The Real World Can Wait
This is the true story of one man: Ph.D. student at UF by day, social guru by night. Find out what happens when the years pass by...and things start getting less real.
By Mary K. Willis
It’s just after 11 p.m. on Tuesday. Fat Tuesday’s, the bar that has monopolized the early week party scene in Gainesville, is in the early stages of its mayhem. A dedicated few dot the darkened room, arriving early to gulp down cocktails while the bar is still accessible. Comfortable conversations are still an option as the music remains at a low, pulsating beat. Soon, it will be blaring to combat the deafening roar of the 18 and ups who are ready to party.
Behind the bar, bartenders prepare for the onslaught of drunken customers. Jason Bowman—resident bartender, college student and man about town—greets his fellow bartenders and crosses the bar to kiss the hand of a cute blonde sipping her drink.
He towers over most of the staff, his biceps testing the limits of his blue, Fat Tuesday’s T-shirt and his dark brown hair adding another two inches to his over 6-foot frame.
He appears to be the typical bartender. Classes by day, work by night. He’s popular and personable. You’d never know it but when Jason Bowman first came to college, most UF seniors were in the first grade. Bowman has made a career out of going to college, beginning his journey at the University of Florida in 1988. Now, at 33, he is in the final stages of completing his Ph.D. in counseling psychology. He has partied steadily through 17 consecutive spring breaks, and the notion of life without a mid-semester vacation provokes a long, thoughtful pause.
“It’s a scary thought,” he says with a sly smile.
His academic longevity and infamous social life have made him a local partying legend, raising him to a status rivaling such greats as Bluto from “Animal House” and the more recent Van Wilder.
“Dude, they got nothin’ on me,” he says, laughing at the comparison.
Besides working to complete his third degree in almost 15 years, Bowman teaches an undergraduate abnormal psychology class. Tuesday nights, he is behind the bar at Fat Tuesday’s. Friday nights, he transforms from college town casual to monochromatic chic, donning all black at Voodoo, a sushi bar by day and swanky hot spot by night. On weekends and occasional Thursday nights, Bowman sheds his sobriety and makes the seamless transformation from scholar and working man to social guru.
It’s a steamy Saturday afternoon at Gainesville Place apartments. The pool
has been overrun by bikini- and boardshort-clad hotties, guzzling beers and smoking cigarettes, courtesy of Jet Set, a local club that Bowman frequents.
Bowman and his crew arrived hours earlier and secured a prime piece of poolside real estate. They’re drinking. They’re laughing. The hours of exposure and eye candy overload have made them immune to the constant stream of hot bodies passing by.
Their personal party ball keeps the alcohol flowing. Beers are bottomless, Bowman’s bare-chested buddies eager to replenish them at a moment’s notice.
A beer or two later and Bowman is on the move again. An announcer shouts into a microphone, but his voice is muffled by the sea of bodies swarming around him. A fight through the bare bodies to the front of the crowd reveals
Bowman as the first in line to compete in a curl contest. He stands to win a membership at Orion Fitness and a manly victory in front of his peers.
“Wait,” he whispers, as he leans into the crowd. “You gotta watch me win.”
Admittedly intoxicated, he steps to the center of the crowd and takes the bar weighted down with almost 100 pounds and starts pumping.
“1, 2, 3…,” the announcer counts as Bowman bangs out the first few curls.
At curl 20, the strain shows.
“Twenty-four!” the announcer shouts.
The crowd cheers as he wipes the sweat from his brow.
Although his solid showing doesn’t win the event, his initial confidence was not unfounded. His biceps had brought him success in the past.
Andy Greer, Bowman’s Sigma Phi Epsilon brother from the early 1990s, remembers the younger, more intimidating Bowman.
“He was more of the typical frat guy then. It’s hard to believe that he was,” Greer recalls. “Unlike everybody else, he’s managed to change with the times.”
During Bowman’s undergraduate years, there existed an inter-fraternity boxing competition. Bowman was a Sigma Phi Epsilon’s heavy-weight fighter. Two years in a row, Bowman defeated each of his two opponents with solid, knockout punches.
“He’s always the calm, quiet-looking guy,” Greer says. “It’s kinda like the Incredible Hulk, except he doesn’t turn green.”
A few hours after the curl contest, the revelry continues at Jet Set’s invitation-only pajama party. It’s a mere 10 p.m., and the scene is positively naughty. Men are topless, sporting either boxer shorts or pajama pants. Their hungry eyes scan the plethora of women meandering through the crowd wearing bras and panties, bustiers and stilettos.
Around midnight, Bowman arrives after hosting an intimate champagne pre-party at his apartment. He is dressed in blue plaid pajama pants and a matching unbuttoned shirt. Three scantily clad women are trailing close behind him.
Slapping the backs of his buddies and kissing the cheeks of his lady friends, he works his way behind the bar to greet his most influential acquaintance on the scene: the bartender. Before long, the liquor is flowing in the form of neon-colored shots and gigantic mixed drinks.
When the staff announces last call, and the crowd thins, he emerges from his bar-side fort to mingle before the club doors close. He floats effortlessly from one social encounter to the next, inching his way to the door and what other mischief might unfold.
Bowman has consistently upheld a high social standard throughout his college career. At the same time, however, he has diligently worked his way up the hierarchy of degrees.
After spending six years earning his bachelors degree in health science and two years doing work to boost his GPA, Bowman completed his master’s degree in clinical psychology at the University of Colorado. He made a brief pass at a Ph.D. program in Texas, but eventually transferred back to UF to complete his studies.
“I’m doing something useful. I have a goal in front of me,” Bowman says. “But at the same time, I know I could’ve gotten out of here a long time ago.”
Bowman has focused his Ph.D. research on deviant sexual arousal in adults. He has developed a test that determines the level to which people respond to different sexual stimuli. These stimuli range from the totally benign to the socially deviant.
Jocelyn Saferstein, a fellow Ph.D. student, assisted Bowman on some of this research during her stint as TA for his abnormal psychology class.
“He developed this whole [test] on his own,” Saferstein says. “It’s a really tough thing to make your [test]. It’s very applaudable that he did that himself.”
Although Saferstein spent some of her time as TA , fielding the romantic woes of his love-struck students, the majority of her experience acquainted her with Bowman’s high degree of professionalism and intriguing lectures. The two have remained close friends ever since.
“I think he could really do a lot with this field if he wanted to,” she says. “He’s a really good guy. He has a really big heart.”
The soon to be Dr. Jason Bowman is unsure of what’s to come of his life after Gainesville. He speaks passionately about his research and will test his future in the field during his required internship.
However, the perpetual student has not ruled out law school as a potential next step.
“Everyone says it sucks when you finish (college). So I just stay in,” he says, a coy smile spreading across his face. “Instead of fighting this college experience, I embrace it.”