What's So Funny

What's So Funny was in a fraternity. Straight up and down, Sheldon. Can I call you Sheldon? Doesn't matter, Sheldon, because the thing was, my fraternity was not very frat-like. There were no shirtless meatheads tossing a football around outside the house. Date-rape scandals were non-existent, and the recruitment process was more hastily thrown together than an issue of YourHub.com. In fact, there really wasn't a process. I was sitting in a friend's room in my freshman dorm one night, watching The Simpsons, when suddenly three bloated seniors burst through the door, pantyhose pulled over their faces with varying levels of success, half-empty bottles of Jack in their hands.

"Want to come along?" they asked, offering up a swig. I didn't have class for another five hours, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

"You play any sports?" another brother asked while we waited at an off-campus apartment for the other "recruits" to arrive. He kept his eyes glued to the James Bond video game he was playing, and though people don't come in flavors, if they did, he would have fallen somewhere between "marijuana" and "'shrooms."

"I played soccer in high school," I replied. "But I think I'm done playing anything real seriously."

He slapped me on the thigh.

"Attaboy," he said. "You're going to fit in just fine. Most of the brothers here are burnout athletes who now play in shitty bands instead. Nobody here gives a fuck about anything," he continued, grabbing a three-foot bong off the coffee table. "Plus, pretty much all the drugs on campus come through our house."

It was love at first sight.

That night devolved into eight of us giddily stealing strange items from around campus, then being locked in a cramped room in the chapter house with a half-keg of Natty Light and a three-foot, faceless plastic squirrel. Puke, piss or shit, you did it in the squirrel. The lot of us made out with that woodland critter as dawn rose undetected outside.

"Was it you who was yelling all that nonsense about face-fucking squirrels at 6 a.m. this morning?" my R.A. asked the next day.

"Sounds feasible," I responded.

The bulk of our pledging process consisted of drinking and stealing, until we were finally let into the frat after an enormously clever, drawn-out act of deception that I will elaborate on no further except to say it was not so much a mind fuck as a mind rape.

My friends and I followed in the footsteps of the brothers before us by taking drugs and playing shitty music and not giving a damn. We were happy, they were proud. But while we were busy wallowing in apathy and spending less time at the fraternity house because we figured out there were never any girls there, a subset of football and hockey players, mostly, started running for positions within the frat -- president, vice president, treasurer, etc. We hadn't even known there were positions, let alone ones with power; we'd thought that having a title just meant you got to play death metal and howl gibberish at the pledges while tripping on acid. Soon, though, a new president was requesting a more active presence from the brothers, including mandatory attendance at meetings. So we aborted. Many of the friends I continued living with on campus considered it a point of pride that we were not participating in official fraternity activities; that was the ethos of the frat we had joined. We would still show up for free booze every once in a while, but we never paid dues, and it was clear we were of the old school, the one before the true meatheads came to power. What fun was a fraternity that cared?

Which is why I found the kickoff to Rush Week at the University of Colorado this past Sunday so profoundly disturbing. After listening to a speech by members of the Inter-Fraternity Council about what recruits could expect in terms of frat life (among other things, no official recognition by the university, which wanted frats to delay rush until spring), the 200 or so students gathered in the Glenn Miller Ballroom were released to cruise the information tables representing each fraternity and talk with the brothers. Excuse my departure from the typically PC rhetoric championed weekly in these very pages, but there is something about picking out a group of dudes like items at a cafeteria that's just gay. I'm into guys who like football. I like guys with high GPAs. Who picks friends that way? Much less friends that you must endure ridicule and hazing from, then live with in a filthy house? That's creepy. Mail-order-bride creepy.

"What are you looking for in a fraternity?" a chipper brother asked as I passed by his booth. I was so taken aback by the question that it took several moments to unearth a response.

"Uh, I guess drugs."

The brother laughed, nodded his head and started talking with another young man. I continued cruising the tables, feeling oddly like a pervert in a park, noticing the little differences between the frats, the non-clever slogans adorning their T-shirts and the trophies marking their various "accomplishments," how the meatheads tried hard not to talk to you and the nerdy ones all but swarmed. And how, despite it all, the frats all seemed much the same -- and nothing about them looked appealing. Not the trips to Cancn, nor the luaus, nor the casino nights. Nothing.

After rush, I stopped off to visit a college buddy who's now going to grad school. I told him about what I'd just seen, and he was equally baffled. After all, he'd shown up late for the "pledging process" and was simply ushered into our old frat. We both agreed that the process just smacked of too much effort -- and we both agreed that we probably couldn't cut it at a Boulder frat. This made us feel old. And feeling old made us feel sad. So we each cracked open a beer and set about finding a plastic squirrel online.


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