Frats and me
August 26, 2005
As I was helping my daughter study for an online final exam for the summer semester, she said something about wishing she were more like me and knowing what she was doing with her life. This made me chuckle, for I suspect she is the one who knows what’s happening, unlike her father. But it got me thinking, and I can honestly say there was a time in my life when, for a brief moment, I knew precisely what I was doing.It all started with the fall semester at a certain Colorado university, and the thought that it may be time to join a fraternity rumbling around in my head. I had gone through rush the previous year and found those guilded associations to be a little contrived and constrained for my free-thinking attitude. But my roommate from the past summer semester (yes, summer school) was a fraternity member and I finally had begun to consider his mantra about Greek life adding another dimension to my meager existence. I got pledged in OK, and by the next day, realized I had probably made a big mistake. But a morbid sense of curiosity made me vow to see the journey through to its conclusion. Being an initiate (pledge) in a fraternity is somewhat akin to being the live Christmas pet given to a recalcitrant 5-year-old kid without a conscience. I don’t know how it was for other fraternities, but as part of the hazing process, we were required to do some rather unpleasant things. The frat I pledged had the annoying habit of lining up our “class” of eight in the basement, standing on chairs, stripped to our underwear, and making us chug down huge glasses of salt water. Bellies got big and taut, until finally, someone would projectile ugly water across the room, splashing the opposite wall. After that, the floodgates were unleashed. If you had to urinate, it was either wet your drawers or pull them down and let everyone witness your flow. Hitting the opposite wall with the stream drew cheers from the others, in between excretory retches. The members called it the basement, but us peons called it the “puke and piss” room.We had to do other weird things, most of them strange, dysfunctional, psychopathic, and latent homosexual gyrations, but there’s no sense mentioning them here. I would have quit, but there developed a hatred within me that precluded such an easy release from the misery. There were a couple of guys in there that I swore I would kill once I had reached the seemingly unattainable status of brother.One night we were called to the fraternity house for an emergency meeting (not uncommon), only to be perplexed by the lack of usual routine. One at a time, each pledge went up the stairs for a few moments and then solemnly came back down and exited the front door, never uttering a word. When it was my turn, I found myself on the third floor and entered a tiny, candlelit room, barely large enough for the fraternity president (who was also my “big brother”) and me. Almost immediately, he surprised me by saying that if I took the following oath, I would be accepted as a member: I must swear that I believed in God, and to never propose membership for a person of color, i.e. a black person.My pulse quickened as I said I could not swear to that. “Which section of the oath do you have a problem with?” he asked, as though one or both parts may have been negotiable.”That, my friend, you will never know,” I said, with clarity as sharp as mountain air.There was a strong look of disappointment on his face, and the only farewell I could manage, on my way out with a crooked half-smile, was the non-Greek “sayonara.”Tony Vagneur really does miss the idealism of youth and truly loves his daughter for hers. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to email@example.com.