The Night Panther

I’ve been given several nicknames over the years… mostly in college. To some folks I’ll always be Teeny or Tiny. The most memorable nickname for me is the one I gave myself.

My fraternity was a messy place. They made the mistake of electing a slacker like me the house manager. I still have an involuntary response every time I walk into a recycling center. The smell of stale dried up beer flows through my nostrils like a typhoon. It leaves a vision of tacky, indestructible, orange couches scattered across a black tile floor, holding up a white cinder block wall. It’s my fraternity. It’s Sunday afternoon. It’s winter. The kegs are coldly banging around on the porch, screaming their empty frustration. The Bengals are losing, and we’re reduced to stealing beer from a converted soda machine.

The Beer machine had a high voltage mechanism just inside the can release, so we literally fished for a buzz sometimes. Luckily on this afternoon, the house manager had a key. I’ll admit that I almost let a pledge go after one the old fashioned way, but compassion, and thirst, proved to be too powerful. Besides, there are things that have to be done by the House Manager. My marketing scheme for the beer machine was rather limited. To keep prices down, most of the inventory came from the breakage section of the beer distributor. One experience that exists as antithesis of wine tasting is swilling a can of Milwaukee’s Best that’s been doused in Piel’s. Hence my affinity for that squalid, sticky bouquet that let me watch the Bengals in peace.

As the third quarter ended, I decided that holding the cap at two hours was enough courage for one day, and headed for the bathroom. Short journeys like that had a way of getting long in those days. Someone blocked the way to the bathroom with a couch. My friend encouraged me “Hey, you should get the House Manager to move that!” Ha, Ha. Get me another beer, pledge.

Divesting myself of all that Old Swill gave me a head rush. I eyed the couch with quite a bit of drunken enthusiasm. Days like that, rash action trumps calculated judgment every time. I jumped over the couch, yelling” Attack of the Night Panther!” Then I fell flat on my face, crushing a can of beer. I looked up to see the Bengals quarterback getting sacked. We groaned in unison, then levered ourselves up off the ground. We’d both been branded, but only I knew it. It was written all over my chest in cold beer. It rang in my ears as my friends burst out laughing. I was, I am, I will always be, THE NIGHT PANTHER!

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