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Davis, California

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Column: Playing role model

Impressing freshmen has always been easy.

I met Holden on a Sunday night a little after welcome week last year. My friend Michelle and I were eating dinner when this Asian kid in an oversized green polo came to sit at the table across from us, asking how far the Segundo dorms were. It was about two miles.

“Really? Aw shit, I’m pretty far then,” he said, stating the obvious. His eyes widened, though he had those heavy Snoop Dog-eyelids that made him look high out of his mind no matter what time of day it was.

At first I thought he was genuinely asking for directions, but when he asked Michelle and I what our majors were, I realized he wanted small talk. I decided to humor him. I snapped back into Freshman Year Mode: Introducing yourself to hundreds of strangers while walking drunkenly down Russell on a Tuesday night, just because your group of friends happened to collide with theirs somewhere between Pike and SAE.

Predictably, he went straight to talking about his drunken escapades over the weekend without me asking. He said he had a two-day headache after getting too drunk, and I asked if he got crossfaded. He didn’t know what that meant, and when I explained it to him, it was as if I were teaching a fifth grader the magical semantics of the F word.

“His eyes lit up when you said that,” Michelle said to me later. “That’s when he lost all interest in talking to me.”

I figured Holden wasn’t going to leave us alone any time soon, so I offered to drive him home. I apologized to Michelle for cutting our dinner short as we parted in the parking lot, who by then saw straight though my bullshit, but still thought it was cute that I was playing older brother.

On the car ride from South Davis to Segundo, I asked Holden what was wrong.

“How’d you know?” he asked.

“People don’t just walk aimlessly for two miles for no reason. Something was wrong.”

At that point, he spilled. He divulged about how he thought he was going to be alcoholic, how he couldn’t connect with anyone at Davis, how he’d look for random groups walking around Russell on Friday nights just to find a party to go to. I felt bad for the guy, and when I dropped him off, I gave him my number to call if he ever needed anything.

Since then, he’s called me randomly every other month during crisis moments of his life. Like when this girl he liked hadn’t answered any of his phone calls or IMs. Or when he fought with his parents for not getting the grades good enough to transfer to UCLA in two years.

He called me the morning after he lost his virginity to an older girl whom he referred to as “a fat Mexican.” He was rushing for a frat then, and one of his top five priorities that quarter was to hook up with a girl at a party.

I asked him if she knew it was his first time, and he laughed it off, saying, “She just told me, ‘practice makes perfect.'”

It’s a year later, and I’ve only seen him in person three or four times. All the other times we’ve talked were during late night confessionals over the phone. It isn’t hard to see why he keeps calling. There’s an anonymity in calling a complete stranger to confess your heart out so you can sleep better at night. But why I keep picking up, I have no idea. Maybe I like helping people in times of need. Maybe I just need someone to look up to me so I can feel better about myself. Maybe neither. Maybe both.

“You must think this is really weird, huh?” he asked me once.

“It’s pretty hard to weird me out,” I replied.

“You don’t think this is weird?”

“I’m pretty weird though.”

“What? You’re Geoff Mak. You always have your shit together.”

“You’d be surprised.”

“You can’t call yourself weird. If you’re weird, then I’m definitely weird.”

He said this as if I had everything figured out. As if I haven’t had my own shrink for the past six months.

I imagine what the girl must have thought when she found out Holden just lost his virginity to her. She’s sitting naked at the edge of the bed, looking at this kid who doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing with life. It’s as if he’s a fish frozen in place for the winter, and nothing he can do will get him out of that stage in life other than waiting it out. She wants to tell him it’s all a phase, and it’ll all be over soon. But she doesn’t even know that.

She sighs, suddenly finding herself in the position to look for any word of advice to keep this kid feeling sick of himself the next morning.

“Practice makes perfect,” she says.

GEOFF MAK needs a Costco card because it’s been too long since he’s last had his Ling Lings. E-mail him at gemak@ucdavis.edu if you can remedy this.


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