Now, about this much-hyped homecoming episode….
Thanks to a relatively tame Friday evening, J and I were up early and off to his college town (a quick 35-minute drive out of the city) by noon. When we arrived, his friends had gathered on the main thoroughfare in town for lunch. And, by god, they were sitting just outside of an ice cream parlour and despite the pleadings of the tiny angel on my right shoulder (homemade soup and salad joint), I had frozen custard for lunch (Score 1 for the Devil on the Left).
So – powered by icy dairy product goodness – we set out to tour the campus.
Now for some context:
As an high school senior, pouring over the stacks of collegiate brochures that littered my mailbox (and let’s face it, the only real mail we get as teenagers), I had the distinct and deep-seated sense that University was my destiny, that I was cut from the cloth of leaf-strewn campuses with Tudor-style buildings (tweed! plaid! herringbone!!). That I would finally find my element in the dusty light filtering through leaded glass panels and dormitories warmed by flannel curtains and fireplaces.
Such sugar-glass idealism, you can imagine, was shattered quickly and deftly in the first few months of my freshman year. I found the campus, all right. Indiana University was picture-perfect, from its rolling, wooded campus down to the little stone chapel and cemetery abutting the ancient, hulking student union. But I quickly discovered that the student body did not share my (possibly absurd) vision of the college experience. An immediate falling-out with the few friends I’d made at orientation (due to problems with a male friend I don’t feel like going into) sent me spiraling into solitude. I was not making friends. I was not having fun. I felt betrayed by the school, by my own idiotic romanticism.
As a last resort, I found myself seeking acceptance via Indiana’s Greek System – the coalition of fraternities and sororities that monopolized social life on campus. I became increasingly indoctrinated with the idea that these people were superior, and I needed to be one of them if I wanted to improve my lot in the college life.
I attended frat parties (“You’re lucky to even be here”), subjected myself to heavy drinking as I sought the acceptance of these boys (“Your lucky I’m even talking to you”), and weathered shame on more than one occasion (“There’s no room in the house, girls, sorry” ((as three others passed us to enter)). “What happened between us last week, that was a big mistake. Sorry. Won’t happen again.” )
Somehow – and thank god – I snapped out of it sometime just after the New Year. I resolved to do my own thing for the rest of the year, and transferred to an urban university slightly closer to home. It was not what I’d dreamed of, and in fact, after my first year there, I developed quite the life off campus and was little involved with the school at all aside from attending the necessary classes and working at the student paper. I graduated unceremoniously, skipping out on walking the stage in favor of moving to Austin, Texas as soon as possible.
So there you have it: my nontraditional college experience (the variety of which I’d bet money many of you have also had).
Consider yourself briefed:)
Okay, where was I? Ah yes, so we strolled the campus that sunny afternoon, touring locales associated with much harmless (er, relatively harmless) debauchery. And then we came to our final stop….. fraternity row.
Yes. J was a member (and a very active one at that) of the Greek System I’d so abhorred. Yes, I am sleeping with the enemy (but in this case, the enemy is so damn soft and cuddly ((F#$% I can be such a sucker for soft, cuddly things!)) I’d known this, in fact, and had actually written him off when we initially met. I thought I knew just what kind of man comes out of this system, and I wanted nothing to do with him.
As you can see, I gave him another chance (and have been continually kicking myself for almost letting him get away…) So, I decided, perhaps I needed to give this system that he honors so dearly, another look as well. (Let the record show, your author can sometimes take her desire to be open-minded to seemingly ludicrous lengths).
The tour of his old fraternity stomping grounds began safely enough. At his school, the frat houses had been dispersed back in the 80’s due to excessive trouble-making (vandalism, alcohol abuse… near deaths. You know.) By the time J was rushing, fraternities were only given large basement clubhouses in which to meet and cavort. They lived separately among the campus dorms.
After a quick break for Bobtoberfest (see “Dirty Deeds. Not So Cheap” below) we arrived back on campus to meet up with his fellow alumni brothers at a senior dorm room. Strange the difference 5 years makes. Walking up the stairs and into this room, I. Felt. OLD.
Scratch that – mature. I felt a wisdom of the ages I didn’t even know I possessed. (Sweety, darling, honey it is 40 DEGREES OUT!!! If you must where a dress, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PUT SOME OF THOSE CUTE LITTLE WOOL LEGGINGS ON!!! And you, in the corner, I promise you that no amount of Franzia will get you laid if you pass out first! And to the girl running around having your picture taken with every person in the room – male, female, you don’t care. Put the camera down. PUT IT DOWN AND WALK AWAY. No one (not even you) looks very cute when they’re this drunk, and you are not having fun if you spend the whole night posing.)
We walk into this room, and the first thing I notice (besides the general disarray and abundance of stolen signs decking the walls) is that there seems to be white powder tracked all over the carpet. My first thought is that we’ve just missed a coke bust. Mais non. Closer observation shows a hole in the wall the size of a dinosaur egg (not velociraptor, mind you, were talking brontosaurus) – we soon learn that it was put there by one of the more bitter alums. (The same alumnus later crashes the party again and stumbles off to the bathroom in the back hall where he puts yet another hole in the wall) Beer pong ensues. More kids arrive, and the room fills like a sinking ship taking on water.
Feeling a little overwhelmed, but trying to maintain a good nature, I take a couple swigs of Goldschlagger directly from the bottle (you know, for old time’s sake), and someone hands me a strawberry-kiwi jello shot that tastes suspiciously like straight Kamchatka.
My college experience is complete.
J, I think noticing my apprehension, keeps close watch and promises we won’t stay long. While not totally comfortable, I am mildly fascinated by his relationship with the current members of his fraternity. They revere him. He is legend. And it’s a damn good thing.
There are so many kinds of guys that are given leadership or mentor positions in the fraternity system. The whole thing is about creating “families” within the system. You have “bigs” and “littles” and “greatbigs” and so on and so on. And the younger brothers look to their older brothers for guidance and protocol. So you have 18 and 19-year-old guys learning behaviors from either A) douche bags like the drunk guy who punched holes in the walls, or B) guys with a conscious and sense of responsibility and pride, who know all too well they are being watched.
I was worried that, seeing J in this element, I would lose site of the man I know. That he would devolve into some kind of loud, obnoxious, quasi-neanderthal, sucked-into-the-mob-mentality kind of guy. Not so. With his “family” he was warm, openly affectionate, charismatic and dignified (whilst having a damn good time, mind you.)
The party was quickly getting a little out of hand, however, so we did leave, joining one of the current students and his girlfriend on the descent from the hill down into town to a local club. We cozied into a large, round booth up in the front window and had ordered a drink when J’s current roommate (and also an alumnus) appeared outside (more accurately, threw himself against the glass, “Graduate”-style) glasses askew, dark hair more mussed than usual, an unidentifiable liquid splashed all over his sweater. We attempted to coax him out from the cold and into the restaurant, but when it became clear that was unlikely, J went outside in an attempt to talk some sense into his inebriated roomie.
As I watched the scene unfold sans sound (you can hear nothing through the glass, just watch their mouths move and observe the body language – like watching a very special episode of Dawson’s Creek on mute), J became achingly attractive, reasoning with his close buddy, winning him over and getting him to come inside for a much-needed glass of water.
At 2am, as the bars set us free, we climbed through the night back up the hill, J’s roommate singing at the top of his lungs (“Berg slept in a hot dog, baby!”). I recalled the evening’s events, and J’s valor and humor and kindness through it all. If this is what can be bred from a frat house….. well so be it. Like any institution, these male playgrounds of ritualistic camaraderie produce all types of man.
Most assuredly, I’m in love with one of them (despite everything I thought I knew).