Paul came from Jersey but he said he came from New York. His plates were Jersey, though, so — so Jersey. He could’ve been a Turnbull A.C., he was THAT kind of New York, that kind of Jersey. He was great. Nobody in Winston-Salem knew what to do with this kid out of central casting with a goddamn hoopty and prep school clothes and hair shit and the little gold chain and everything.
This was an art school. And amongst the rest of us, Paul was the freak.
Paul came to art school with a strategy: fuck all this. It was so preconceived, so controlled, and so well-defined he could have turned his whole senior year into a performance piece. He wanted to get laid, get drunk, and fuck around. Our school provided him with a unique opportunity to do it.
The North Carolina School of the Arts — now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts — had a two year fine arts program with an emphasis on portfolio preparation. It’s a state school, so it’s not only competitive entry, but competitive continuance; they don’t need your tuition because the state pays each major an annual budget. Tuition was, for state residents, crazy-low, in fact, but on my first day we had forty kids, and when I finished my second year, there were only eighteen.
And the Visual Arts program was for juniors and seniors in high school, or for seniors and freshmen. Young, and living in co-ed dorms, at art school. An art school with lots of dancers.
It was pretty much heaven, yeah.
Anyway people got cut all the time. Our first flame-out came the first week, the second, third, fourth day of classes. Just — oh, that kid’s gone now? Okay.
Anyway, Paul. If I recall correctly, Paul didn’t even DO his first design assignment. He was THAT kind of fuckin’ around. He’d roll in to class late and just… just shake his dick at it all. They didn’t cut him, though. Every time he’d get called into the dean’s office… he’d be back the next day.
One night a group of us — over 40s, acquired from the nearby Stop-N-Rob — sat him down and tried to intervene and help the kid but he, in fact, schooled us. He helped us understand his master plan.
He was 17, away from home, and let go in a little garden of eden. Paul was more than happy to let his dick lead him from adventure to adventure for as long as possible.
To maximize his fucking around time with the dancers he’d sway, he planned on doing next to nothing fall semester but beg for mercy every time they called him out. He’d even work up tears. He’s never been away from home, the pressure, he tries, he does bad work and he’s embarrassed and PLEASE just give him another chance — just manipulate the faculty for all he was worth.
Then, Winter term, he’d show up a little. Just so that, if nothing else, the faculty could see improvement, however slight. He’d exert the bare minimum of effort to make them feel like they were reaching him.
Then spring he’d go for it some, as long as it didn’t get in the way of fucking around and getting wasted, so he could get his first year portfolio together with enough momentum to look positively possessed by the spirit of learning and discipline. A perfect three-act structure.
It was INSANE. It was — I mean, it was the kind of shit you see on soap operas or something. Crazy, right?
As other kids who wanted more than anything to be there got cut; as half our program got tangled up in the biggest LSD bust the east coast had seen in twenty-five years over Thanksgiving break; as kids nearly lost their minds trying… Paul got drunk, got laid a lot, drove his car like a fucking maniac, and partied his ass off. Then he showed up at the end of the year and started working like the rest of us.
Acceptance was broken down by letters. You got first letter, and you were welcome back for your second year. If you didn’t get first letter, you had to present your portfolio and basically reapply. It was hellish. They could leave you dangling all fucking summer, basically, trying to decide your fate and it was a whole fucking awful thing to put people through. I got first letter, which was rad, but some of my friends didn’t and … and yeah, it sucked.
Paul got first letter.
He did it. He pulled it off. I swear to god, paul got first letter when some kids, getting tore up with us that night, knew his scheme since october and had busted their asses the whole year, did not and basically had to beg to come back.
Paul pulled it off.
So… so okay: so there’s art classes and academics there, and the emphasis is on the art classes. Once those are done there’s a week of academic finals. Then there’s graduation weekend. So, y’know, depending on your schedule, you could conceivably be done with your academics on MONDAY, on TUESDAY — and have five gorgeous springtime days to get fucked up on 40s and try to convince dancers to make terrible mistakes with you, right?
So the first night of finals week, spirits high and first letters in hand, we’re all blowing off steam. Residence Life (the people making sure we weren’t drunk, high, and fucking each others’ brains out in the dorms) handed out surveys. Basically a how was your year? kind of deal. And we all stood around in the halls filling it out in our own ways but Paul…
…Literally, four days from the finish line, Paul goes all super-villain. Paul taunts them all. He confesses to all of it. Brags about it. Boasts. What all he got away with. How fucking stupid they all are. How he played them all from day one. He said
I am untouchable.
Paul — dummy — you can’t, we begged. They know your fucking handwriting, Paul but no no, we were wrong in the fall and we were wrong now. He already had first letter. He was untouchable.
He turned his survey-cum-confession in with a boastful fuck you and took off to get the night’s booze.
What happened next was kind of amazing.
Residence Life read the surveys. They figured out the handwriting and… and they decided it would not stand.
You could always tell when they were going to bust somebody but this time, as we all waited for Paul to come back with our booze, it was like they were busting a criminal mastermind. We were ordered to our rooms.
They caught him trying to hide something like nine bottles of O.E. he picked up which, bless his Jersey soul, he insisted throughout the whole ordeal were all for him.
This was bad but not necessarily get-kicked-out bad; all of us waited to find out what would happen next to him. Lots of people had gotten busted with beer over the year. He hadn’t broken curfew, just, y’know, the law. So what?
So what happened next was Residence Life read his “survey” to our Dean over the phone and then asked how far they should take his punishment. We got this much out of the RAs, later: the dean just said
To the extreme.
And hung up.
So he was removed from campus that night and sent packing. He was expelled from school, letter revoked, blah blah blah. This wasn’t just busted, this was fucking BROKEN. Seriously, the girl that had like 800 sheets of LSD didn’t even get bounced that bad. Paul wasn’t even allowed to walk the stage to get his diploma.
He stuck around town, though, and showed up at the graduation ceremony. He snuck up on stage and came when his name was called. The dean, as a sea of students and parents looked on, handed him the diploma as though it were a dead rat and didn’t shake his hand. Paul flipped him the bird as he left the stage. It was the last time I’d see him.
That was twenty years ago today.