Sometimes, you just need a little reminder

Sometimes, you just need a little reminder

“Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” —Dean Wormer, from “Animal House” (1978)

John Vernon didn’t win an Oscar for his performance in the quintessential collegiate comedy, but he gets high marks, anyway.

Not only has his deadpan delivery earned plaudits over the years, but also he’s gone down in cinematic history for that one perfect line.

It’s just 12 words, a mere dozen in a screenplay of thousands, and yet they endure as a lasting testament to the ineffable power of persuasion when it comes to facing a harsh, unpleasant truth.

No one sets out to be a laughingstock.

Nobody wants to play the fool.

Yet life has a curious way of making the moment meet the man — or the woman — with the result hanging in the balance of change.

Kent Dorfman, the unfortunate Faber College freshman to whom Dean Wormer addresses his prescient assessment, reacts in a way that — if you’ll pardon an unfortunate pun — is a simple gag reflex.

He barfs on Dean Wormer.

I thought of that scene the other day at work. I had been feeling poorly for a while and wasn’t sure what was causing it. At my age you’re loathe to call attention to yourself because jobs are hard to find and any misstep can lead down a path you don’t want to tread.

I waited for the nausea to pass, but when it didn’t and the fever and the chills made their entrance, I hustled to the nearest restroom.

Then I did something I hadn’t done since my freshman year.

In fall 1973, after a rather undistinguished and largely unspectacular high school career, I found myself enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, a school I hadn’t even considered when trying to make plans for my future. It was an idea first fostered by my mother, who said something like, “It wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.”

I’d already sent out applications to three Ohio colleges and, figuring at least one of them might come through, decided to take her up on her challenge. After all, my reasoning went, I had nothing to lose and could always frame my letter of rejection.

Instead and against all rational thought, I got in. I’ve always imagined it was late on a Friday afternoon in the admissions office and that a harried screener tossed my file in the wrong pile.

How else to explain it? I didn’t make the National Honor Society, had earned exactly zero varsity letters and could only list the newspaper and the radio station as extracurricular activities.

I hadn’t even been able to get a date for the prom, not that I tried.

Clearly, someone had blundered.

But the spring passed, and I graduated. Summer came, and I mowed lawns and played ball, the time flying as I got ready to leave home and, still, no one from ND contacted me, apologizing for the error.

When you’re 18 years old, you go with the flow, and that’s how I found myself with my right thumb outstretched, standing with a group of new friends on the side of the highway, trying to hitch a ride across the state line to Michigan, where we could drink legally.

The town was called Niles, the place was called Kubiak’s and the big attraction — aside from 75-cent pitchers — was polka dancing.

Notre Dame had been founded in 1842, but it wasn’t until 130 years later that women were finally granted admission, which, as you might well imagine, created seismic shifts across campus. Dorms had to be refitted, the curriculum was being revised and all manner of changes were set in motion, meaning that by the time I arrived a year later, everyone was playing the game by a new set of rules.

As a guy with practically no social skills, I fit right in.

Here’s the thing about dancing the polka: It can be exhausting. You do an inordinate amount of moving around, bouncing and turning, and after a while, you can get a little light-headed, especially when the music’s loud and the place is smoky and all you really want out of life is a little fresh air in the parking lot.

Which was, to bring this tale full circle, the last time I puked.

That memory washed over me as I lay on the bathroom floor last weekend, doubled over as abdominal spasms ebbed and flowed, trying to just make it through the next few endless minutes, hoping that what had not happened in nearly 50 years wouldn’t happen again.

Silly, silly skinny boy.

Regurgitation is the body’s way of reminding a person that what goes in must sometime come out, especially if it’s 10-day-old pizza inhaled the night before driving to work on four hours’ sleep.

“Food poisoning,” declared my wife, a retired nurse, after taking my vitals and shaking her pretty head. “You’re not a kid anymore.”

Great. Just what I wanted to hear. Next thing’ll be no more dancing.

Good thing Dean Wormer can’t put me on double-secret probation.

Mike Dewey can be reached at or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where passing grades are not required.

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