The next day was terrible. I appreciate that most of you reading this have had a hangover before. You may think that you have had a terrible hangover. One of the ages, shall we say? But I say: You don’t know shit.
I woke up the next afternoon at two o’clock with very little recollection of the previous night and that special achiness that can only come from a prolonged vomit. My throat felt like I had put it through boot camp, and my shoulders felt like I pitched a no-hitter and lasted nine innings. I was, in other words, in a bad condition.
However, I did manage to get up from my bed and stretch, which I consider a tremendous achievement. I blinked, peeked out the curtains and immediately withdrew my head from the searing pain of daylight, only to let out a high-pitched, terrified scream. Covering the sheets on my bed were deep red stains. To this day, I do not know what those stains were. I checked over my whole body and saw that nothing was bleeding. I saw all of my flatmates that day, so I know that I didn’t kill any of them. I’m fairly sure that, after the episode with the robot in the courtyard, I went straight to bed. This, I feel, is a mystery for the ages—right up there with what’s really in Area 51.
At any rate, you will all know that, when you are hung over, it is nearly impossible to get through the day. It is a challenge to do even the most basic of things, but, at the same time, we must keep up some semblance of being civilized, lest we fall back on something or so forth and—well, to be honest, I see no reason why, when hung over, we shouldn’t say “fuck it” and collapse back into bed.
Which is why, after wandering into my kitchen, seeing all of my flatmates and hearing them talk, I did just that.
When I woke up, it was Tuesday morning and I felt fantastic. Sure, I may have slept through a seminar on Monday, but it was about Joseph Conrad, and I couldn’t care less about that guy—I was in Imperial Literature for Kipling. I showered and decided, completely on a whim, that today was the day that I was going to follow The Stalker.
Fromthe first week all of us moved in to campus, I wondered how this man spent his time. It was obvious that he enjoyed a good cider, but a man could only drink so much cider before growing bored and doing something else. I figured that the man had to have some hobbies. (By this time, The Student had told me about seeing The Stalker walking out of nude model classes in the art building, but I chalked that up to The Stalker trying to better himself through artistic endeavors.) I put on my jacket, threw on my baseball cap, and walked back outside.
I took up a position behind the trash bins, across from The Stalker’s building, and waited. After five minutes, I grew antsy. After ten minutes, I started feeling exhilarated, like I was a secret agent, or a cop, and this was an important stake-out. No longer was this The Stalker, but a Columbian drug lord in his safe house, about to arrange for the goods to arrive in the hands of his distributor—and I was going to be the man to stop him.
After twenty minutes, I grew bored again and was about to leave, when out of the front door walked The Stalker. I didn’t recognize him at first, for he had foregone his usual outfit and looked like a normal human being. He wore a deep red button-up tucked into dark blue jeans and dress shoes. His usually greasy hair was washed, he wore thin-rimmed glasses, and carried himself entirely differently than his usual slouched-over-serial-killer way of walking.
He passed me by and I heard him whistling a tune I couldn’t quite place (later, I figured out that it was “L.O.V.E.” by Nat King Cole). Really starting to see the appeal of hunching over and following someone, I stayed about fifteen yards behind The Stalker, managed to hide myself amongst Turkish postgrads, and followed him to the campus café next to the Computer Science building. He walked inside, I followed, he ordered, and I stood behind a column.
Everything was going well until my cover was almost blown by a bunch of Greeks shouting at me to join them. I headed their way, quieted them down, and kept The Stalker in my sights. The Greeks here have been some of the nicest people I’ve met, but I really don’t understand why they waved me over, as they continued their conversation in Greek. (Greek, if you haven’t heard it, sounds like one continuous tongue twister.)
The Stalker sat at a small table with two chairs next to the windows about thirty feet away from where I was. He sat with his chin in his hand, looking out the window. A steaming cup of something sat ignored in front of him. Judging by his slow swaying motion, he was still humming the song he had been on the way over. I looked around me to see if anyone was turning into a lizard—which would have been a sign that I was on an acid trip; at that moment, it was the only logical explanation for what I was seeing. Sadly, no one was turning into a lizard, the clocks weren’t melting, and no bats flung out of the air vents, so I was left with the realization that I was experiencing reality.
And then, from the library-side entrance to the café, a tall, slender, brunette with a very posh English accent walked in the door, waved at The Stalker, and sat down opposite him, working her way out of her jacket and putting her gloves in her purse. I had to keep my jaw from detaching itself and smacking on the top of the table. What was this? Could The Stalker be some sort of charming Casanova to everyone but our group? If that was the case, was he really The Stalker? If not, then what did that mean for us? Were we just jerks for assuming that he was the most disturbing man on the face of the Earth, not bothering to look deeper, and try to pick out the human beneath him?
But no, I thought, the guy skinned a rabbit. Charming Casanovas do not skin rabbits, as a rule. For the first time since watching health care get neutered on CNN, CNBC, and C-SPAN, I was seeing everything I understood about the world shatter before my eyes.
“Hey man,” Zaf said from across the table. “Is okay? Your face, it’s white.”
I’d gone to great lengths to help Zaf with his grammar, but he stubbornly refused to improve. (According to a mutual friend, though, his Greek was just as bad as his English.) “Yeah,” I said. “Everything’s fine. World’s shattering, but everything’s fine.”
He laughed and went back to smacking the table with his hands and launching into tirades about God-Knows-What in Greek.
From The Stalker’s table, I heard a delighted laugh. I looked over, and The Stalker grinned at the girl, who played with her hair and continued talking.
They stayed there for thirty minutes—my table showed no signs of leaving. I’d learned that Greeks could be in a burning building, but if there was coffee in front of them, they would continue relaxing and chatting until they caught fire. Eventually, after almost giving up hope of overhearing what the two were discussing, I caught the boyfriend bomb.
You see—and The Student can attest to this—when a guy initially approaches a woman, it is nearly all of the time because the guy finds the woman attractive. Women have evolved a counter to this known as ‘the boyfriend bomb.’ When this bomb is deployed, usually in a perfectly innocent and not malign fashion, it usually goes like, “Well I’m moving in with my boyfriend,” or “Just the other day, my boyfriend…” It has the psychological equivalent of a hydrogen bomb exploding in the center of Manhattan. The male brain shuts down, and we’re left with a stupid grin on our faces and something like, “Oh, no kidding? That’s nice,” streaming out of our mouths. (That is, if the male has a modicum of honor—if not, then they are likely to shout, “fuck you!”)
As I heard the boyfriend bomb being deployed, I watched The Stalker for his reaction. I expected a knife to appear out of nowhere and bury itself in a vital spot on his date’s body. Barring that, I expected to see his mouth barely move and then for her to drop dead onto the table, a victim of some unheard-of voodoo spell. However, The Stalker once again surprised me by taking the approach favored by most men in his situation: resigned faux-happiness.
Soon after, the woman checked her cell phone, said something, and got up to leave. They hugged, she left, and the Stalker sat back down in his chair, looking like a wet rag. There was the typical blank stare—in my mind, it always looked like the starer was fully embracing nihilism—and, eventually, the sigh that said, in effect, “Nuts.” The Stalker, then, further surprised me by not glaring out at the world with anger in his eyes—as I tended to do in his situation—or reacting by looking like he desperately needed a drink—as The Student did about once a week—but shrugging, plopping some money on the table, and standing up.
Now, it was here that I realized my position. I couldn’t very well show myself to the man. In the first place, it would make further interactions incredibly awkward between the two of us—more than they already were. In the second place, what kind of stalker would I be if The Stalker saw that I was stalking him? So, I pulled my baseball cap down virtually over my eyes and started babbling in what I thought sounded like Greek.
My table fell silent and stared at me as if I had suddenly gone completely and utterly mad. The Stalker walked past my table, glanced down at me, and walked out the door, heading back to Dickens College. I wasn’t sure, right then, if The Stalker had seen me. That would become clear later on. I did, though, have to face my table and explain what the hell just happened. “Er,” I began—which is always a terrible way to begin an explanation.
They remained staring at me.
“You see,” I continued—which is a terrible way to continue an explanation. “I’m a jackass.”
“Crazy American!” a couple of them shouted. They returned to their conversation.
I sat back, wondering if “I’m a jackass” could be used to get out of every situation like this. I made a note to use it later on.