Tops Never Stops

Before we discovered the gloriousness that is Wegmans we frequented Tops. It has been well noted already that during the Princeton Era Mike and I made at least a daily trek to Tops since it was so close. Another beacon to the hospital white walls of Tops was Matt’s long-time employ at Tops on Delaware.

Matt was one of the first employees to this branch of the Tops franchise. He had an interview in the trailer on the lot while the building was still being constructed. Some relative of Matt was involved so it was an easy position to acquire, not that cart-boy is an excessively hard job to get. Matt started work in Spring. His plan was to work until the first day of snow, and then quit. “Matt doesn’t work in the snow” was his mantra.

Months later the Matt was pushing carts when he was called into the office. The Tops lords had vision enough to see that Matt was more than a cart-boy. He was immediately reassigned to an inside position in the Butcher’s Block. At the close of his shift that day Matt stepped outside and gazed up into the sky. The first snowflakes of the season gently fell upon his brow. The gods had smiled upon our hero. He was not longer a cart boy. But you must pay the gods a price; Matt was still employed at Tops, or in an indirect way Ahol (the parent, and appropriately named, company of Tops).

Speaking of Ahol, the scuttlebutt is that the local mafia allowed Ahol to purchase Tops as long as they maintained control of the Tops Union. This is all hearsay, so if I wake up with the horse head in my dead tomorrow you will know the arm of the Buffalo mafia extends to the West Coast.

On our way to Comstock to waste time, we took great joy in visiting Matt during his work hours. This was particularly true when he was a lowly cart boy. On one of the rare occasions we had Sean with us we made such a trip for supplies. Sean was known for his fearless driving and his habit of stopping at Noco to “fill er up” with whatever change he had in his pocket. I was once a first-hand witness to his purchase of 32 cents worth of fuel. Today that is not enough for them to let you lift the nozzle.

We spoke to Matt on the way into Tops. He had just spent a considerable amount of time in the classic “stack a fuck-load of carts together from all across the parking lot” so he could push them all back at once. His cart-stack lot was near the Tops entrance, and when we returned from purchase of our supplies (Mountain Dew, pretzels, frozen burritos, etc.) we found Matt no where to be found. As we left Sean took the opportunity to drive his car into the cart-stack Matt had painstakingly constructed. He pushed the cart-stack to the far corner of the parking lot. At first he drove at a slow pack, until we saw Matt running at us, at which time Sean sped up. The exceedingly heavy cart-stack was left in the farthest corner. We sped of laughing. At least we gave Matt something to do for the last hour of his shift.

Once inside, Matt quickly rose to the rank of 95% Butcher. What is 95% Butcher? After a year of working primarily in the Butcher’s Block Matt observed that the only difference between an official Butcher and an experienced meat man, like himself, was knowing how to properly cut 5 specific meats. As there 5 meats are expensive, they did not let anyone slice them, nor were they purchased frequently enough for Matt to get enough practice. We all spurred him on to complete his training and have a viable skill. Eventually Matt was able to get in enough practice in two of these elusive meats, so he settled at 97% Butcher. As I conclude this section it strikes me that this post will burn a few of Matt’s bridges.

Matt was a valuable Tops associate for nearly seven years. He quit before hitting the seven year point because that would be when a part-time associate would be granted a 401k. While the rest of us saw this as an obvious fruit to grab, Matt saw this as a sign he had been defeated by the preverbal Man.

Continuing this HR showcase of Tops benefits we come to the period when Tops began selling Tops branded apparel. Tops management required employees to wear this apparel initially, no doubt to spur on the awaiting masses who couldn’t possibly hold back from spending thousands on Tops sweatshirts. The slap in the face was that associates were required to pay for these required textiles. What a joke.

Tops exposed us to several characters, and once again showcased the intelligence of the average person. The most memorable example of this was when Matt related some story of some random activity of our crew. “What does phallic mean?” interjected one of typical Tops zombies. Matt was befuddled that he did not know what phallic was? He now had is shift project. He left the blob with no better knowledge and spent the rest of him shift polling all his co-workers as the meaning of phallic. To his astonishment one one other employee knew the word. During his polling he even received commentary that phallic was not a common word many people would know. Matt left his shift to relate this happenstance to the rest of us. Until this incident we did not know it was possible to NOT know what phallic meant.

Matt mined a number of girlfriends out of seven year stint. I recall one who became a vegetarian because she was fat. Success! She lost weight. Unfortunately she was still not satisfied, so she pushed the envelope even more, and became vegan. This relationship did not last long.

Matt also met the same girl that absconded with Matt and James in the infamous “I’ll never set foot in a gay bar” story that was the first post on this blog.

An experienced Matt sat in the Tops atrium enjoying his mandatory earned break. A frantic woman ran up, “There is a used condom over there!” “Really? Where?” The woman took Matt half-way across the parking lot to what was absolutely confirmed as a under condom, still filled with a “rush of excess fluids.”

Matt concluded his inspection and headed back, but to the dismay of the woman, he did not return with any cleaning equipment. Matt, instead, plopped himself back on the atrium bench. “Aren’t you going to clean that us?” she explained. “Lady, I’m on my break.”

The bulk of Matt’s time at Tops had him stationed in the Butcher’s Block, or as we more affectionately referred to it – the Meat department. Matt divulged two secrets of the Meat department. One; they kept a small Igloo cooler ready to go at someone, ironically usually one of the professional butchers, cut off a finger and was rushed to the hospital, finger piece encased in the Igloo cooler, to have it sewn back on. The success rate was quite high. Two; the Meat department kept an open bowl into which they threw any scraps, be they on the floor or wherever, into this bowl. When the bowl was full, then they ground up the scraps and sold it under the label of “meat”. Funnily enough, years before, during the Goodyear era, I had spied one of these and bought it for the label humor.

Matt enjoyed a time where he was double employed. His second job, the more prestigious one, was the all powerful Mighty Taco on Sheridan and NFB. Mighty Taco gives you a week to study the menu before taking a test. You have to know all menu items, and their component’s with amounts from memory. Matt passed and became a Mighty Taco employee. We gave him a goal of finding out what the beef was, as he felt Mighty Taco was superior to Taco Bell in every aspect, except the beef. Since this was sacrilege we was to solve the mystery now that he had access.

Matt soon grew to dislike the manager. She ruled with an iron fist, holding weekly meetings that Matt was 2 minutes late for once. She fired him for this. Matt suspects that he was really fired because he was telling the other employees how the manager had terrible skills, and was a bitch to boot. He did not notice until too late that she was in the building, and overheard, walking in on his conversation just at the end of Matt’s tirade. He never solved the “Riddle of Beef.”

Like the recent rash of professional athletes that pretend to retire, Matt too had an encore tour at Tops. I made a visit to him once during this tour. He was working the night shift stocking the frozen foods isles. Like the athlete that plays one more season when he should have walked away, it was sad to see Matt, the once lord of part-time associates, reduced to a zero visibility position.

Another of our crowd spent some time employed at Tops, Chester. He gleefully gave us reports as to his rapid rise to the “Express Lane”, giving us tips as to how he became one of these best of the best. He switched sides from making bewildered fun of the Tops cashiers who wore rubber thimbles to wearing one himself.

Having been a Tops associate for such a long time, Matt was well versed with the employee handbook. There was a statute of limitations on anything you did of five years. The exact day the limit was us, he spilled the beans of what he had done to his co-worked in the back of the store, as he was leaving for his shift. It took Matt 2 minutes to walk our the front of the store, and by then the news had traveled faster than his ironically unmeaty legs could carry him. An example of just how efficient the Tops grapevine is.

What was Matt’s hidden crime? Back when he was still a cart-boy he abandoned his post, walked across the street, and saw a movie at the old Super Saver Cinema. When the movie was over he walked back across the street and took his break.

Saving You More?

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A Tradition Like No Other

The Comstock and Princeton era’s birthed a number of traditions, most formed out of boredom, laziness, or lack of choice.

Every holiday has it’s own traditions, especially *mas.  The most persistent and pervasive of all Comstock traditions was the Brown Bomber.  Mike’s grandmother took great pride in baking.  All throughout the year Mike would come home with a coffee tin of baked goods, but especially around *mas.  What is a Brown Bomber?  It is not a Fraternaty initiation, nor another of Larry’s army stories, but a golf ball sized sphere of rice crispies and peanut butter coated in chocolate.  Sounds awesome!  They sure are, but after you have had hundreds of these suckers you are done.  Done for good.  Mike, myself, and every single character of the crew tasted defeat after a handful of Brown Bombers, even the immutable Paul fell.  The only one left standing was Dan.  No doubt due to his thick stomach walls earned with his mom’s pork chips and the infamous pickle jar.

The next tradition started before Comstock, but was engulfed by Comstock.  that was Mike’s dad’s Bills-Miami party.  Mike’s dad would open his garage to a big party with lots of food, guys, and a big TV.  Aside from myself, Paul, Dan, and Mike the party-goers were comprised of grizzly old men from the neighborhood.  Inevitably they would spin tales of of Jack Kemp, and various other “old man nonsense”.  EDITOR’s NOTE: I can’t wait to be an old man and use my growing collection of crazy old man behaviors; when the sole purpose of my remaining life is to both others.  One of us would make some comment about some Bills player that was a group favorite just to roust the old men.  By 1999 the Bills height of power was diminishing, and Miami was sucking with no Marino, hence the party moved from the Miami game to a random other game.  With this move the fever of the party waned, and along with Mike entering the Air Force, coupled with the Paul’s decent into hermit-hood, and my detachment from Mike.  that last thing I wanted was to spend MORE time with Mike.

Many television programs made their way as a Comstock tradition.  The first of which was the original Beverly Hills 90210.  This started when in Goodyear.  Given no cable in the dorms at the time, we where stuck with 3 channels, 2 of which where often blurry.  Only the soon to be beloved Fox was routinely clear.  Paul, Mike, and I decided to make one of our routine trips to Tops in the University Plaza.  Paul held us up for a minute to use the bathroom.  As all readers know by now, this “minute” lasted way more than a minute.  In the meantime Mike and I flipped on the TV just in time for the start of the weekly installment of the antics of spoiled rich kids played by 30+ year olds, some balding and pretentious enough to purposely mispronounce their name.  By the time Paul emerged, hair gel in tact, Mike and I where hopelessly locked into the show.  Only 5 minutes remained.  The siren song of Beverly Hills did not release us from it’s icy grip for another several years.  It is odd what you become engrossed in when your entertainment options are limited.  If it hadn’t been for Paul and his meddling hair.

Many other TV shows where targeted by Mike and myself over the years: The Adventures of Pete & Pete (I recently bought the Season 1 DVD), the classic Degrassi Junior High (the story of a Canadian junior high, which recently made a comeback in the same fashion as Saved by the Bell: The New Class), and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – the draw of Dean Cain, former Buffalo Bill and sprinkle in the famous line from the first episode..

Terri Hatcher: *long tirade about how she is the experienced reported, and Dean is some punk, closing with how any co-authored pieces will have her by-line above his*
Dean Cain: *smirk* “Got it.  You like to be on top.”

Other, less obscure, programs became Comstock favorites also, including Seinfeld and the Simpsons.  These where both recorded on VHS tape and a formal event was help where Mike and I split up the tapes just before he entered the Air Force.  Dan often barged into Princeton Sunday night just before Simpsons time.  He tried initially to barge in during the show, but when we refused to answer, even though with the TV blaring, it was quite obvious we were in there.  Dan would bring some strange movie or British TV over to watch after, but Mike would always go to bed early, and since I would relish any time I could spend at home with Mike gone or asleep I would watch said weird program with Dan.

The X-Files was a favorite of Mike and mine both, until Mike ruined it for me with his fanatical behavior.  No sounds during the show.  No one over.  Disconnecting the phone.  Watching it in as much dark as possible.  I grew to dislike the X-Files, and stopped watching it after the first season, never to return.

While living at Comstock itself we where stuck with Paul’s TV/VCR combo.  We where also stuck with the same 5 movies.  Having watched them all, including when we broke down and watched Frantic, the default because One Crazy Summer.  I lost count how many times we watched this.  mike often fell asleep long before the end.  Clutching his Daisy Duke beer can handle, and occasionally talking in his sleep.  When Mike talked in his sleep you could ask him questions and he would reply, uttering such gems as “I had sex with 30 houses and stuff.”

All these years of limited viewing left us fans of MST3K, and after some buffer time when Princeton vanished, and the Comstock era ended, we started a new tradition of Crappy Movie Night.  We would gather with pizza and beer, and watch 2-3 terrible movies.  The event was a success only 50% of the time, but then again , what kind of incentive is Manos: Hands of Fate or Lolita.

The final tradition that also held favor for several months, long after Comstock was over, was Travel Friday.  In an effort to not end up in the same bars each week we forced the issue.  We would gather and car pool over to some restaurant/bar that no once had ever been to, and engulf some dinner.  If the place was god we would stay, and if not then we would head to some new place that was unknown to all or most of us.

There are certainly other “traditions” that could be mentioned, like someone being trapped in the Comstock bathroom every party, or Jason getting upset with Dan, but those are left for another post.

Tops Never Stops

Over the years of Goodyear, Comstock, and Princeton, there was one more-or-less constant presence. I speak of course of the Tops behind the Amherst Theater; it also happened to be in front of the Princeton Apartments and next to the backyard of one Rev. Mooney. It was an unfortunate distance from Comstock, and even when someone had a car Wilson Farms beckoned, but frequent trips to Dan’s house and the desire for any type of obscure food would dictate a “run” to Tops, the home of cheap food and many a sugar ration.

In the passing of years and acquisition of roughly 10,000 gallons of Mountain Dew, it was bound to happen that notable events would occur at Tops. Some of these have been previously told of, such as Dan shouting “In the BROWN!” somewhere around the checkout aisle, or some feeb’s naked run through the lot; others are lost to history. In fact, as I write this, I realize that very few of the Tops connected stories are related to the University Tops; nevertheless I shall tell these and move on to the rest of the story. No doubt the comments on this subject will be better than my telling.

One instance that Larry has never ceased to tell, and which I will relate here, is the time that for some reason I drove Larry to Tops. Why this occurred I cannot say, because it was nowhere even close to any of Larry’s stores; but I assume I was somehow returning from or headed to ODS in Williamsville. Either way, to hear Larry tell it, we were walking in “Aisle 9” when the following occurred:

“Larry… Stop.”
“What, dude?”
“Something bad just happened. We need to leave.”
“What??”
“I just drew mud.”

This was followed by Larry nearly dying of laughter, and me trying to find a solution to my dilemma. Naturally there was no better alternative than to head over to Dan’s house, where Dan was not expecting us at all, but luckily was home and not naked. I demanded immediate entrance to his bathroom, and defiled it thoroughly. As some kind of brutal reminder of Comstock, there was no toilet paper and I had to call out for assistance from Dan (of all people). Apparently disoriented, Dan complied and I was not even forced to use sandpaper or some kind of paper towels (missed your chance there I guess). One side note here – Dan talks a big game about his crap eating films, but he is thoroughly disgusted by a description of bodily functions. I will spare our readers the details, but I reveled in telling Dan this tale and am somewhat hopeful that this memory will cause him discomfort.

Aside from diet-induced exploding intestines, the other story I know of related to the University Tops is that Chet worked there. This is not particularly interesting, except that it came up one day in a discussion of Chet’s economic philosophy. I made some sort of salary related comment, to which Chet responded:

Chet: “$50,000/yr should be enough for anybody.”
Louis: “That’s bullshit.”
Chet: “Bullshit? I had to work full shifts bagging groceries for $3.50/hour. That, sir, is bullshit!”

I should note that this was probably years after he worked at Tops, but who knows. This exchange might be meaningless but it stuck in my head so I am writing it down. Another random fact: when I worked at UB in the summer of 92, I walked from the chemistry building to Tops each day to get lunch. Lunch usually consisted of a sour cream donut, a chocolate chip muffin, and a 24 oz Mountain Dew.

Of course, Tops was also a welcome presence across the Buffalo area (this was in the days before their merger with bland corporate Giant Food, and also before Wegmans literally browned Tops into irrelevance). Many were the associations with Tops, not the least of which was that Schultz worked there. He worked at Tops for years, rising through various ranks to become associated with the meat department. This led to many hijinks and hilarity as it was common practice to go find out if Schultz was at work, and bother him in various ways during his break. It also introduced various unsavory Tops workers into our midst, since Matt would date them. In any case, I cannot order the events of Matt’s Tops career in chronological order, so I will simply spew them forth in a stream of consciousness fashion.

The first incident I recall was the time Sean B., Aaron, and I visited Matt while the poor unfortunate Schultz was on cart duty. It was a fairly cold, windy fall night and we taunted him as he slowly wandered the huge parking lot on Elmwood Avenue (next to Channel 4!) and stacked cart after cart for a long journey back. We decided without question that Schultz had to try harder to earn his scratch, so as he took one train of carts back to the store, Sean drove his station wagon (the one with wood paneling) over to a lone cart which was kind of close to the entrance.  We signaled Matt (to be sure he was watching) and then Sean skillfully drove the station wagon right behind the cart, pushing it slowly it first, and then faster, almost alarmingly fast, driving the cart from one end of the parking lot to the other end – in fact, a remote corner near the street. Matt’s expression of disgust was priceless. I think we did this or something like it more than once that night. For pure harassment value this had to rank slightly above asking Matt (or any other server at a Denny’s, IHOP, or Perkins) for a milkshake. (When you order a milkshake, they are required to clean the machine afterwards, and apparently it sucks.)

Another effect of Matt’s time at the Tops meat department was his sudden, but short-lived, “no red meat” diet. Matt declared one day that he was sick of “meat, meat, meat!” and that was it. There would be no more beef or pork for him; he was a chicken and fish man, that was it. I didn’t understand how that was possible given our frequent consumption of Mighty Taco and Burger King, but for a time he did stick to Bean Tacos and Chicken Sandwiches. Matt further explained that “working in the meat department is incredibly gory. One of our policies is that blood, bone, fat, and gristle are free. Last night, some lady asked for a bucket of blood. Why the hell would someone want a bucket of blood! I guess she was making some kind of vampire soup out of it. We had to practically milk the sides of beef to fill up this bucket with blood. Then you get the people who ask for the fat and you have to take all these goopy shavings of fat. It doesn’t make you want to eat red meat.” I guess it doesn’t. The question I had was, who asks for gristle? But it never was answered.

Tops was also the subject of idle speculation on living a life of crime. Schultz once revealed that the “cash room” had over $400,000 on a typical week day before the money was taken out of the store. Our theory was that no one would expect you to rob a grocery store, and this would be a lucrative way to rip off cash… certainly far better than bank robbery, and safer than knocking off an armored car. The difficulties in such a plot are twofold: One, the cash is largely in change and small bills; and secondly, the cash room is somewhat vault-like and located in a corner of the store with cameras. One could never hope to take on the Tops behemoth in a standard robbery, lest you end up like the fools who tried to rob the Wal-Mart in Amherst years later (at opening time no less – dumbasses). Thus was the plan of the EMP bandits born. The team attempting to rob Tops would use a large truck, like a full size pickup or van, and knock out all electronics with some type of EMP weapon. Then the truck would be used to haul the loot away, apparently after somehow also demolishing the wall. We never really planned that part. I’m sure it is for the best, since we also didn’t possess a portable EMP device or any means of laundering $400,000 in small bills.

Speaking of crime and Tops, one of my classmates at Canisius worked there as a stock boy. One day he was assigned to work security just before Thanksgiving. Sure enough, he watched a guy walk out with a turkey without paying for it. As he put it, “The guy just tucked it under his arm and marched out, as if he owned it!” Of course, the employee did nothing, because he was not getting paid enough to actually confront a shoplifter. This shows a flaw in Chet’s logic: he may have had to bag groceries, but what the hell, he didn’t owe his penny-pinching employer anything either for his meager take. Such is capitalism.

Eventually, the age of Tops faded. Matt ceased working there, became a UB employee, and eventually lost his hard-working, two-job ways in favor of railing against the man and being a “liver”. If only he had taken up the offer to become a butcher, he might have remained a productive citizen rather than having his mind corrupted in the highly-overrated university setting.  After the Princeton days, Tops became just another destination in the car, too inconvenient to attempt when Wilson Farms was always closer, and not good enough for Wegmans lovers such as MikeO. The Royal Ahold corporation sacked all of the corporate types (bet they were making more than $50,000) and moved operations out of state. Nowadays it is indistinguishable from other cookie-cutter grocery stores, although I hear they are going to try a comeback under new ownership. For most of us, it is now irrelevant, but I suppose Wolf may reap a slight benefit if they return to past glory.

Because this story, and particularly the ending, is so weak, I will relate one more tidbit of information. Every year he worked at Tops, Matt would proclaim his triumph; he survived the “annual purges” that occurred every year before the union contract required a 25 cent per hour pay hike. He managed to quit on his own terms after a long tenure. I guess even Schultz has his day.

And, unlike Tops, this post finally stops here.

Movin’ Out

No, this is not some allusion to the Billy Joel classic, although I have no doubt that he would sue the britches off me for utilizing it in such an uncouth manner. The title pertains only as the natural sequel to the Movin’ In story, and should the bug eyed musician beg to differ, I will be happy to change it to something innocuous and unrelated like “Anthony’s Song” or some other such nonsense. Be that as it may, allow me to bend your ear and sing you a song of decline and fall of the Comstock Empire and those who dwelt within.           

       By the spring of ’94, the driving impetus that ignited our passion for the house and neighborhood grew flaccid. The days when the old pile of shingles was a regional powerhouse of both parties and interesting characters had long since waned with the schism between us and the Frank clan. True, the general level of peace and prosperity had increased, as did my grades, but some of the magic was no longer there. In addition, we had run out of clever pranks to torture Jason with, making him nothing more than a nuisance rather than a source of amusement. It was clear something had to change, or we would soon find ourselves responsible adults, graduating from college and entering the tedious world of employment.  This simply could not be. I needed another year, maybe two, before contemplating such horrors as a salary, the concept of 9 to 5, and worst of all, big ticket purchases.           

       Knaus was the first to formally announce his intentions. Dismayed by the sale of his childhood bed right from the room it so long occupied, he decided to reestablish firm connection to the womb by moving as closely back to it as comfort and good taste would allow. While he was not replaceable in spirit, he certainly was financially and we contemplated advertising for a suitable substitute. The idea of living there without the constant fear of the ever growing army of cats was not at all unpleasant. The males had taken to spraying all corners of the dump creating a truly rancid and acrid environment. It was also my hope that he would take with him the hideous vacuum that sported a conniving, malicious face. Knaus has gone so far as to name the abomination, giving Herbie yet further animistic powers. Drunk and sadistic, he would threaten to leave it with us, and then cackle at my visible dismay.

       The second blow came with the announcement of Jason’s intention of not moving out. We had somehow assumed that our concentrated efforts to create an environment where he not only felt unwelcome, but terrified. Instead our heaping of attention upon him, negative though it was, somehow bolstered his self esteem to where he mirrored the little orphan boy he resembled, showing the stones to ask for more please. Intolerable! Furthermore, upon hearing of Knauses intentions, he both called dibs on the good room and made clear that he had someone who wanted to move in. Faced with the very real prospect of both sharing a floor with him and having someone who actually wanted to enjoy living space with him move in was more than we could handle.

       In the background, Aaron had been conducting secretive dealings with his long haired, basement dwelling computer geek friend Chet. Chet reportedly resided in a veritable Shangri-la in the prosperous town of Amherst where the superior people dwelt. The very revelation that such a swanky domain would allow the likes of Chet gave Aaron and I both hope that perhaps we as well would be welcome within the borders. After all, they also took Mooney. Though I had not yet seen this paradise, Aaron filled me with tales of wide open spaces, fresh air, basketball courts nearby, a close proximity to Tops, and pizza delivery places that would venture into the neighborhood for home delivery. I was naturally skeptical that such a place not only existed, but would be within the economic confines of our salaries, which perhaps had been raised but a thin dime per hour since hire to a round $4.00 even.

       We began to contemplate the audacity of the venture. Did we dare? The pot was soon sweetened by none other than Dan. As it had been so mentioned, Dan was in the possession of a large collection of rare eclectic videos as such to cause the owner of Mondo Video to pluck his beard in envy. The vast majority of these were crap, patently offensive to even the most hardened pornographers, or some mixture of both, although there were some glistening diamonds in the cesspool if one had to stomach to fish them out. Sure, gems like Liztomania and tapes of MTV Liquid Television were of some note, but I speak of course of Big Red. Aaron had seen a few episodes in one of his forays into Dan’s basement pre-Medicine hour days and the boycott that engendered, and had since rambled on incessantly about the virtues of Red Dwarf. It sounded insipid and puerile to me, even after looking up those words to see what they meant. In order to shut him up once and for all and as partial reparation for Sid and Nancy, as well as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, I agreed one day to watch the bootleg tape.

       To say I was absolutely enthralled is a gross understatement! The show was brilliant, incorporating the very best of science fiction, absurd humor and no small amount of shtick. With near orgasmic pleasure we followed the adventures of a slacker spaceman, the hologram of his dead anal bunkmate, the ships computer, and a creature that by incredible coincidence evolved to human appearance from the cat the slacker snuck on board millions of years prior. Each episode was cleverer than the last, except of course for the Queeg episode which was most clever, thus putting a little blip in my tidy little order of things. I digress. The pot being sweetened was the proximity to Dan, now right around the corner, and his promise to grow and share his Red Dwarf library.  As if the decision to move was ever in question, this tipped the skycaps.

       We elected to keep secret the location to where we planned to move as to reduce the chance that Jason might follow out of convenience. As such we went about enjoying the spring and summer with full knowledge that we would soon be divested of Jason, the cats, and the presence of annoyance in our lives all together (ha!). Most memorable of those last days was one of the epic first trips down to Allentown to enjoy the art festival. Lured down by Knaus, who actually had a real interest in the art rather than just to watch the other freaks, we had a rollicking good afternoon. Clams on the half shell, Italian sausage with peppers and onion, beer at Porters, and a surprisingly accurate caricature of Aaron at a computer; it was all wondrous under a crystal blue sky. In Buffalo there is nothing like a good outdoor summer festival to marginalize the vigorous fisting the winters give its residents. The day bespoke of the coming glory of life outside the big brown shitbox the place had become.

       Not surprisingly, come early summer, Jason began enquiring in earnest as to where we planned to hang our hats. We gave him no response, choosing instead to leave him guessing as to whether we would stay or not. We had given Don, the landlord, plenty of advance notice, and I believe it was he who tipped off to Jason that he would be homeless come the end of July. As per usual, he sure didn’t appreeeeciate it one bit! Of course he made every attempt to find out where Aaron and I were going, and Paul as well, but to no avail. You can’t blame him; we had put up with him for two whole years, which was far longer than any other housemate of even area relative. He had really had it made eating our food, using our soap (and toothbrushes for all we know), mooching our toilet paper and laundry detergent, and slapping down increasing value (and decreasing worth) IOUs in lieu of payment for rent or utilities. The barbs and arrows flung his way did nothing toward devaluing the relative worth of these things. As far as we were concerned, he could piss blood one someone else’s toilet seat, or back alley dumpster for all we cared.

       Aaron and I set up an appointment with the good folk at the Princeton front office and got the grand tour of the joint. The model unit they had set up looked pretty sweet! As promised, the complex was technically in Amherst, did boast a basketball court only a block away, had a laundry facility just a short walk over, and was in the near proximity to a wonderful wooden fort style playground that promised endless hours of fun and play. Furthermore, we had Tops only 5 minutes and one treacherous climb away. We would beholden no more to the price gouging machination of the Guy clan and the sadistic cattle prodding of Moustache Guy. Stamps were sold at face value, and as for the produce, if you could see it, you could buy it. Chet and Dan were trumpeting the praises of the neighborhood as well, each being much invested in having the mountain come to Mohammed for a change.

       The last days were relatively uneventful, save for the final Dan birthday party that has been heretofore discussed from many points of view. Jason became more frequently absent, no doubt searching accommodations equal to this exalted level to which he’d become accustomed. In all honestly, I have no idea what really happened to him. I think one day he just wasn’t there anymore, and I never actually saw him again. His room was abandoned, leaving only dust, dirt, and the lingering odor of his person. He took with him, as no evidence of disposal existed, his moldy basement mattress, the garbage picked baseball cups, and the jar of old bacon grease I had hidden in his closet 2 years previous, which he had discovered and then returned to its new home. I had expected some kind of weepy goodbye, and was overjoyed to be spared such crocodile tears the situation would necessitate.

       The actual move out was somewhat better planned than the move in, although it posed its own challenges. Paul moved out the day previous, soliciting help from his father, me and Dave. His giant steel desk proved to be the biggest headache, primarily due it being slammed against my head twice in trying to maneuver it down the stairs. I elected to go the easy route, renting a U-haul to get everything done in one quick shot. I had hoped to split this with Aaron, but he neglected to get the day off and preferred to utilize the many small car trips method everyone so enjoys. He requested, however, that I take over the king size couch bed he had been given that was stored in the garage. I saw no harm in acquiescing given my enjoyment of the use of the large truck.

       The first error I made logistically was picking a weekday to move. While my father and Dave were able to accommodate, no one else was, leaving just the three of us on a scorching 95 degree day. The second error was agreeing to take Aaron’s couch without first taking a look at it, and more importantly, attempting to lift it. The thing was a beast; an anachronistic dinosaur left over from when they made the metal bed frames from wrought iron and the mattresses from some heavy dense DuPont concoction long since retired. Dave and I each grabbed an end to lift and carry up into the truck. “Uhhhhg! Holy fuck! Are you fucking kidding me with this?” Despite both of us being relatively fit, and the truck being but 30 feet away on flat surface, we had to put it down to rest no less than three times before the tortuous ascent up the ramp. I was gravely concerned as to how we were going to extract it later on, but chose to move forward in any case.

       Reaching our destination, already hot, sweaty and badly in need of rest, we concentrated on moving my weighty collection of books and comics up, deliberately ignoring the big pink elephant in the middle of the truck. Exhausted, but otherwise completely done but for the couch, we looked at each other with sad resolution. There was some serious consideration of simply returning the U-Haul with the couch left inside as a free albatross to the next renter, or simply leave it on the lawn for Aaron to move up, but I was determined to set things off in the right direction and expressed such. Heaving, straining, sweating and swearing, we attacked it with the red faced vigor of cheese eating old man on the toilet. To our credit, we made it half way up the stairs before becoming stuck. Naturally, a neighbor demanded exit, and we were forced to undo what little progress we made, and retreated with it back to the outside. Undaunted, we decided then to be smarter than the couch.

       It suddenly occurred to my father, and was then passed on to Dave and I, that whatever man had built, could be unbuilt, preferably on a temporary basis in this case. Right there on the lawn, we unfolded the bed, removed the cushions and mattress and took them up as independent entities. Through diligence and scraped knuckles, we undid all the connections that secured the bed frame to the couch. By itself, this metal leviathan was a challenge to maneuver up and threatened to unfold with every turn of stair, but we managed to fit it in the room. The couch frame, now considerably lighter, still posed an issue due to length. We were forced to move it upward in a completely vertical manner, and acknowledged it would have been impossible intact. When all was said and done, the majority of the effort had been that damn piece of crap. They say God looks out for drunks and fools, and that day we could add Aaron to the mix as he arrived with his first load of stuff not 15 minutes later, spared the agony of the feat.

       The final act was to meet with Don a week later for the final walk though to about the remote possibility of getting our deposit back. We were shocked and disheartened to see that he had already thrown away all the cat eaten furniture and was busily tearing the place apart for a major overhaul. Certainly didn’t bode well toward how he felt we kept the place up. Amazingly, he agreed to our refund in full! With one exception. Jason had neglected to come that day (as we didn’t know how to contact him anyway) and Don let loose his annoyance. “That boy has been trouble from the get go. Every damn month I came by to pick up the rent, and then came by a second time to pick up his. Sometimes even a third!” It was better than we could have hoped for; a windfall of unexpected cash and a final fuck you to old Thirsty Puddles. We walked out and never looked back.

       A brand new chapter of the college experience had begun with all the new excitement to be.  Nothing would ever surpass the Camelot that was Comstock in her glory, but it was time for men to continue childish things somewhere else now, free from the odiferous lurk of Jason and the cats. The golden age was over, and little did we know that a dark age was coming, when free from common threat, we would turn upon each other to satisfy our lusts to be irritable. That, however, is a tale for another day.

Academia Waltz

       Before I begin this tale, I must first offer apologies to Berkley Breathed for lifting the title from the college paper strip he did so many years ago before Bloom County. I found it fitting and thus worth pilfering. Why reinvent the wheel where there is a perfectly good one just sitting there bolted onto some guys’ car? The purpose of this telling is not to offer some tender old fart style remembrance of the Crystal Beach boat or quarter drafts at Anacone’s, but to share some moments worth remembering of the old UB experience. So yes, old U of B, U of B, my alma mater by the inland sea, this Buds for you. My plagiaristic tendencies know no boundaries apparently. In the words of the great Raymond Federman, good authors think of new ideas; great authors steal them.           

       One of the great traditions at UB, one that remains in place to this day, is the free classified forum available to all students in the back of Generation magazine. While Generation always hosted a number of enjoyable features (my favorite being Beepo and Roadkill), the free personals were always good for cheap fun. For the most part they consisted of your standard lonely hearts, missed connections, gripes against those asshole frats, and your usual lovey-dovey shit, but could also be used to give people a hard time. During the Goodyear days, one such person was the Romano Cheese Woman. Her real name I think was Monica Romeo; a foxy little chick in my poetry class. Knaus was responsible for confusing her last name with smelly cheese, thus branding her for the duration of our stay.           

       Monica and I often talked in class and we were both surprised one week to see that some schlub in the class had posted a ‘secret admirer’ classified to her in the Generation. It was quite obvious who it was, given that this mook sat directly across from us (we enjoyed the horrendous circle format in this class) and mooned at her with big cow eyes to her considerable discomfort. Happy it was not me who wrote it, I had a great deal of enjoyment giving her a hard time. The ad itself was about as cheese gooey pathetic as one could hope for, and this was quickly picked up on by the multitude of smart asses. Each week to her horror, new messages of increasing devotion and graphic sexual suggestion would appear with her name attached. Knaus was quite enthusiastic about the whole proceeding and finally went so far as to post his own. Filthy enough to offend Red Fox, it broke her to the point of sending a nasty and uncharacteristically threatening response. By pure chance, Knaus and I happened to run into her very shortly after, and with wicked glee, I introduced Knaus as the author of the latest post. The look of pure scorn she shot him was enough to have him calling me a traitor for years.           

      Another venerable tradition, enjoyed only by those who dormed on the South Campus, was the wide scale theft of shopping carts from the Tops across the street. Although each day Tops would send some poor Schultz like cart boy over to collect them all up, each night at the foot of the escarpment dozens of them would be sitting there abandoned; bent metal versions of the Mary Celeste. We found early on that even without much money, a trip to Tops at 3:00 AM was a wonderful stress reliever and allowed considerable time to be killed rather than study. Most of these trips were made under the guise of seeking a snack, but while there, we had fun with the blood pressure reader and even gave turkey bowling a shot. The trip generally ended just shy of us being asked to leave, and we make it worth their while by making token purchase of some such delicacy as ugli fruit or mystery meat labeled ‘Tops Meat Dept’.           

       Best use of the carts, however, was not to bring home groceries. Some short time after Dan first began hanging around; we managed to convince him to allow us to push him down the hill in one of them. With little coaxing, he climbed in, extracted a promise from us that we wouldn’t tip him over, and away we went. Of course we got him going as fast as possible then tipped the cart over at the end to his outrage. What made this worth remembering is the fact that despite being so treated, he willingly entered for another go around the very next time with the same results. Like Charlie Brown’s obsessive compulsion to try to kick that football, Dan would reluctantly give it one more go time and time again, although on one occasion I believe we hit a tree before we could tip him. It was his surprise each time that made the joke worth repeating. I think Tops has since made it much harder to abscond with their precious carts, thus depriving new generations of sadists our delight.           

       Another tradition marked for and found by death during my tenure was that of local liquor stores that actually delivered to the dorms. Incredibly, these establishments were allowed to operate for years on end bringing beer, wine and hard liquor to locations known to have hundreds of underage students for every one that was over 21. The deliver boy, usually a student himself, was generally not very enthusiastic about having to truck back heavy boxes of hooch and thus was willing accept nearly anything as proof of age, up to and including a forged note from mom. The quickest of these was on the corner of Main and Windspear, and we managed to place several successful orders freshman year before they discontinued service the year of Goodyear. Public safety was not much of a fan of this tradition and may have been instrumental in having service cut off. I remember Aaron once sharing a tale of chase over a beer ball that ended poorly, and perhaps he will be inclined to share.           

       Most liberal universities have a tradition of protest and UB more than most, steeped in the radical hippie anarchy of the 60’s, students all pissed off about the war. This tradition has sadly died as I can see no signs of unrest amongst the lazy ass self involved Generation Y when I walk through the campus. In our day, however, there was at least still a spark alive, although with the death of the Soviet Union and the only war around being extremely popular with all, there wasn’t a whole lot to bitch about. The SA, in conjunction with that old hippie dude who just refused to graduate, still managed to find something to get fired up about. In my freshman year, the university rather than burying the cost in what would have been a completely unnoticeable tuition bump, decided instead to make a big show of charging students $70 a semester to ride the Bluebird shuttle back and forth between campuses. The receipt for this insult would be a laminated pass to be displayed upon each entry.           

       We were incensed to the point of vomitous rage. How could these fascist fat cat bureaucrats even entertain the notion of foisting upon the student body the responsibility to pay for the folly of building the campuses so far apart? Not only that, but providing this service for free so many years then jacking up the price once we became accustomed to this lifestyle. Unconscionable! Oh, they would pay for this attempted indignity. A rally was scheduled in Founder’s Plaza (how they must have been spinning in their graves at this injustice!) by the newly elected SA. Hundreds attended and were initially treated to near silence. The administration, probably with a good chuckle or two, cut the power to the mike and amplifier, leaving our frazzled leader to attempt shouting over the grumbling herd. Eventually they relented and the mike came to life and the comedy began.           

       We were treated and riled by impassioned speeches of liberty and freedom, and joined our fellow disenfranchised riders in song. Oh, how Steve Samples ears burned that day, despite our inability to rhyme his name to anything embarrassing or otherwise. A great number of our student leaders and their devoted followers went so far as to burn their bus passes in protest against the man. This logistically required the foresight to arrange another method of transportation home, which in the moment of passion most forgot and were thus found whining and stranded later in the day. How the mighty must have trembled on the fifth floor of Capen! We called upon them in loud voices to descend from their tower and answer to the masses. Their silence spoke volumes, and had not the power been cut a second time, we would have doubted their existence all together. Some doubt began to manifest as to the efficacy of our exaggerated theatrics.           

       As the crowd began to disperse, an excited gangly gentleman came bursting forth from passage between Capen and Norton. “We got one! We got one! Everyone, let’s take them all!” An enterprising hunting party had broken off from the main tribe and executed a covert mission while everyone was distracted. A meandering Bluebird, self considered apex predator in the campus environment, was taken by surprise. When it stopped to disgorge in the Hadley loop, the intrepid hunters surrounded it with ridiculous ease. While it was generally acknowledged that the Bluebird had the wherewithal to mow down these bastards with too much cockitude, conventional wisdom held sway. News of the kill reignited passion in the crowd. The issue suddenly became interesting again, and those who burned their passes saw opportunity to apply the right kind of leverage to at least get home.           

       The gangly guy and the capture team, not part of the SA, quickly assumed command in a bloodless junta. Orders were quickly fired off by the general. An estimated 4 additional Bluebirds were on the North Campus in various locations. Squads were rapidly formed and deployed. The fastest runners dispatched toward Ellicott and Flint/ Maple. The rest of us split between the bookstore and Augsburger. Knaus and I found ourselves in the Augsburger contingent. A Bluebird was barreling down the road, no doubt warned by the cries from its captured brethren. Before it could make the breakaway over the ramp to Millersport, luck held with us and the light turned red. It came screeching to a halt and we immediately surrounded it.           

       Peering thought the tinted windshield; we were filled with giddy delight. Before us were the iron grey curls and signature cop style sunglasses of a real bitch on wheels. The capture was no longer just a moral victory but the celebration of perverse pleasure in inconveniencing the most hated of all bus operators. This old bat was legendary for her cruelty and draconian captainship of her vessel. Lateness was inexcusable, as was dawdling, backtalk, and of course unscheduled stops. Many were the times when I bolted though the pouring rain toward the inviting open doors, only to have them slam shut at the last instance; just enough time to catch her smirk as the chill drove deep into my bones. On other occasions I bore witness to her refusing entry even in the most unfavorable of weather to those whose looks displeased her. Despite her complete lack of expression, I could tell she desperately wanted to mow us down, then back up and finish off the rest.           

       It became a Mexican standoff; neither side wishing to relinquish any little advantage. We of course refused to budge until explicitly instructed by the junta. She in turn held captive those poor schmucks who had gotten on the bus before capture and simply wanted to get back to the dorms before dinner ended. Though clearly agitated and outnumbering her, they sat firm rather than attempt forcible exit. Cruel Mother Nature sided with her own and it started to softly rain. We attempted negotiation to come in and warm up on the bus, but she sneered at the very notion. Discussion ensued and it was quickly determined that a full scale invasion would incur unacceptable casualties, and that continued occupation would no doubt inspire an insurgency in the riders, or at the very least lead to our identification by the administration. Lacking other options, catch and release was the new motto. With a clap of thunder, our rebellion ended. The following semester the fee was embedded in our tuition and as predicted, went unnoticed.           

      These were but a few simple tales of the SUNY Buffalo experience and more shall no doubt follow.