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You Don’t Always Make It

By Kevn McCahill

I had just been woken up by what had become a despised tradition—a flying elbow drop from Kaleem. We had spent the night in a hotel in Milan. Milan, Italy. But we had to hurry up, get some food and catch a train to Venice. As had been the case every night of this trip so far, the wine had flowed last night, and I rose with a serious need for water, coffee and breakfast.

We got up early enough for the hotel’s breakfast—a first for this trip. At different times, our numbers varied with people splitting off and rejoining over the course of our three-week adventure, but at this point there were six of us. Kaleem, Silvio, Vu, and I were good friends throughout college. Sai was as well. He was now studying for a doctorate in biochemistry at some fancy Swiss school, his apartment serving as a nice home base for our adventures. I had only met Silvio’s friend Amit when we checked in at O’Hare.

Breakfast was delicious. We feasted on cappuccino, orange juice, these Italian toast cracker things, nectarines, and doughnutted-up croissants. But we had to eat fast, in order to check out and make the train to Venice, so we quickly devoured what we could, stashed more for later, and hopped onto the Metro to get to the train station and off to Venice.

Sai was carrying what remained of a bottle of Bailey’s that Vu and I had tapped into around 4 in the morning. The bottle no longer had a cap, which might have been my fault, but since no one could remember, no one could really be blamed. Since we didn’t want to waste the Bailey’s, and it could spill with no cap, Sai decided the only reasonable thing would be to chug the remaining contents then and there, even if it meant doing so at a train station early on a weekday, in the middle of the morning rush. So he stoically stood there, chugging the Bailey’s as Italian workers rushed along either side of him, trying to catch their train to work.

We arrived in Venice a few hours later to the greeting of a steady drizzle. We were only spending about 20 hours in this historic city, and the gloomy day was not on our menu. It didn’t take us long to realize how extremely slow the ferryboats ran, and since our hotel was far from the train station, we got to see a lot of Venice through that steady, murky drizzle.

When we got off the boat, it was time to test our map skills. We zigged and zagged through endless narrow alleyways. Luckily, I wasn’t navigator for this segment of the trip, or any segment, for that matter, of our 3-week vacation. My main job was to get drunk early and often, and try to keep the group friendly. Silvio and Vu finally found our hotel, and we checked in. Six guys splitting two rooms. We’d been trading roommates around in an attempt to keep the whole group tight. Tonight, I roomed with Kaleem and Sai in a rather spacious two-bedroom pad. Kaleem called the solo bedroom, with a king size bed, and Sai and I shared the room with 2 full beds. A few minutes later, Vu came up and began immediately complaining that the room he was sharing with Silvio and Amit was the size of one of our bedrooms. The three of them had two twin beds and a cot, which probably sucked for them, but we weren’t really planning on spending much time in the hotel anyway. We dumped our bags and headed out into the drizzle for some midday exploration.

Just a few steps outside of our hotel, we came upon a refreshment stand. All the tourist areas in Italy had these stands, but this one was different. At most of the tourist refreshment stands we visited, a tallboy of Heineken cost $4.00. This stand sold a can of Coca Light for $1.50, an average price. But, for whatever reason, a 12oz domestic beer cost only $1.30, and that tallboy of Heineken cost a mere $2.10. Obviously, I skipped the Coca Light and started what would become many rounds of Heineken tallboys amongst Kaleem, Sai and myself. Beer, cheaper than pop? It was weird, but only in a “Is this heaven?” sort of way.

With Silvio leading, we eventually found whatever plaza it was we were looking for. It was beautiful, but it was also flooded. This inspired Vu, Silvio, and Amit to run around splashing in it with their sandals on, but we drinkers in the group all happened to be wearing shoes and socks and quickly found ourselves stranded. I must have drawn the short straw, because I got to be the one to take off my shoes and run barefoot in the filthy, stagnant floodwater to tell our sandaled friends that we were headed back to the hotel to change into our own sandals. On the way back, we bought another round from the refreshment stand, then another from a different stand (same $2.10, though). We continued taking turns buying rounds in this fashion as we explored. By the time we got to Kaleem’s second round, Sai and I convinced him to forgo beer in favor of a round of wine bottles.

Walking around from shop to shop, sight to sight, it became quite evident that we were the only ones boozing heavily on the streets (more like alleys, really) of Venice. Kaleem and I were used to the dirty looks, as we’d gotten them drinking personal bottles of wine on the streets of Milan, and pretty much got looks most of the time we hung out anywhere together. Sai, however, was new to this game of going round for round with us. Sai is a big man, about 6’1”, 240lbs., and much bigger than either of us. Yet, while Kaleem and I had gotten a typical state school education in beer, whiskey, and anything else with an alcohol content, Sai had received a more traditional, sober education studying at Northwestern, before entering his bioengineering doctorate program in Switzerland. Despite this disparity, he insisted he could go round for round with us, and we were more than happy to watch him fail.

The problem with extreme public drinking in Venice is the extreme lack of public places to urinate. In Venice, the alleys that you might otherwise use to relieve yourself in dire times are filled with restaurants and shops, all peddling 90% of the same crap. (There were seriously over a hundred shops selling the same Mardi Gras masks. It got kind of monotonous, but I guess the shops wouldn’t be there if tourists weren’t buying the crap.) Long story short, we waited twenty minutes at a McDonalds to break the seal.

We wandered around aimlessly from shop to shop in a group of six, with half of us getting increasingly sauced as the afternoon rolled around. Although we all agreed that we weren’t racing the wine bottles, Kaleem finished first and declared himself the winner. Sai and I then chugged our own bottles. By this point the drizzle had stopped and the sun was out. I didn’t step through a puddle the rest of the day.

We were sitting down at a gelato shop where the six of us ordered three beers and three waters. Although at the time I didn’t think we’d had that much to drink, considering we had started around 11:00 a.m., we must have appeared heavily intoxicated to anyone unlucky enough to pass by. We wandered and drank some more. When my next round came up, I went into a grocery store and bought 22 oz cans of some crappy Bavarian beer, before we hopped back onto the ferryboat for a tour.

This boat had a large main cabin that could hold a hundred people comfortably. Instead of utilizing it, we headed out the doors to the small back porch at the rear of the boat, in no position to make others comfortable. There, we broke up a couple’s romantic cruise and took up the remaining open-air seats. They weren’t appreciative of our company. We managed to lock a drunken Sai in the main cabin for a full minute, before he burst through the doorway and stumbled in the direction of Silvio, who was seated on a storage box because the real seats were all taken. Silvio didn’t want Sai anywhere near him, “Get the fuck outta here! Go sit by Kaleem, your drunk buddy!”

Sai replied, “Uh, oh… yeah” and started to stumble towards Kaleem, who let out a “Shit!” loud enough for the romantic couple to hear. Sai wedged himself on top of a storage box between the railing and Kaleem and started screaming “Ciao!” to any and everything within earshot, waving his hands like an excited kindergartener, sometimes alternating hands, sometimes waving both at once. This was the first of many times when I heard the girl in the romantic couple comment not too quietly on the “Sei idiotas.” So now the sober three of our group was clearly being dragged down by the drunk three, and, honestly, everyone was being dragged down by the drunkest. But the worst was still to come.

Sai began to scream “Ciao Bella!” so slurred that it came out as “Ciao Bello!” Now, I’m really bad with the Italian language, but between six years of Spanish and the fact that I’ve been told that “Ciao Bella” means “Hello beautiful (girl),” I could surmise that “Ciao Bello” translated to “Hello handsome (man), or something along those lines. When he yelled it at large groups of people or passing boats, people probably thought he was just gay and hitting on some guys in the crowd. Mostly, though, he yelled it at women, who probably considered him just another drunk American idiot. No matter what the language, calling a woman a handsome man cannot be seen as a compliment.

Between one particular “Ciao Bello!” and “Ciao!” Sai turned to the rest of us and announced, “I gotta pee.” This made sense, since we’d drunk a lot since our one McDonald’s break, but we were on a boat with no washroom—or WC as they seemed to be referred to everywhere we went—that wasn’t getting to our stop in any kind of a hurry. I tried quietly talking Sai into peeing under the railing, into the water, but he was defiant, yelling, “No way! I’m not pissing in front of this Italian couple!” I really didn’t see what harm it would bring, since they already hated us, but he wouldn’t do it.

The ferry ride lasted a solid half hour more, and by the time the boat docked at our stop, Kaleem and I were feeling the need to go as well, but not nearly as badly as Sai, who exited the ferry with one hand firmly grasping his crotch.

Although he didn’t know where the closest WC was, Sai seemed to believe that running was the best way to get there. So there he was—this large Indian-American—running around holding his dick, in desperate need of somewhere to pee. He stumbled into a restaurant and, using mostly hand motions with his one free hand, asked the host if he could use the WC. To no one’s amazement, the host turned him away. He then stumble-sprinted to a large hotel and entered the revolving doors with dick firmly in hand. He revolved right back out without even leaving the doors saying, “They wouldn’t even let me take a step inside there!”

We all ended up making it all the way back to our hotel without finding a WC. Kaleem and I waited for the elevator, as the room we shared with Sai was on the top floor. Since Vu, Silvio and Amit’s room was only one floor up, they went for the stairs, and Sai followed them, cock still in hand, figuring their bathroom would be reached first.

Kaleem and I went up to our room and took turns peeing. It felt good. Once we both finished, we relaxed and sampled the Queen Margot scotch we had bought in Milan a day or two earlier. It was disgusting.

Afterwards, while we were changing back into our shoes in preparation for dinner, there was a knock at our door. We both figured it was Sai coming in to freshen up before dinner. But when I opened the door, it wasn’t Sai who stood there.

Vu shook his head as he took a step into our room and muttered, “Sai didn’t make it.”

Sai would never reveal the full details to us, but Vu said after he opened the door, Sai charged past him towards the bathroom. The room’s lights wouldn’t turn on until the key was placed in a holder on the wall next to the switch, and while Vu fumbled around with this, Sai closed the bathroom door behind him. From inside, two loud crashes were heard, followed by an “Oh no!” When they finally turned the lights on, the shower began to run. A minute or two later Sai emerged, soaking wet, but fully clothed. It was the first time in an hour that both his hands were free.

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