Automatic Hangover

Tossing dirty balls into beer is one way to remember college, apparently.

"You've never heard of beer pong?" Lauren, a Johns Hopkins behavioral biology major, asked me in disbelief on a Tuesday night at Automatic Slim's. "Didn't you go to college?"

"My fraternity had its own beer pong tables," interjected Kevin, a 26-year-old computer programmer.

To justify my ignorance of the pastime, I explained that I'd worked a 40-hour week to pay my way through college, so I didn't have time for Greek organizations or party games.

"But still...," Lauren insisted. "What about Beirut? That's another name for it."

Nope. But if they'd offered financial scholarships for a "sport" that requires participants to toss Ping-Pong balls across a table and into their opponents' cups of beer, I might have looked into it.

Now was as good a time as any for the education I missed in college. Between the pong (which had become so popular that its enthusiasts had created leagues) and the Jell-O wrestling, I figured it would be a full night of firsts for me at the Las Olas Riverfront joint.

While I was waiting for the fun to start, I nosed around — first upstairs in the vacant pool room and then in the back in the cordoned-off tiki bar. No vats of wrasslin' gelatin. Hmm.

When I was satisfied I'd done a thorough scouting, I grabbed a corner seat at the bar not too far from two old ads, one for the movie Easy Rider and the other for a Chrysler Road Runner. They stretched the height of the two-story wall, and a stripper pole between them added that little extra touch of class.

I asked the bouncer where the Jell-O action was taking place.

"We couldn't get anyone to do it," he said, shrugging. "Everyone was just here for the beer pong."

"I know beer is filling," I wanted to object, "but there's always room for Jell-O!"

Disappointed, I soaked in more of the ambience. The DJ was spinning the B-52's "Love Shack" from his booth, which was made from the front end of a vintage silver "Globe Trotter" RV (complete with an awning that stretched out over a folding picnic table) beneath a mural advertising the Grand Canyon.

James, 32, an "expediter" at the Ocean Reef Grill, pulled up a stool next to me and introduced himself. I asked him to clarify his role at the restaurant since I'd never heard of the position. He described the job as "basically anything that needs be done."

"So you're the kitchen bitch," I concluded.

"Yeah, I guess I am," he said, and offered me a drink. "I'm in the biz, so they come to my place, and I take care of them, and when I come here, they take care of me — one hand washes the other."

"So both hands are clean?" I asked, just to make sure.

"Not clean but taken care of."

Satisfied that he knew the difference, I switched the topic to beer pong.

"Obviously, the whole point of the game is to — " he began.

"Get drunk!" I interrupted, understanding the object of drinking games.

"To get your opponent drunk," he contradicted. "So they don't play as good, so you win the game."

To me, the object of the game seemed counterintuitive. Get other people drunk? Sheesh! I needed to find some pong officials for clarification.

Pong organizer and MC Dan informed me that more was at stake than who got whom drunk: "We do this week to week, and then we'll have finals, and the winning team gets an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas for the national competition in December."

I declined his invitation to try my hand at the game — my liver had been in training for just such a sport for years, but my hand-eye coordination had always been for shit (as evidenced by the time my face intercepted a football pass and split my upper lip in two). With self-preservation in mind, I sought out others who had more confidence in their own athletic abilities.

On the other side of the bar's huge triangular Ventura Drive-in sign, which glowed with blue neon, two dudes had their Blackberries and wallets on the bar top. They introduced themselves as Jason and Jeremy, L.A. investors in town long enough for a morning meeting.

"You look awfully young to be investors," I remarked, finding their claims dubious. "The electronics and cash-stuffed wallets on the bar are a nice touch, though."

The department of tourism wasn't gonna be happy that I was harassing the moneyed out-of-towners, but I had just gotten started.

"I think designers should put pockets in the crotch of guys' jeans so they can stuff their wads of cash in there. It would be dual-purpose marketing," I snarked.

"Well, how are girls gonna feel my junk on the dance floor?" Jeremy asked, thrusting his hips to illustrate his meaning.

I think "Why would they want to?" was more to the point.

The beer pong hostess came around to sign people up and take their ten bucks, half of which would provide prize money to the night's winners. Jason and Jeremy signed up as "The Average Joes."

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