Here to
Robert Egan
(Bantam Books)


    Q: What's the difference between a sorority girl and a toilet?
    A: The toilet doesn't follow you around after you use it.

    --- From Here to Fraternity

Back where I came from, fraternities were so all-pervasive that we started preparing for them in the eighth grade at John Gorrie Junior High School.

We would be pledged to the Alpha Delta Tau or the Phi Lambda Epsilon (the girls would go into the Lambda Sigma Sigma or the Tau Alpha Rho) in May or June, and would begin our tasks as "Freshmen" the next year: weekly meetings, paddlings, carrying books for the seniors. The evening meetings would duly start with pledge to the flag and a prayer intermixed (we were, after all, only fifteen years old) with giggles and horseplay.

We learned songs, songs that had been sung by our brothers down through the years:

    Drunk last night, drunk the night before;
    Gonna get drunk tonight like I never got drunk before;
    'Cause when I'm drunk I'm as happy as can be;
    'Cause I'm a member of the P. L. E ...
    Sing glorious, sing glorious,
    One keg of beer for the four of us;
    Sing glory be to god that there are no more of us
    'Cause one of us could drink it all alone ...

(We must have sung that song --- with all its implications of the glory of drunkenness --- a hundred hundred times. I can recite it with ease, in contrast to the many sonnets of Shakespeare that Miss Coody tried so vainly to beat into my noodle. All, except "Sing Glorious" have disappeared long ago into the shady nooks of incipient Alzheimer's).

The Terror of Terrors was Initiation. This took place at the end of the ninth grade. The last Friday night meeting would involve special wooden paddles with holes drilled in them. (Some would break on contact with our rear ends.) Most feared was Leland Burpee (swear I didn't make up any of these names!) because he would sidestep all the way across the room before making painful contact 'twixt wood and gluteus maximus.

Next day, we would go for the second part of the initiation, to some deserted sand dune outside of town. We were picked up in someone's car, blindfolded, and taken to this god-forsaken field where we would be beaten some more, stripped, and would be fed (or would have dumped on us) the following:

  • Used crankcase oil
  • Asafoetida
  • Model airplane cement
  • Spring onions
  • Fingernail polish
  • Cornflakes
  • Castor Oil
  • Flour
  • Raw eggs
The airplane cement would be applied to our heads and to our nascent pubic hairs, along with the nailpolish. The asafoetida (certainly the foulest smelling of concoctions --- it was used as a folk medicine remedy) would be rubbed in our hair or fed to us, as would the spring onions. The raw eggs would be mixed with castor oil, and we would be commanded to lie on the ground (naked, quivering) and the loathsome concoction would be dropped from five feet up into unwilling open mouths. The crankcase oil would be dumped on us, then the cornflakes, then the flour. We would then be rolled about on the sand in case any square inch of our skin were yet uncovered. When we were done, we would probably not be recognized as human, much less next-of-kin, by our own parents.

The next day we would in our newly-scrubbed and cleaned state go through the official ritual mumbojumbo of being taught the secret handshake and the other arcane rites of passage. We were taught the Greek alphabet, and shown the symbols of the fraternity. Then we were declared Members --- and would be free to inflict similar agonies on our peers the next year.

Over the years, when I think on these absurd ceremonies, I am hard pressed to understand why we put up with it; and, certainly, why our parents tolerated such abuse. We were normal healthy fifteen and sixteen year olds, those who were torturing us so exotically were supposed friends. Why, then, would we permit them to bruise us with their paddles, and humiliate us with the concoctions they had dreamed up, along with the emotional humiliation of being in a state of voluntary servitude? What goes on in the brain of the newly-mature, to be so accepting --- nay, so wanting-of psychic and physical violence? I am sure it has something to do with passage rites common to all societies; and, even more, a desire, a desperate desire, to be accepted. We were the elect (we represented less than 10% of our school student body) and by submitting to such ritual, we were being acknowledged (those who counted --- namely our peers) that we were among the special, the Leaders.

As I look back over it, I realize that there was much violence implicit in what happened to us; and, even more, to those who were not a party to the ceremonies. We were all white, middle-class, "normal." Thomas Gibson was short, ragged, and came to school barefoot, and was not included. Irving Spivack, Tom O'Flaherty, and Walter Bernstein were not included (no Jews nor Catholics). Richard Monday who seemed a bit strange (he liked going down the hall with his arm about your shoulder) was left out. Wah Eng, the quiet Chinese, was not invited. Bob Dunfree who had bad teeth and talked with a lisp was not part of the gang. Ernie George had a bad leg (polio) and didn't get a pledge bid. They were excluded. They never mentioned it to us, we never mentioned it to them --- but they were the outsiders. None of them had cars, some of them dressed in funny-looking clothes, or (like Dudley Paar) wore glasses and had strange eyes that didn't move together.

Those of us who were admitted had white skin, clean clothes, nice homes, nice parents, nice attitudes, nice futures, nice eyes, and nice manners. We were the select.

Thus those who were accepted, and those who were rejected both learned their place. The initiates learned how fine it was to be part of the Gang. The outsiders learned how lonely it could be on the outside. Ultimately, all learned how evanescent it all was.

--- Andy White III

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