Throw It All Down

Michael Lanahan's life was a puzzle, his death a mystery wrapped in a song.

Early in the summer of 2003, Malin got a call from Lanahan, who asked if he could store a big-screen television at Malin's house. "Being the nerd I am, I read the CU police reports in the newspaper, just to see what my fellow students are up to," Malin says. "The next day I read that two big-screen TVs had been stolen from the dorms. I offhandedly mentioned it to him, and he said, 'That wasn't us.' But that's the last I heard of the TV. I never did store it for him."

A few weeks earlier, Lanahan had been arrested, along with another CU student, after being stopped in a truck loaded with the carcass of a wooden dorm loft. The lofts were rented by private companies to students seeking extra sleeping space in the dorms; several had disappeared from loading docks that spring, and Lanahan and his friend were suspected of attempting to resell them and pocket the profits. Lanahan pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted trespassing and received a deferred sentence, probation and a stiff restitution order.

The caper quickly became part of the Lanahan legend, along with other, quasi-apocryphal stories about him stealing road signs in Wyoming and convincing a state trooper to let him go. Nothing seemed to faze him. If he screwed up, he simply picked himself up and got back in the game, like the hero of OAR's signature tune, "Crazy Game of Poker." OAR, the former Ohio State frat band turned indie headliner, had a huge following on the Boulder campus, and none of its fans were more rabid than Lanahan. He didn't simply adopt the twelve-minute live version of "Poker" as his favorite song; he turned it into an essential pre-party ritual.

 
 
Crazy games: At CU, Michael Lanahan (above) was a 
high-stakes player on the party scene.
Mark Manger
Crazy games: At CU, Michael Lanahan (above) was a high-stakes player on the party scene.

"That was something we started doing the first summer we were hanging out," Julsen recalls. "We'd go drinking on the Hill. We knew when the buses came, so we'd pour ourselves some bourbon, listen to the song, sing along. We wouldn't talk. Just listen, sing, catch the bus. Then people came back to school and started doing it with us. We'd do it before we left for a party -- go into a bedroom and shut the door, and everyone knew to stay quiet for the length of the song."

"Poker" was a touchstone for the swim-team crowd -- an anthem, a whiff of the sense of invincibility that comes with a nothing-to-lose attitude. "That's just how we all knew we were going to end up living," Julsen says. "I've got two degrees, but I'm a bouncer and a lifeguard. We like to be around a different lifestyle than the typical path, I guess. But we never talked about the song and what it meant to us."

Lanahan managed to stay out of legal trouble during the fall of his senior year. He was losing interest in school, but he was making headway on his various fines and court fees. A high point came early in 2004, when the swim team went to Florida to train for a week. There was lots of serious swimming by day, lots of serious relaxing at night.

"There were six of us in each condo, and we had the nicest condo of all," Malin recalls. "Plush carpet, glass figurines. Mike went around picking up all the glass things and putting them in the closet so they wouldn't be broken. I cooked a whole bunch of meals and put them in the fridge. My fondest memory of him is coming back after swimming 10,000 yards a day, absolutely exhausted and famished, bursting through the door of the condo -- and here's Mike Lanahan, the hell-raiser, lighting candles and dimming lights and putting on music and bringing out the food.

"We had the most ironically civilized dinners. He was capable of incredible crudeness and extreme sophistication -- whatever the occasion called for. He could be extremely responsible if the circumstances dictated."

But within a month, Lanahan's life had completely unraveled.

"He skipped out, and he didn't even bother paying for the trip to Florida," Malin says. "He left us on the hook for his portion of it and disappeared."


Well then dude walks in, black hat on top,
what a mop
I'm lucky it wasn't a county cop
Cause I'm just running out of time.

'Crazy Game of Poker'

The Fugitive

When new female members of the swim team got warned about Michael Lanahan, one of the people doing the warning was another female swimmer, known here as Jane Doe. She and Lanahan first became involved in the fall of 2002, and the relationship soon turned bitter and complicated. She would later describe Lanahan as manipulative; he would ignore her in public, then call her at night and ask her to come over.

The bad blood between them was no secret on the team. "They had a love-hate relationship," says Julsen. "They wouldn't talk for a year, then one of them would call up the other and they'd hang out. They'd fool around, maybe, and feelings would get hurt, and they wouldn't talk again for months."

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