DEAR FRAT FUND RAISER:
In early 1957, I had the responsibility of writing and directing most of the annual frat show, which was at the time the fraternity's only money-making activity. Our profit came more from selling ads for our program than from ticket sales. As I recall, our show that year was the usual sophomoric hodgepodge of songs, skits, and comedy routines that, needless to say, will never be listed when I'm asked to enumerate my literary credits. Our greatest accomplishment was to get at least half the cast to rehearsal semi-sober.
About a week before we were to open, the members were informed that a couple of our more comical brothers had sold ads to a pair of houses-that-were-not-homes in the red light district of south Wheeling. Moreover, the ads had already been printed as part of our program. That the school administration would frown on such advertisements was manifest. The administration at that time had never been known to condone any acts not specifically authorized in Exodus XX 1-17.
The fraternity met to consider our options. We could, for example, throw the programs on the nearest conflagration and return the money that had been paid for all the ads. This wasn't wholly practical in that most of the money had already been spent.
Another possible solution was to take Magic Marker and cover the two telltale ads. We felt, however, that several large black spots in the program might suggest we were trying to hide something. We certainly didn't want to LOOK guilty.
Finally, the members settled on a tried and true solution -- keep our mouths shut and hope the administration would think that the ad for "Sweet Georgia Brown" was simply placed by a thoughtful young woman who wanted to contribute to our treasury. Perhaps a relative of someone in our cast.
Well, the show went off without a hitch. No, that's not true. The show itself had more hitches than a frigate's rigging, but some of the audience and a few of the cast members stayed awake to the end. The best news was that we heard not a murmur of discontent from the administration.
For several months.
Then, just as school was winding down that spring, the frat president and I were instructed to report to the main office. The feces had collided with the rotary blades! In the lengthy discussion that took place in the main office, the administrators were at a disadvantage. Although they knew about the ads and who had paid for them, they did not know which fraternity brothers were responsible for soliciting them. That this was a piece of information they were determined to elicit was made apparent by the number and force of their threats. The phrase "boil in oil" runs through my mind, but my memory may be playing tricks.
Meanwhile, the frat president and I expressed shock, dismay, doubt and certainly no knowledge that such a dastardly deed had occurred. Admittedly, that wasn't the whole truth -- well, actually, it was an out-and-out lie. We both knew who was responsible. However, we salved our respective consciences with the the thought that WE were not responsible and were being placed in an undeserved middle by these academic bullies. We were being accused of whore-mongering in order to make us informers.
The frat president and I insisted WE were actually law-abiding, moral, young men of the finest ilk who had been used as catspaws by some of our degenerate (but unknown) brothers. IF such a terrible act had actually taken place. Which we weren't yet ready to believe. After all, one of our brothers MIGHT have a cousin named Georgia Brown. And she might be sweet. It was POSSIBLE, wasn't it?
When the frustration level on both sides reached the red line, we were excused. The net result was that the president, and I, and the fraternity were all placed on probation. Considering the puritanical bent of the administration at the time, anything short of being burned at the stake was considered a victory for our side.
Several of my brothers -- the ones who'd purchased the now-notorious ads -- swore their undying gratitude that our obfuscation had enabled them to continue their college careers. I wasn't exactly proud of meandering around the truth, but there was a slight chill of heroism in that I had danced successfully with expulsion and at the same time helped keep my dear, still-anonymous brothers from becoming persona non campi.
Probation meant nothing to our president who graduated within a few days. It didn't mean a whole lot to me either as it turned out. When I arrived home that day, I learned that my fiancee had died that afternoon. She had been seriously ill, and this wasn't totally unexpected. As a matter of fact, the fiancee bit was a ploy thought up by her mother to buoy the girl's flagging spirits. Nevertheless, I WAS fond of her.
The combination of probation and death led me to make one of those really intelligent decisions for which I've become famous. I joined the U.S. Army. I'm sure cheers went up all over the Kremlin.
It didn't take very long to discover that the army and I were totally unsuited for each other. If I remember correctly, the revelation came with the first note of Reveille. I'm not saying the army was all wrong and that I was blameless in our relationship. I've always kept an open mind about large organizations. Fortunately for the sake of the nation's preparedness, I developed a back problem and was given an honorable medical discharge two and a half months after entering the service. Today, I'm legally entitled to call myself a "veteran," though I'd blush if I ever seriously referred to myself as such.
Discharge in hand (now, THERE'S a mastabatory phrase!) I returned to my college campus to pick up the tattered remnants of my education. One of the first things I did was seek out a few of my fraternity brothers and ask them about our next meeting. I received disturbingly vague answers.
At last, after a week of being put off, I was invited to a special meeting at which the subject for discussion was to be, surprisingly, me!
It seems my dear brothers had decided that they could remove the stigma of probation from the organization by the simple expedient of removing me from their organization. Somehow I had mutated. I'd started as one of the victims of the nefarious south Wheeling ads. Then I'd been the hero who risked all (and incidentally saved some of the brothers sitting in that very meeting room from expulsion) by talking fast and loose with the administration. And now I had become the one responsible for the landing the fraternity on probation. Sic transit gloria hell! This wasn't gloria at all. It was just sic!
I explained this at length to my frat brothers, along with a few sidebars on loyalty and fraternity. It seemed clear enough to me, but perhaps I should have used only one-syllable words. They, in their infinite wisdom, recessed into meditation. And quicker than you could say, "Screw you, Buddy!" popped me out the brotherhood like the pus in a pimple.
I had been a member of the fraternity for three years, and, on the whole, enjoyed it. However, as it turned out, I enjoyed being a non-member even more. For one thing, I was no longer obligated to fraternize with a few of my brothers for whom I felt no brotherly love whatsoever. Those other brothers whose company I enjoyed were still available, and, so long as I didn't turn my back on them, we got along fine. But the greatest benefit was to discover that there were so many pleasant, interesting and trustworthy people who were not frat members. Amazing!
After all these years, any trauma I may have suffered from my fraternity experience has dissipated. I am no doubt more cynical than most on hearing earnest expressions of fraternal loyalty and brotherhood, but I certainly do not immediately mark down any fraternity man as an automatic asshole. I suppose any organization has its share. It was no doubt simply serendipitus that so many congregated in one place during 1957.
At any rate, since I was booted out by my dear brothers nearly 50 years ago, I'm not certain why you are sending your newsletter to me. Nevertheless, it's always fun to read about people I've mostly never heard of. And if you ever get around to printing obituaries, I definitely want to see them. I'm particularly interested in members from 1957.