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The curious case of the college friend

May 29, 2012|By Stephen Markley, For RedEye

It's summer in Chicago, which can mean only one thing: Our out-of-town friends are coming to visit.

When the weather turns from Nordic-Midwestern misery to our three months of decent weather, out-of-town friends suddenly find an acceptable plane ticket and descend upon our fair city in droves. While this is very enjoyable, visits from out-of-town friends also typically lead to behavior most resembling power-mad monarchs from "Game of Thrones."

These friends wield the ultimate trump card, which is, "C'mon, I'm here all the way from ____." That "I'm here all the way from ____" is the greatest rhetorical weapon in friendship. It can make you do almost anything.

"C'mon, I'm here all the way from ____! Of course we've gotta drink tequila from the indentations in these waffles."

"C'mon, man, I'm here all the way from ___, so there's no way we're not doing this Tobasco enema. You go first!"

This past weekend, my friend R.J. was in town from Vancouver. Once the friend-miles-traveled quotient tops 2,000, you literally cannot turn down anything they want to do. Booze, drugs, bars, women, men, 4 a.m. Mexican food, ice cream, albino muskrats—there were no vices left unchecked. R.J., a sweet, mild-mannered Midwestern boy who threw up in a trash can in the middle of a bar and politely thanked the bouncer who threw us out, didn't stand a chance. We were like the sons of a Third World dictator running amok with a debit card attached to bank accounts fueled by oil and blood-diamond revenue.

On Friday, when he shook me awake at 3 a.m. after I passed out for a minute, he said, "We need late night food."

"Eat the rest of the ice cream," I told him, referring to the vat's-worth of Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream from Ben and Jerry's that was still in the freezer from the previous night.

"No, I need Mexican."

And upon returning, he went about housing a burrito bowl while I put on the Gnarls Barkley Pandora station, chugged some cough syrup, and danced really weird until the sun came up.

We're all getting old, so there's something indelibly important about pretending like money presents no obstacle when your friends visit, like you're actually VIPs and not just a couple of kids at the outdoor patio of Kincade's who were once roommates in college, which simultaneously feels like it was lifetime ago and like it happened yesterday.

After college, my friends all dispersed. We went to every corner of the map to get on with the business of becoming the people we wanted to be, and as you get older the chances to rehash the old memories and create a few vivid new ones grow fewer and farther apart. People get married and start families. They get wrapped up in work. You can only "Like" so many posts on Facebook before you begin to forget the power and the magic that drew you to the people you love in the first place.

That's why you roll out the red carpet and crater your bank account for the out-of-town friends. Because they're the only ones to whom you say, "Sure, buddy. Grab the Tobasco. I will go first."

RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "Publish This Book."

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