At this point it’s obvious: it’s all about fraternities.
Which wasn’t apparent at the time, because in my whole life, I’ve only had one brush with fraternities.
Friday night we’d spent on a Dr. Pepper bender, scouring dungeons looking for troglodytes. I was the Dungeon Master, which meant I was the guy who got to improvise reality for the other guys. Without knowing anything about fighting or spelunking, economics or metrics, ecology or meteorology, history, myth, or least of all sex, I got to devise and referee brawls, tunnelings, lootings, surveyings, huntings, stormings, origins, interventions, wenchings, and sundry other meleés. I got to be the man-at-arms, the troglodyte, the hoarder, the architect, the prey, the thunder god, Clio, Alpha, Omega, and all manner of whores. I loved it, and I make no apology for it now.
But we’d had enough of that on Friday night – enough Dr. Pepper, donuts, Doritos, and ELP albums – and Saturday after waking up midafternoon we felt like doing something different. It was April of our senior year in high school.
By this point we all knew where we were going to college. I was heading to a little-known liberal-arts college with an identity crisis, run by the state but with a private name. The rest of the guys, though, were going to Enormous State University.
Somebody, having already had a college visitation weekend as part of the recruitment process, having already thereby gotten drunk once on college beer, suggested we drive down to Collegeville, where ESU is located, and see if we could crash a frat party.
A frat party. This was the late ‘80s and we were American males, so of course Animal House was the ne plus ultra of what we imagined college life to be. A Natty Boh bender, scouring dorm rooms looking for trollops. Let’s go, dude.
So we piled into the green and black Pinto one of the guys had borrowed for the weekend, his parents’ second car, and we made the requisite rear-ending jokes, and set out down Route 301 for Collegeville. We listened to the radio until we got tired of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Cinderella, and then we popped in Led Zeppelin II. When that finished it was Led Zeppelin III, and we hit College Ville around the time they were taking their hats off to (Roy) Harper.
Now what? Start driving around looking for houses with Greek letters on them and mannequins flying out windows, of course.
The guy riding shotgun put in Momentary Lapse Of Reason and while the driver started making aimless turns in and out of main drags and campus lanes and leafy streets the rest of us picked up our old argument about whether this was really Floyd.
The question was never settled, because just as we turned onto a particularly promising looking street and were slowing down to see if we could see magic glyphs over the doors, somebody in a passing car stopped and yelled to us.
“Wanna buy a pizza?” It was a delivery guy, sign on the top of his car and everything. I looked around, and back on the corner was a pizza place. The guy had just left. “Give it to you for ten bucks, a large with everything. I don’t wanna drive all the way across campus.”
Well, it was past dinner time. And this – this was wild, man. Somebody wasn’t going to get their pizza. The delivery guy was pulling a fast one. And look – there’s a Phi over that door! And a Tau over that one! This is it, boys, Frat Row!
We pooled our bills, bought the pizza, pulled over, ate it, washed it down with the Big Gulps we’d been nursing all the way down the highway. It was good pizza. College pizza. Illicit pizza.
And that was the closest we got to fraternity life that night. We drove up and down Frat Row, but: nothing. Just big whitewashed houses with neatly manicured lawns and polite lights in the windows. Greek letters in trinities, sure, but no broken windows, no beer bottles on the driveways, no coeds hanging out of second story windows, no togas. No Isley Brothers. We heard what I would later come to know as Bob Marley’s Legend playing from more than one bedroom window, but always at a moderate volume. Everything looked safe, self-contained, and utterly suburban.
I had then, and have now, no doubt there was debauchery going on somewhere behind those doors. But it wasn’t to be had by us.
We parked and wandered around campus for a while; the ESU bound among us were also interested, it turned out, in learning the layout of the school before arriving there for good in the fall. There’s the library, there’s the chem building, there are some dorms. We tried to get into one and drop in on somebody’s visitation weekend host, but no dice. I’m sure he was partying.
We had fun, to be sure. I mean, we always had fun together. Endless stupid jokes and music talk. We just didn’t make it into any parties. No wenching for us this night. We spent a couple of hours in Collegeville, then on the way out of town stopped at a Little Tavern for a couple of bags of burgers, and then it was home to see if we could catch something raunchy and unscrambled on Cinemax.
I think one or two of the guys actually pledged when they got to ESU the next fall, but truth be told I hardly saw any of them again after that summer. And my school didn’t have frats. So that was the closest I ever got. Pizza.
Which is not to say I never learned about brotherhood at school. Or freedom and equality, for that matter.