The Snowball Fight

I would like to point out that this story is a work of fiction. It definitely isn’t about what my cousin did at UMass-Amherst during the winter of 2005.

Also, I would like to point out how perfect the title “Snowball” would be for this story, being both directly descriptive as well as connoting the gradual accretion of both size and momentum. Too bad it also connotes… well, you know. And if you don’t, go watch Clerks. 36 times. (“In a row?!”)

This story is dedicated to John Collier.



Jack Malmsey had pretty well figured out this whole college thing. The trick, he saw, was never to let himself get tied down. He applied this theory equally girls, extracurriculars, fraternities, jobs, and majors. Though the implementation of this philosophy caused dull moments to be few and far between, it also found Jack beginning his fourth semester without being any nearer to graduation than he had been on his first move-in day.

If he had stopped to reflect on this he would have found himself quite troubled. Such moments of reflection rarely went well for Jack, and so he made sure to indulge in them as infrequently as could be managed. Between one-night stands and one-day suspensions, he managed pretty well.

There was only one part of Jack’s life which he could not quite bend to this meticulous modus vivendi. It took the form of a small pink pill which could be purchased by the box from a nearby convenience store. The fine print on the back of the box declared the pill, called for some reason Exceedril, to be a diet aid best consumed in moderation. The large and colorful print on the front of the box declared it a cure for moderation in all forms. Jack and his friends weren’t much for reading fine print, and at this point they certainly didn’t need to lose any weight.

Jack had been introduced to this pink little pill on his first day of freshman orientation. He had also been introduced to his roommate, likewise his roommate’s parents and little brother, but none had left quite as deep an impression. He was told later that he had left a rather enduring impression on them. All he knew was that he never saw the roommate again, allowing him to live in a coveted “single double” for the remainder of the year.

Jack’s friendship with Exceedril, as with every great relationship, required care and attention for it to endure. One box of pills cost fourteen dollars and ninety-seven cents. A work-study job paid seven dollars and seventy-five cents per hour. As such Jack made sure never to work less, or more, than two hours per day. The fifty-three cents remaining he deposited on the floor of his car, which from time to time could be harvested for sufficient coin to purchase an additional box.

Despite the clear cunning of this investment strategy, economics was an area of study that had not yet tempted Jack. For the moment he was studying anthropology, though it was proving to have much less to do with buried treasure than he had supposed. He was sitting in the rear of a large lecture-hall, being sure to seem no more or less attentive than anyone else in his row, when he suddenly found the professor’s words buzzing between his ears like a spark between two live wires.

Yes! Wait. What? What had she just said? Go back. Think. Think, Jack. What had she… no, wait! Now what did she just say? Back to the now. What’s going on? What is she saying? Did she really just mention Exceedril?

The professor of this course was by way of being an authority on the subject of over-the-counter drug abuse. She had made it her area of specialty, a feat which she accomplished by declaring it so both on the departmental web site and to anyone who would listen. Today in class she was pleased to report that the drug dexomethephedrine, commonly marketed (to children, she added authoritatively) as Exceedril, had been acknowledged by the FDA to be potentially addictive, at least to those people who were genetically disposed to getting hooked on pure speed. As a result it was no longer being produced for the American market (it had been banned in Europe some thirty years previously), and within two days at the outside it would be off of shelves all across the country.

The professor was just getting ramped up to discuss with herself the implications of this bold-but-insufficient action, but Jack had suddenly ceased to pay attention. Exceedril was being banned? Exceedril was being banned! He slalomed between these two exclamations for a time. Then, without warning to the class or to himself, Jack found himself standing, pushing aside the people in his row, pushing them aside again to go back for his bookbag, pushing aside the other half of the row, and taking his exit blackboard right.

He stood on the steps of the building among a sculpture-garden of other students. They all stood as far back as they could from the knee-high snow that lapped up against the buildings like waves on the shore. Jack moved among them, using his biggest smile to bum first a cigarette and then a cell phone. One by one he called his friends – each of whom was also In A Relationship with the soft pink pill – and explained the seriousness of the situation. They were deeply shaken. This, Jack knew, was the only rational reaction.

He walked over to his car. He could tell just from looking in the window that there were two, maybe three boxes worth of coins on the floor. Three boxes were not enough to last him the rest of his life. He had until the end of the day to come up with… oh God, he didn’t want to think about it. He’d just have to come up with as much money as he could.

By judiciously calling in as many loans as he could remember, and as many as he could convince someone else to remember, he managed to raise about two hundred dollars. By selling to some freshmen the contents of his liquor cabinet (and the carboard box it was stored in) he raised another hundred. It was eleven-fifteen in the morning. He had work from eleven to one . His work study job at the moment was in the student financial services office. He hadn’t, of course, been planning to keep it very long. Perhaps that would work in his favor.

His supervisor was very angry with him for being late. He threatened to get Jack fired. Jack nodded distractedly. The supervisor left angrily, heading angrily for the breakroom where he would angrily put too much cream into too little coffee while hoping someone would be good enough to notice that he was angry. Jack spent the next fifteen minutes unsupervised, during which time he remembered a hundred hours of work study that he had done the previous Saturday. He cut himself a check, then another for good measure, and was across the hall getting cashed out before noon.

All told he managed to purchase one hundred and thirty seven boxes of Exceedril from the convenience store. The owner gave him two shrink-wrapped packages of sixty boxes each and a sheer plastic bag containing the remainder. Jack lifted the two palettes in front of him like Abraham his son. He had just enough money left over to buy a candy bar, though he didn’t think he’d be in a mood to eat any time soon.

He met up with his friends in front of their dorm-building, a seven-story structure with a population density exceeding that of most imagined starships. Each of them had marshaled their resources as best as they could. Brad, a creative writing student, had agreed to help seven different pre-meds write their theses for between fifty and two hundred dollars each. Kelly, a fifth-year sociology major, had returned nine semesters of unopened textbooks, claiming tearfully and cleavagefully that she had lost her receipt. Josh, a member of a minor Indonesian royal house, had convinced his parents to wire him money for a Business Opportunity that they just couldn’t understand. After all, wasn’t that why they’d sent him to college?

Between them they had cleaned out the convenience store of every box of pills. They actually had about two hundred dollars left over. Not that money was really worth having when there was no Exceedril to buy. They stood there, surrounded by shrink-wrapped palettes and shear plastic bags, and wondered what to do.

While they wondered they opened a box and took a pill. It was pretty cold out there in the snow, so they took another. And Jesus but this whole thing had been stressful and they were just standing there and what the Hell had they done and but more importantly what were they going to do and so they took another pill and possibly another and Fuck! and Fuck!!! and then they decided kind of all together that oh hey they were having a snowball fight.

There were just four of them, four dear friends who had just been faced with tragedy and turned it into triumph. Just four of them, a few thousand illegal diet pills, the shadows of dorm-towers, and snow as far as they could see.

They were really getting into this snowball fight. They were just pummeling each other without mercy. Jack couldn’t remember ever having had this much fun with his pants on. He double-checked but, yeah, his pants were on. This was just wonderful. This was awesome.

A girl was walking past that Jack recognized. He thought her name was Aimee. He was pretty sure she was the one with the big tattoo on her back. What was it, a deer? An angel? He realized he’d stopped moving about the time she nailed him in the face with a snowball.

How’s that, you son of a bitch? she called.

Awesome! Jack shouted. Hey, you want a pill?

Pretty soon Probably-Aimee was right in the thick of the snowball fight. Then Probably-Sean and Pretty-Sure-Yoseline too. Some other people walked by, just randoms coming back from class, and either Jack or one of the others would call them over to join in the snowball fight. And, oh yeah, did they want to eat some speed?

Pretty soon there were about a hundred people there in the shadow of the dorm. They hadn’t even made a dent in their Exceedril cache. But they were running a little low on snow. Someone suggested they go over to the freshman dorms. Their quad was huge and had tons of snow. And, hey, did they have any more speed?

They took their things and made their way none too slowly for the freshman ghetto. There were dozens of students just standing around, still soaking up the whole College thing. Pretty soon they were calling people over to eat speed with them. And, oh yeah, did they want to get in on the snowball fight?

It was about two in the afternoon when the doors to the freshman dorms got flung open and every first-year in the school came pouring out of them, like rats from a sinking ship, like kids running to where the free drugs are. Later estimates suggested that between two and three thousand students were participating (though ‘involved’ was the word that would be more often used). The quad was as filled as it was the first day of school. Except instead of standing around and hanging out, every one of the two thousand odd students was trying to break every other student by means of hurling icy projectiles at their faces. Or, and was there any more speed?

Around three o’clock the cops showed up. About a dozen of them. They tried to break up the snowball fight. Around three thirty more cops showed up, this time driving their cruisers in between the buildings and turning on their flashers. It still took until about four fifteen before it really penetrated the mob’s mind that every single cop at the school was surrounding them. Oh, and hadn’t they all been taking speed?

One by one the students began to go back into their dorms. The smarter upper-classmen followed them in and hid out until the cops had gone. The rest of them were left out in the quad to marvel at two things. One, all the snow on the quad had been packed down until it looked like the linoleum floor of the dining-hall. And two, those cops did not look happy.

In point of fact, the cops were all scared out of their mind. This is not an emotion that a cop usually wears with much grace. Especially when their fear has been fueled by a few significant figures worth of soon-to-be-alumni getting ripped on baby-crank and beating on each other with ice blocks.

It was impossible to identify the ringleaders. It’s not that people weren’t talking, it was that everyone was babbling a mile a minute and the cops couldn’t follow any of it. They ended up piling all the kids into police vans and driving them over to the central station. From there they didn’t know what to do with them, so they just them out on the curb and told them to walk home. The central station was located about three miles from the main campus. By the time the kids got back to their rooms they had started to come down. Or at least they were so cold that they could only get into trouble indoors, where no passing trustees could see them.

The cops did confiscate the remaining Exceedril. But it didn’t much matter. By the time they broke up the snowball fight there were only seventeen boxes left. All told the students had taken around eight thousand pills. The recommended dose was one pill every forty-eight hours. Taken on a full stomach. Curiously enough.

Three days later – though he thought it was the next day – Jack went to the campus health station and asked to be put on medical leave. Not that he was feeling particularly ill. Most of his snowball bruises had started to heal, and for the first time in eighteen months he’d even found an appetite. He just knew that, without those little pink pills, he was going to need some time to rethink this whole college thing.


~ by davekov on 1 May 2011.

One Response to “The Snowball Fight”

  1. I just read this, not thirty-six times.

    Thirty-six times?! Does that include this time?”

    Thirty-seven including this time.

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