A little after 10:00 p.m., Colin’s brooding is interrupted when his friend Hassan Harbish enters Colin’s room without knocking. Hassan calls Colin a “sitzpinkler,” which the narrator explains in a footnote is a German word for “a man who sits when he pees” and also German slang for “wimp.” Hassan insists on peeing before comforting Colin and yells about the terrible smell in the bathroom. Colin realizes that he never flushed after vomiting.
Hassan refuses to indulge Colin’s desire to be alone. From his first appearance, Hassan serves to interrupt Colin’s melancholy and self-aggrandizing moods by reminding him that he is just a human—and a teenager, no less—who pees, vomits, and laughs at low-brow jokes.
Hassan returns and kicks Colin, who is still lying on the floor. Hassan says he had to hold his nose with both hands in the bathroom, so “Thunderstick” (Hassan’s name throughout the novel for his penis) was “swinging freely” and may have missed the toilet. He is concerned about the fact that Colin doesn’t laugh at his Thunderstick joke, and that Colin somehow forgot to flush is own vomit.
Hassan continues to make crude jokes that rely on the body and its functions. His concern over Colin’s lack of reaction to his joke demonstrates that Hassan habitually serves as the comic relief in his friend’s life. It also confirms that Colin, whom Hassan knows better than the reader, really is experiencing a moment of unusually great sadness.
Colin says he wants to die. “All I ever wanted was for her to love me and to do something meaningful with my life. And look. I mean, look,” he says. Hassan says he doesn’t like how Colin looks or smells. Colin goes on a rant about how in ten years, he will probably work in a cubicle and have no Katherine and nothing to show for his life. Hassan tells him that he needs to believe in God because Hassan doesn’t even expect to have a cube, but he’s still happy.
Colin fails to see that he has his whole life ahead of him to do something meaningful. In fact, he sees the life ahead of him as a kind of hellish trap he has set for himself by not achieving more early on in life. Colin places his high school girlfriend’s love on par with the rest of his life’s ambition, demonstrating that his investment in the relationship might be blown out of proportion.
Colin sighs. The narrator states that although Hassan is “not that religious,” he often tries to convert Colin as a joke. Colin responds that faith is a good idea, and that he would also like to believe “that I could fly into outer space on the fluffy backs of giant penguins and screw Katherine XIX in zero gravity.” In response to Hassan’s insistence that Colin needs God, Colin mutters that Hassan, who is at the end of a gap-year after high school and has been admitted to Loyola University in Chicago, needs college. Hassan tells Colin to stop deflecting. Colin tells his friend to stop trying to convert him. Hassan turns the tension into laughter by sitting on Colin, facetiously yelling religious proclamations.
Hassan may not be “that religious,” but his religion is important enough to him that he sometimes brings it up with Colin. Colin’s flippant rejection of Hassan’s religion, and his subsequent insistence that Hassan needs to go to college, demonstrate not only Colin’s belief that the individual (not God) is in charge of his or her own future, but also that Colin cannot step outside his own limited worldview to acknowledge that religion may serve an important role in Hassan’s life.
After climbing off Colin, Hassan turns serious and asks his friend what the problem is. Colin says the problem is that Katherine XIX dumped him, meaning that he is “alone again,” and a failure. He describes himself as, “Formerly the boyfriend of Katherine XIX. Formerly a prodigy. Formerly full of potential. Currently full of shit.” Colin explains to Hassan that while prodigies learn quickly, geniuses discover and do new things. Colin is certain that he has been one of the many child prodigies who do not become adult geniuses.
Hassan is a jokester and does not always command Colin’s respect, but he is nonetheless a friend with whom Colin feels comfortable speaking. Colin’s insistence that he is alone demonstrates that he emphasizes the importance of romance to the point that he fails to recognize his best friend as a kind of companion. Colin’s insistence that none of his identifiers fit anymore shows that he conflates his identity with the transient things in his life, such as girlfriends who come and go. Colin thinks he is “full of shit” when really, he simply has yet to identify who he is underneath all his temporary identifiers.
Hassan wants to know if the problem is the genius thing or the Katherine XIX thing. Colin answers, “I just love her so much,” but internally, as the narrator reflects, he is unable to completely distinguish between the two problems. He doesn’t feel special the way he has always been told he is. He feels that his not mattering to Katherine is indicative of how he doesn’t matter to the world either.
Again, Colin inflates the importance of his high school relationship to the point that it is inseparable from the rest of his lifelong goals. He feels old but betrays his youth by failing to see that he will have plenty of opportunity for more mature romance in his life.
Hassan tells Colin that the genius thing is “nothing” but a desire to be famous. When Colin protests that he wants to matter, Hassan tells him to stop whining and get up. He tells Colin, “Kafir, you have a very complicated problem with a very simple solution.”
Hassan may not be as accomplished or ambitious as Colin, but he is in many senses wiser and more mature in his ability to see that becoming a “genius” will not make Colin truly happy. By calling Colin Kafir, an Arabic term meaning “unbeliever,” Hassan points to Colin’s failure to believe in himself.