In sophomore year of college, my roommate Zack bought a hookah, which we used extensively. Since dorm smoke alarms can be set off if you happen to breathe too hard, we usually used it in the section of the parking lot that was farthest away from our dorm, or on the small, concrete deck on the back of the building, next to some dumpsters. People are attracted to hookah, I guess because it allows you to look cool, smoking in an exotic manner with an exotic device in a social setting, while never really having to commit to the whole addiction thing. Many people would pass by on their way out to the parking lot and ask for a hit of the hookah, the most notable repeat customers being a few members of the wrestling team, and a Puerto Rican basketball player who endeared himself to us with his swagger and his penchant for calling every girl he met “Betty.”
Once, a drunk guy offered to pay Zack to let him use the hookah, and while Zack could’ve easily told him that we hadn’t yet reached the supply and demand critical mass necessary for someone to spend twenty dollars on a few puffs of Cappuccino flavor, he didn’t. The guy paid Zack and thanked him for the opportunity, as if, decades from now, he would tell his grandchildren about the time that the mystical hookah dealer allowed him the momentary benefit of that rare vice. And then his grandchildren would tell him that he was a moron.
Boone, North Carolina, where I went to college, experiences very cold and flippant weather when winter rolls around. I’m convinced that it doesn’t follow any regular, calculable pattern, a theory supported by every website in the area that would try to prepare students for their harsh walk to class. Each website, without fail, would predict wrongly somewhere on the scale between slightly wrong and what can best be described as “wildly wrong.” From how inaccurate the predictions were sometimes, I imagined that the job of the Boone weatherman consisted of waking up in the morning, and without leaving bed to even check, submitting the first temperature and precipitation that sarcastically came to mind. Why not hail today? He’d think. My parents were extremely distant.
It was a frigid, snowy night when Zack and I decided that we absolutely had to smoke hookah. Absolutely had to. There was no getting around it, and no way to postpone it. College is the prime time of a person’s life for questionable decisions that need to happen right fucking now, since, when you get older, responsibility hits you and you’re forced to consider what might be a “better” option. We definitely couldn’t use it inside the dorm room, so that left us forced to brave the Arctic conditions if we wanted to fulfill our unstoppable need for hookah.
Smoking on the dock or in the parking lot would be stupid because it was just too cold for that, we determined, which meant that we needed to find an enclosed space (that was near the dorm and didn’t include a smoke alarm,) that was also outside. If you’ve never experienced anything ever, you know that this is damn near impossible to do, but eventually we settled on making our way across the tundra of the parking lot and using Zack’s car. How would we manage to not choke to death on all the smoke in that tight space? We’d open the sunroof.
But if the sunroof is open, how in the hell would we stay warm? Well, we’d just turn on the heat in the car, which is using one piece of logic, but completely ignoring that same piece of logic when it didn’t benefit us. In that line of thinking, we could go out, unarmed, into the Nile River, because crocodiles are vicious predators, but, you know, not when it comes to human meat.
We made our way outside, hookah in hand, to Zack’s car, which was parked in the overflow lot. This small patch of gravel separated itself from the main parking lot because it didn’t have designated spaces drawn into it. The overflow lot wasn’t necessarily for parking your car, as much as it was for just fitting your car in a place that wasn’t the side of the road. Any car that ever made it into the overflow lot was left there at a crooked angle, completely blocking anyone else’s hopes for escaping. The overflow lot was a puzzle that no one could conceivably complete, and exiting it always meant exhaling that little sigh of victory that you gain when you conquer unconquerable turns without crashing.
When we got to the car, we discovered that Zack’s key wouldn’t turn. This baffled us, as that’s the exact opposite of what all keys are supposed to do. We laid the hookah in the snow and we tried it again and again, sometimes convinced that we were putting it in the wrong way before realizing, nope, it just wasn’t turning. It wasn’t turning on the front door lock or the passenger’s door lock or on the lock to the trunk. The first conclusion was skipped entirely, as we collapsed into the second one: “The locks are frozen.”
I know enough about cars to drive them, so the machinations of what it would take to totally freeze a door lock are lost on me. Even more lost to me are the ways that someone could possibly unfreeze the inside of a damn door, barring reflecting the sun on a giant satellite and melting all of the ice like George Clooney did in Batman & Robin. We could merely speculate as to how the ice had gotten so strong in that tiny little keyhole that it barred us from entering the vehicle.
The next techniques that we used had been practiced for years on vending machines, namely the art of kicking something that is stuck and won’t fucking comply. We threw our weight into it, hoping to jostle that piece of frost that was preventing us from using our beloved hookah in the warmth of an open topped car in the dead of winter. But our dozens of kicks did little but tire us out. The mission looked grim, and suddenly, Zack paused his repeated foots-to-door.
“That’s not my car.”
I was stunned. How could it not be your car, Zack? It looked like your car.
He pointed to the other end of the overflow lot, where another car that also looked a hell of a lot like his car sat. He walked over and tried to key on that one. I heard the sound of the door unlocking, and, if it made a noise, I would’ve also heard the sound of my brain falling all seventy-three inches to my feet. That’s not possible. Why would we have wasted all that time kicking on THIS car, if it wasn’t even his car? Our night had seemed so promising. How could we have marred it with this decision?
We soon found out, first hand, that it was just too cold to smoke hookah outside that night. The sunroof/heat scheme didn’t pan out because nature just wasn’t in the mood for it.
Defeated, we trudged back to the dorm.