Chapter Fourteen – The Mellow Mushroom
We spent the remainder of the day on campus. Keith really enjoyed being a tour guide. He related to me the history of Atlanta and of Georgia. Some of what he told me was new to me, being Canadian, I really hadn’t paid much attention to the American Civil War when it was mentioned in our world history class. We spent a lot more time studying Great Britain and its relationship with us and other members of the British Commonwealth such as Australia and New Zealand. Mom had never spent much time talking to us about American history either.
What I knew of the United States had to do more with economics and commerce. We were always competing with American farmers to keep the price of wheat at a stable price. Too many times, the price of wheat would dip because of bumper crops south of the border. That would make Dad so mad because we would barely have enough money to buy seed for the next planting season. Dad often talked of diversifying the crops he grew on the farm but wheat was the best crop for our land. Other crops required more fertilizer and insecticides that cost more money than we could afford to spend since we couldn’t always count on higher prices to recoup the expense. In retrospect, Dad managed our farm very well and we never went without the basic necessities.
Keith said, “Hello, is anybody home?” as he waved his hand in front of my face.
I broke from my reverie with a start, “Uh, yeah, sorry about that. I was just thinking of my dad and the farm.”
“Are you homesick already?” asked Keith incredulously.
“No, I was just thinking Mom didn’t teach us much about your Civil War or other things in U.S. history. And that led me to thinking about what I do know and how we are always competing with the U.S. in the wheat market,” I said.
“Okay, you just seemed to zone out on me. I wasn’t sure what was going on with you,” Keith said.
“I’m okay,” I said.
“I know you said you were gay but have you ever considered going out with a girl?” asked Keith.
“I used to date girls before I met Ian but I never really connected to them like I did with Ian,” I said.
“Would you consider dating a girl now?” Keith asked.
“Sure. After what Ian did to me, maybe I should stick with dating girls. In high school, I had a lot of friends who were girls but never a girlfriend. Whenever I tried to date a girl, I just don’t know what to do or how to act around them. It’s so much easier to be around guys. I can relate to them much better. We can talk about sports, cars, movies, and lots of other things. When I get around girls, I get tongue tied and can’t think of anything to say. I just feel so stupid and totally uncomfortable,” I said.
“Well, that means you are a normal guy. I get that way around girls all the time but I don’t let it stop me from wanting to be around them. They can be really fun once you get over your shyness with them,” Keith said.
“So how did you meet Kerry?” I asked.
“She was in my first math class at the university. She sat next to me during the first day of class and then asked me if I wanted to be her study partner. I sat there stunned that such a great looking girl would want me to be her study partner. When I didn’t respond right away, she laughed and said, “Yes, would be an appropriate response.” I just nodded my head while she continued to laugh at me. We exchanged phone numbers and decided we would meet in the library to study. We hit it off really well. It was only a couple days later when we decided to start dating each other. We are great friends and love being around each other,” Keith said. “Let’s head back to the apartment.”
We headed back to the parking garage to retrieve Keith’s car and drove back to the apartment. As we parked the car, Keith took out his cell phone and called his roommate to warn him that we were on our way upstairs.
Just as Keith reached for the doorknob, the door suddenly popped open catching us both by surprise. Rick stood in the doorway laughing at the expressions on our faces. “I just love doing that,” Rick said with deep laugh. “I get Keith every time.”
As he moved aside to let us in, I couldn’t help giving him the once over from head to toe. Good looking doesn’t even come close to describing this beautifully sculpted male specimen of humanity. He was dressed in a tight-fitting white tee shirt, red silky running shorts and running shoes. The running shorts didn’t leave much to the imagination as they were pretty short and tight fitting in all the right places. I must have zoned out because I managed to stumble on the threshold. Rick quickly reached out to steady me and keep me from falling. The touch of his hand on my arm sent a shock of electricity up my arm. Rick’s blue eyes looked into mine as he pulled me back upright and he flashed me a brilliantly white smile.
“Be careful, Glenn,” Rick said. “Our threshold does tend to trip people up if you aren’t used to it.”
I managed to get across the room and sat down on the coach, willing my pulse to slow down and attempting to control the thoughts racing through my mind at that moment. Boy, I needed to get a life. How could I function this way if every time a guy touched me it set me off? I really don’t want to have this kind of reaction to anyone at this moment in my life. I am so screwed up!
“Hey, guys, I’m off to the gym. I will see you later,” Rick said, as he exited the apartment, closing the door behind him.
Keith suggested we take a quick nap before heading out for the evening. Keith sacked out on his bed while I stretched out on the couch. I must have fallen asleep since the next thing I remember is Keith shaking me awake.
“Wake up, cousin. It’s almost dinner time. We have to meet the guys at the Mellow Mushroom for our usual trivia tournament,” Keith said.
“Mellow Mushroom? What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a pizza joint where they have trivia games on monitors in each corner of the restaurant. We form teams against other tables and play for beer. It’s a great college hangout. Every Wednesday, a local radio station broadcasts from the restaurant and awards cash prizes to the winners of the trivia contest. You can’t use any device that has connectivity to the internet. It has to be just the people on the team using their collective memories to answer the questions. We are planning a rematch for this Wednesday with a bunch of old guys who beat us last time. They made such a big deal of beating us college kids, we challenged them to a rematch! We are meeting the guys for a practice session tonight to get ready for Wednesday’s challenge.”
“That’s sounds like fun. I need to stop by an ATM since I don’t have much cash on me,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll spot you for tonight. You can pay for us on Wednesday,” Keith said.
We headed out the door and Keith drove over to the pizza place. Mellow Mushroom? Where did they dream up that name for a restaurant? As we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, a couple guys waved to us from the café tables in front of the pizza place.
As we approached their table, Keith said, “You will really like these guys. They are a little bit crazy but they are the greatest friends anyone could have. They would give you the shirt off their backs to help you so don’t let their wacky sense of humor offend you.”
Keith introduced me, “Hey guys! This here is my cousin, Glenn. He’s a farm boy so don’t give him too hard of time! I’m sure he’ll need a breaking in period before he can stand the likes of you!”
A chorus of “hellos” greeted me as I sat down at the table. Keith went around the table introducing his buddies, “This is Brett, that’s King, down at the end that’s Mike…he’s our secret weapon….next to him is Sydney and Jeff. And last but not least, Nolan.” They all acknowledged the introductions with a nod of the head and a smile. I sat down between Keith and Nolan. They had already ordered the pizza so we ordered our sodas when the waitress came back to check to see if we wanted anything.
Keith said, “Okay, guys, did you already sign us up for the trivia game?”
“Yes,” Mike answered.
“Good! What’s the topic this time?” Keith asked.
“Movies; specifically Academy Award winners for best picture,” answered Mike.
“Great! I’m sure you’ll know them all since you know everything about every movie ever made!” Keith exclaimed enthusiastically!
“Yep! I got us covered,” Mike responded. “Boy, Glenn, you sure can tell you are related to Keith. I’ve never seen anyone look so much alike unless they were identical twins!”
“Yes, we have been hearing a lot about that since I got here,” I said.
“Wow, but you sure don’t talk like him though! Can you say “about” again?” Mike asked.
“Sure, “about,” I said.
“Hear that guys! He makes Keith sound like a hill billy don’t he?” Mike asked with a laugh. He looked at me and asked, “Do you say, “Eh,” a lot too?”
“I guess so, eh!” I laughed. “I didn’t realize I had an accent until I came here. You all talk a lot differently, too.”
“Don’t let him fool you. He talks funny all the time. Mike is from Fresno, CA, and has been a movie buff all of his life. I don’t think there’s a movie he hasn’t seen,” Keith said. All the guys nodded their heads in agreement.
Mike spoke up, “Yeah, I’ve spent a lot time researching every one of them. I hope I didn’t offend you or anything. I can’t help teasing the rest of these guys. They all talk funny just listen to them and see.”
“Brett is our sports enthusiast and knows everything about baseball, basketball, football, and golf. Brett’s from Austin, TX. His dad’s a professor at the university there. Nolan and I know all about cars. Nolan graduated from high school with me and Rick. We spent a lot of time in the shop working on cars. We love going to car races! Syd is our resident brainiac. He’s going into engineering but knows a lot about everything. He’s from Kansas. Jeff is from New York City. He’s our only true Yankee and yes, he is a Yankee’s fan! King is our accounting major in the group. King’s family immigrated to the United States from China before he was born. They own a couple of Chinese restaurants and want him to be their accountant when he gets out of school. Isn’t that right, King?” Keith asked.
“Yes, that’s right,” King said. “My parents live in Baltimore, Maryland. My parents speak Cantonese. My sister and I are the only ones who speak English. My parents spend all of their time in the restaurants working. They hire mostly family members to work with them so they don’t have to learn English. Where are you from Glenn?”
“I’m from Saskatchewan,” I replied.
“Where is that?” King asked, “I’ve never heard of a place called Sask…sask. How do say that again?”
“Saskatchewan is one of the western provinces of Canada between Alberta and Manitoba,” I answered.
“Cool! I have never been to Canada. My parents send us home to China every summer to learn to speak properly and to help my grandparents. They wanted us to learn Mandarin Chinese so we had to take classes at our local church during high school,” King said. “My uncle lives in San Francisco. He owns several restaurants in Chinatown there. We have visited with him as part of our summer vacation as we went to and from China. I am expected to work in the family business when I graduate.”
“Are you happy about that?” I asked.
“Sure, my parents are great people to work with. Chinese people are very compassionate and take care of each other. When my father was sick and couldn’t work in the restaurant, our Chinese friends came to work for free in the restaurant until he could come back to work. My mom had to stay home and take care of him. My sister and I had to work every night at the restaurant so our friends could go home at night since they were there every day to open the restaurant for lunch,” King said. “That lasted for nearly three months. It saved us from closing the restaurant. We have done the same for our friends when they needed help. So what is it like in Saskatchewan?”
“Where I live it’s a prairie. It is really flat and you can see for miles in any direction. I grew up on wheat farm near the U.S. border. I spent my senior year living in Swift Current with my Aunt and Uncle. I just graduated,” I said.
Nolan asked, “Do you know where you are going to college, yet?”
“No. I haven’t decided where I want to go,” I said. “My best friend, Ian, and I had applied to the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP). We were supposed to room together but I’m not sure he’s going there now.”
“Why? What happened?” Nolan asked.
I couldn’t answer right away since there seemed to be a big lump in my throat that wouldn’t let me speak. I was trying real hard not to cry. Keith reached over and squeezed my knee under the table to try and reassure me. I looked at Keith and finally managed to croak, “He got engaged when he went home so I’m not sure what Ian is doing right now.”
Brett spoke up then, “Why don’t you come to Austin with me in a couple of weeks and check out the University of Texas at Austin? It’s a good school and I’m sure my dad could help you get in. And if you are still interested in UTEP, we could stay with some of my old high school buddies who are going there, so you could visit the campus and see what it’s like.”
“I’m not sure about doing that. I’d have to talk to my grandparents, first,” I said.
“You know they would let you go, if you asked,” Keith said. “They want you to find the right school for you. Of course, I want you to go to school here with us, but you need to decide what’s right for you.”
“Come on! Say you’ll at least think about it,” Brett said.
“Okay. I will let you know,” I said.
Mike spoke up, “Why don’t you check out Fresno State. It’s a good school too.”
“Yeah, right, Mike. If it’s so great, why didn’t you go there instead of coming here?” Syd asked, with just a little sarcasm in his voice.
“You know why, Syd!” Mike responded energetically. “It’s the same reason you’re here too. You could have gone to Kansas State and lived at home but you didn’t. I had to get away from home. My parents were driving me crazy. Living at home and going to Fresno State was the last thing I wanted to do. Glenn doesn’t have that problem so he could go to Fresno State with no problem.”
“One of my friends from high school has a scholarship to attend Weber State University in Utah,” I said. “James wants to be a male nurse and they offered him a full ride scholarship and a stipend to help with living expenses. I might check that school out as well. Of course, my cousin, Ben, is on a hockey scholarship in Minneapolis so I could go to school there. Ben is the greatest. We graduated together from the same high school.”
Jeff looked over from the trivia game and said, “Don’t let them try to tell you anything! The best schools are in New York! You need to check out Columbia, Cornell or one those kind of schools.”
All the guys turned in unison and said, “And so why didn’t you go one of those schools yourself, Jeff?”
“My parents couldn’t afford the tuition. My Uncle Chet offered me a job here in Atlanta so I came to live with him and work in his auto body shop. I managed to save enough money from working with him so I could get into Georgia Tech. So I agree with you guys, Georgia Tech would be a good choice, too.”
“Glad you agree with us,” Keith said, as his cell phone started ringing. He reached in his pocket to answer it.
Nolan laughed and said, “We know who that is! That’s Kerry checking up on Keith!”
Keith covered the phone with his hand and said, in a loud whisper, "Shut up, Nolan! She’ll hear you!”
“So what if she does! You know she keeps you on pretty short leash!” Nolan said, as he made out like he was a puppy dog begging for food and woofing for attention. This set the whole table to laughing. Keith got up from the table and glared at all of us, as he stepped away from the table so he could talk to Kerry.
Keith returned a few minutes later, “You guys are such assholes! You are just jealous because you don’t have such a gorgeous babe who wants your body so much she can’t stand not be with you every second of the day!”
Brett responded first, “Yeah, you are right about the gorgeous babe part but she has wrapped you around her little finger. She is the most controlling and manipulative person I’ve ever met, dude. If I were you, I’d find someone else real quick. I couldn’t handle being someone’s lap dog like she wants you to be.”
“That’s not true, Brett, and you know it! Kerry is very sweet and treats everyone with such kindness. You are just jealous she didn’t go after you!” Keith said, rather heatedly.
“Sorry, dude. I didn’t mean to upset you but somebody needed to tell you. Just think about it Keith. I don’t mean to make you angry, okay?”
Nolan pulled Keith into his seat. “Keith just let it go. We’re your friends and we are just trying to look out for you. You are madly in love with the girl it’s easy to see. Please just think about what we’ve said before you make any serious commitments to her, okay?”
Just then, the pizza arrived and we dug into it with gusto. The pizza was mediocre but we were all starving so it didn’t take long to finish off the last piece. The trivia game continued as we ate. Mike knew all of the answers so we all just sat back and watched him. Of course, we won!
“Glenn, we need to be heading back. Guys, we will see you on Wednesday night, right?” Keith asked looking around the table.
Everyone nodded yes. “Good, we need to show those old guys a thing or two so don’t be late!” Keith said.
We headed back to Keith’s car and he drove us back to his apartment. As we opened the door, Keith shouted, “We’re home! Are you decent?”
From the back room we heard Rick’s voice, “No, but we’re in bed so just close the bedroom door.”
Keith stepped into the apartment and walked over to close Rick’s bedroom door before he turned on the lights. “You can come in now, Glenn. Let’s get to bed. I plan to take you touring tomorrow. We need to see the Coca-Cola plant, the Martin Luther King Memorial, and Stone Mountain. Why don’t you use the bathroom first?”
“Thanks, Keith. I’ve had a nice time today.” I said.
“No problem, Cuz!”
We finished getting ready for bed and Keith turned out the lights and climbed into his bed beside me. I listened to him breathing. I knew he was asleep when his breathing slowed. I was tired but couldn’t stop thinking about college and what I was going to do now Ian was out of the picture. Maybe I should take Brett up on his offer to go out to Texas to see those schools. I made up my mind to talk to my grandparents in the morning to get their thoughts about it. For some reason, I kept thinking of Rick and how good looking he is. My memory of him standing stark naked in the kitchen was making me very horny. With that picture in my mind, I drifted off to sleep.