aug 5

rex rock city

Special treat today.

Chuck Klosterman and I met our first year of college, and we quickly developed the most dysfunctional friendship I've ever had. At the college newspaper, he was the sports columnist and I was the music columnist. At times, I hated him more than any girlfriend I've ever had. That's saying something.

His new book, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, comes out later this month. One essay, which is also printed in the September issue of Spin, uses the tempestuous summer we lived together (1992) as a set up for a larger topic.

Here are the first few paragraphs, reprinted without permission from anyone, but it's my life so sue me. I've added some "footnotes" -- commentaries over the top of his analysis of the summer of '92. Watch out, kids, it's gory:

Even before Eric Nies came into my life, I was having a pretty good 1992.

I wasn't doing anything of consequence that summer, but -- at least retrospectively -- nothingness always seems to facilitate the best periods of my life. [Note 0.] I suppose I was going to summer school, sort of; I had signed up for three summer classes at the University of North Dakota in order to qualify for the maximum amount of financial aid, but then I dropped two of the classes the same day I got my check. I suppose I was also employed, sort of; I had a work-study job in the campus "geography library," which was really just a room with a high ceiling, filled with maps no one ever used. For some reason, it was my job to count these maps for three hours a day. [Note 1.] But most importantly, I was living in an apartment with a guy who spent all night locked in his bedroom writing a novel he was unironically titling Bits of Reality, [Note 2.] which maybe have been a modern retelling of Oedipus Rex. [Note 3.] He slept during the afternoon and often subsisted on raw hot dogs. [Note 4.] I think his girlfriend probably paid the rent for both of us. [Note 5.]

Now this dude who ate the hot dogs -- he was an excellent roommate. [Note 6.] He didn't care about anything remotely practical. [Note 7.] When two people live together, there's typically an unconscious Odd Couple relationship. There's always one fastidious guy who keeps life organized, and there's always one chaotic guy who makes life wacky and interesting. Somehow, me and the hot-dog eater both fit into the latter category. In our lives, there was no Tony Randall. We would sit in the living room, drink a case of Busch beer, and throw the empty cans into the kitchen for no reason whatsoever, beyond the fact that it was the most overtly irresponsible way for any two people to live. [Note 8.] We would choose to put out cigarettes on the carpet when ashtrays were readily available. We would vomit out the windows -- and this was a basement apartment.

Obviously, we rarely argued about the living conditions.

We did, however, argue about everything else. Constantly. [Note 9.] We'd argue about H. Ross Perot's chances in the upcoming presidential election, and we'd argue about whether there were fewer Jews in the NBA than logic should dictate. [Note 10.] We argued about the merits of dog racing, dogfighting, cockfighting, affirmative action, legalized prostitution, the properties of ice, chaos theory, and whether or not water had a discernible flavor. [Note 11.] We argued about how difficult it would be to ride a bear, assuming said bear was muzzled. We argued about partial-birth abortion, and we argued about the possibility of Trent Reznor committing suicide and/or being gay. We once got into a vicious argument over whether or not I had actually read all of an aggrandizing Guns N' Roses biography within the scope of a single day, an achievement my hot-dog-gorged roommate claimed was impossible (that particular argument extended for all of July). [Note 12.] Mostly we argued about which of us was a better at arguing and particularly about who had won the previous argument. [Note 13.]

Perhaps this is why we were both enraptured by that summer's debut of MTV's The Real World... [Note 14.]

0. This was the summer we discovered the movie "Slacker," which I still say is the single biggest cultural event of my life. It changed everything for me to realize one could make a movie about doing nothing that is this crazy and good.

1. My job that summer was mowing lawns on campus. But I got in big trouble for flirting with the University President's teenage daughter, who was always out frolicking on the grass like a Midwest Lolita.

2. The title of my book was, believe it or not, actually much worse: "Bits of Eternity." However, I later wrote Chuck a letter from Alaska joking that I should ride "The Real World" wave and call it "Bits of Reality." (I also like to think, with gritting teeth, that it was a precursor to Reality Bites [1994].) The novel, by the way, was wretched, and it was thankfully destroyed in a fire in 1997. I would describe it as a mix between Danielle Steele and Jack Kerouac. I was reading Hermann Hesse at the time, if that's any indication.

3. I was also reading Freud at the time, but there was no Oedipus complex.

4. Either this hot dot thing is a literary device or I should be more fat. What makes it double-weird is that I'm vegetarian now.

5. Lora was kind and giving and beautiful, but not that giving. Also of note here: she lived with us. That makes three of us in a very small one-bedroom. Chuck slept on the couch and always liked listening to us doing it at night. He doesn't think I know this.

6. True!

7. Very true! Sub-footnote: This will be painful to admit, but this was the summer I took to wearing a Malcolm X baseball cap. The 12-year-old neighbor kid chastised me because his mom (a psychology prof) said that Malcolm X was a racist. I almost capped that whitey.

8. It is mind-bogglingly surreal to see the boring Busch beer-drenched life you lived a decade ago retold in "Spin" magazine.

9. This is painfully true. I can remember almost every word of every fight of many of the things listed next. And I was right every damn time.

10. I was convinced there should be more Jewish NBA stars. Or any? I still believe there's a conspiracy.

11. This water one was a big deal. Water has no flavor. Period.

12. This truly was a vicious one. But my point was that he had skipped all the "philosophical" chapters. In retrospect, this is a monstrously hilarious accusation.

13. I would invite friends over to listen to us argue, and then force them to judge who the winner was. I remember our friend Lefty saying "well Rex, Chuck sometimes makes better points than you." I almost clocked him.

14. That's all just a set up to what follows: a thoughtful essay about watching "The Real World." It's a good book, go buy it.

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