Youthful Indiscretions: Stories about being young and dumb

This week we present two stories about people making choices informed by the naïvety of youth.

Part 1: On a dull night in Orlando, young Josh Flaum decides to experiment with drugs he can buy over the counter.

Josh Flaum is a comedy writer local to Los Angeles. He has written for G4 Network's 'Attack of the Show', Nerdist, Legendary Entertainment, has worked as a consultant for Disney Imagineering, co-created the award-winning web series 'Written By A Kid', and is currently working for Caffeine.tv writing for a partly-scripted, partly-improvised, live, weekly, interactive hour-long comedy chat show done entirely in virtual reality called 'Live From The 8th Dimension'. He recently shattered his right anterior sinus bone, so that's why he looks the way he does (if you were wondering). If you like photos of cats, you're welcome to follow him on Instagram at @joshflaum.

Part 2: After Will Tran accidentally cheats his way to a high school math award, he has to grapple with whether or not to come clean.

Will Tran is not a scientist, but he got close a few times. In high school, he interned at the National Institute of Mental Health working on a study of Alzheimer’s. He matriculated to New York University as a neuroscience major, but then quickly switched to the art school. Whoops. Will is a creative director in Los Angeles. He enjoys sunsets, long walks on the beach, and standing on stage to share profoundly personal stories with hundreds of strangers for no discernible reason other than the temporary appeasement of some deep, dark, inner desire to please. He also has a dog named Finch.

 

Episode Transcript

Part 1: Josh Flaum

So, February 22, 1997.  This is a red-letter day.  This is the day that scientists from the University of Edinburgh announced that they had finally successfully cloned a sheep.  Her name was Dolly and she was the first mammal ever to be cloned from a somatic cell using a very delicate process known as nuclear transfer.  Basically, DNA is taken out of an unfertilized egg and then injected into the nucleus of a cell using a microscopic needle and a teeny, tiny vacuum cleaner. 

To be honest, I don't understand it.  But I remember that day because, the night before, I had been conducting a little experiment of my own.  I was living in Orlando, Florida back then and I was hanging out with three friends of mine.  Given that this story is very embarrassing and contains excruciating moments, let’s just call them Ian, Will and Greg, which are their real names because, believe me, they deserve to be a part of this nightmare every bit as much as I do. 

So we were at Greg’s condo and the plan was to have an all-night drinkfest.  It was Ian and Greg’s condo, all-night drinkfest except 1:30 in the morning rolls around and we had already finished all of the alcohol in the house.  Thanks to Florida’s ‘blue laws’, it was now too late to go out and buy anymore.  This was a real dilemma.  We had officially run out of time to get fucked up. 

Josh Flaum shares his story with the Story Collider audience at Lyric Hyperion in Los Angeles in December 2018. Photo by Mari Provencher.

Josh Flaum shares his story with the Story Collider audience at Lyric Hyperion in Los Angeles in December 2018. Photo by Mari Provencher.

This is actually a problem with Florida in general,  Unless you own a boat or a gun, there's not much to do after hours.  If I’m being really honest, there's not much to do in Orlando, period.  It’s like two hours from the ocean and ten years behind the times.  People literally move there to die.  Personally, I was bored every day I lived in Florida.

But you don’t get fucked up in Florida because you're bored.  Getting fucked up in Florida is a cultural imperative.  After all, if you're not fucked up that’s when you start to notice all the spiders.  If you aren’t fucked up in Florida somewhere then you start to realize you are absolutely nowhere, so we really, really needed to get fucked up. 

That’s when Will had an epiphany.  “Hey, you guys.  We could robo-trip.” 

For those of you unfamiliar with robo-tripping, and hopefully that’s every single one of you, I will explain it to you exactly as Will explained it to me.  You drink a bunch of Robitussin and it gets you insanely high.  See, Robitussin contains something called dextromethorphan which is basically a cold medication but, if taken in large enough quantities, it delivers a high very similar to LSD, hence the tripping part. 

We thought to ourselves maybe, just maybe, this was it.  Maybe we can get really fucked up tonight and all we have to do is drink entire bottles of cough syrup. This is what scientists call a hypothesis. 

We were down so we hopped into Ian’s Geo Metro and sped toward the 24-hour Walmart down the street and, all the while, Will is going over the finer points of what we were to expect.  He said, “Your stomach is going to hurt for about 10 minutes or so.  You might even puke but then after that you will trip balls, I swear.”

Then he added this.  He said, “Robitussin tastes terrible so you're probably going to want to chase it with Hawaiian Punch.” 

Given that we were on a Walmart, that was an easy task. But once we hit the cold-and-flu aisle that’s when we hit our first snag.  You see, Robitussin actually comes in two sizes, small bottles and large bottles.  Will could not remember which size bottle it was that we were supposed to drink. 

Keep in mind, these were the days well before everybody carried a tiny super computer around in their pants, so we didn’t have Google at our fingertips.  We only had Will who, after hemming and hawing for quite some time, finally came to the conclusion that it was the small bottles that we were supposed to drink.

So Ian grabbed the small bottle.  I grabbed two bottles, one for me and one for Will, who was springing for the Hawaiian Punch, but motherfucking Greg he was holding a bottle of grape Dimetapp, which only comes in one size, by the way, large.  His rationale was that he hated the taste of Robitussin and grape flavor was delicious plus, and he pointed this out, Dimetapp contains dextromethorphan, that same ingredient.  So what could go wrong? 

Will is like, “Dude, I've never heard of Dime-tripping though.  I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be Robitussin.”  But we could not convince Greg at all so we just ended up at the cash register all lining up with our respective syrups.  We bought them, went out to the parking lot and that’s when Will slapped his forehead and said, “Guys, I am so, so sorry.  I just realized it is the large bottles that we’re supposed to drink.  The small bottles won’t be enough.”  Once again, he was pretty sure. 

So Will waited with Greg while Ian and I went back into Walmart to return our small bottles and exchange them for large bottles.  This was the plan.  

Unfortunately, once we got to the cold-and-flu aisle, Ian was like, “You know what?  Greg is right.  Robitussin sucks.  I think I'll just get Dimetapp.” 

And because I’m a stupid monkey I thought to myself, “When in Rome…” and I grabbed two bottles of Dimetapp myself. 

Then I headed towards the cash register with four bottles of cough syrup, two of which I was returning because they were too small.  This is something so colossally stupid that even the Walmart cashier thought she had to say something. 

“Eh, what you got all these bottles for?” 

I said, “Well, my kids are sick.” 

And she said, “Well, you don’t need two bottles.  You just need one.” 

I said, “Well, my kids are really sick.” 

“Well, how old are your kids?” 

I said, “Eight and twelve,” having turned 23 just the month previous. 

And keep in mind, the entire time I’m having this discussion, Ian is standing directly behind me with two bottles of cough syrup of his own ready to do the same exchange.  It should tell you a lot about Florida that nobody tried to stop us. 

Got back out into the parking lot and Will noticed I had bottles of Dimetapp and he was like, “Dude, I told you there's no such thing as Dime-tripping.  You need Robitussin,” and I told him he could go back at the Walmart and exchange it himself, but he declined.  So we went back to Ian and Greg’s condo. 

There, we stood in a circle, bottle of Dimetapp in one hand, can of Hawaiian Punch in the other, and we actually fucking cheersed.  We clacked our bottles together like stupid idiots and held them high and guzzled them down and then chased it with fruit drink, because we were the future of America. 

My stomach was fine but I'd started to feel nauseous pretty much immediately, and so did Ian, and so did Greg, and Will assured us this is perfectly normal.  This happens all the time.  Just wait it out.  You're going to trip balls in no time. 

So we waited.  Five minutes is when the stomach pain actually hit razor sharp, like daggers and glass.  Once again, Will assured us that this was part of the process.  “Your stomach is going to hurt.  Don’t worry about it.  Just relax.  You're going to trip balls in no time at all.” 

Josh Flaum shares his story with the Story Collider audience at Lyric Hyperion in Los Angeles in December 2018. Photo by Mari Provencher.

Josh Flaum shares his story with the Story Collider audience at Lyric Hyperion in Los Angeles in December 2018. Photo by Mari Provencher.

Suddenly Greg turned around, ran into the downstairs bathroom, slammed the door and I'd have asked him if he was okay but I was busy running upstairs so I could puke in Ian’s sink.  When I came back down, I found out that Ian, when he had been outside smoking, had projectile vomited over his neighbor’s brand new picket fence. 

But once again, Will explained, “It’s perfectly normal.  In fact, it’s probably better that you puke.  Don’t worry about it.  Relax.  You're going to be tripping balls in no time.” 

“I’m going to bed,” said Greg, who turned around and went straight upstairs. 

“I’m also going to bed,” said Ian, who also turned around and went upstairs to his bedroom.  So it’s just me and Will. 

“I’m going home,” said Will, who turned around, walked straight out the door with 12-fluid ounces of cough syrup in his gut leaving me alone.  To tell you the truth, I'd have driven home too, but that’s when the diarrhea hit. 

Actually, diarrhea is not the right word.  I don't think there's medical terminology in existence that can explain exactly what was going to happen to me.  I was in that tiny little downstairs bathroom for five straight hours.  For five unrelenting hours, cough suppressant sprayed out of my ass like purple dragon fire.  For five hours, I could hear the sounds of Ian’s and Greg’s toilets running upstairs, a symphony of flushes to accommodate the sound of my own shitting.  It was as if we poisoned ourselves. 

Five hours later and I’m finally done.  I stagger out of the bathroom, plopped down on the couch exhausted at the break of day.  Right then, as the birds sang their ‘hellos’ and ‘how are you’, right then and right there, I started tripping balls.  I mean colors I could smell, breathing walls, near-mystical understanding of the universe.  All that stuff.  So I had finally gotten fucked up.  It had only taken five hours of pooping and puking to get there.  Now, this is what scientists call results. 

So February 22, 1997.  I drove home that very day, the day that scientists announced cloning Dolly the sheep, which I actually remember because I heard it on the news on the radio on my ride home. 

Here’s the thing.  Kudos to them.  Their experiment was a grand success.  They went on to get knighthoods.  While my experiment earned me little more than, I would say, a ham-sized hemorrhoid and a Pavlovian response to Hawaiian Punch that haunts me to this day.  That was it. 

It occurred to me that there were people out there changing the world forever and I had drunk a bottle of cough syrup just because I had nothing better to do.  It was in that moment, in that car that I had felt more worthless than I ever had in my entire life.  If you want to get fucked up, nothing will ever fuck you up worse than finding out how pointless your life is. 

So my experiment was a failure but it was informative.  I learned that if you want to walk the path to greatness, you, at the very least, have to come to an understanding of what it is to live a life of goodness. 

I’m just kidding.  I didn’t learn that.  Just so you know, that’s not the message here.  But I did learn not to drink full bottles of cough syrup because it’s dangerously stupid.  And I also learned that getting fucked up to forget a life in Florida is not as effective as actually just leaving Florida.  And that, my friends, is what scientists call a conclusion. 

 

Part 2: Will Tran

Let me start this off by saying that I have never, ever cheated on a test in my life and this I swear.  I was raised in an Asian immigrant family so I learned from an early age that academic success is the end all, be all, and to cheat would be throwing that all away.  Rule Number One of the Asian immigrant code was always ‘No cheating’. 

So it was with that open and pure and honest heart that I asked my friend Jason to give me his math exam so I could copy down his answers.  Here, I'll explain. 

I was raised in London, which I’m sure you can tell from my accent.  In the tenth grade we were given the opportunity to take this prestigious international math award exam.  It was administered in three parts.  It was totally optional and it had no bearing on our grade.  But, like I said, it was a prestigious recognition. 

Will Tran shares his story with our Story Collider audience at Caveat in New York City in December 2018. Photo by Zhen Qin.

Will Tran shares his story with our Story Collider audience at Caveat in New York City in December 2018. Photo by Zhen Qin.

We all know that stereotypes are bad.  But there was one stereotype that I always thought was maybe a little less bad and one that I was kind of proud of which was that Asians are good in math.  I had no reason not to believe that because, up until that point in my life, I had always taken honors and AP math classes and, for the most part, I was an A student, which means I got the occasional B-minus and B-plus which is basically an F in Asian-American family.

But, overall, I thought I was doing pretty well.  And stereotypes being stereotypes, apparently, others thought I was doing well too, or at least good enough to cheat off of.  I remember there was this one time in sixth grade, this kid Phil Reilly copied my answers for a math quiz over my shoulder.  And being the idiot that he is, he got caught and he got both of us sent to the principal. 

I remember that feeling when they told me that they called my mother and she was coming to the school to talk with the principal.  I nearly vomited.  I was so terrified because, after all, rule Number One is ‘No cheating’. 

But I explained vigorously that I wasn’t part of this grand conspiracy but I was actually the rube and the real victim here.  Even though they did believe me, that experience stayed with me and shook me to my core. 

So it was with that firm belief that I was good in math that I agreed to take the prestigious international math awards exam, but it wasn’t until I was in the middle of that exam that I found out that I was, in fact, not good in math.  There were numbers I had never even seen before.  It was just total madness.  I was utterly lost.  And learning that I wasn’t good at math felt like finding out Santa Claus wasn’t real again and I was completely gutted. 

So that was that.  I figured there was no point in humiliating myself any further so, when they announced the second and third parts of the exam, I just passed it up completely. 

About a week later, our math teacher returns our answer sheets so that we can see how we’d done and I performed pretty much as expected.  I got a few answers right but there were a lot of red Xs, a lot of wrong answers, and completely blank ungraded sections for the second and third parts of the test. 

But it was a completely different story for my friend Jason who actually aced the exam, all three parts of it.  That shocked me a little bit, honestly, because I had considered us intellectually equals and here he was intellectually cuckolding me.  I really felt that I had to step things up, so I asked him if he would hand me over his exam so I could copy down the answers and figure out the problems on my own time, because if he had been able to solve them then I really wanted to as well. 

So that’s what he did.  He gave me his test and I copied down the answers.  I gave it back to him.  At which point the teacher wanted to collect all of them again so we just passed those back up. 

At the end of the week, our math teacher announces the recipients of this prestigious international math award and there are only three in the entire school and all three are in this one math class so she's just ecstatic and overjoyed. 

The first name that she announces is David Jackson-Hanen.  I’m not exaggerating when I’m saying this kid was a bona fide genius.  He was the Cal Ripken of Calculus.  He was the Alfred Hitchcock of Algebra.  He was the Yo-Yo Ma on a TI-83.  He just fit the image of the nerd so perfectly.  He was just skinny, shy, gentle, sweet and awkward.  He had this aura of academic destiny around him where everyone was sure he was going to be the next Stephen Hawking so no surprises there. 

The next name she announced was Jason Danker, my friend.  He was a bit of an oddball, kind of an atypical nerd.  Socially awkward, for sure.  The first words that he said to me on our first day of school together was, he just came up to me and said, “Hey, I like to burn things.” 

We became friends after that.  It’s a hell of an ice breaker.  But he was also a bit of a jock and he was on the school rugby team so you could say he put the athlete in Mathlete. 

And the final name announced, the third in this Trigonometry triumphant triumvirate was none other than yours truly.  I was shocked, the class was shocked, the teacher was shocked.  Then the applause started from the class in that sort of don’t-really-give-a-shit way like office workers singing Happy Birthday. 

But Jason turned and his head nearly completed an Exorcist-180 as his gaze was just boring through my skull.  I ignored him and just soaked in the praise because, you know, why not? 

Will Tran shares his story with our Story Collider audience at Caveat in New York City in December 2018. Photo by Zhen Qin.

Will Tran shares his story with our Story Collider audience at Caveat in New York City in December 2018. Photo by Zhen Qin.

Here’s the funny thing is that I still, to this day, don’t know exactly how this happened.  I have some theories.  I imagine on the day that our teacher collected those exams again, she must have left school to go to do something both important but mentally taxing, maybe like a second job.  But ours was a private American school in London who’s notable alum included Andrew Luck, Steve-O and Devon Aoki, so I feel like the teachers were pretty decently paid.  So this must have been more of like a passion project, like volunteer fire fighting or ER nursing or at-risk youth basketball coaching.  Honestly, maybe like all three at once, which could explain this lapse of grading that she had but we’ll never really know for sure. 

But after that class when they announced the awards, I talked to Jason and he was understandably pissed but he agreed that he wouldn’t say anything about it because, honestly, this would probably be the last time we’d heard of this thing and we’ll just let bygones be bygones. 

On Monday, in auditorium, in front of the entire school, they announced that we’d be receiving medals onstage.  Medals for math.  Math medals.  They called our names out one by one, David Jackson-Hanen, Jason Danker, Will Tran.  It felt like the final scene of the only good Star Wars movie there is, Phantom Menace.  I’m kidding. 

It was the awards ceremony and there I was up on stage, all awkward and gangly and out of place, like Chewbacca, and then the audience started to applaud the entire school for real.  Jason made sure to stare at me extra hard but I ignored him and I just soaked in adulation.  Things were getting kind of ridiculous at this point but, surely, this would be the last we’d ever of this so, now, bygones could truly be bygones. 

A few weeks later I’m coming home from school and my mom greets me at the door with a big hug and a big smile.  I see she's holding in her hands the school newsletter that they print and send to every family.  On the front cover is a photo of the three of us and fucking article written about that goddamn math award. 

She's just overjoyed.  She's so happy and I’m overcome with guilt at this point.  I just have to stop her mid-praise and come clean.  I just need to tell her everything.  

So I tell her, “Look, I did take the test but I bombed it.  Jason got everything right and I copied down his answers because I wanted to figure out the answers for myself, but then they started giving us these stupid medals and now I have to give the medals back, right?” 

She puts her hands on my shoulders and she looks at me with her big, brown eyes and she says, “You will not tell this to anyone.  Do you understand me?  You're going to put this on your college application, you're going to get into an Ivy League school and you will never, ever, ever tell this story again.  Do I make myself clear?” 

It was then that I learned the one rule that supersedes ‘No cheating’ in Asian Immigrant code, and that’s ‘No refunds’.