When I opened my mailbox I saw a letter from grandmother buried underneath Bed Bath and Beyond coupons. It was the first letter I received in college. 

I opened the letter. It was a Halloween card that said,

“Happy Halloween Michael…I love you very very much…take this money and do something fun with it. Love Grandma Elma.”

Enclosed was a $20 bill. Now you have to understand, at the time, getting $20 was very exciting. I mean, I didn’t have a job. I was a poor broke college kid. With that kind of money I could buy…here comes the cliche…60 packets of ramen. Wow funny.  But then I remembered what my grandma said, and you should always listen to your elders, “do something fun with it.”

Me in my dorm…Oct 2009. Praying to wear a “rain-coat”.

Mind you, I still hadn’t attended a party in college or drank alcohol for that matter. My dad had promised me this wonderful experience on the car ride down and it still hadn’t come to fruition. While driving me to college he said, ”Just make sure you wear a raincoat.”  FYI, this has nothing to do with the protecting yourself from the rain in the PNW.

I owned raincoats but didn’t put any on.  All I had done was go to class, eat chicken fingers, and look at porn.  All the girls in the dorms went to the frats to drink alcohol and have fun. I wanted to get mine.  My grandmas $20 was the ticket to adventure. I was going to buy some booze and have some girls over, but how?

Now my roommate, Adrian, was 21 years old and could buy us booze if we needed him to.  He was from mainland China and was obsessed with Americana. He would ask me questions like,

Me and Adrian…Jan 2009. You can tell we are in college because of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar

“Do you like Michael Jackson?” And “What did you think of 9/11?”  He was an interesting, yet, well intentioned fellow.

Well to my dismay, Adrian was out of town. He was probably hanging out in Chinatown dining on some chicken feet with our unofficial 4th roommate, his girlfriend Lisa.

So it was up to me and my own wits to find out how to procure some alcohol. I decided to hit the Ave with my partner in crime Chris to figure this out. We were both socially awkward so I anticipated we wouldn’t get very far. Optimism was always hard for me to figure out.

Me and Chris on the Ave…Aug 2009

We began walking down the Ave and decided that we would hang out in the Safeway parking lot. There was plenty of opportunities to ask young college kids to buy booze for us. But neither Chris and I were able to make the first move. We were terrible with eye contact and introducing ourselves. So we hoped someone would approach us, just like nervous boys at a school dance.

Then while standing in the dark alley behind the Safeway parking lock, a homeless man approached us. I immediately thought we were going to get pistol whipped, mugged, and shot. I braced for impact.

But instead he smiled at us and said, “Hi brothers, my name is Stoney.  It looks like you boys are trying to buy some booze.”  My opinion quickly changed and a smile lit up across my face…I was ready to engage a homeless man…college was really changing me!


I incredulously said, “Yes, yes we are! We are trying to buy a six pack of beer…we want something nice so we’re thinking about getting some Heineken?  All I have is this $20 bucks. Do you think you could grab us some? You can keep the change.”

It felt like an honor to help the homeless community and get alcohol, all while breaking the law at the same time. I was a humanitarian who was also lawless. College was really making me edgy. I noticed a girl with her boyfriend staring at me in the parking lot. I stood up a little straighter and gave a half smile. Awkward as fuck.

Stoney looked at me and said…”I got you brother! Just wait here and I’ll be right back” As he walked away I felt a sense of achievement. What a time to be alive!

Chris looked at me said, “Fuck yeah.”

Then we waited. Shouldn’t be more than 5 minutes to get that I thought.

I looked down at my Razer phone, 5 minutes went by. I could feel myself getting antsy but kept my cool.  I looked at Chris and assured him,

“Lines are probably long…it’s a Husky game tomorrow…people probably want beer”

“The Husky game is on Saturday not Friday.” Chris said.

“Oh, right….”

Another 5 minutes went by, I started pacing,

“Where the fuck is he?  Maybe he got arrested.”

Razer Phone…not too different from my current phone

“Arrested for what…buying beer?” Chris said.

Another 5 minutes went by. I started pacing more aggressively. It had been 15 minutes. I was pissed.

“This is why I don’t help homeless people! I think that guy totally took our money and probably bought drugs with it.”

Chris laughed and upped the stakes, “Well what if he bought a lotto ticket…and won. Maybe he’ll become a secret millionaire”

“Well, then he can thank my grandma…Happy Halloween asshole.”

Stoney never came back. Stoney was not an honest man.  That’s why I don’t help these people. Chris and I couldn’t help but to laugh for how stupid we were and how hoodwinked we got. This was probably his daily job, finding dumb college kids to take money from all under the charming pseudonym “Stoney”.  Oh righteous he does pot! That’s cool, here is my money! What a dick.

College Girls

We started walking back to the dorm and watched as attractive young females wobbled like doe down the street in their 6 inch heels. Their outfits were revealing. If their mothers had seen, they’d be upset. But like Bambi, there was no mothers around to care.


We arrived back at the dorm and walked up the concrete stairs of the fire escape to the 2nd floor. As we rounded the corner we noticed my room door was ajar and inside my roommate and his girlfriend were talking as we heard glasses clinking together.

Adrian stood in the room, wearing a Chicago bulls Jersey and smiled at us.

“Michael! What do you think of gin? Do Americans like Gin?”, as he held up a London Beefeater bottle.

I wasn’t sure how to answer. What was gin? It smelled like Pine Needles.

Nov 2006…Me and Grandma Elma Valeri

That night Chris and finished an entire bottle of gin. Our night included running into the street with in our bathrobes and vomiting in a urinal.  Even though I didn’t get to personally spend my Grandma’s $20, I still like to say I had fun. Thanks Grandma Elma.

I remember being in 6th grade…and my teacher (whose identify I will protect), Ms. T, was going off about the importance of preserving the Earth for future generations.

I was rather tired and yawned rather audibly…it’s wasn’t particularly thrilling.

She looks at me and says, “Michael…that was incredibly RUDE!.”  

I responded…”I’m sorry I was tired…I had to yawn.”

My 6th Grade Photo…Sept 2001

She told me it was important to cover my mouth when yawning. “Ok”, I said…”I’ll be sure to always cover my mouth when yawning in the future Ms. T.”

She then started asking the class what things we could do to preserve the Earth.  And as you would imagine the responses were uninspired, like kids reciting their ABCs.

  1. Recycle!
  2. Compost!
  3. Stop driving
  4. Don’t use hairspray

I sat there in a catatonic state. This wasn’t the first time I had heard about the importance of recycling. Then everyone started yawning..and I covered my mouth to avoid future wrath.

I was getting awfully sick of hearing the same rehearsed responses. So I waited till my yawn was over to throw my hand up…

Then I told Ms. T…”Why don’t we send all the garbage to space?”

Ms. T glared at me. “Excuse me Michael…but that is completely RIDICULOUS…we couldn’t possibly send all the garbage in the world to space.”

I then replied…”Why not?”

Disposal Program if I was President

She said, “I’m not going to explain why…but that is a very INAPPROPRIATE answer….and very off topic.”

“Ok…well then why do I need to be FORCED to recycle”

“So you don’t care about about your grand kids?”

“I won’t have kids…I’ll be single my whole life.”

“Oh so you don’t care about anyone else’s children.”

“Not particularly.”

I used to leave crumbs on the dinner table…it was a lot of work to wipe them off.

I did a lot of that in my college fraternity house… a Jewish fraternity to be more exact.  I’m catholic, but with a nose like this it’s easy to see why I was recruited.

Me on my 21st Birthday, Feb 2011

Our fraternity was called ZBT, or Zeta Beta Tau.  In the greek community this was construed to Zillions Billions Trillions or….Zero Boners Touched.  What do you expect from college kids?

This particular rainy night, I had been assigned to clean all the pots and pans after dinner…but it was also finals week.  I hated cleaning…I never felt responsible for the mess since I was in the library most of the time studying. In the past I either paid someone off or didn’t do it all… I did not have time tonight scrub baked ziti off a pan… so I left my dinner plate, newspaper, and crumbs at the table and immediately snuck off to the library…

A couple hours later I came back to ZBT, the smell of stale beer filled my lungs as I dragged my muddy shoes through the entrance, up the stairs, and down the hall to my room.. The house was eerily quiet…. I thought…as I sidestepped over some red solo cups, a partially eaten plate of baked ziti…and a used condom…disgusting I know.  Upon reaching my bedroom door, I saw a newspaper, tacked on my door, and a message scrawled in black sharpie…


What kind of sick joke I thought?  A gestapo reference….in a Jewish Fraternity?…that’s not kosher.  I was disgusted, I hastily entered my door code and yanked the handle…the door did not open.

I tried..again…people have called me impatient…1…3….5…4..deliberately…yet again it didn’t open. The code was changed..and I had been intentionally locked out.

Of all nights, WHY FINALS NIGHT.  I had only skipped kitchen duty 2 or 12 times this quarter…

So I started talking in my outside voice as I walked down the halls of the fraternity, banging on everyone’s door at  midnight, “MY DOOR IS LOCKED. CAN SOMEONE LET ME IN MY ROOM I HAVE A FINAL TOMORROW”…

At that moment… a bedroom door opened in the hallway…and my fraternity brothers marched out one by one, in a single line…

  • Jeff Gorman appeared first…or as we called him Jeff Goldblum
  • Jeff was followed by Cohen, Sam, Kris, Noah, and a large cloud of smoke

The gestapo had arrived.  “You have the wrong guy, I’m not even Jewish!!,” I screamed…

ZBT Alpha Mu Fraternity UW, March 2010

They grabbed me and pushed me against my bedroom door, and unlocked it…

With the gestapo holding me….they pushed me into the dark room…I waited…and the lights flipped on.

I looked on in disbelief as my entire side of my room had been saran wrapped….and piled from floor to ceiling in crumpled up newspapers…I pulled the plastic barrier down as my fraternity brothers looked on in elation…the newspapers began to avalanche…


Who did this?  Who was to blame for this?

The answer hit me as if the newspapers were rocks…

I’m to blame…for the dirty dishes….the red solo cups…the partially eaten ziti..but not the used condom…c’mon guys give me more credit

I had been so focused on my grades…my own self interest…that I didn’t once consider helping out…I had made as many excuses as there was newspapers littered across my floor.

That was the day I realized I wasn’t the center of the universe…and that my lack of responsibility had consequences….



Now the newspaper that was tacked on my door hangs in my studio apartment.  And I do my best to make sure there are no crumbs on the table.