rules were simple. At five, they started pulling names out of a hat. Your name gets called, your paper gets ripped from the wall, and unceremoniously flung onto the ground. Or crumpled and thrown away, I guess. Either way, nothing good would come of your paper. (Or you, for the purposes of this contest.) The last name standing won the prize, which was two airline tickets, leaving that night and returning on Sunday evening, and hotel accomodations in the target city in the meantime.

The selection process took two hours, right up until cafeteria closing at seven. And, of course, you couldn’t leave the place until your name was called, just on the slight chance that you’d beat the odds and be selected to escape to civilization for a weekend jaunt. I’d been there for the contest the year before, and been ridden out of contention in the first half-hour. I really didn’t expect anything different in my sophomore year, and I had shit to do that night. Important shit, like playing cards and watching TV back at the fraternity house. And I wasn’t gonna win the damned thing, so I wanted to hear my name called, so I could get on with my life.

My attitude changed from annoyed petulance to cool disinterest around six thirty. At that point, there were thirty or so names left. The herd had been thinned considerably; only the strongest had survived. Still, there was no way. Nobody wins these things.

By a quarter till seven, my heart was pounding. I still tried to seem calm and collected, but I perked up and looked expectantly around the table every time someone else’s name was called, and their banner was stripped from the wall. We were down to a dozen names or so left. From time to time, I’d steal a glance across the room, where my girlfriend was sitting with her sorority sisters. (Yeah, I said we were cliquish, didn’t I? You sat with your friends at dinner, and then you had the rest of the night to go make smoochy-smoochy with your significant other. It really was a fucked-up place. You had to be there.)

Six fifty-five. Four names left. By now, the name-calling had slowed to a crawl, the better to draaaaag the contest out to the full two hours. And the better to let the remaining hopefuls fidget and squirm in between names, of course. I did my best to maintain my composure and not hope or plan for anything. For one thing, I didn’t want to jinx my chances. More importantly, though, there were a lot of people staring at me, which made me very uncomfortable. I had to try to look cool. (Hey, I was still a teenager. Cut me some slack.)

At six fifty-eight, the next-to-last name came down. It was dowm to two. Me and some other dude. Some other dude and me. All the guys still at the table were cheering me now, slapping me on the back. ‘Hey, what if you win?‘ ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be cool?‘ ‘Dude, that trip’s gonna rock!

And in my head, the reply: ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up!‘ Damn, didn’t they know they were jinxing it? And how was I going to look disinterested and unflapped when they were very clearly interested and flapping all around me? The next minute and a half seemed like an hour. Or the pause between the first time you say, ‘I love you‘ to someone, and their reply. Or calculus class. In other words, a goddamned lifetime.

Ah, but you know the end of the story already, don’t you? The suspense is lost on you, you big smart readers, you! Of course the next name called was some loser’s — not mine — and I stepped up to the podium to receive the tickets and learn that the cab would arrive in one hour to transport me and one guest of my choice to the airport. By that point, my guest of choice was standing by me, holding my hand and beaming. And we each left with our respective posse of well-wishers to go back and pack for the weekend.

My roommate (and best friend) was a bit disappointed that I didn’t take him along. After all, we’d known each other longer, and got along just swimmingly. And if we’d both been of drinking age — or even had convincing fake IDs at the time — I’d have given it some serious thought. We could have done a lot of damage together in the capital city that weekend, to ourselves and others (but mainly to our livers). But I wasn’t convinced that we’d be allowed to do it, no matter how well-practiced and ready we were, so it really was a non-starter. Plus, he wasn’t gonna stick his tongue halfway down my throat, or do a racy striptease at the foot of the hotel bed. Nor would I ask him, or even allow him, to. So I took the girl, as planned. T, I can only hope you forgive me. I was thinking with my nethers, I’ll admit, but you have to understand — she wasn’t a raving psycho lunatic yet. Not to me, anyway. So I took guaranteed hotel sex over possible drunken debauchery. Really, what else could I have done?

So, I won’t bore you with the actual trip. I think you’ve read plenty already about it. We got a ride to the airport, flew in, saw a few sights — but just a few — flew out, and caught a ride home. It may be the most exciting thing that happened to me during my college years. Not the best, or most life-altering, even, but certainly memorable. I’ll never forget sitting at that cafeteria table, trying not to look at anyone in particular for the last ten minutes of the contest, and hoping that I didn’t look like a damned dork, while secretly sending voodoo vibes to the lady at the hat to NOT. CALL. MY. DAMNED. NAME. (BITCH.) And it worked! How’s that for luck, boys and girls?

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