The autumn after I turned 20 years old I moved three hours away from my home. I decided to live in the middle of nowhere with a person I had never met before. My friend Jordan Prill, who lived in Crookston at the time, found me a roommate. When I showed up to my new home with some t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, a mattress, and a few books, I finally saw where I’d be spending my time for the next six months.
Within no time, my roommate Bob X and I became best friends. He listened to my stories, got me drunk for the first time, and didn’t make me pay a security deposit (or first months’ rent).
Off and on I would get tooth aches so bad that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. It was paralyzing. Some times it would flare up at 4 PM, other times at 4 AM. It filled me with rage, and I’d hate myself. I would swallow Excedrin tablet after tablet; which eventually stopped working. Eventually, the ache would simmer like it was bored of torturing me.
“Nick, have you ever drank beer?” Asked Bob.
“I’ve drank before, but I’ve never drank enough to be drunk,” I replied.
He sped to the liquor store. Not because he was in a hurry, but because that’s how he drove. Bob bought a 12 pack of Corona, and we drank it all that night. I felt faaantastic. He showed me songs that meant a lot to him, and I did the same. After we had a few beers in us we climbed the rusted ladder to the top of our apartment building, and threw beer bottles onto Main Street until the cops came. Before then I had always thought beer tasted like piss, and was for rednecks. I soon learned it was also a quick fix for tooth aches.
Two weeks before I moved to Crookston I got myself a job at one of the restaurants. My first day I showed up hoping to make a good first impression. The supervisor put me on the register taking orders. Along side of me was Brett, who had gotten a job a week prior. He helped me as I tried to find the correct buttons to press. A lovely guy with home pricked tattoos accompanied by a thirst for skateboarding.
When the lunch rush was over I started restocking the cups. I heard my name called so I turned around. A man with a snarky smile was looking at me.
“Man, are you a serial killer?” He asked me without a stammer.
Greg and I became good friends after that. Most people wouldn’t get off resembling a serial killer, but he was harmlessly referencing 40 Year Old Virgin, and I knew that. Also turns out he was one of my managers.
They gave me a fair amount of hours, a lot of those hours with Greg. I later found out that Greg put in requests to work with me. Which was great because I didn’t want to work with anyone, but him. He had the best jokes, and made me feel like I wasn’t just showing up for work. I was showing up to hang out with Greg.
Everyone at work was very curious of me. ‘Why would you move so far away?’ ‘Are you running from something?’ ‘Do you play Magic the Gathering?’ Everyone so curious except for Greg. Whom I told the answer to those questions to.
As the winter got colder he started telling me about the mix tapes he’d make in his apartment; What the tattoos that riddled his arms meant; And how he’d stolen a cop car and crashed it into a ditch. One night, a weekend closing night, around 11:30 PM it was just us two waiting for the late night trickle of customers, he pulled me aside. He proceeded to inform me that he thought I was trustworthy, and if I promised to be cool we could have a lot of fun at work.
I knew that the majority of my co-workers smoked pot, and dabbled in other things. Even one of my supervisors had worked as a sex phone operator; which I got to hear great stories about.
I immediately told him he could trust me. Maybe a bit too anxious when I think about it, but I was nervous, and I wanted to be cool.
He went on to tell me about his struggle with the meth addiction he had, and how he would push drugs through the back door of the restaurant.
“Don’t worry about it, man,” I reassured trying not to show him how fucking crazy I thought that was. At the end of the night he made me a chimichanga; which is no longer on the menu.
Christmas was rolling around, and I was lucky enough to get three days off (including Christmas) to visit my family. Around this time I was working on my first stand-up comedy act, and would run my jokes passed Greg. After I was done telling my jokes he’d give suggestions to make it more funny. I ended up using a joke he came up with that got good laughs.
The night I had to leave town (for Christmas) I also had to work. Greg was there running the make line when I arrived.
“Nick! I have a present for you!” He rummaged through his backpack, and pulled out a pocket size bottle of Patron. I had tasted tequila before, and was not fond of it, but Greg thought enough to hook me up with a present. I accepted it kindly, and drank it after work.
“Thanks, dude,” I said observing the tequila like there was a human brain pickled inside of it.
“You’re welcome, man. Someone gave it to me for Christmas, but I’m on probation so I can’t drink it.” That didn’t tarnish the gift what so ever. In fact, it made it better.
My eyes snapped open, my mouth sucking dry air, dehydrated from a night of drinking. I sprung from my bed and ripped open the fridge. Opened up my face and poured Lipton green tea into it until I needed to breathe. I had to work the 2 PM – Midnight shift. My brain said, stay in bed and get fired. And then my brain said, hey idiot pay rent. Back and forth the swimming brain rocked. I showered, and put on my shitty smelly unclean clothes. Then walked six blocks in February with the wind fucking my frozen face.
When I showed up to work, I was hoping Greg would be there to brand me a murderer, or something to cheer me up. The supervisor approached me in a mood unlike her, and informed me Greg went to jail.
I closed up shop that night with Patti who successfully made me smile. She told me hilarious phone sex stories. From lonely men who needed attention to lonely men wearing diapers, to fulfill their fetish of being a sexy infant. Patti was very kind and warm. I think she deserved to have a better position in life, but the murky cesspool that is Crookston managed to pull her under.
Patti’s brother, Eddie, joined the work crew soon after Greg got locked up. He was to take Greg’s place. Eddie did a good job of keeping things interesting. His back pain always got the best of him. So he would toss back a few pain killers, and drown it with an energy drink. A lot of Eddie’s stories were made up of his sexual prowess, and how much pot he sold when he was younger. Soon enough I became his favorite, and even he started writing in requests to work with me. Probably because I would listen to his stories on repeat, and never opposed an order.
A few months went by and the weather was warming up. By this time I had acquired a couple friends from work, one of them being the skateboarder, Brett. He and I didn’t have any money. So we’d go to the bars downtown to take half cigarettes from the ash trays. Brett, Heather, and I would walk down the train tracks drinking beer, talking shit. My other buddy Mario showed me where the beauty was in Crookston. He brought me deep into the woods on the edge of town. My explanation won’t suffice. Take my word for it though, the Crookston forest is the only breathtaking scene in town.
My time in Crookston was coming to an end as was the winter. When the snow finally bailed I would do the same. The two months left of work started to feel like two hundred years. Greg was gone, so was my money. One morning I woke up in a decent, numb mood. I ate some food, and probably did some other shit. It was a gloomy day outside, and I had to work at 11 AM. I would listen to Eat Your Paisley by The Dead Milkmen, or Scrambles by Bomb the Music Industry every time I walked to work that winter. Today was no different, ‘Where the Tarantula Lives’ started playing and my feet were in motion down the sidewalk.
Brett and Mario also had to work at 11 AM, and were in the parking lot playing hacky sack before work. We kicked it around a bit, asking each other their plans for the night, and when they got off work. It was almost time to clock in, so I grabbed my jacket from the pavement, and went inside. I turned the corner to go into the kitchen. There he was, a huge smile across his face, his eyes squinting so hard they were almost closed. Honestly, it looked like Greg had smoked the finest weed known to man. Most importantly he was wearing his work uniform again.
“HOLY SHIT!” I exclaimed and ran up to him, “What the fuck, you idiot! What did you do?” He explained himself to me briefly, which he expanded on later. He was on new medicine which made him glow like a lit joint. I couldn’t believe it. Not only was Greg out of jail, but he got his fucking job back. We picked up right where we left off, making it seem like work and life wasn’t so bad.
Breaking the news to everyone that I would be leaving town in two weeks was bitter-sweet. I wasn’t home sick, but I was sick of my current home. Brett and Mario spent the last two weeks living with me. They had gotten evicted from their home, and Bob had just moved out of our apartment. So, instead of bogarting a living quarters I filled the space with new roommates.
Heather, Brett, Mario, and I stayed awake the night through drinking, smoking cigarettes, and saying our ‘good byes’ and ‘I’ll see you soons.’ In the morning they helped me bring my minimal belongings down the stairs. Brett hopped on his skateboard while Mario boarded his BMX bike. They said a final good bye as my grand parents pulled up to my apartment building. Heather gave me a hug then trailed the boys on foot. I watched my three friends carry on as people do.
I haven’t seen or spoken to Greg in three years. I hope he is doing well.