It was 10:30 on a Friday night, and I was at home with a book and a blanket -- my preferred weekend activity -- when my phone dinged. It was my friend Blake*, who was in town for the weekend, asking if I want to come hang out. In a rare attempt to be “social” and “make friends” (which is this thing I hear that some people do but which I usually try to avoid) , I agreed. They’d already been going pretty hard, he said, so I offered to drive.
This was either the best or worst decision ever; the jury is still out.
I pulled up at the house where they were all staying and they piled in the car: Blake in the passenger seat, and Thomas, Robert and Joseph in the back. I put on the child lock because really, one can never be too careful.
It was a football weekend in a college town, so the youths were out in full-swing, yelling from their porches and apartment balconies and waving around cans of cheap beer as they gesticulated and yelled about the next day’s game. The Drunk Quartet, as I’ve dubbed my charges, insisted our first stop be a house party (or, more accurately, an apartment party) at a cheaply built college apartment complex just off the university’s campus. The directions they gave me were, of course, incorrect, so I had to drive around for a bit with a car full of drunk guys yelling for me to play R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix).” (They insisted I tap the car horn every time the song says “beep-beep.” I complied.)
The apartment complex was near the university’s police station and near-panic ensued when we drove by: “DON’T TURN INTO THE POLICE STATION.”
Upon arrival at the party, I realized I didn’t know if I’d ever seen so many undergraduates doing so many undergraduate-type things in such a confined space -- not even when I was actually an undergrad. (Our group of five, at the time, was either in post-grad programs or working full-time.) People were smoking hookah in that cliché college-movie way, sitting in a semi-circle on a couple of grungy couches, most likely complaining internally about not knowing someone who sold weed. Some half-drunk coed was using the oven to heat up the coals and was scurrying back and forth from the kitchen to the living room carrying them, glowing and orange, with two forks. Kids were huddled in corners making out.
The Drunk Quartet took shots of cheap vodka. Like, really cheap vodka. Like, vodka-from-the-compartment-under-the-bottom-shelf vodka. They handed me a shot, and I knocked back only about half of it because a) I was driving and b) I had no desire to drink a product that, in another life, was probably used to remove graffiti from train cars and c) where did this shot glass come from again? They wandered off and came back with beers from god-knows-where. They joked and laughed and told stories with slightly slurred voices.
By the time we left it was midnight, and they wanted to go to the bars, though none of us wanted to pay the high cover charges that came along with big football weekends in big college towns. On the ride to downtown they requested we listen to “Ignition (Remix)” (again) and a YouTube video of a 10-hour continuous loop of the "whoa-oh-oh-ay" section of Swedish metal band Lost Horizon's "Highlander (The One)."
In a bizarre change of music choice, Blake cued up Americana artist Jason Isbell’s “Alabama Pines,” and in what was perhaps the most somber moment of the night, I looked to my right and in my rearview to see the Drunk Quartet crooning the acoustic ballad in unison (Blake even picked up on the harmony).
Upon arriving downtown, we walked around from bar to bar in the freezing cold (~35 degrees) to find a bar with no cover, my charges comfortable in their whiskey blankets and me shivering in my flannel shirt because really, nobody wants to carry their coat into a bar. We finally decided on some terrible bar downtown playing exclusively either a) Journey and/or b) hip-hop music from the late 2000s (I heard “Whooty” by Edubb twice). They danced together amidst the undergraduates, swaying side to side with their arms around each other’s necks, confessing their bromance-fueled love for each other as they downed drinks they waited 20 minutes in line and paid entirely too much for.
When they tired of that, we made what I thought at the time was our final stop at another tiny bar downtown, equipped with fluorescent lights (of which I was very unappreciative, considering it was 1:30 a.m. at that point) and a cover band whose first song choice was Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” Robert had found another friend and wandered off to another bar, but we soon received a request to pick up a replacement member of the Drunk Quartet: another friend, Timothy, from somewhere else downtown. I gladly rounded up the boys and fled left the bar, and after a bit of searching and some terrible phone directions we found Timothy on a corner by a BBQ restaurant.
“Hurry up and drive!” Timothy yelled as he fell climbed into the car. “The communists are after me!”
Once we calmed ol’ Tim down re: the communists, he made the suggestion that really threw the night into high gear: “Let’s go to Burger King to get chicken nuggets.”
They promised to buy me some, so once again, I complied. As we pulled up to the drive-thru at 2 a.m., I hear Timothy and Thomas yell something about ordering 100 nuggets. After several minutes of debate, which was something more akin to me banging my head against a wall than having an actual logical conversation, I agreed to place the order.
I told the lady working at the Burger King that I was sorry, really, I was, but I had a car full of drunk guys and they wanted 100 chicken nuggets (“Yes, m’am, I’m serious, 100 chicken nuggets"), two Rodeo burgers and a grilled chicken sandwich. My friends yelled unintelligible things from the backseat. I tried not to laugh. Moments passed while I waited for a response.
“OK,” was all she said. She sounded like someone had kicked her puppy. “Pull around and wait.”
We waited 20 minutes for the food, which seemed like an eternity to my charges, and I tried to explain that not even Burger Kings in college towns are prepared for such an absurd order. They got tired of waiting.
“Run your car into the building,” Timothy said. “Then they’ll give you the nuggets.” I patted him and said, no, I don’t think I will, and that this is why, perhaps, we cannot have nice things.
I have never seen such joy as when the employee brought the food out to us. There may have been tears. I drove them back to their house, glancing in the rearview occasionally to make sure no one was choking on the food they were practically inhaling. They wanted to hear “Ignition (Remix)” (yes, again) and “Yeah!” by Usher, and roll the windows down to sing it to cars stopped next to us at lights (I had to disable the child lock briefly, as well as mouth “I’m sorry” to my fellow early-morning drivers).
When we got back to the house, they arranged the food on the coffee table like some sort of medieval feast, and went at it. The best analogy I can think of is the scene in “The Lion King” where the hyenas chase Simba, but instead of hyenas there are four drunk guys and instead of Simba there are 100 little chicken nuggets, scrambling to get away.
I stared at them with a mix of both admiration and utter horror.
I left them there at the house and went home, only to wake up the next morning to a text from Thomas asking if he’d left his wallet in my car. When I went to look, I was horrified at what I found: Burger King debris littered my backseat. There were crumbs everywhere. I found his wallet, smeared with grease, under an empty nugget carton.
When I returned it to him later that day, he told me he’d woken up confused in the middle of the night after falling asleep in the middle of the living room floor, covered in ketchup stains and wearing a knitted leprechaun hat.
“But that’s not as funny as what Timothy did,” he said.
Apparently, Tim had been texting a girl all night; he’d apparently made plans to hook up with her sometime earlier, before the chicken-nugget debauchery ensued.
“What are you doing,” she’d texted around 2:30 a.m. “I want you.”
“I want you, too,” he’d replied. “But there are so many nuggets.”
*My friends asked me to change their names. I simultaneously understand and mourn this decision.