Chapter 3

THE DREAM

It was only a one-cigarette walk from the gym back to the house. I guess I coulda jogged back, made it a full workout, but I hate jogging. Anyways, I was smoking. When I got back, I pissed behind the house, and then went inside. Nobody was home, but there was a note duct taped to my door that said “Hassan’s.” I showered, threw on some jeans and the cleanest white t-shirt I could find, and then left again to go meet Greg. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about the house a little later. At the moment, I was concerned only with meeting Greg at our home-away-from-home, Edwardsville’s own pride and joy and the greatest diner in the world, Hassan’s House of Eggs and Love.
Hassan’s House of Eggs and Love had opened up our sophomore year, and Greg and I had been there almost every day since, sometimes twice. The house specialty was the Fried Hassan, but I could never get myself to order it. I usually just stuck with the coffee and, on special occasions, the pie. Coffee was only a buck at Hassan’s and you
could sit there all day long getting your free refills.
All these years, and the diner’s name still cracked me up. A more accurate name would have been simply Hassan’s House of Eggs—the eggs were actually pretty good. But love? There was not much love to be found there. Unless, of course, your definition of love happened to include Hassan, with his beady eyes and bushy mustache, goosestepping
around the diner on his stick-legs swatting customers with the hot pink fly swatter that he always carries and, I’m pretty sure, sleeps with. The diner never had any bug problems, but dude. When I entered, I didn’t see Hassan but I did see Greg sitting in our booth and sipping a coffee.

THE DREAM

The Dream is simple only in its complexity.

The Unexplainable, Indescribable, Unattainable Dream: Truly the goal of a Champion. A Champion keeps himself attuned to his environment; he can feel when the power of The Dream is touching him. Moments inherently filled with pure goodness, The Dream is as varied as the individuals who strive for it. The Dream begins as a Feeling, a vague sense that things are not as they seem. As you try to identify such moments in your own life, remember that laziness is vital: Smoking while you type. The Olive Garden. A really good nap. A good sit. Lots of coffee. The hours when you should be in class or work but aren’t. A favorite dessert. All-you-can-eat buffets. Laying on a beach. Those moments, no matter how brief, when, quite simply, you just love life. Living the Dream is when your entire existence is such a moment. Life literally becomes a vacation, a vacation that does not end until you do. Godspeed, young Champion!

-THE CHAMPION’S GUIDEBOOK

Our favorite booth at Hassan’s House of Eggs and Love was the Official Champion Headquarters, and Greg and I accomplished much while sitting there. It was our place to chat, to take a break, to rant and rave, to flirt with the waitresses. Well, some of the waitresses. We would sit down in our booth and, for a few precious moments, we
could take a break from life; watching it go by from a safe distance. I had felt many years ago, at the Big Boy, that there was nothing in the world like a good sit. I wasn’t sure why, though. Greg had explained it to me. That Feeling I had felt was no fluke. It was The Dream. And even after all this time, The Dream still flourished in our favorite
booth at Hassan’s House of Eggs and Love. “Hey,” I said to Greg as I plopped down in the booth. He was writing
on a napkin and didn’t look up. He did put down his pen.
“How’s this sound?” he asked, reading from the napkin. “University Funded is built on the belief that, in order to achieve a higher awareness of the much larger and diverse ecostructure of our society, indeed the very fabric of our being, one must tap into previously uncharted territories of philosophy, psychology, and spirituality. University
Funded will accomplish this ambitious goal by utilizing the spoken word, dance, and song. Free Tibet!” Greg stopped reading and looked at me. “Well?’ he asked, smiling.
“First of all,” I said, “I don’t think ecostructure is a word. Second of all, you are an idiot.” Greg lit up a smoke.
“I don’t see anyone else working on this,” he said. “Look, you want to pull this off or not?”
“If you can turn that napkin into five-hundred bucks, I will be very surprised.” I lit up a smoke too. University Funded was the name of our a cappella group. I can’t sing. Greg can’t sing. None of our friends could sing. We had no business starting up an a cappella group, but Greg had read that, if a group of students started a club of some
kind, the University would fund them to the tune of five-hundred dollars. Hence the name of our group. I didn’t really think it would work, but we agreed to give it the old college try. By the way, if you’ve been to college, you already know that that is the stupidest expression in the history of language, even worse than “six of one half dozen of
the other,” which makes me want to punch whoever says it.
“How was the gym?” Greg asked and I suddenly remembered that I was mad at him.
“Oh, it was great,” I said. “Check this shit out.” I checked to see if anyone was looking, then lifted up my shirt to expose the ugly purple and red line that ran across my
chest. Greg spat up some coffee.
“How did you do that?”
“Well, since I didn’t have a spotter,”—I stopped to glare at him—“I
got…stuck.”
“Stuck?”
“Stuck.”
“How’d you get—”
“Some fucking ape in bicycle shorts came to my rescue.”
“Oh my,” said Greg.
31
“Yeah,” I said. I puffed on my smoke. Greg did too, and we sorta just looked at
each other and puffed away.
“You are a moron,” said Greg, and then he started giggling.
“You—” I started, but then I started giggling.
We giggled like only Champions can.

“Oiyaeh!” Hassan slammed the swatter down on our table with authority and we
struggled to compose ourselves.
“H-Hey, Hassan,” Greg calmed himself like a true Champion. It was really almost Zen-like. I was still laughing. “How’s it hanging?”
“Haeri. One lowah then di othah. Oiyaeh!!” Hassan was proud of his joke. A creepy smile peeked out from under his mustache. Greg and I threw on our fakest grins.
“Heh heh heh,” we said.
“Terika hooshae, whada terika nooshae vaver babbababa!” Hassan said.
“Heh heh heh,” we said.
“Ooya. Babalaga, cooshiti terta wadquequas xian,” Hassan said.
“Ha!” we said.
“Oiyaeh! Don’t forget to pay your bill, fuckface,” Hassan said.
“No problem,” we said. Satisfied that any giggling had been squelched and his bills would be paid and that the endless, magical, mystical cycle of existence would keep whirling his way, Hassan disappeared into the back of the diner.
“Man,” said Greg, “we gotta find out where he’s from.”
“You know,” I said, “nobody knows.”
“Whatever,” Greg started. He pulled off his Browns cap and put it next to hissmokes on the table. He always wore that hat; he got it junior year of high school I think. His short brown hair was standing straight up. Somebody hadn’t showered today. He smoothed out some rumples in his own white T-shirt—a plain white shirt and jeans was
kinda the unofficial Champion uniform. His eyes had recovered from the giggling and once again that serious sparkle
surfaced in the blue—the only glimpse an outsider had of the Champion within. Not that an outsider would notice it. Greg had told me that sometimes I would also get the eye sparkle, and that it was evidence of my gradual progress towards Undefeatabilty. He said that the sparkle illustrated the inner fire that a Champion must possess. He was always saying crazing shit like that.
Greg realized that I was staring at his head and put his hat back on. He also flicked me off for good measure. “Like you should talk,” he said with a smile. He said that because my own hair was pretty ridiculous. All messy and full of brown curls that just kinda flopped around my head. Especially right after a shower. Greg lit up another smoke and watched as I did the same. “How’s quitting going for you?” he asked.
“Pretty well,” I said while blowing some smoke in his face. I had thought about starting senior year as a non-smoker, but it wasn’t going to happen. I was a relatively new smoker, at least compared to dirtbags like Greg who had been smoking since high school. I had started during architecture class freshman year of college. I took that class because, hey, why not? I could be an architect, right? I was good at math, I liked to draw; I thought it could be fun.
I was an idiot.
For one, it was my first class my first semester of my first year of college. I simply wasn’t prepared, as either a student or a Champion. For two, that class was hell. It was twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, for three hours a pop. The problem was, it took about twenty hours to get any of the projects done. So I would pull all-nighters every Monday and Wednesday night to get my shit done. I drank ungodly amounts of coffee, and when that failed, I started smoking a cigarette or two to keep me going. My asthma was exercise-induced, so I figured I was safe as long as I didn’t do any push-ups or anything. I ended up staying up all night and finishing my projects in plenty of time, but then I would fall asleep, miss class, and get bad grades anyway. The affects of architecture class soon infiltrated the rest of my life. I started sleeping through all my classes and smoking all the time. By the end of the semester, I
had a 1.2 grade point average and was a pack a day smoker. Thank God for Greg. He explained that I wasn’t facing expulsion and lung cancer and death, but just another challenge to overcome, another test of my Champion mettle. He was right. I started figuring out how the college worked and I pulled up my grades the next semester. I was now a dirty smoker with a badly damaged GPA, but I was still around, and Greg had upgraded me from “Occasional” Champion to “Fairly Consistent.” This year, Undefeatable.

“Tell me about the marshmallows again,” said Greg. He was grinning like a fool.
I rolled my eyes. That architecture class had been full of lows, but the marshmallows
were the lowest.
“So I hadn’t been in class for awhile,” I started. Greg grinned and nodded. “But
somehow I got the idea that for our final project, we were supposed to recreate the
architecture building using ‘two interesting, household objects.’
“And what was it supposed to be?”
“We were supposed to take a picture of the architecture building, and then cut up
the picture to make it 3-D. But I didn’t know, and I ended up making a very nice
representation of the building using marshmallows and sponges.”
“You are an idiot.”
“Yeah. So I brought it to class, and the teacher took one look at it and said ‘what
am I supposed to do, eat it?’ And I told him yes, and he kicked me out. And I got a D-.”
“Man,” said Greg. “Paul Kovac, the true Champion Savant.”

“Thank you,” I said, and then I started laughing. Greg joined me.
“Oiyaeh!” Hassan was shaking the fly swatter menacingly at us from behind the
register. He could be a real dick sometimes.

ON HONOR

Who you are is all you have.

Developing a sense of honor is one of the most important steps in becoming Undefeatable. You must remain true to yourself, true to the right way to do things. Remain aware of your feelings. It is easy to determine what is right and what is wrong—you already know if what you are doing is right or wrong. Through over-thinking and excuse making, it is possible to manipulate others and even yourself into believing that what you did was right. But you can’t disregard that initial feeling in your gut. An example: While it is quite possible and relatively simple to hide your true self in order to impress someone, there is absolutely no honor in doing so. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

-THE CHAMPION’S GUIDEBOOK

I guess I’m being a little too hard on Hassan. It was possible to squeeze a little love out of the guy. It was only a little, and you had to buy it of course, but it was there and it was worth it. Like our booth, for instance. No matter how crowded the diner got, Hassan would guard it, keep it open and waiting for our inevitable arrival. Over the course of two years, Greg and I had spent enough time and money at his restaurant to earn a place in his heart; a place right between profits and that goddamn fly swatter. Hassan could help out in other ways too. For instance, he knew that his faithful employee Becka Carlson and his number-one customer Paul Kovac did not get along, so he had made sure that Amy was our waitress. I didn’t really like Amy. She had blond hair and a mean face. She wasn’t funny, never filled our coffee cups up to an acceptable level, and she didn’t really like Greg or I. But dude, at least she wasn’t Becka.
Becka and I didn’t get along because we used to date until I broke up with her and she hadn’t enjoyed getting dumped as much as I thought she would. Of course, that was like a year ago, but for whatever reason, she would not let it go. I even wrote a haiku about it:

Becka’s always mad.
She says it’s like I don’t care.
But dude, we broke up.

Not bad, right? Anyway, I did care. I really did. But we were not right for each other, and it was painfully obvious. For one, Becka was my first, and only, girlfriend ever, but I was like her tenth boyfriend. She was one of those girls that can’t deal with being single. So she was way more serious about it than I was. Also, she was really hot. Seriously. Gorgeous, even, and I never use that word. She had dark hair and dark eyes and dark skin that all blended together perfectly into this amazing girl of shadows and curves. She always dressed nice and accessorized and all that other stuff that hot girls do to let you know that they are hot. She was even in a sorority for godssakes.
We met the beginning of Junior year at the one place on campus where I would ever get the chance to associate with a hot sorority girl, Hassan’s House of Eggs and Love. Of course, we were on my home turf and, after about a month, the No-Game Game did its job and she asked me out. A cool thing to know about the No-Game Game is that the hotter (and thus more unattainable) the girl you’re dealing with is, the better it works. It’s like they can’t believe that you’re not drooling over them or whatever less disciplined guys do when they’re around. Actually, I have never asked a girl out in my entire life. Thank you, No-Game Game.
So you had me; with my curly brown hair and silly smile and maybe, at last count, an ab or two, with a wardrobe consisting of two pairs of jeans, some white t-shirts and about six flannels, dating a very fashionable sorority girl who instantly became the hottest girl in the room every time she entered one. I couldn’t go a week without having to wear
the same thing at least twice. Becka? Let’s just say that we dated for six months and I don’t even know if I saw her wear the same shoes more than once. The appearance thing wasn’t the only problem or even the worst; it was just the
most obvious. At first, she didn’t care about my shoddy appearance, but it didn’t take her long to try to change me. She tried to be subtle, giving me a nice dress shirt as a present or suggesting a fancy restaurant when we were gonna go out. I didn’t appreciate it. I mean, I knew that if we went to a nice place to eat I shouldn’t wear a torn flannel. It’s
just common sense. But the fact that she told me not wear a torn flannel really pissed me off, and I would refuse to wear her gifts or take her to her restaurants. I guess I kinda sound like a dick, but I’m not. I’m a Champion. And a Champion knows that you are who you are; you can’t change just to impress someone. There’s no honor in that.
So that was a problem. The other problems were that Becka didn’t understand my jokes, she didn’t like my friends, and damn it all–she always ate my food.
Here’s the deal: I love to eat. I love food. I may not be able to do much, but damn can I eat. It’s not like I’m a big guy, either. I may have had a little belly and been unable to bench press two hundred and five pounds more than nine times, but I was in decent shape. For my size, there ain’t no man, woman, or child this side of the Mason- Dixon that could outeat me. Not that I know where the Mason-Dixon line is, but dude. I have often been told that I’m kinda a jerk when I’m hungry, but I don’t think I believe it. I do have to say that I’m not sorry that we dated. It wasn’t all bad. Becka was the nicest, most caring person I had ever met, even still. She taught me much about life and love. Oh, and sex. That was pretty cool too. I was glad I could finally see firsthand what all the fuss was about.
Eventually though, I came to a troubling realization. I love to eat. I love cookies and pie and cheese and pasta. I love Batman. But I didn’t love Becka. Of course I didn’t tell her about honor or food or Batman when I broke up with
her. All I told her, after six months of dating, was that I “couldn’t be a boyfriend anymore.” That really was the truth, just not the whole truth.
Imagine my surprise when my desire to break up totally blindsided her and she
got really upset. I was so blindsided by her negative reaction that I got really upset too,
and somehow we spent the next week closer than ever before; bound together by mutual
upsetness. However, that had not been the point of breaking up with her, and I had to do
it again. And again. I kept breaking up with her, but the breakups would never take
39
until, at a Halloween party almost a year ago, Teenage Mutant Ninja Paul’s profoundly
deep humor resulted in definitive closure with Becka: Warrior Princess and a fat welt on
my cheek.
I had showed up at that party by myself, but soon found myself face to face with
Becka. It had been two weeks since our last breakup.
“Hey, Becka,” I had said.
“You suck,” she told me.
“Ha ha,” I said. I smiled uncomfortably, and we stood there staring at each other
with her telling me I sucked over and over for like an hour. Than this stupid girl from my
English class, Lauren I think her name was, came up to me and gave me a drunken hug.
When she left, Becka was still staring at me, but then she started staring at me and
punching my arm. Over and over. And let me tell you, that wasn’t fun. So I thought to
myself, ‘damn, Paul, you gotta lighten the mood a bit or you’re gonna stand here getting
punched all night. I looked Becka in the eye and gave her a friendly smile.
“So,” I said, “got a new man yet?” This was one of those jokes that she never got.
Becka’s eyes got real wide, and then she slapped the bejeezus outta me—flipped
my ninja turtle mask right around. Then she left. She hadn’t said more than two words
(“more coffee?”) to me since.
I must have been staring at her, and Greg must have noticed, because he started
talking about her. “You know, Kov,” he said, “I don’t think I ever said anything, but
40
good job with the ex.” He sipped his coffee.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I never considered pissing off a nice gorgeous girl
to be a good job.
“Look,” he said,” you are a moron, still are, but everything worked out the way it
should. She is a nice girl, but not for you, and you handled her like a true Champion.” I
felt myself blush; I held my mug in front of my face to conceal it. Greg continued, “You
just couldn’t live The Dream if you were dating Becka. She was stunting your growth as
a Champion, you know?” I did know, in fact.
“I know,” I said. “I was always feeling the bad vibes.”
Greg nodded. “I’ll bet.” A thoughtful look crept onto his face, and I prepared
myself for the inevitable discussion of love and happiness and how the two related by
lighting a cigarette.
“Hey, Kov?”
“Yes, Greg?”
“Um,” Greg looked a little uncomfortable. “Well, you always said, when you
guys were dating I mean, that Becka—” Greg stopped talking as he looked around to see
where Becka was. She was still on the other side of Hassan’s, now gathering condiments
off the tables. Sidework; her shift must almost be over. Good. Convinced it was safe,
Greg continued, “You always said how Becka always wanted to hook up, all the time.”
This was true. She was insatiable.
Don’t get me wrong, that was pretty cool for a while,
but eventually even that got old. And when that got old, I knew there was trouble. I
41
remember once I passed on a night of sex because there was a Batman marathon on
Cartoon Network. Don’t get me wrong, I love Batman, but dude.
“Did I ever tell you,”I started, “that I even tried to tell her about The Dream?”
“Oh God no.” Greg was wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “That couldn’t have gone well.
“Yeah, it didn’t,” I said. “I’ve never seen so much eye rolling in my life. Bad
karma, you know?” I took a sip of coffee. “Fuck that Shit, I say.” “Fuck that Shit” is a
popular phrase of the Champion, almost a motto of sorts.
“Yeah, Fuck that Shit.” See?
“Anyway.” I smiled. “She couldn’t take a joke.”

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