Updated: Jul 1, 2020
| This is the 288th story of Our Life Logs |
My father started his own technology business at the age of 25 in his parents’ basement, which he grew into a multi-million-dollar company. Entrepreneurship is in my blood. And as they say, the American Dream is to do better than your parents. What they don’t say is what you’ll find out along the way.
I’m not proud of how I reached popularity in college, but the statue of limitations has since passed, so it is what it is at this point.
I wiped my palms on my jeans and performed my Navy Seal trick to steady my heart rate. Inhale for four, hold for four, and exhale for four. There I was: my first day of college. A chance for a fresh start; a chance to be cool. I mean really cool. Now before you start thinking to yourself, why does he care so much? Being cool is overrated. Just be yourself, blah blah blah. Think back to when you were a teenager. Back then, everyone wants to be cool. But even more than that, as humans, we all want to be loved, to feel needed. Popularity was that to me. I thought that if I got to where I wanted to be, everything else would fall into place.
I entered my college outside Boston in 2012 with a few connections, a dick full of confidence, and Lagavulin taste with a Natty Light budget. College was the culmination of all I’d been working toward. I was going to make it into the in-crowd, whatever it took. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to make friends early on. There’s this blind panic that sets in after the parents leave. I’ve never seen anything like it. Random people knock on doors, introduce themselves, size each other up, all desperate for companionship.
It was during this mass panic that I fell in with the cool kids of my dorm. It consisted of a few jocks, a smattering of kids with a good sense of humor, three or four badass dudes who could drink a handle and not die, and of course, the prettiest girls. I was one of the funny kids, but the thing about being an entertainer is that they love you only if you can make them laugh. Whatever. I was in. And I was determined to not let it go.
As the semester wore on, it became increasingly clear that this was not going to last. There were at least 14 of us, all moving from the dining hall to the library like a gigantic flock of flamingos in our backwards hats and pastel pants. But I hadn’t come this far to be axed from the popular club halfway through the first semester. So, I came up with a new plan.
My older brother had a buddy he played football with. Let’s call him Mark. I was on pretty good terms with Mark, so I started asking him to buy me booze. I know, not the most principled endeavor, but I wasn’t aiming to be “holier than thou.”
I think Mark did it for me because he remembered what it was like to be a college freshman. Or maybe he felt he owed my brother because we used to give him rides a lot. Either way, come Thursday night, I’d meet him behind my dorm with a laundry list of booze. I started taking orders from the popular crowd and adding a small surcharge. It was enough to tip my brother’s friend and leave a little profit for myself.
Just like that, I had a business. delivering Rubinoff and Natty Light to the right people on Thursday night got me into all the right rooms Friday and Saturday night.
I kept this up for the rest of my first semester. Don’t ask me how I didn’t get caught. I have no idea. A legendary dining hall worker caught me red-handed once, but all he had to say about it was a cheery, “Have a good weekend, guys.” In the meantime, I’d carved out a name and purpose for myself, had a good group of friends, and was the subject of intrigue and admiration.
Until it all came to a grinding halt.
That November, Mark told me that he had to start thinking about his career. He was graduating soon to be a cop. The risky trips to the back of the building had to end. As my ability to do things for people fell away, my phone buzzed less and less.
I was back where I started. The echelon below popular with a few good friends and nothing to do on Saturday night besides smoke weed and enjoy each other’s company (I know, a fate worse than death). So together with my closest friends, Nate and Trevor, we hatched a plan.
There’s something I haven’t told you about myself yet. I was a stoner, and an industrious one at that. This was one of the big jokes about me. And I’d been using the money from the booze selling to finance my habit, but now, funds were looking tight.
And that’s how our next business venture was established. By December, we were pretty plugged into the school’s weed scene. This was back in the days of decriminalization in Massachusetts, although it was still pretty frowned upon. Trevor’s girlfriend hooked us up with a friend from her hometown. He was a big-time player—and I don’t mean that in a college kind of way. I mean he was supporting himself on the pounds he was pushing. He could have moved harder stuff for all we knew. We’d been using this guy regularly for eighths and ounces. There was mutual trust.
We didn’t get back in good graces with the popular kids. We were the popular kids. We became known as the Weed Barons. Everyone directed business our way. People invited us to smoke out of their bongs and take dabs from their rigs. Upperclassmen would trade Adderall for a dime bag.
We were at the height of our power when it all came crashing down like before. After “another day at the office,” we returned to campus after a pickup, but when we opened up the duffel bag from our dealer, what we found made our hearts plummet. Two empty mason jars. We’d forked over our usual $760, and he’d given us jack shit.
The week that followed was one of angry phone calls, cigarette butts, and a tremendous strain on Trevor and his girl’s relationship. And after meeting once more to “settle the mishap,” we got three mason jars, but just like before, they were bone dry. Straight disrespect.
We were broke. Both cash poor and devoid of product. We had to keep turning good business away and got into some dark talks. There was one night at the dining hall that would have felt straight out of Goodfellas if we hadn’t been surrounded by upper-middle-class privilege.
My boy, we’ll call him Steve, knew a guy from his hometown. Big pusher who had his share of problems in the past and knew how to make them go away. He said he could make our problem go away too, for a fee.
I’m not sure why I wasn’t more terrified to be part of that conversation. Probably because I was 19 and I was angry.
So anyway, a fee was negotiated. A date was set. We were prepared to do whatever we needed to do to protect our business. We were going to go through with ruining this kid’s life for three jars of cash and 15 more minutes of fame.
Days before the set date, Trevor’s girl came to us in hysterics. She said if we went through with it, the dealer would know who was behind it. So? That was the point. You fuck with us, we fuck with you. Besides, it was low risk. What was he going to do, sneak on campus and find out where our dorm was? We had a doorman. A gate. We’d thought it all through. But she made one point that made us reconsider.
“My family still lives there. He knows where my house is. If you do this, he might take it out on my family.”
I thought about it. And thought about it. And came to the conclusion that if something happened to her family, I’d never forgive myself. She had two little sisters and loving parents back home.
That’s really when everything came into sharp perspective. This had all started because I’d wanted to be cooler than I was in high school. I had a chance to be whatever I wanted and I chose to become a low-level drug dealer. I was one bust away from losing my merit aid and was planning to pay a man to break someone else’s legs.
What the hell was I doing?
This realization messed me up. It was really the first time that my myopic mindset became vividly clear to me. My actions had consequences that not only affected me but could ripple across time and space to deeply affect people I didn’t even know. This had to stop. I was the first of my friends to pull out and cut my losses. Whatever. I was done with the business. And a few days later, so did my friends. That was the end.
Eventually, we learned that our dealer had screwed us because he’d been in way over his head with sharks much more dangerous than we were. Turns out, he had his own food chain and, unfortunately for him, he wasn’t at the top. I realized how little you can know about what’s going on with another person—I can’t imagine where I’d be now if I’d gone as deep as him. But I got out, thank God. All I had to do was swallow my pride and forfeit a few hundred dollars to have a chance at an honest future.
I spent a fitful summer reflecting on the what-ifs and the could-haves. I was forced to confront and examine the nasty side of myself and my ambition. It had led me down a path I never dreamed of falling down. How did I learn to reflect on my crazy past? I became a writer. I wanted to explore the darker side of humanity, the things human beings do to each other, and the way we’re able to rationalize the craziest of things. And me? I stopped worrying about being popular. And I never looked back.
This is the story of Matthew Harris
Matthew Harris is a novelist, screenwriter and former speechwriter for Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts. As a teenager and young adult, Matthew was desperate to be at the top of popularity which led him to start businesses in college selling alcohol to college students (while underaged) and eventually selling weed. It wasn’t until one of his friends was in danger did he realize what kind of consequences this life could bring which caused him to drop the business and begin a better life. He did so through writing. Matthew has written eight feature-length screenplays and seven original pilots since July of 2017. His brand is gritty action/adventure, dystopian Sci-Fi, and dark humor. His feature, Human, All Too Human placed fourth in the 2018 Scriptapolooza Screenwriting Competition, beating out over 3000 entrants including Shia LeBeouf’s feature script, Honey Boy, which only made it to the semi-finalist stage. Honey Boy was recently acquired by Amazon. Matthew currently resides just outside Boston but plans a move to Los Angeles in the coming year. The only thing he likes more than learning new things and being with his family is a good Old Fashioned.
This story first touched our hearts on March 26, 2019.
| Writer: Matthew Harris | Editors: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |