The following is an excerpt from a book about the year I lived with college students at 23 schools across the USA. Each chapter tells the true story of one week in the life of a random college student at one of the nation's most interesting colleges. In the following chapter, baseball players from an unnamed school spend the week boasting about their past sexual encounters.
Chapter 6: “Charlton University” (excerpt)
(Note: Charlton is a fake name for this school, because it is difficult to keep these people anonymous if I mention their school. Charlton is a well-respected school in the Deep South.)
I took two days to make the half-day drive to Charlton. Along the way, I took a detour and stopped at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, turning off at different trailheads, beginning to hike, then turning back toward my car after only a couple of minutes. It seemed the idea of hiking was more appealing than actual hiking. My mood was low, my thoughts were cynical. I dwelled on the selfish notion that the communities I had passed through continued on without me. What was still significant for me no longer mattered to the people I met. Friendships that did last were now only text messages—Randy might text me if he saw Dream Girl at the bar (he still hadn’t spoken to her), or Kevin might ask my location. It occurred to me that a person was more likely to create false intimacy with me because I was just passing through. I was also struck by the thought that everybody I met was influenced by varying degrees of observer bias; that is, the fact I was writing a book would dramatically change how people acted around me. I wanted people to like me as a person outside the context of my book project. I wondered, would anybody have actually wanted to spend time with me if I weren’t writing a book? Would women have liked me? What vanity! My mission was to write a book, not to meet friends or lovers, so I shouldn’t have had those expectations. But I couldn’t help it—I just felt sad and lonely.
Christian played baseball for Charlton. He was also the guy who had connected me with Louise at USC, so he knew the story of why I had to arrive at Charlton five days early. I met him the evening after one of their baseball games. The team had lost.
“Just a fair warning,” Christian said, “a lot of the guys are pretty pissed right now. We’re usually a winning team, but we’ve had a terrible season, like 1-8, so if any of the guys are short with you tonight, that’s why. Some of them are probably going to get blackout drunk too. Just a heads-up.”
“That’s fine,” I said.
We were headed to his dorm room.
“You’re going to have to meet my buddy Billy,” he said. “He’s totally Tucker Max. He basically just pounds booze and rails sluts. He’s probably my best friend here. He’s from Bumfuck Nowhere, Iowa.”
I tossed my sleeping bag down on Christian’s couch, and he tossed me a beer.
“Lots of the guys here are total studs,” Christian continued. “Bunch of em turned down huge signing bonuses to play for Charlton, like half a million to a million. One guy you’ll meet turned down millions to play here.”
“Is the losing season going to make it harder for them to be drafted?” I asked.
“Not really. Baseball is a sport of individuals. To get drafted, it only matters how well you do, not the team.”
Christian spoke with the voice of a salesman. If he told you a story, you got the impression that he’d told it before.
“I’ll tell you a secret if you don’t tell the team,” he said. “I’m thinking about quitting baseball next year. I’ve got some business stuff I’m trying to work on, and baseball really isn’t in my future. I’m not good enough.”
“The other guys don’t know?” I asked.
“No, not yet. I don’t want to mess with morale mid-season. When I came to college, I thought baseball would be even bigger of a game, more important of a game, but what I’ve learned, at least for me, is that it’s just a game. It’s just a game, and for me it’s going to end at the end of these four years. So I need to plan for the future.”
Christian’s story was cut short when one of the other players entered the room. He was short, bulky, and dense, like if you shoved him he wouldn’t move. He was unshaven and had a buzz cut.
“This is who I was talking about!” said Christian. “Billy, meet Drew.”
Billy shook my hand quickly then turned back to Christian to say what he’d come into the room to say. “I feel like getting fucked up tonight and just saying, ‘Fuck the midterm.’” He looked back at me. “Oh, is this the book guy?”
I said, “Yep.”
“Well, goddamnit, we’ll get you some stories! I’m tellin’ you, you haven’t seen anything.”
After my unprofessional visit to South Carolina, I wanted to establish myself as a more serious writer, so I asked him the boring question, “What’s something you’ve learned so far at college?” I was looking for an answer about the importance of hard work or of managing time effectively.
But Billy blew my plan and said, “I’ve learned that I’d fuck anything. Well, anything that’d fuck me.”
“He’s not lying,” said Christian.
“I might skip class to get some ass tomorrow,” said Billy.
“Let me know how that goes,” I said. Oh well, I tried.
We headed down the hall to meet more of the team. The baseball team lived in dorms, and on this particular hallway there were three dorm rooms in a row where only baseball players lived, so the middle room of the three served as their central hangout location. Some other baseball players, eight of them, were gathered around a TV playing a baseball video game.
“Fuck all the Blacks, fuck all the Jews, and fuck everybody in the state of Louisiana!” Billy said as he entered. The Louisiana bit was a reference to the team that beat them that night, Louisiana State.
Nobody responded to him, both because it seemed a normal thing for Billy to say, and because everybody was preoccupied with the video game. Those who weren’t holding controllers sat with school papers in their laps, but they still seemed more interested in the Xbox than their work.
“Somebody got the tests, right?” asked Christian.
“Julie straight up hooked us up, dude,” said one of the players. In his hands was a stack of papers.
“Are those old tests?” asked Christian.
“Yeah, six of ’em.”
“Good, we’ll go through those later.”
What was happening was that a few of the baseball guys acquired from Julie six old tests from previous years for a class they were taking. Later they would figure out which questions had appeared multiple times over the past six versions of that test. The “studying” that took place after this was to memorize those answers.
As they played Xbox baseball, the guys traded stories—all of them sexual. It was clear that everybody in the room had already heard all the stories, but they enjoyed listening again anyway. The next story and storyteller would be elected by random outbursts of enthusiasm like, “Oh! Tell the one about the bitch from the burger place!” or “Oh! Tell the one about that slut you fucked in the closet at the frat party!”
I listened and laughed along with the team, not planning to participate in the storytelling, but Christian surprised me by electing me for the next story.
“Dude, Drew, you gotta tell the guys what happened last week,” he said, letting out a hearty laugh. “Guys, this is hilarious.”
I did not want to tell the story. The girls at USC had successfully shamed me for my inappropriate behavior, and I felt sincere remorse for my actions. But the team was looking at me with anticipation, so I had to tell it. This would be my first impression with all of them. If I won their respect, I’d be welcomed into their world for the week. If I lost it, I’d spend the week as an awkward tag-a-long.
“Well, I was at South Carolina writing about this girl,” I said. I could hear the regret in my voice, despite trying my best to hide it.
The team listened intently.
“And so, the girl I was writing about had this roommate,” I continued. “And so the second night, I was alone with her, and she had been giving off sort of sexual vibes since I got there.”
My demeanor made me sound like I was confessing before a jury. It didn’t sound like a fun story, it sounded like a sad story. I was killing the mood. Some of the guys got nervous for me and looked over at Christian, who raised his pointer finger and smiled as if to say, “Wait for it... trust me… wait for it...”
But my enthusiasm had died, and I was trailing off. “Yeah, and so, basically this girl’s kind of into me and stuff, and uh—”
Just as I was about to lose the crowd, Christian jumped in to save me: “Basically he fucked the shit out of her!” he said. Christian knew that wasn’t the real story and that we never had sex, but he also knew that the story required that ending.
The team looked back at me and eagerly awaited some form of confirmation. I scanned their eyes.
“And the next morning, I found out she had a boyfriend,” I said. “So her roommates kicked me out, and that’s why I’m here a week early.”
They burst out with a big roar of laughter and a bunch of ‘attaboys’ and ‘fuck yeahs.’ I chuckled and let go of some of the tension in my chest.
“Was she hot?” one guy asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“How were her tits?” asked another.
“Big,” I said. “Big and nice.”
I was supposedly there as a writer, but the only two words I could come up with to describe her breasts were “big” and “nice”? I probably could have done better than that. But these guys clearly didn’t care about my writing ability. In this entire hallway of baseball players, I counted a grand total of one book, and it was written by Tucker Max.
I joined in with the laughter and let their approval wash over me. Perhaps I hadn’t misbehaved at USC. Perhaps my behavior was just fine.
Everybody needs a role model. The guy who entered the room next would soon become Billy’s. He played baseball at another school and was just visiting for the weekend, but he used to go to Charlton, so he still knew some of the guys on the team. He was a few years older than these guys, who were mostly sophomores, and was something of a legend to them. Until he entered, Billy had ruled the room with the best stories. But Billy’s reign soon ended. As this guy spoke, everybody stopped what they were doing (even the Xbox was paused, which I never saw happen again). He told stories about prostitutes in Japan, about having sex with an army wife by accident, about being walked in on by his girlfriend while having sex with another girl, and more. All of the stories were two to three years old, however. Now he was monogamous with a new girl and was planning to marry her soon. That aspect of his life wasn’t wild or crazy, so in order to not disappoint the crowd, he passed around a photo on his phone of her naked breasts—just a closeup shot of two breasts. The polite thing to do was to compliment his fiancé’s breasts before passing the phone.
“Goddamn,” one player said.
“Those are some bombs,” said another.
“Some big titties right there,” said a third.
When the phone reached me, I said, “Very nice,” which seemed to be good enough.
And then he was gone. He left at the peak of our interest. The team then slumped back into homework and Xbox. Billy, however, stared up in wonderment. He didn’t go back to work. These dorms were laid out like apartments, so there was a communal room and two bedrooms, but each dorm had three roommates, which forced one roommate to sleep in the communal area. Billy was the roommate who slept in the communal room of this dorm, so he was lying across his bed in the back of the room. With all the guys facing the TV on the opposite side of the room, Billy seemed sort of lonely behind them. He was loud, talkative, and offensive, but somehow he never had anybody’s full attention.
“Oh my God,” Billy said. “I’m so glad he doesn’t go here. I would be finished.”
“What do you mean you’d be finished?” I asked.
“I’d just be done. His stories are better than mine. I’m seriously wondering if I’ll ever live up to that.” He kept staring at the ceiling, alone in the back of the room. None of the players responded.
Sometime later, one player asked the first serious question of the night.
“You guys think there are going to be cuts next year?”
“There have to be. There are 15 recruits.”
“Who might get cut?”
Names were suggested, and some of the guys in the room were candidates to be cut. Nobody took it personally.
“What sort of cuts?” I asked the group.
“A team can only have 37 players,” said Chris, the guy who had turned down the million-dollar signing bonus. “Our coach recruited 15 freshmen to come play next year, so they’ll have to cut from the older guys, and that’s us.”
Chris didn’t talk much. He was the team’s best player and kind of a strong, silent type. But he was talking now.
“What happens if you get cut?” I asked.
“Well, you probably either go to Junior College or just bang it,” he said. (Bang it meant to quit.) “But the thing about baseball is that most people can’t quit. So if you get cut, you’ll either go to JC or take a year off and try again.”
“They can’t quit because they love it so much?” I asked.
The question seemed sort of obvious or dumb after I’d asked it, but the team didn’t take it that way. They nodded or said, “Yep,” though more to themselves than to me. The Xbox soon was shut off and the guys stood to collect their things; it seemed that I had prompted the end of the night. Nobody was drunk or aggressive like Christian had warned. Practice was early in the morning.
“Most guys who are still playing baseball started off incredibly young,” said Chris, “and they basically played all day, every day from that point on. It’s all they know. How could you quit?”