Yes, it's another Chris Gethard post. But hey! He's a funny guy. We could have a Chris Gethard post every day.
This essay, "Framsky," is one of his many wonderful Hump Day stories updated every Wednesday on his blog. While pretty much every story he's posted is great, "Framsky" is a personal favorite of ours. Enjoy.
It’s not abnormal for people to get depressed during their freshman year of college. But in my case, a number of factors lined up, which, when looked at in retrospect, make me feel like maybe my depression was a little less generic and a bit more justified.
My parents sold my house just after I went away, so I could never go home again. A few deaths – one in the family, one of a close family friend, one of a childhood playmate – happened in quick succession weeks after I moved to college. On top of this, I was slowly figuring out that I would continue my family tradition of being bipolar, and was not dealing with it well.
What most led to my depression though, was my foolish decision to attend Rutgers University. Rutgers is the state university of New Jersey, and has a storied and proud history. It is one of nine colleges to exist in the United States during the colonial era, and among its alumni are Paul Robeson, Milton Friedman (the dean of modern economics), and the dude who discovered antibiotics.
My tenure at Rutgers has to have undoubtedly come at one of its low points. The place was packed – there were 40,000 students on my campus freshman year, and I did not have a class my first semester with less than 200 people in it. On top of being crowded, it was completely filthy. My dorm was perched up against the Raritan River, so my view was of that light brown, stinking, stagnant mosquito breeding pit. My roommate was an Estonian nationalist known throughout campus as “The Russian Bear.” The very best thing Rutgers had going for it was a group of trucks called “The Grease Trucks,” which sold sandwiches, one of which was called a “Fat Bitch” and had a cheesesteak, fries, mozzarella sticks, and chicken fingers on the sandwich. Let me reiterate – this was the best thing the place had going for it. My main reason for going to Rutgers in the first place was that they didn’t make me write an essay as part of the application. The buildings themselves were a wreck, and the main stretch of campus was a neverending series of construction sites that was book ended on one end by Seminary Place, a street where lecherous gay men hung out at night looking to suck off college kids, and on the other by the campus library, where those same lecherous gay men spent their days, looking to suck off college kids.
So with all of these factors lined up and pushing me into a very depressed corner, I did what anyone who was 18 in 1998 would do – I retreated to the internet. Specifically, to AOL’s Instant Messenger program.
At any moment where I wasn’t in class (my favorite that semester was “Dinosaurs”, because every time it met, the professor would grab at his hair in frustration and shout, “They’re just birds,” over and over again), or at the dining hall (where my favorite meal was four separate bowls of Cocoa Krispies, a plate of cheese fries, and for some odd reason, copious amounts of cranberry juice) I was online, talking to friends. Friends from high school, family members, friends from my own dorm. I was doing anything and everything to avoid dealing with the reality of my actual existence, so I spent hours long chunks of time sitting online.
My name online was Framsky. And Framsky, due to the fact that it’s much easier to hide things in the medium of typing messages on a screen as opposed to let’s say, talking, was not half as sad or miserable as Chris was. Framsky was getting me through many days, and even more nights.
Which is why, when Framsky was taken away from me, I exacted a methodical and swift revenge the severity of which surprises even me, to this day.
One night at about eight, I got a frantic message from an acquaintance of mine, Rob. Rob was a friend of some friends I had met at Rutgers.
“Chris!” his message read. “WATCH OUT!”
Before I could even finish typing and sending the word “why”, over 30 strangers randomly messaged me with no provocation. And while I was trying to sort out what Rob’s message was about, and what the strange feeding frenzy of online messages was for, they all began to warn me.
Instant messenger is like the Wild West. It has very few actual rules or regulations, and its policing is instead left up to its own members. Like a weird, cybernetic form of frontier justice, people who are offended by things other people say to them through the service can click a button marked “Warn.” As one racks up warnings, their percentage goes up. When one’s percentage is high enough, they are no longer able to access the program.
When I found myself unable to access my precious instant messenger, I immediately found myself undertaken by a rage that only a person with Irish blood raised by a melodramatic mother in a neighborhood full of self-hating Catholics can feel. Even though no one else was there – not even the Russian Bear – I let out a scream as I looked up to my filthy, cracked ceiling.
I immediately ran to the phone and called the friends who had introduced me to Rob. They gave me Rob’s telephone number. I called him. He lived right down the road, as he went to Princeton University.
What he told me was astonishing, for its calculated nature, for its senselessness, for its evil core.
Someone who lived on his floor came into Rob’s room earlier that day and wrote down a handful of random names from his Buddy List. It wasn’t until just before he tried to contact me that Rob – or PrfsrFrink, as he’s known online – tried to let me know what was going to happen. It turns out that this kid – Amir – had been perpetrating these “IM Bombs” the entire night for his amusement.
The very first thing that got me angry about what Amir, pronounced Ohm-er, had done was the act itself. The second was that his name was Amir. I am not a fan of anyone with a country club-ish name. No Blakes, Blaines, or Sheffields are ever going to really be friends of mine. One signifier that you have a pretentious name is if it looks like it should be pronounced one way but you insist it be pronounced another. If Amir was Ah-meer, this would not have been a sticking point. Unfortunately for him, it was indeed a sticking point.
Another fact about Amir had already all but sealed his fate in my book. He, like Rob, attended Princeton. Now, being a Rutgers guy, for better or for worse, means that at least a small piece of you must resent and hate Princeton for all they stand for. They are only about 30 minutes apart, driving, yet they could not be more different. Rutgers is almost exclusively attended by people who grew up in New Jersey. Princeton is almost exclusively attended by blue-blooded privileged kids from all corners of the globe. And while their academics are great, their attitude is not, and everyone from Rutgers, even the people like me, who hate everything about Rutgers, knows it and is offended by it.
The next thing Rob told me about Amir further solidified that I was going to act on all of my negative impulses. Amir was Canadian. From Toronto. Now, I have nothing against our peaceful, correct-on-the-health-care-issue neighbors from the north. But I do have a problem with any Canadian who thinks he’s going to walk into my turf – New Jersey – and pull a fast one on me. Simply put, it was inconceivable that some Ivy League, snooty named Canadian of all people, was going to win this battle he didn’t realize was a battle. As a New Jersey resident, as a Rutgers student, and as a depressed lunatic, it offended me on all levels.
I took action. That action was opening my door. The kid across the hall from me was a ridiculously tall and skinny half-Asian guy named Andy Miner. Fate had put us together for this evening - he was the only person more depressed and crazy at the entire college than I was, plus he had a car. On any given evening, both of us could be found sitting in rooms across the hall from each other, both of us on our computers, talking about how we were both lonely and had no friends, never thinking to just hang out together.
“Andy,” I said. He turned around. “Want to drive to Princeton and beat up some Princeton kid?”
Without missing a beat, and without looking confused or surprised, Andy answered yes instantaneously. We called our other friend Jeff, who came running over. All three of us dressed in black from head to toe – black puffy jackets, as it was December, black pants, black wool hats. We got in Andy’s car, and we made our way to Princeton.
When we got there, we quickly realized a number of things. The first was that Princeton was in every way the opposite of Rutgers. It looked beautiful, it was quiet and serene, and most striking to us, it was physically clean. Princeton was clearly not the type of place where you got in without writing an essay.
The second thing we realized was that dressing in black from head to toe was a bad way to try to disguise ourselves. On the Princeton campus, you stand out if you’re not wearing khaki pants. This is the type of place where people see someone dressed in jeans and they’re terrified, let alone people dressed up like James Bond movie henchmen. We knew we had to act fast or the police would be on their way. We knew the name of Amir’s dorm – Rob had given it to us – and we were chagrined to realize it was in the opposite corner of campus from where we parked the car. We sprinted, knowing we probably wouldn’t make it there. Luckily for us, it was as if the Princeton-ites couldn’t even see us. No one blinked an eye. It’s my assumption that we had roughly the same effect on them as Columbus’s ships did on the Indians – none, as they couldn’t even logically fathom that we existed in their reality.
We made our way to the dorm and found it locked. You needed a magnetic swipe card to enter. This surprised us – at Rutgers, anyone can just walk into any dorm at any time. No one cares. We responded in the only way we could think of – we tried to kick the door down. But dorm doors are generally pretty well made, and it wouldn’t give. Luckily for us, a young gentleman in a pair of khakis and loafers saw us in our frustration and walked by.
“Need to get inside?” he asked, smiling. We grunted yes. He swiped us right in, again not sensing that we were clearly up to no good.
Now, when we had left for Princeton, we planned on scaring Amir good. We didn’t really think we were going to do any serious damage to him. But what we saw in the lobby of that immaculate, well maintained dorm changed a lot of things for us that night.
Gathered in the middle of the dorm were a group of about 15 kids. All of them – all of them ¬– were wearing sweaters and/or turtlenecks. They were standing around the dorm’s grand piano. And they were singing Christmas Carols.
To drive from the banks of the muddy Raritan, from the 400 person classes, from the bug infested living areas, from the realization that every day for the next four years was going to be a lackluster one, to Christmas Carols, to the blind, uncaring, unbothered, able-to-belt-out-a-good-Silent-Night world of Princeton and their Christmas Carols, pushed a button inside all three of us. We were real Jersey kids, from a real place, and we walked into a fantasy world where there were very few problems. Without speaking about it, all three of us knew that we planned on doing our damndest to destroy that fantasy world.
The kids around the piano, in what we noticed was becoming a trend, didn’t blink twice at three shady kids dressed in all black lurking around in their background. It was as if they should have been singing “We don’t know that we’re in danger! Fa la la la la, la la la la!”
Rob had told us the number of his floor, which was also Amir’s floor. We made our way there, and were yet again thwarted by the presence of a magnetic lock. We banged on the door for minutes, and as each one passed, we realized what a bad idea it was to come here in the first place. Just as we were giving up hope and coming to our senses, the door opened from the other side.
The boy standing on the other side was pudgy. That was the first thing you had to notice about him. His large eyes blinked behind his glasses, as if this level of human contact was jarring to him.
“Can I help you with something?” he asked.
“We’re friends of Rob’s. From Rutgers. He told us we should come here and wait for him until he gets back,” I said.
“Well, you can wait with me, I guess,” he said, slightly bothered by us. “My name’s Amir.”
I knew Amir knew nothing about Framsky’s identity. In other words, I knew he had no idea who we were or why we were there. He almost seemed tragic to me in that moment, not knowing the level of fear to which he was going to be introduced tonight. I said nothing besides mumbling my thanks for his hospitality.
He turned his nose in the air, than turned his back to us. Without turning around, he said, “There’s some people drinking down the hall. I guess you can come.”
We got to the room in question. There were about ten kids spread out, all with their backs to us, all laughing and drinking. Amir entered and we sheepishly followed. Amir announced us.
“Guys, these are Rob’s friends from Rutgers,” he said.
Without even turning to look at us, one of the young ladies said, “Oh, I thought something smelled funny in here all of a sudden.”
We were furious. I felt bad for Amir again. Whereas we had shown up to scare one person, we were now feeling the urge to snuff out the life of everyone who had ever or would ever call himself a Princeton student.
Amir spun on his heels and led us out of the room. We went down to the other end of the hall. He entered his own room. It was huge, at least three times the size of the space I shared with the Russian Bear. There were chairs everywhere. Amir sat in one of them.
“You guys can have a seat on the floor,” he said with a cocky smirk. This disrespect was my personal last straw.
“Actually Amir,” I said in a voice as calm as could be, “I’m going to sit wherever the fuck I want.”
His head dropped, and he slowly turned around. He suddenly had the body language of someone who realizes that they’re in some pretty deep shit – the type of deep shit where you invite a stranger over, disrespect him a number of times, then realize you know nothing about him.
“I -,” he hesitated. “I’m sorry, I never got your name.”
“My name’s Framsky,” I said.
He went white as a sheet. All color drained from his pudgy face, and without saying it out loud, everything about him suddenly screamed “I want to be back in Toronto right now.”
He tried his best not to let us sense the fear that we could see washing over his body.
“And your friends?” he asked. “What are their names?”
“THEIR NAME IS FRAMSKY TOO, MOTHERFUCKER. DON’T YOU EVER FUCK WITH ME AGAIN.”
All the rage I had at my everyday life teamed up with the massive amount of disrespect I had felt since arriving at this dorm. My voice came forth aggressive, attacking, trying to beat Amir down verbally. He stood up.
“You have to go,” he stammered. “You have to go right now.”
I paid no attention.
“Don’t you ever fuck with me,” I repeated. “You have no idea what it’s like out there - you have no idea who I am.”
He realized I was right. Tears welled up in his eyes. That’s when I said what is probably the coolest, toughest thing I’ve ever said.
“I am in your house, motherfucker.” I grinned. “I am in your fucking house. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”
He looked at me, and the first tear escaped.
“You have to go, right now.”
He took a step towards me.
“I am in your house.”
He took another step.
“I am in your house.”
He took one more step and he pushed me. I grinned even harder, at this point completely lost in a maniacal rage. I spun around.
“Framsky,” I said matter-of-factly, making eye contact with Andy, “shut the door.”
When I made saw my two friends, I snapped back to reality. For they were looking at me for what I was – a person who had lost control and was about to do something really horrible to another human being. For a brief moment I looked at them and they looked at me. It was Jeff who finally spoke.
“We need to leave right now,” he said. And we did. We took off. We sprinted from that dorm, leaving a fat crying Canadian with a really bright future behind us. We ran down the stairs, through the lobby past a stunning rendition of Feliz Navidad, back across that beautiful campus, and into to Andy’s car. We made it all the way back to Rutgers, where we sat up all night waiting for a call from the Princeton police. A call that, thankfully, never came.
That night had some lasting effects. It still stands out to me as a time where I came closest to completely losing my mind. And even though I, and my friends, had no pride in Rutgers, it did give us some small bit of dignity to be able to defend both ourselves and Rutgers by looking at the have in the face and letting him know that we, the have-nots, could walk right into his house whenever we felt like it.
Two years after my mission to Princeton, I returned there. I had to be in the area anyway, so I headed over to campus to get dinner with Rob. As we crossed over campus, he pointed to a dorm.
“You know,” he said, laughing to himself. “That kid Amir lives in that dorm now.”
“Yeah, actually in that corner… on the ground floor.”
Well, I had to.
I walked over to the window. It was late spring and hot, so there was just a screen. Again utilizing my God given abilities of being a born and raised Jersey guy, I jimmied open the screen and stuck my head in.
Amir was there, sleeping, in his tightie whities, on his back, his crotch splayed towards me. An oscillating fan was pointed towards him.
“Amir!” I whispered, harshly.
He shot up out of bed and reached to the windowsill for his glasses. He fumbled with them for a moment, then put them on and looked my way.
“Framsky?” He said, fear in his voice.
“I’m always watching, man,” I said. “So you be good. You be good.”