Free download of book, Gut Check by Tarek Saab

Exclusive Offer! Free Chapter of “Gut Check” by Tarek Saab

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Now you can get a free download of Ch. 1 from “Gut Check” by Tarek Saab. And you can only get it here, on FallibleBlogma.com!

I’ve been a fan of this book for awhile now (read my review here), so I am excited for this opportunity to help share it even more with all of you. I’ve posted the prologue and part of Ch. 1 below for you to read. Or, you can just download the whole Prologue and Ch.1 for free by clicking the download link below.

Tarek’s story is probably your story in a lot of ways. If it’s not, then it’s at least the story of many of your friends.

It’s a masterfully written and inspiring account of one man’s confrontation with love, work and manhood on the difficult – but joyful – climb toward sainthood. But, first, he gives a very real and honest account of where many of us have been in life – and perhaps still are. And that story begins here…


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Gut Check

PROLOGUE

“Tarek—you’re fired!” snapped Donald Trump, as he glared at me from across the boardroom table, in his dark blue suit, solid pink tie, and infamous hairdo. The ever-popular catchphrase from The Apprentice, lobbed at me by the real estate tycoon himself, on national television before a viewing audience of ten million, appeared in that particular instant to ooze from his mouth in baritone-pitched slow motion. Like the exchange of wedding vows or the verdict from a jury, the words presented an unmistakable ?nality.

As I sat, rigid and utterly exhausted, I paused to re?ect on the circumstances that had landed me in that surreal place. I remember thinking how unimaginable it was that fate had brought me to this international stage. Surrounded by cameras and surrounded by fame, it was as though I had departed for a brief time from the world of ordinary life and entered into the fantasy land of dreamers. In years past, I had always possessed a naÔve curiosity about Hollywood and the world of tabloids and autographs. As the Donald was about to expel me from that universe, I realized that I was not playing a role. Rather, the character was I, placed on a platform for all to examine and evaluate. The culmination of who I had become, neatly packaged in a ?ne shirt and business suit, lay exposed as a vulnerable overachiever sensationally discouraged by Trump’s stinging words.

Of the eighteen original contestants, seventeen were ?red, and the intensity of the drama ?uctuated considerably depending on each candidate’s disposition. It is widely known that, through editing, a reality-tv personality is at the mercy of drama-loving producers. Yet without exception one’s overall quali?cations are still auctioned within the hearts and minds of the viewing audience. Since acceptance and validation are natural human yearnings, this national stage can be emotionally devastating to some and arti?cially glorifying to others.

Ten weeks into the ?fteen-week process—May1, 2006—I had reached the end of my run. Yet as the words shot from across the table, I was somewhat relieved. I thought Trump’s words should sting more, but instead they echoed anticlimactically through the boardroom. Perhaps I can’t claim total imperviousness, but in truth, it felt largely as though my ?ring was little more than a ?recracker in my battle for happiness. I was protected by the very quality that landed me on the show in the ?rst place, a state of mind that had grown organically through the droughts and ?oods of my twenties.

It was a state of mind characterized by detachment. There are many “experts” who preach a doctrine of happiness through “having it all.” My experience was entirely the opposite. After tasting the bitter fortune of getting everything I had ever wanted, I realized that having it all was more of an anchor than a sail. My journey began in the winter of 1997.

CHAPTER 1 – DEAD MAN WALKING

Success in life and business begins by focusing on death. Unfortunately, no one ever explained this to me in high school or in college, and Lord knows I never read it on the business rack at Barnes and Noble. Perhaps the truth is too morbid for your average business tycoon. The glaring irony of professional success is that, mortally speaking, the greatest leader ends up with the same fate as the guy with no initiative at all. The Grim Reaper is a communist, not a capitalist. He comes for everyone equally. In fact, I spent ten years of my life so preoccupied with Natty Light, girls, and the corporate climb up Mt. Olympus, that I totally missed the moral of this crazy human drama. But let me start at the beginning, somewhere in the middle of my freshman year in college.

Late one Saturday afternoon, as I slowly crept towards consciousness, I could feel an assortment of aches and pains shooting from my head to my legs, beginning with a throbbing migraine and its steady, unforgiving drumbeat. I had inhaled a Papa John’s pizza at 4:30 am, and the mixture of cheese and beer left my stomach pleading for Pepto. As I tried to swallow, a vile stickiness ?lled my throat, and I manipulated my face and mouth in an attempt to expel the nastiness. In the process, I turned my neck suddenly and felt a shooting stab down my spine, which I presumed was a gift from the $25 Salvation Army couch. The journey to the bed the night before seemed as enticing as Andy Dufresne’s ?ve-hundred-yard sewage crawl out of Shawshank, so I posted up on the love seat, summoning the memory of all the people who had undoubtedly violated it in years past. As I gradually began to lift myself up, I noticed my kneecap was missing a few layers of skin. Nice. In younger days, it would have been the type of thing that mom would have treated with a band-aid and a cookie, but left untouched it had grafted itself onto my Dockers—and no cookie. I couldn’t remember why there were grass stains on my shoulder, but I was certain that it was a tragic laundry accident waiting to happen.

Not two minutes had elapsed before my roommate ?red up Madden ’97. He never had to ask for a game. There was always an unspoken duty to drop everything to assist a buddy in need when he had to get his Madden ?x. It was the honorable thing to do. Besides, I shared a similar impulse. It was a picturesque day outside, which always inspired football.
“I’m hurtin.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Aside from the requisite trash talking, we remained relatively speechless. We were saving our war stories, waiting for the rest of our crew to wake up before the formal recaps. Eventually our buddy Tommy (a Chris Farley look-alike and act-alike whose real name was Victor) rolled into the pad and alerted us to the fact that the room was probably a little pungent.
“It smells like somebody died in here.”
“It’s Bobby,” I clarified, referring to my roommate, an English major with limited career aspirations.
“Let’s go, it’s time for breakfast,” announced Tommy, making light of the fact that it was 5:00 pm.
“Save the women and children. Tommy’s hungry.”
“Lay o? me, I’m sta-a-arving!”
Tommy had adopted a Chris Farley persona by this point, ?ve months into our freshmen year, and he had him nailed. He was a goon, but a very likeable goon. I always wondered if the constant ?ood of self-deprecating jokes ever a?ected him. I couldn’t imagine what he’d be like out of college fathering a family or managing people. Perhaps that’s why they have reunions, just to satisfy the curiosity.

Though most of us lived within a two-hour drive of home, we rarely left campus. Our friends became our adopted family within this college utopia, and our ?rst foray into adulthood was a surprisingly easy transition. Janitors cleaned our mess, cooks prepared our food, and our parents (or the student loan gods) covered our bills. If we held a campus job, it was by no means difficult, exemplified by my less-than-arduous two-year stint as the women’s soccer manager. As if to magnify the situation, we spent less time in class than ever before in the twelve years prior.

We idled amidst a lack of responsibility, and we relished it. Our dorm sat proudly at the top of a very steep hill, and the long walk to the Caf was always better going than coming back, especially in winter. We hung in a large posse (about ten deep), and regardless of the day or the circumstances, we habitually ate at 5:30pm every night. I doubt that anyone would ever admit it, but there was a comfort about it. We would overtake a specific table, and for the most part, stick to a set menu of cereal and side dishes unless one of us summoned the courage to try the day’s special. The only variation was the seating arrangement, as everyone fought for the “o?ensive” side of the table. The “defensive” side placed your back to the Caf entrance, which made it difficult to scope out girls.

The dinner conversations were a mixed bag, but the bag never included anything resembling higher academia. We devoted much of our time into analyzing, dissecting, and ranking the female talent pool. We categorized the best looking as “The Dream Team”: Lunchroom Goddess; Judy the Beauty; Dream Weaver; Melanie the Felony (who was still not quite eighteen); The Cookie Monster (who always got up to get a cookie for dessert but somehow never put on the freshmen ?fteen). Some were less clever, like “Orange Cardigan Girl,” who just happened to be wearing an orange cardigan the ?rst time we saw her. We all had our favorites. Tommy would, without fail, contribute a husky Wisconsinite who he thought had “nice eyes,” and we’d pepper him with obscenities and whatever crusty food was left drying on our trays.

Sometimes we’d get into heated debates about whether the ’86 Celtics would have taken the ’97 Bulls in a best of seven (is there any doubt?), or whether He-man was gay (pink shirt, cat lover), or who had the better ‘stache: Tom Selleck or Geraldo Rivera (you gotta go Magnum P.I.). But one thing was a given: we’d always recap the war stories after a big night.

“I drank fawhteen bairs last night,” boasted our buddy John Flanagan, getting us “stahtid” in his heavy Boston accent that he emphasized for dramatic effect.

Flanagan was the stereotypical Irish kid from Boston, and though our New Hampshire-based school was crowded with Irish boys, none of them were quite as over the top as Johnny. He reveled in his “Irishness,” from his tricolor tattoo to his patchwork Irish cap. Naturally, he drank copious amounts of alcohol, and he didn’t exaggerate about the fourteen beers. We had gone “high brow” with our investment of High Life bottles, and we saved the cap of every empty bottle in order to preserve an accurate count.

“You want a medal Johnny? I started, like, two hours later than you and still drank you under,” big Tommy proudly asserted.

“Tommy, you weigh like 400 pounds. There’s gotta be a slidin’ scale. Actually, I’m sorry, I fuhgot you don’t know what a scale is,” Johnny replied, minus the gratuitous F-bombs. The fat jokes never got old, but Tommy seemed oblivious to it.

“Dude, what about lover-boy Bobby? Saw you makin’ out with that blonde chick. Did you take her home?” asked my buddy Chris, changing the subject. He knew the answer was “no” before he asked the question, but it didn’t matter. Chris steered every conversation towards sex. I’ll spare you the sordid details, but we all had a good laugh about how Bobby got the Heisman from a girl that everyone agreed had chronic halitosis.

Chris had an obsession with porn. Computer porn. Porn magazines. Porn videos. He was proud of it, too. He was a big guy, great athlete, worked out all the time, and seemed older than everyone else even though we were all freshmen. Every group like ours had a guy like Chris. For some reason, he was the only one in our crew without a nickname. He had a presence about him. Everyone followed his lead because, like a big brother, he made us feel invincible, though most of us felt a little uncomfortable at ?rst with the endless barrage of sex talk. The truth was, we were mostly conservative guys from good families at a small Catholic college. We weren’t always morally upstanding, but we weren’t exactly hedonists either.

“T-Saab. What about you, brother? Saw you chattin’ it up with Secretariat,” asked Ted McFadden, a.k.a. Mickey, a skinny kid obsessed with weed and rap music, but who would need to wait a couple more years before Eminem arrived on the scene and legitimized it for white boys. He was referring to the large nose of a girl named Jennifer.

“T, don’t tell me you hooked up with that chick with the big muzzle!” added Tommy, who in actuality would have given his right arm to make out with anyone, but instead played along with Mickey.

“Nah, she’s just some chick in one of my classes.” I lied to save face. I had been very drunk, and all I could think about the night before was fooling around with her.

“Didn’t look that way,” egged on Bobby.
“She couldn’t ?ght the fever, but I just wasn’t feelin’ it.”
“I heard she gets taken ?ve-hole more than our goalie,” added Chris, referring to the fact that she was known to get around.
“Not last night. Saab couldn’t seal the deal,” slammed Bobby.

In the span of one minute, the conversation had spun one hundred and eighty degrees. It always happened that way. Damned if you did, damned if you didn’t. In this case, I hadn’t. I explained
how I had thrown up on the way out of the party and stumbled back to the crib, which earned the uni?ed “attaboy” of the group.

“Yo, Orange Cah-digan Girl dropped by last night, T-Saab. Did you see her? I wondah how she felt about you and Schnoz.” Johnny wasn’t done with the goading.

In the pantheon of women on campus, I had Orange Cardigan Girl ranked Numero Uno. (No one had her ranked below fourth except for Chris, who claimed he could never date a girl with a small chest). He’d reminded me that on the way out of the party, it was OCG and her friend Molly who had assisted me in my regurgitating glory. In an instant my feelings descended from a little under the weather to ?at-out depressed. I zoned out the rest of the conversation as they introduced a myriad of absurd anecdotes from the night before, from Jimmy D’s near arrest for public drunkenness to Scooter’s Zulu run (buck naked) through the women’s dormitory at 3:00 am. Tales like these became a red badge of courage for each of us.

Despite the stories, maybe even because of them, I desperately wished to erase the fun I’d had the night before. I had waited all year to meet OCG, and the climactic introduction was simultaneously ?tting and tragic. There were girls on campus that we’d lust after in a purely sexual way, the ones who wore the skimpy ?tted tops and tight jeans, pining for approval from guys but not realizing how badly we objectfied them. Then there were the girls who’d melt you. In them you could see a re?ection of your unworthiness, which introduced a level of self-awareness that went missing amidst your buddies. These women personfied classiness through their speech, by their demeanor, and in the way they dressed, and their unassuming charisma enveloped you. It was easy to absolve them of any imperfections in the same way we did our mothers. To some extent we were even guilty of deifying them, as though they alone withheld the secret to our happiness. We fantasized about rescuing them in dark alleys, and though we may not have realized it, we had an innate desire to protect them. Orange Cardigan Girl was this type of woman.

I don’t know if I was thinking about the incident as much as I was feeling it. It was a gut hurt. It wasn’t just the embarrassment of acting childish, it was the realization that my behavior projected a much different image than I had of myself. I wasn’t like the rest of the guys, or at least that’s what I thought.

“What’s on tap for the evening’s festivities?” inquired Jimmy D.
“Is that even a question?” asked Tommy, taking pride in implying anything having to do with alcohol.
“Another night of debauchery fellas,” answered Chris, effectively summing up what everyone was thinking. I didn’t feel like drinking, but I had nothing else to do. There was no other outlet for my kind of melancholy.

Among our friends, we had adopted the personas that were laid upon us, as though our friends provided the proper compass of who we really were. The truth is, no one really knew anybody because we didn’t really know ourselves, so we made every e?ort to appease our buddies through devilish pursuits. Any contributions we made to society became nullified through our mission to revolt from it, even though our upbringing didn’t justify the behavioral incongruities.

The group had a hierarchy of leadership, but the hierarchy wasn’t vertical. It was more like a honeycomb of unique personalities; each person perceiving the other differently, everyone elbowing for a comfortable place in the hive. Outwardly, I was the prototypical college prep: an award recipient of a Presidential Scholarship for academics, an electrical engineering major, a volunteer, a class o?cer, and a tutor. On the one hand, the boys looked at me like I was Wally Cleaver on Andro. On the other hand, I had a very worldly addiction to materialism and entertainment—I just didn’t recognize it. I lusted, in mostly subtle ways, after the two Ws: Wealth and Women. My childhood in a lower income household created a hypnotic attraction to wealth. More than a life of luxury, wealth represented freedom from the weight of ?nancial restriction. My father worked eighty hours per week in a factory and in a restaurant kitchen to put food on the table, and I convinced myself that I was not going to live that life. The allure blossomed from a sense of anticipation because I felt I was on a collision course for success. I had never really failed at anything in my short life.

Chasing women was an altogether different matter. From very early on I desired a wife and a family, an ideal not universally adopted by my hombres, but I wasn’t quite sure what that meant for my behavior. When you’re eighteen, do you just wait it out, or is there some kind of preparation? To be more exact, I wondered what role a woman plays in the life of a young man. When you are too young to marry, and too old to be mothered, how do you relate to women? Unlike my buddy Chris, I wasn’t consumed by the pursuit of carnal lust; I was drawn to the gamesmanship of charming women. As a formal rite of passage, some ancient American Indian tribes required a young man to kill a large animal single-handedly before allowing him to marry. My rite of passage, my artificial threshold for manhood, began and ended with the a?ections of women. They became the hunted in a game of self-actualization. In other words, I wanted to be wanted; I felt empowered by it.

College is a gentlemen’s purgatory, and every boy confronts the anxieties of manhood with varying degrees of preparation. Some internalize their issues, wallowing in depression and self loathing, while others lash out in self-destructive behavior. It is said that men are hard-wired for con?ict, but when there is no healthy outlet for masculine energy, the aggression is unleashed in less than admirable ways. We wanted to be seen as warriors and free spirits, like William Wallace or James Dean, but we grew up on Toys ’R Us, piano lessons, and birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese. We didn’t know how to properly mature, and a piece of us yearned for a more troubled past to justify our pugnacity. There’s a reason why the movie Fight Club resonates so strongly with college males.

There is the other group too, of course. Young men with a castrated masculinity who, like domesticated house cats, have been socially bred as passive softies; men without a backbone, whose feel-good lifestyle lacks strength of character and purpose. Both extremes can be characterized by a considerable deficiency in virtue. In the middle lay the ideal—men with conviction, men with values, men with a humility that surrenders itself to a higher power—men from 1950s movies. Discovering this inner nobility required a courage that lay hidden beneath layers of false, modernist logic.

My malaise never reached a boiling point like some of the others, never overstepped the boundaries of devil-may-care to misdemeanor. Instead, it festered somewhere between the extremes of knight and barbarian—not all bad, but not nearly good enough. Whatever the personal a?iction, the boys in my crew were joined through the common bond of college partying. We enjoyed the escapism of it, confronting our struggles by “getting away from it all.”

After returning to the dorm, I led the charge toward drunkenness, cracking the ?rst beer against a hip-hop beat and aggressively instigating the revelry. I wanted the night to begin in a desperate way so I could fade into the background, away from my interior con?ict. The cheap imitation brew tasted bitter, but I swallowed it like pain medicine for my discomfort. Mickey set the table for Flip Cups (a two-team drinking race) and it became our game of choice for the night. It provided an outlet for our competitive nature, though we didn’t realize that the combination of beat-driven music, alcohol, and trash talk only pumped up our aggression. Drunk and loud, we volleyed friendly rounds of cuss words and lewd one-liners.

At ?rst, it was adolescent showboating and humor that instigated the crudeness of our babble, but it eventually began to shape us, particularly as it related to sex. Our perversions blossomed into obsession. Like Pavlov’s dog, we would salivate at the thought of satiating our lust, especially because the impressionable college girls made themselves readily available. Our thoughts shaped our words, and our words required action as a stamp of authenticity. To my astonishment, women would willingly canter into our web of fantasy, as though it were the only way to receive attention or be valued. Britney Spears is a great example of this. When she ?rst arrived on the music scene she was a cute sixteen-year-old girl ?irting with sexual innuendos in a Catholic school-girl out?t while promoting her virginity. Not long after she was seductively panting “I’m a slave for you” while wearing a thong on the outside of her pants. We loved her for this, and Britney loved that we loved her for it. But though we lusted after her, none of us would consider her the type of woman we would bring home to mama, which was the telltale sign of respect and admiration.

Our conversations during drinking games were always brief, and often circular, which is to say they were riddled with contradictions. If we loved something, it was quite possible that we hated it to an equal degree. We loved hooking up, but we had no respect for “sluts.” We enjoyed being drunk, but we would laugh at and ridicule people for being drunk. It was as though we were always giving in to social pressure, seeking popularity without becoming a laughing stock.

Alcohol was the great facilitator of our behavior—the hooking up, the aggression, all of it. It gave us courage to overcome our insecurities, and the freedom to act without the weight of accountability. It was easy to justify misbehavior by saying something else made you do it, like having a lucid dream when you can do anything you want because you know you are dreaming.

Another catalyst for our misbehavior was the need for acceptance. Some of us were still virgins, and many of us had never tried drugs or done a lot of drinking. But in college, bad behavior is glamorized by everyone and everything around you. It was good to be bad. What at one time stretched well beyond the boundaries of what we thought was right we began to legitimize through the all-too cliché argument of normalcy. Everybody’s doing it. Everyone was drinking and having sex. Every magazine, every tv show, every movie, every billboard, every commercial, everything around us promoted sex and booze. The experts encouraged “healthy” sexual activity, as long as it was “safe,” as though protection against physical harm could also ward off emotional or spiritual problems. When the Internet launched porn into every dorm room in the 1990s, it brought much more than naked photos of women. Lesbians. Bestiality. Sodomy. Sadomasochism. Though we all agreed that these practices were ?lthy,
in a very scary way we became desensitized to it, and joked about it unendingly. Still worse, we measured our actions against the lowest dregs of society, so our concept of virtue meant staying away from these disordered extremes instead of gravitating to examples of true manhood.

None of this registered with me on Saturday nights. It may have ?itted across my mind on Sunday afternoons, or even during a weekday, but never on Saturday nights. By the twelfth game of Flip Cups with Mickey and the gang, I really wasn’t giving much thought to anything. I felt a sense of relief and comfort in getting back to an illusory state of freedom. I was addicted to it—not to alcohol, but to the feeling of being totally without responsibility.


Download the rest of the chapter for free below or just buy the whole book. It’s worth it.

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2 comments Add comment

L October 8, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Whoa! How cool is this? Thanks, Matt!

Jess October 15, 2009 at 5:58 pm

I read your post on this a few weeks ago and ordered it on Amazon. I finished it today- totally a great read and absolutely gave me some insight into manhood. I’m going to encourage graduating senior guys from my youth group to read it. I think it’s valuable for young women too, especially Catholics in their twenties struggling to find themselves and live the faith. Thanks for the recommendation!

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