The Journey

Three Friends Rise to Celebrity Status for One Night

By Daniel Walters

Personal Essay

So there I was on New Year's Eve, teeth shivering, glasses foggy – and butt absolutely covered in writing.

On other New Year's Eves, my traditions consisted of sitting at home, drinking expired eggnog alone and watching the "Will It Float?" segment on David Letterman. If it floated, I knew the next year would be a good one. It never floated. As storied and epic as those days were, however, they were not to last.

The toppling of tradition came in the form of two impish Whitworth friends: Beau Chevassus and Matt Park, ambassadors of the unexpected.

Matt and Beau, instead of wearing the latest fashions from Abercrombie or Banana Republic, tend to dress as either ninjas or mimes. Beau's alter-ego is a small hand puppet named Obadiah Bible Boy who aggressively quotes non-existent Scripture. Matt and Beau were the ones who lived in a house littered with shuriken, gongs and booby traps. They were the ones behind that squid being inexplicably placed in one of the dining hall's Jell-O cups. And they were the ones who changed the face of New Year's with one simple conversation.

It began, as most whimsical adventures do, in the college dining hall.

"Would you be willing …" Matt asked, mischievous gleam in his eye, "to spend New Year's Eve walking around downtown dressed in an asbestos suit that people can write on with Sharpies?"

I stopped in mid-bite, tentacles of spaghetti hanging limply out of my mouth. Frankly, it sounded not only completely ridiculous, but downright humiliating. Was I merely a jester, whose sole purpose was to amuse my betters? What kind of guy did Matt think I was, who would just do anything …

My friend continued, "Boss says he'll pay $100."

"I'm in!"

Normally, I would not sacrifice such a scintillating evening for a night of public humiliation. But for $100? There are very few things I would not do for $100.

So when the fateful date rolled around, I was apprehensive but prepared to take one for the wallet. We headed downtown and donned our costumes: simple white painter's suits, white facemasks and dark sunglasses. Each featureless white form looked like Adam before God added the paint. Like a member of the Blue Man Group after an unfortunate laundry mishap. Like a shaved anorexic yeti.

"Hey, we kinda look like that bank robber-terrorist Clive Owen, in the Spike Lee-directed movie 'Inside Man,'" I observed.

Apparently the Riverpark Square Mall Security Officer thought so, too.

No longer welcomed in the mall, we headed elsewhere. We band of merry men, daring to wear white after Labor Day, set out into the crisp black night, our only weapons an arsenal of colored Sharpie markers.

Our first victims came slowly. Our early conversations sounded like this:

"Excuse me, sir or madam. Would you like to write on my body?"

"Uh … why …?"

"For New Year's!"

"Okay ... What do you want me to write?"

"Oh, that's entirely up to you. You're the artist! Sign your name! Pen a sonnet! Write your credit card number and PIN! Draw a map to buried treasure!"

"I'm gonna write 'Happy New Year.' Is that okay?"

"Yes, that's a popular one tonight, for some reason."

As the night ebbed, word of mouth spread. Soon we were surrounded by a gaggle of giggling girls, all wanting to sign our person in person. For a moment, I had a vague sense of what it was like to be the Beatles. But instead of the adolescent girls asking for my autograph, they were asking to give me theirs.

A beautiful thing about our disguises was the anonymity they provided. We could pass by oblivious friends and associates, who were ignorant to our true identities.

A familiar gentleman began to sign Matt's shoulder.

"Write 'Make it So,'" I slyly suggested, knowing the gentleman's proclivity for "Star Trek" quotes.

"It's like you read my mind," he replied.

"Oh, I know you even better than you know, Dr. Ingram, associate academic dean at Whitworth."

We began to weave an elaborate, contradictory web of lies as our back-story.

"Our names?" we would say, "Oh, we're all called Hugo. That's how we met. We're known as The Three Hugos and we tour the country putting on shows."

Or perhaps, "We're doing this to raise awareness of the plight of the Frumious Bandersnatch. It's an adorable marsupial from Indonesia nearing extinction due to urban sprawl."

And finally, "We're going to be put in a time capsule after this is done, so future archeologists will always remember the wondrous beauty of 2006."

The public reaction to our sociological experiment included glares, eye-rolls, pursed lips, handshakes, high-fives, laughter and horrified confusion. By the end, we had been transformed. We were no longer mere men. We were walking restroom walls crowded with signatures, phone numbers, hearts, stickmen, profanity, crudity and swastikas. (Some people might have misinterpreted the reasoning behind our all-white masked costumes.)

As the clock struck midnight, as peonies and chrysanthemums shattered the night sky, I smiled. I could have made the boring choice and gone the eggnog-and-Letterman route. I could have chosen safer friends, friends who would not ruin my reputation with my other, more popular associates. I could have doused the idea with a flurry of sarcasm and sneering cynicism.

But if I'd refused to take a risk, if I had decided such an inane activity was beneath me, I would have missed out on a wonderful experience, interesting friends and, most important, $100.

Such is the story of how, on one cold New Year's night, three travelers named Hugo saved the Bandersnatch from extinction and made history. Or so I have heard.