Player Black came to us by way of Zeta Psi. Zeta Psi was the Animal House of U of M. It was the frat for the weirdoes and the druggies and the people who would never in a million years join a frat. It wasn’t even a real frat. Legend had it they were kicked out of the Greek Council because someone was making cat in their attic. Cat is short for methcathinone. It’s like crystal meth on crystal meth. It’s made from paint remover and battery acid and it supposedly makes users bleed out of their peeholes. The only place I’ve ever read about cat is in a 1995 article in Spin Magazine. The article claimed the drug was sweeping the nation, but judging from the amount of time I just spent explaining what it is, I think it’s fair to say the cat epidemic has yet to take off.
Even though Zeta Psi wasn’t technically a frat, they still had pledges and hazing and all that fratty stuff. Just because one’s peers do not recognize one’s legitimacy does not mean one cannot adopt those peers’ rituals. I think Thomas Paine said that. I don’t know what kind of thing goes on during the pledge period at normal frats, but from what I gather, the thing that went on during Zeta Psi’s pledge period was drugs. Lots of drugs. They would make their pledges do lots of drugs and then scare them with Frankenstein masks and things. If the pledge didn’t go insane, he was Zeta Psi material.
My freshman and sophomore years, I lived in the weirdo dorm, East Quad. East Quad was home to the Residential College, the program from which I graduated. The R.C. was a small, creative arts-focused college inside of U of M. Most of our classes took place in East Quad, so we didn’t really ever have to leave or get dressed if we didn’t want to. We didn’t have a functioning grade point average because we got written evaluations instead of letter grades. My college transcripts say things like, “participates in class regularly” and “great handwriting.”
Zeta Psi loved weirdoes, so East Quad was the unofficial breeding ground for Zeta Psi pledges. And frat parties had free beer, so we spent a considerable amount of time at Zeta Psi. They once had an Easter party where they gave one of their guys a bunch of acid and crucified him above the front door for the entire party. It was like the Hall of Presidents, only real and scary and with Jesus.
One of the punks I lived with senior year was a Zete, which was how Player Black came into our lives. Player Black had stumbled upon Zeta Psi during a party and made himself at home. The technical term for his residential status would be “homeless,” but he wasn’t like a crusty-old-pee-flavored kind of homeless. He was a hustly, moochy kind of homeless. Like he had more important things to do than find an apartment, and you should be pumped that he decided to share his genius with you for a few weeks. Zeta Psi was in such a constant state of anarchy that they could go weeks without noticing someone had moved in, so it was the perfect place for a dude like Player Black to crash.
He showed up at a couple of our parties, by way of our Zete housemate. The young punks liked him because they were sophomores and he was a total character. As a wisened-old graduate, I had lost my patience for characters. Characters thrive in college towns, where there are plenty of wide-eyed undergraduates looking for a story to tell the next day. Unfortunately, as one learns, the story loses some of its fun when one wakes up and the character is still there.
No one really knows how Player Black got his nickname. He was black. So, I guess that was part of it. But he did not fit any definition of player I’ve ever known. Having a place to sleep at night is pretty much the most minimal criteria for being a player. I can only assume he gave himself the nickname Player Black, which is about the most un-player thing you can do.
His other nickname was the King of Cats, which I also assume he gave to himself. He claimed that cats couldn’t get enough of him. This one appeared to have some basis in reality. Andre’s cat Tricky Kitty really did seem to perk up whenever Player Black came around.
Nearly a month into his stay on the couch at Zeta Psi, the Zetes finally had enough of Player Black and they sent him out on his ass. He packed up his gym bag and headed straight over to our house. At this point, I was no longer on the lease; I was subletting from Andre and the punks for the summer. So I had little say or responsibility over what went on in the house. If they wanted to spray-paint the upper living room and knock out the stairs to the basement so none of us could do our laundry, it was not my concern. I had graduated, and I was sure to be on to bigger and better things come fall. I didn’t know what those things were, but pretty much anything is bigger and better than living in a non-functional house whose interior walls are coated with spray paint.
Player Black fancied himself a rapper. His sole possession was a cheap Korg drum machine that he used for making beats. It didn’t have a speaker, so he’d punch up the beats and make us listen to them through his waxy old headphones, staring at us with a huge grin while we pretended to enjoy them.
“Nice,” we’d say, nodding our heads, because that’s what we were expected to do.
“That’d get the party started, ‘miright?” he’d ask.
“It certainly would get some kind of party started,” we’d answer.
For the first few days of Player Black’s residency, I tried to keep out of it. If the punks wanted him to stay in their house, that was their right. It soon became apparent, though, that no one wanted him there; they just weren’t sure how to get rid of him. And as the only functioning adult, it eventually fell to me to kick him out.
There were two straws that broke the camel’s back. The first happened in the middle of the night. I woke up to go to the bathroom, and I heard Player Black talking to someone in our upstairs living room. “Yeah,” he said, “you like that?” I walked out into the living room to find him sitting on the couch, holding his headphones up to Tricky Kitty’s ears. When he saw me, he looked up and grinned.
“He likes my beats,” he said.
The next morning I’d told the punks what had happened. “I can’t have this guy playing his beats for the cat at 3 o’ clock in the morning,” I said. “He’s a total lunatic. I want him out. Today.” When I got home from work that night, however, he was still there. He was sleeping on the couch in the downstairs living room. The only light came from the TV, which was tuned to a WNBA game. I don’t know why, but the thought of him falling asleep on my couch while watching the WNBA suddenly felt like the ultimate sign of insolence.
“That’s it,” I said. “You’re out of here.”
Luckily, he went without much of a fuss. I guess a guy like Player Black has gotten used to being kicked out of places. Nevertheless, it was the end of the road for me. When my high school buddy Don called up the next week and asked if I wanted to move to New York with him, it didn’t take me long to make a decision.
Spoiler alert: that decision was yes.