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The biggest middle finger my parents ever gave me, aside from letting me wear JNCOs in elementary school and telling me that learning chess would land me a scholarship before football ever would, was conceiving me when they did.
Twenty-one years and nine months after what will surely be remembered as the most important two minutes and seventeen sweaty seconds in human history, I was celebrating my 21st birthday in my fraternity’s chapter house living room, studying for a final that was seven and half hours away from bending me over the scarred, ash-covered coffee table under my feet.
At the stroke of midnight, I caved to what I thought was the rite of passage, crossed the street to a divey, south-of-campus bar and ordered but one beer, a Yuengling draft — because I hadn’t yet learned that Yuengling tastes like someone wrung out a nose tackle’s jockstrap into a growler full or liquefied dog shit (hey Jared, I have a great idea for your next installment of defending indefensibly shitty beers). My 21st was unremarkable and, worse, recallable. A couple of us celebrated, ex postfacto the following weekend, but there was no big banger. No waterfalling Jack Daniels from the porch roof. No trying for 15 minutes to order strippers off of Grub Hub.
At the time, it seemed like I forwent a large portion of what I expected the college experience was, by opting to study on the eve of my 21st — like a high school girl who skipped her sweet 16 to stay in to prep for the ACTs, or an alcoholic who skipped his final AA meeting — the one with all the pizza and the hugs — to hit the bars a few hours early. Worse yet, I probably would have passed the final if I ever woke up for it.
Next semester, the member of the succeeding pledge class started turning 21 and I wanted to spearhead most of the celebrations. My fraternity brothers and I took meticulous care to ensure no pending 21-year-old left the chapter house still coherent. We drained pitchers of Lionshead (half the price of Yuengling, still more palatable) until we managed to kick most of the campus’ underclassmen body out of our basement and backyard. On the following Tour de Bars, we fed into our brother’s rolling eyes and wobbly legs to the point of blackout and getting tossed out of every other stop on the crawl. If all went well, we were folding dead-weight into an Uber while discussing how we would split the inevitable $300 puking fee.
The ritual of throwing our friend’s last underage party, pumping him full of bottom-barrel intoxicants, chauffeuring him from dive bar to dive bar and trying to pawn his ass off on a desperate 4/10, before facing the fact that we were responsible for getting him home semi-safely, lasted the entire semester and into the holiday season. Sometimes, I opted to black out alongside the celebrators. Other times, I took an oath of semi-sobriety so someone could still call the Uber, negotiate the house’s door code, and restrain the social chair threatening to fight every passerby in calf-high socks and cargo shorts.
Each 21st celebration eclipsed the last and each night of debauchery pushed my own limp-dicked 21st birthday further from relevancy. Had I even forgone the final I had on my birthday in the name of partying, there’s a good chance the night still would have blurred into something that resembled Picasso’s cubism phase; ergo, I would have forgotten it. Because that’s the goal of one’s 21st: to black out.
The real fun in celebrating a 21st birthday comes by way of planning and celebrating someone else’s coming-of-legal-age. Until a friend is forced into tying the knot with a soft six, he’s been trying to dump for five years, and the onus falls on you to haphazardly throw together an apathetic, last-second bachelor party at a Holiday Inn bar, we are afforded so few times in our young lives to plan a night around the prospect of getting a friend more trashed than an Oakland liquor store after the Raiders lost to a Houston team that probably could have won more games with an armless Tom Savage in a persistent vegetative state.
It’s not so much about giving a friend the best night he’ll never remember just so you can embarrass him with hyperbolic stories of him shitting in a mailbox and trying to make a pass at a township policewoman as she read him his Miranda Rights. 21st birthdays are about rallying to the crew for a night of pounding car bombs likes it’s 1980s Northern Ireland and maxing our fathers’ credit cards on cheap beer and maybe more Grub Hub strippers..