As a tried-and-true nerd, I’ve always suspected that ﬁnding one’s nemesis was just another step in the process of becoming a man. You grow hair on your body, your voice changes, and you ﬁnd your ideological counterpart to stand in stark juxtaposition to, highlighting your own heroic tendencies in the process.
Spider-Man had the Green Goblin. Hulk Hogan had King Kong Bundy. And I had Nick Forman. As with nearly every other aspect of puberty, I didn’t discover my nemesis until I was in college.
I didn’t learn much of anything during my time at Rutgers. I was an American Studies major. I signed up for it because my only goal was to graduate while doing as little work as possible.
American Studies was great because most of the class titles could conceivably end in an exclamation point. “Urban Adventure!, “P.T. Barnum!,” and “Murder in America!” were just a few of the notables from my transcript.
One summer class I took was titled “The Cowboy in Fiction and Film!” We watched a movie during each class, one of them being Shanghai Noon, starring Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan. I didn’t read any of the books. Each week I’d put my head down and fall sound asleep immediately once class began.
But one day a discussion about a book titled The Virginian was keeping me awake. The professor was describing a scene involving a chicken sitting on a rock after its egg had been taken from its nest. He asked the class about the symbolism behind the chicken’s behavior. I hadn’t read the book, but the conversation was annoying enough to interrupt my slumber, so I took action.
“Chris?” the professor asked when I raised my hand. It’s always a sign that you’ve slacked off when a teacher calls on you in question form.
“Yeah,” I said, wiping sleep from my eyes. “Here’s the thing. Even though it was just a chicken it lived life and, therefore, had dreams. That egg represented its dreams.”
Everyone stared at me. For the majority, it was the ﬁrst time they had heard me speak.
“When the egg was taken away, the chicken sat on a rock,” I continued. “Why? Because even though it knew its dreams wouldn’t come true, it still had to chase them.”
I squinted and melodramatically gazed out the window.
“It’s something all of us would be well served to learn,” I said. “Achieving your dreams is not always the most important part of life; having dreams is.”
“Exactly,” the professor said. He smiled at me.
With that, I dropped my head down on my desk and fell right back asleep.
The only downside to my major was that it required me to take two real classes through the history department. I took mine with a feisty Southern professor named George Kayne. To this day, he’s the only person I’ve ever seen manage to look tough while wearing a sweater vest.
“If you ever have to take a history class,” my friend Sean Gorman told me at the beginning of freshman year, “take it with George Kayne.”
“Why?” I asked. “Is he easy?”
“No, he’s hard,” Sean said. “But he’s insane . . . in an entertaining way.”
Legend had it that Kayne used to be the chair of the department, but got demoted for punching another professor in the face. He would stalk around the room shouting like a bulldog and turning red in the face. I once watched him make a girl cry on the ﬁrst day of class for no reason. He even laughed as she exited the room.
“Your tears mean nothing to me!” he exclaimed as she ﬂed.
With such a badass at the helm, you’d think I would have shaped up. But I remained a slacker. Due in part to a nasty addiction to Mike Tyson’s Punch Out on Nintendo, I managed to screw myself for ﬁnals week and had to scramble to get all of my work done. I’d lost the syllabus for Kayne’s class and was forced to email him the day before a paper was due. Out of fear, I used a fake email address—[email protected]
“Hey Professor Kayne!” I began. “It’s CG Dupree from your Monday/Wednesday class. I’m psyched to get crackin’ on this paper, but I just realized I lost the topic. If you could email me back with it, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks!”
I woke the next morning to an email from Kayne in CG Dupree’s inbox.
“Dear whoever you are,” it read. “There is no one registered in my class under the name CG Dupree. Furthermore, anyone who would start a paper of mine with less than a day to go is destined to fail—not just the paper, but at life in general.”
School wasn’t doing it for me, and the more I drifted away from having any sense of academic standards, the more I felt like I had no place there. In movies about the college experience, the slackers and outcasts ﬁnd each other. They live together, bonding over their own idiosyncrasies and turning them into their greatest strengths. The helpless freshmen in Animal House learn to idolize Bluto. The Lambda Lambda Lambdas form their own frat, boxing out the rest of the Greek system. I wanted to ﬁnd my own band of brothers to embrace my outside nature with, to unite together against the mainstream. And for a brief window in time, I thought I did.
My sophomore year I moved into a house with ﬁve other guys, each one of them a social misﬁt. Mark was an aspiring rapper who lost his mind freshman year and dropped ﬁfty pounds just to see if he could. Anthony literally never stopped playing video games. The only break he’d give himself was to attend his Chinese calligraphy course. Jesse wore a trench coat—as he had all through high school—despite the fact that Columbine had happened just six months before we moved into our house. His refusal to alter his fashion in reaction to Columbine only made him seem more Columbine-ish. Eric was a lovable Taiwanese goofball who had never drunk alcohol before living with us.
Within weeks of shared residency, he’d become a champion booze-bag and was piously dedicated to online poker. Over the course of one painfully long year, our house became a pressure cooker that would drive each of us to the brink of madness. The ﬁrst sign of impending disaster was an infestation of camel crickets—bugs so big and terrifying we once crushed one with a dictionary and ﬂushed it down the toilet only to watch it climb back out. If I had to give you a proper description, I would say a camel cricket is basically a cross between a grasshopper and a dragon and that its natural habitat is the nightmares of men.
In addition, our house was robbed multiple times. We ﬁgured the person robbing us was the man who we routinely caught staring into our basement windows, but the crack patrol down at the New Brunswick PD told us that this wasn’t enough of a lead to go on.
Without question, the place was a hellhole. But it was also just bizarre. For example, a radiator was mounted on the ceiling directly above Anthony’s bed. There was also a hole in the ﬂoor directly next to where he slept. We’d drop items down into it and never hear them land. Anthony developed insomnia caused by the knowledge that even if he somehow managed to dodge the radiator that could fall onto him at any moment, he would likely plunge into a bottomless pit in the process.
The list of insanities went on and on. A bat attacked me in my bedroom. The toilets often clogged and my roommates were inconsiderate—a deadly combination that eventually led to a toilet explosion that ended with me crying in the shower, desperately trying to scrub my legs clean of the drunken diarrhea Eric had left behind. It was enough to question the value of our society, let alone our education system.
It’s fair to say that in the face of such madness and atrocity, my ﬁnal roommate Nick Forman was actually the one who was able to hold it together the best. At least up to a point. When Nick broke it wasn’t the living in ﬁlth that got him. It wasn’t being attacked by insects from another planet.
In the end what destroyed Nick Forman was the movie Fight Club.
Fight Club was released a few months after we moved into our house, and something about the experience of watching it transformed Nick overnight. He went from being a weird nerd like the rest of us to an intolerable nightmare of a human being. It wasn’t just that Nick saw the movie and got excited over it. It wasn’t even that he walked away inspired by it. I legitimately think the experience of watching Fight Club rewired the kid’s brain chemistry. Afterward, he walked differently, his posture self-assured and conﬁdent. He reacted to things differently, his love for Dungeons & Dragons replaced by an obsession with sports. The most evident change, however, was that he talked differently. Inexplicably, he adopted an outdated hip-hop vernacular and began referring to all of his roommates as “Cousin.”
“Yo, cousin, you want to get some food?” he asked no one in particular as the assembled roommates hung out in our living room one afternoon.
“Nah, Nick,” Jesse said, “we all just ate. Sorry, man.”
“Yo, cousin,” Nick answered. “That’s ﬁne. Let’s rock some Tecmo Bowl, yo.”
“Dude,” Eric said, “stop calling everyone ‘cousin.’ And we’re not gonna play Tecmo Bowl right now, you can see that we’re all watching TV.”
“Whattup, cousin?” Nick replied. “You busy being a studio prankster?”
You have to realize that Nick was the most stiff, stuffy white guy I’d ever met. His natural voice sounded like the one every black stand-up comedian uses to mock white people. So to have him call us “cousin” or a “mark ass buster,” to have him throw ﬁst pounds and talk like a ’90s rap-era gangsta, was at ﬁrst amusing, then confusing, and then, after a few days, deeply and profoundly irritating.
After his Fight Club–driven renaissance, Nick somehow managed to befriend a crew of guys from a nearby frat house.
He was thrilled to hang out with these guys, though it was clear from the outside perspective that they brought him around as a joke. Nick once regaled us with a tale of how he’d gotten into a “ﬁght” alongside his new buddies.
“You go out and get in ﬁghts now?” Mark asked.
“Yeah, cousin,” Nick answered. “It’s awesome. It’s just like Fight Club. Fa’ real.”
“What happened?” Anthony asked.
“Well, we were at a party,” Nick said. “And this guy stepped up. So I was like ‘Yo cousin what’s the problem?’”
“Stop saying ‘cousin,’” Eric interjected.
“So he kept talking shit, like a punk,” Nick continued, “and my friends took him down. I ran up and kicked him a few times. It ruled.”
“So you just kicked a guy who was already beaten up?” Jesse asked.
“Yeah, cousin,” Nick answered. “No doubt.”
“You understand that’s not being in a ﬁght, right?” Mark asked. “That’s just kicking a guy when he’s down.”
“Word up,” Nick answered.
No one believed Nick’s stories and he must have sensed that his phony posturing was annoying all of us. It was obvious no one wanted to hang out with him, and he began to realize that when he was home people found excuses to leave. So in what was a deviously clever move, he tried to win back favor with our housemates by targeting me.