By Tim Hayes
During my senior year in college, many (MANY) moons ago, my roommate and I lived in an apartment with bunk beds, a couch, a TV, an Atari game console, a bathroom, and a kitchen with a sink, stove, and oven.
I took the top bunk, we played a lot of “Pong” on the TV, we combined to shed enough hair in that bathroom to knit another Bigfoot, and we hardly cooked at all – thanks to a pizza shop directly beneath our apartment that sold square slices for a buck apiece.
But when we did cook, it always featured our one and only specialty: “Idiot Cakes.”
You can’t find them in stores anymore, but back in the early ‘80s, Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines or one of those people came out with a chocolate cake mix that only required adding water. No eggs or flour or greasing a pan. None of that Julia Child Guy Fieri Rachel Ray nonsense.
Just open the spigot, dump the water in the little cardboard foil-lined tray, stir in the powder, let it cook, and voila! An awesomely delicious, moist, lip-smacking chunk of chocolate cake!
Oh yeah, The Breakfast of Champions. Hell, for us, the Lunch, Dinner, and Late Night Snack of Champions, too. Nirvana! Heaven! The perfect foodstuff for two budding journalists working crazy hours as freelancers while finishing up their collegiate studies. If we had any money, we’d have bought this stuff by the pallet.
And why? Because you couldn’t screw this cake up if you tried. It was idiot-proof, hence the name we gave it. We were a couple of bachelors, but unlike “The Odd Couple,” there was not a Felix in sight. We lived like a duo of Oscars. Two pretty damn good writers but pretty damn bad housekeepers and self-sustaining cooks.
My girlfriend and her roommates lived a couple of floors above our place, so I’d go up there for genuinely cooked meals with actual nutritional value. While I dined in estrogen-laden luxury, my roommate would be left scrounging the couch cushions for enough change to run downstairs and get a slice of dollar pizza. Hey, things are tough all over, buddy.
Even today, I have no problem owning up to this level of dumbshitiocity while a 21-year-old college senior – at least when it came to preparing meals for myself.
As you navigate the college experience, so much information and knowledge and experiential learning comes pouring at you from all sides – which might make an objective observer assume that the beneficiary of this intellectual avalanche must emerge as a fully formed, functioning adult, ready to take on anything the world might dish out.
But that would be wrong. Oh, so wrong.
If the college brain acts like a sponge, then soaking it in four years of accumulated wisdom in no way means that same brain knows what to do with it. College loads up your toolbox. But you still have to figure out how to build something yourself. And that only happens after the mortarboard has been tossed into the air, and you start getting tossed like an egg in a blender by life.
True wisdom only comes from getting batted around, knocked down, and finding out what you’re really made of. Only after gaining true maturity from real life, at the risk of repeating myself.
But the state of one’s self-awareness while still in college? You’re still immortal. Unassailable. Fearless, to the point of irrationality in some cases – like the thousands of drunk, horny morons clogging the Florida beaches for Spring Break during this season of coronavirus social distancing. Let’s see how immortal some of them feel while on a ventilator for a month.
Hey, kids – real life lurks just around the corner. It may have arrived already. Check back in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, thanks for doing your part in exponentially raising the risk for the rest of us. How can we ever repay you? Ooo, I know! Let’s double the interest on your student loans!
In a lot of ways, though, wouldn’t it be something to go back to those days of stunningly peaceful, positive, absolute unawareness? Of unbridled freedom? Limitless potential? Eternal optimism? Blissful ignorance of the tough stuff that lies ahead for every person in this life, whether in bits and pieces, or in waves and longer stretches?
Back to the days before abusive bosses and job losses, too much month and not enough money, scary diagnoses, losing friends.
Back to the days of dollar pizza, Pong, learning the craft of writing I love so much.
And Idiot Cakes.
Copyright 2020 Timothy P. Hayes