You won't find it anywhere in your fail-safe first-year handbook, and I guarantee those too-perky frosh leaders won't utter a peep about it during your hectic campus tours. It's a necessary and overlooked way to survive your first year at university. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the concept of the Designated Friend.
I was introduced to the marvel of Designated Friendship back in high school during an ill-advised New Year's Eve drinking fiasco. I surreptitiously snuck the most inconspicuous bottle of booze outta my parents' well-appointed liquor cabinet. It wasn't till I tossed back my first cocktail that I discovered I'd snagged a flask of fine-quality ouzo.
Next thing I knew, I was flat on my belly, blowing pink chunks under a nice sofa. Fortunately, my pals were on the ball. Well acquainted with my drunken disasters, they dragged me upstairs, settled me on my side under the covers and took turns monitoring my fitful, shivering sleep.
We've all seen those ads that advocate responsible drinking and tout the importance of designated drivers, but the Designated Friend -- an equally vital component of sensible and safe substance use -- goes largely ignored.
Keggers and pub crawls, a traditional first-year rite of passage, can get sketchy unless you know someone's got your back. You need to have someone who'll wrestle that last beer away from you, a trusted pal who has a good enough grasp of the nuances of your sober personality so that he or she can help you ride out a bad trip and will leave the party with you when it gets outta control.
I took my high school designated posse for granted. There were five girls in the group, so I could count on at least one of 'em watching out for me at all times. We weathered countless grotty raves, bought each other bottles of water and saved each other from wannabe mack daddies.
When I decamped to Montreal in first year, I found myself alone for the first time. Sure, I met a few kinda cool kids in my alternative frosh group, but nobody I really connected with: I was a neurotic raver kid in wide-legged fun- fur pants with a proclivity for vodka and jungle music; they were apathetic potheads who preferred an evening in with their bongs.
When I met Libby, I figured she'd make a worthy Designated Friend. Libby seemed cool enough at first, although she had a nasty habit of snorting Ritalin.
Then one night we checked out a Richie Hawtin show at a swank art bar. We popped a couple of pills before we went in. Soon enough, I realized it wasn't my scene -- the kids were too cool, the music too minimalist -- and curled up in a corner. Libby was off making dilated-pupil goo-goo eyes at a cute breakdancer boy on the floor. She brushed me off when I begged her to leave, so I decided to take off alone. It was the first of too many nights I wandered St. Catherine, heavy-hearted and high at 4 in the morning.
Moral: make sure your party partner's in it with you for the long haul.
Having more people on your side might seem like a good strategy, but there's not always safety in numbers. My best friend met Mike in her first year at U of T. A guy who took great pride in his drug and drinking travails, all of his anecdotes began, "Dude! I was sooo wasted."
Midway through his first semester, Mike dropped a hit of ecstasy and hit a house party near Downsview station with a large pack of new friends. There were so many members in the group that nobody really paid attention when he disappeared. They returned to residence later that night without him. The next day, Mike was escorted downtown by a pair of police officers. Apparently. he'd been so high that he lost his shirt while scaling a barbed-wire fence and ended up wandering the highway bare-chested.
Having clued-in pals can save your life. My buddy Danny made it through high school without partaking in illicit substances of any nature. When he started university, he was hit hard by peer pressure and typical first-semester stresses, and chugalugging looked like the easiest way to fit in to social situations. Unfortunately, young Danny tossed back a few too many rum-and-cokes one night and ended up with his head in the toilet. Lucky for Danny, he was with a crew of good friends from high school who recognized how out-of-character his waste-case antics were.
They also realized that something was seriously wrong when he couldn't puke and passed out catatonic on the ceramic tiles. His pals freaked out and dragged Danny to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with alcohol poisoning and got his stomach pumped. The docs figured the quick-thinking posse probably saved his ass.
A Designated Friend will keep tabs on your drink during a bathroom break to make sure nobody slips roofies in your Rickard's Red, or hold your hair back while you're puking in an alley. In the infamous barfing-under-the-couch debacle, my high school posse prevented me from choking on my own puke, but they couldn't save me from the wrath of my parents when they discovered I'd snatched their 20-year-old imported Ouzo. Still, my pals did sit through countless tearful phone conversations when my mom and dad grounded my ass. And isn't that what friends are for?