"Sign 'O' the Times (1987), Blackness, Busch Beer, Continental Airlines, Coping Strategies, Crush #2, Depression, First Flight, Homesickness, Infatuation, Loneliness, Love, Lust, Manhood, Obsession, Prince, Self-Discovery, Theft, University of Pittsburgh
This week twenty-five years ago, the pressures of college, “homesickness” and Crush #2 had screwed up the inner movie and music soundtrack (think Enigma’s “I Love You, I’ll Kill You” ) that had been my coping mechanism for the previous half decade. I was in the midst of a psychological breakthrough, but it felt more like a combination of depression and a nervous breakdown at the time. Such were my times as an emotionally tortured seventeen-year-old who should’ve left Mount Vernon a full year earlier (see my post “A One-Year Sooner ‘What If’” from June ’11).
The downward spiral of my first semester at the University of Pittsburgh started with a burglary the third week in October ’87. While I took a bathroom break at my computer lab job in the Cathedral of Learning, someone stole my Calculus textbook. I felt violated, especially since it happened at work. It made me more distrustful of the people I worked with and of Pitt students in general. Of course, I didn’t really even trust myself at the time, and the loss of my textbook didn’t make it any easier. I was out of money to boot, which meant that I wouldn’t be able to replace this loss.
Crush #2’s response to my letter about her emasculating comments back in the summer made matters worse (see my posts “Origins of the Obsession” from June ’12 and “A Dream That Had to Die” from July ’07). Her letter, dated November 2, was in purple ink, with heart-shapes and circles for dots over “i”s. Reading her letter was like reading the liner notes off of a Prince album in those days. Like the song “I Would Die 4 U,” Crush # 2 had decided to limit her English skills to the ’80s equivalent of text messaging, a real revolution on both their parts. She started, “Thank U 4 your card 2day,” an insult to my intelligence. She wrote indirectly that she did like me at one point in time, but added “but we’re in college now . . . around lots of nu people” She admitted that I was her and her sister’s topic of conversation back in July, but “I needed 2 get over that.” She hinted that I shouldn’t write her again, and that was it. No apologies, no attempt to understand how I felt.
After Crush #2’s wonderful, text-message-like response, I all but stopped going to class. I missed eighteen of twenty-four classes at one stretch between November 3 and Thanksgiving, only showing up for exams or if my black-cloud mood had let up long enough to allow me to function. The weekend before Thanksgiving, I allowed my dorm mates to cheer me up by getting a couple of cases of Busch Beer. These were the pounder type, sixteen-ounce cans of Busch beer. I downed four cans in fifteen minutes, and was drunk within a half hour. I started throwing around the word “bitch” as if it was part of a drinking game. I spent the next day vomiting and trying to regain my balance.
I barely recovered from my bender in time to go home for Thanksgiving that Monday, November 23. I still managed a few firsts, though. That trip back home was my first ever on an airplane. I took a Continental flight from the old and decrepit blue hangar that was Pittsburgh Airport into Newark, with the late Craig “Ironhead” Hayward on the flight sitting in first-class. He was a senior and the starting running back for the Pitt Panthers. Besides being a great player, he was a bit of a party animal and had gotten into fights with Pitt Police. I remember the student newspaper having him in their police blotter, allegedly body-slamming a patron at the O while being arrested for a being a disorderly drunk.
It was the first series of events in which I couldn’t use music, sports or my imagination to escape (see my post “Coping In The Boy @ The Window World” from October ’12). I hadn’t realized that I was attempting to escape myself, not just my immediate past or Mount Vernon. I spent those last weeks of ’87 as if draped in a fog, unable to face the world. I fully understood, though, that I couldn’t drink my way out of my problems. I was obsessed with a woman whom felt sorry for me, had friends at Pitt who weren’t really my friends, and was homesick for 616, a place that was never really mine to call home in the first place.
Most of all, after five years of hiding my emotions and opinions, I no longer knew how to be me. Luckily, thinking about Crush #2 as a “triflin’ ass” was, for better and worse, a good start toward recovery for me. And, for that moment in my life, I needed that anger to be a better student, to be a better me. Because as far as I was concerned, I was out in Pittsburgh, alone, facing down my past and present all at once.