The worst Ash Wednesday I ever had was the one where I pepper sprayed a bunch of football jocks at random,

* make us famous

and received the most   severe beating of my life.

When I woke up that morning, the first thing I noticed was that my face was stuck to the pillow with dried blood. I slowly peeled it off and sat up in a haze of nausea and confusion. I was in my room on Prytania St. and all the clothes and possessions I’d had with me the night before were strewn haphazardly about the ground. I saw my can of pepper spray amongst the debris, picked it up, and gave it a shake. It was empty: an omen of ominous portent. I vaguely remembered some bad ugliness from the night before, but couldn’t make any sense of it. The last thing I could recall was hanging out on Frenchmen St. with some friends from out of town. I was very drunk, and we were all huffing the nitrous balloons they used to sell down there on special occasions. I had been in a bad mood, and the nitrous only made it worse, causing me to lapse into a state of what Steinbeck called “dark, unholy despondency.”

I got up from my bed to take a look in the bathroom mirror and discovered that my foot was injured, making it hard to walk. I hobbled down the hall to the communal bathroom, and was horrified to see how fucked up I looked. I had a black eye, and my face was raw, like someone had been scraping me across the pavement. There was blood all over my shirt, and a thin trickle coming from my left ear. Most painful of all was a cracked tooth in the back of my mouth. It was easily the worst beating I had ever taken, and I couldn’t remember who had dealt it. My greatest fear was that I had been the victim of random violence, that someone had attacked me because I looked like weak, easy prey.

After recuperating for a bit and changing my clothes, I hobbled down the street to a pay phone and called the friends I’d been with the night before.

“Hi there Steve, how’s it going? Say, do you have any idea how I got all beat up last night?”

“Yeah, you pepper sprayed a football jock, then he and his friends kicked the shit out of you. You’re lucky I was there to save you or they would have killed you for sure.”

“What happened?”

“You were completely trashed and went into your ‘fuck the world’ routine. It was a drag. After you finally wandered off we started partying and having a good time. Within twenty minutes we heard high-pitched screams coming from down the street. I went to see what was up, and there was this big jock dude literally body slamming you to the ground. Then he and several of his friends started to stomp your guts. You were screaming and trying to get away. I ran up and yelled, ‘What the fuck?’”

“Motherfucker maced my friend for no fucking reason,” said one of the jocks, while continuing to stomp my guts. At that point I had apparently grabbed a beer bottle, smashed it on the ground, and waved the jagged end at the jocks, who were circling in for the kill.

“How did I escape?” I asked.

“I threw my beer at the jocks, and while they were chasing me, Scott and Louis got you out of there. You wanted to go back and cut them with your broken bottle but we wouldn’t let you. You kept saying, ‘How could they do this to me? I’m a celebrity.’”

“Well, thanks for saving me. I hope yall had a good time anyway.”

“We did as soon as we got you in a cab. I knew there was going to be trouble when you showed me that can of pepper spray. You looked like you were just itching to use it on someone.”

“Yeah,” I admitted and we both hung up.

And you know what? I was relieved. I was so scared that I’d been the victim of random violence that it was a load off my mind to hear that I had, in fact, perpetuated the random violence. As a result of that beating, some cartilage in my nasal passage was torn, and still causes me hearing problems to this day. But I’d made my impression. I’ll bet those meatheads still tell the story of the Mardi Gras when they came face to face with the true meaning of Southern hospitality.