I, Fraternity: A Novel In Progress: Chapter2
I remember surveying the field of several fraternities and groups in which to play flag football for. Before joining the Etas, I wasn’t looking for Brotherhood, at least not consciously. I wanted only to be a part of something bigger than myself, to have fun while in college and to stay active. I pined for comradeship, much like the football teams I played for in high school and for Pop Warner before. Much like an ideal family, a fraternity has trust in its members and care very much for one another. In a fraternity, the brothers voluntarily bind their blood in the figurative sense only, hence the term blood brothers. Love you or not, there are way too many diseases nowadays to screw around with real blood, so let’s leave it at that. With this in mind, I was walking through the vast open grassy field in Saranac in which was holding tournament flag football throughout the fall. Everyone was a walk-on. All anyone really has to do is just pick a team and join. I had no idea that my decision that day to join a team was my first step in becoming an Eta. I love football and miss my friends and teammates from back home. Had Saranac offered collegiate football with full pads and helmets, believe me, I would have joined. However, years before I got there, an injury occurred that was so severe to one of the underclassmen that it sent him to the morgue. His death dictated the college’s decision to ban the football program all together and Saranac hasn’t had a collegiate football ever since, which is what made flag football such a big deal there. I found out quickly enough that everyone who played it took it extremely seriously.
How seriously? How’s about cheating? I overheard one player tell his teammate that if he didn’t “do” what he was told that he just didn’t “want it enough.” On the very next play he intentionally tripped an opposing player, causing him to miss “tackling” the running back the kid was blocking for.
“Nice leg sweep fuck face!” The disgruntled opposing player said to him after the play was over. Both his fists were clenched.
“I didn’t mean it,” the accused said. His head was down while walking away, distancing himself from the berating player. He averted making eye contact with the guy.
“Yeah? Like if I punched you in the fucking face I can just turn around and say, ‘whoops, my bad bro—I didn’t mean it?’” He was giving chase and the guy was relentless. He wanted to scrap. Now, because the referee didn’t see the leg trip, the kid got away with it, clean. Instead, the ref walked up to the pissed off kid and gave both a warning. A second incident would mean ejection from the game. So in other words, each player could consequently cheat once during the course of the entire game and continue playing, so as they didn’t get caught twice. There were other things that were pretty common, like holding and straight-up tackling. Would-be cheaters used cheap excuses like, “What? You can’t take a little contact, bitch?” right after laying a guy out on the grass, obviously missing the concept that the game is flag football and not UFC. Another way in which players cheated would be to tie their flags to their belts. The flags were supposed to be suppressed via Velcro, so if the flag was tied when another player tried to pull it off and wouldn’t disengage, the ball carrier would not technically be “tackled.” I think that when you get down to brass tacks, everyone wanted to win at any cost. Never mind the fact that nuts and dicks were getting stepped on egos were getting crushed, because to the victor go the spoils and in Saranac, the spoils were bragging rights and the paperless championship reign for one full year. So what’s so great about bragging rights? Ask any guy in Saranac and he will tell you the same thing: Having bragging rights is the license to talk as much shit as possible. Mind you, the likelihood of talking shit dramatically increases the more one drinks, especially downtown because let’s face it, talking shit is only rewarding if you have an audience and there is no bigger audience in Saranac than the downtown audience. In the movie Gladiator, Russell Crowe’s Maximus had the Mob. The Flag Football Shit Talker has the Downtown Audience. Both got their power and influence through supporters and followers alike. What good is victory to guy if no one knows about it, right? I can tell you honestly that I never once cheated in flag football in Saranac, yet I cannot stand by that same sentiment for others on the side of the football or say the same by my teammates and future brothers, mostly because I did not actually see it with my own two eyes. If they did in fact cheat, that kept it very discreet, didn’t gloat about it and more importantly, no one knew.
“Hey, wanna join our team?” A muscled-bound guy with a crew cut asked me from the side as I was watching his team run passing routes. Sure, it was bold for him to simply break the ice with the invitation, yet it was effective. As I would later learn, one of his nicknames was Mister Extreme which did him justice. Curiosity brought me here. An invitation to join a team got me to stay. Those very five words was, as I would find out later, the pivotal words that lifted me off the platform waiting station and through the threshold of the fast moving express train that was Eta Iota Mu national fraternity. He wasn’t wearing any letters, that is, Greek letters representing his fraternity of affiliation. Had he wore letters like the majority of the other guys practicing on the grassy field, I would have most likely avoided him; I would have been intimidated by him and so would not have been tempted to come over and watch. I guessed that deep down inside, I wanted Brotherhood without having to joining a fraternity, which would be the equivalent of wanting to go swimming in the ocean without getting wet. Before walking over to the practice field, I was met with some inquiry about joining a fraternity. Already to me, some of the Brothers of other fraternities seemed like pushy salesman. It was a turn-off. Unlike the other fraternity brothers on campus, Eric had a much different approach. He sold me to the Etas as if an afterthought. I was bought into it before realizing what the heck I was actually buying. The term, “rush” has several meanings. Under the context of Greek societies, to “rush” someone is to entertain or pay great attention to. In addition, it is a drive by a fraternity or sorority to recruit new members. Funny how “rush” also means to move or act rapidly among other things.
“Jason.” He didn’t offer his hand to shake and so made our meeting seem informal.
“Ever play flag football?” He was sizing me up.
“No, but I played football, you know, with full pads back in high school…Pop Warner too.” I was careful to not refer to football with full pads and helmets as being real football like you see on TV on Sunday afternoons during the fall. I didn’t want to shit on his passion if flag football really was his passion. I wanted to keep it truly friendly.
“Nice. I did too before I tore my ACL my junior year in High School. That fucking sucked. What position did you play?” I shook my head and smiled.
“You won’t believe me if I told you.”
“Yeah? Try me.”
“I played center.”
“Yeah, I know, I’m not very big but I got the job done…Well, look at Mel Hein for the New York Giants. He didn’t exactly fit the mode as a prototypical NFL center during the fifties, but for his time and place, he was the best at his position. Now look at him. He’s in the Hall of Fame and was one of the best centers ever.” And I did. I was the guy that would hike the ball to the quarterback.
The key was to get a jump on the guy directly across from me, the nose tackle, to “beat him to the punch,” as it were, by getting underneath his shoulder pads and knocking him on his ass and taking him out of the play all together. During my years of playing football, I never weighed more than 155 pounds. Centers are usually the heaviest of them all, anchoring the line of scrimmage and taking arguably the most punishment. In games, I went up against guys sometimes fifty pounds heavier than me. What I lacked in bulk I made up for with quickness. I had quick hands and exploded off the line at the snap of the ball. I use to watch old footage of Mel Hein play in Giants games from years past and watched Tom Nalen of the Denver Broncos later on. Both were very similar in their play and both were very effective in their role. Thinking back, I was just good enough to keep my job at center and so was a mainstay for the better of four years from freshman ball through varsity squad. Well, either that or because no else wanted to get their asses handed to them on every down. I apparently enjoyed getting pummeled. The way in which I was elected to fill the role as center was comical in itself. Coach Nieves lined up our team like a row of soldiers and asked for one of us to volunteer to play center to fill the void. After a moment went by, my friend and teammate Kevin shoved me forward and I stumbled two steps ahead of everyone. Kevin snickered, along with the rest of our teammates and after hearing this, Coach turned and saw me before I could jump back in line. He sized me up, giving me a curious look and then looked back at the rest of team probably half hoping that someone bigger would contend for the spot. When that didn’t happen, he shrugged his shoulders in defeat and gave me a slight nod. He placed a hand on my shoulder and said to me, “Don’t get killed, alright? Protect your quarterback and create holes for Charlie to run through…That’s all you got to do, understand?” I nodded my head. I remember thinking, Shit, I sure don’t want to get killed…If I do, I’ll really be letting him down.
“So, you want to play center then?” Eric asked me. “No one else wants to.” I grinned. One of these days I’m going to learn to just shut the hell up, I thought.
“Sure, why not?” I said. Yeah, why stop now, right? Before I walked on the field, I was hoping that I could play something other than center. I wanted to do something exciting like play running back or tight end where I could score. Everyone wants to score in football. You see, in the heart of every lineman there is a fantasy of either scoring a touchdown or making bone crushing hit as a member of the defense. For everyone who takes punishment there is a punisher waiting to dish out havoc. I was no different. In the end I played center for the Eric and the Etas just like I played center for the Tigers back in high school. Safe to say, nothing has changed. I returned to the montage that everyone should play to their strengths for the betterment of the team entire.
That team in question was named G.O.B. or “Good Old Boys.” I am not sure who named the team, but G.O.B. to me sounded pretty cool and tough, which are pretty much the things every guy aspires to be. Our squad was comprised of a total of twelve guys in which five were active brothers of Eta Iota Mu. The other five were “rushing” or were in the process of being rushed by said fraternity; two of them, Metzner and Salvador were just a couple of Eternal Rushees or, more notably according to the Greeks, G.D.I.s or “God Damn Independents.” These guys were a hopeless bunch, due to the fact that they want no part of going Greek, yet they indulge in free beer and food supplied by the Etas at rushes and partake in flag football. Non-Greeks were labeled as G.D.I.s by the Greek organizations and so were frowned upon. Each side equally frowned upon the other: The Greeks charged that the G.D.I.s had misconceptions of fraternal and sorority life and for this reason they didn’t like them. Some of the G.D.I.’s preconceived notions about Greek society are that they are nothing more than “expensive friends” and that all of them are a bunch of hedonists who all day long do nothing but drink, have sex, and party.
“Is that what being in a fraternity all about?” I asked Brother Hector, the Vice President who was in charge of recruiting during my first ever Eta Rush. All I had to go on beforehand was what John Belushi taught to me.
“Okay, to argue that last statement, and let’s face it, besides studying to acquire a degree, isn’t that what college is all about? As far as the ‘expensive friends’ part is concerned, affiliation with a fraternity and a sorority involves paying dues as you would in a union or maybe a HMO. Dues range anywhere between two hundred and fifty to five hundred dollars per semester. They help pay for the national headquarters operations, maintenance for the House, insurance, socials (which are organized invitational parties), the pledge program, the end-of-the-semester banquets which everyone looks forward to and a myriad of other things. As a student, when you begin thinking about how much you spend per semester to have fun, two hundred and fifty dollars really isn’t much (which is what I pay). As an active brother in a fraternity, you never go hungry if you’re short on cash. If you need to get home for the holidays to visit your folks, a brother always seems, coincidentally, to be passing by where you live and so is more than happy to bring you there. Brothers are always at the ready to help you in your time of need and so during your time at college, you really are never alone, as they become your family while away from your family. Being a brother in a fraternity while in college, you want for nothing…” Hector looked at me and smiled. “Does that answer your question?”
I paused, thinking carefully on how next to respond. I really wanted to stump him somehow, just to spite him. During the first week of the spring semester following winter recess, a letter arrived to me from the Eta brothers inviting me to partake in their rush. That same day I went to see my advisor to ask him about the letter. I was curious to know more about this organization that had an interest in me. As I found out, because of my grades (I had a meager 2.9 GPA my first semester) and my status as a freshman, I was selected as a candidate to be rushed—just ripe for the picking. Before leaving his office, he warned me that my grades may suffer should I decide to join.
“What about academics? Won’t my grades go down if I decide to join? I was told that going Greek will interfere with my grades by my adviser.” I was echoing his sentiment.
“That’s really for you to decide. Should you lose focus on your books and so forget why you came to college in the first place, then yes, your grades will suffer. First and foremost, academics come before anything else. If on Wednesday night a few brothers are having a small get together with booze and you have a big exam Thursday morning, should you really hang out with them? No, you shouldn’t and the rest of the brothers will tell you the same thing. The responsible thing to do would be to get your ass to the library and study. Should you fail out and have to return home with your tail between your legs, you are neither good to your education or us. Aside from your education, retention is the most important aspect of our Brotherhood. How can we strengthen our Brotherhood if all of our brothers are failing out of school?”
It was, at this point that things began to click. I know that I still needed some time to make my decision, but joining the Etas was beginning to make a lot of sense. Joining them (er, HIM) would mean making a commitment. The question was whether or not I was ready to take that first crucial step into something I’ve yet to experience. With my decision to join, I was split between fear and curiosity: Fear for the unknown mainly due to fact that fraternities are infamous for hazing and a slew of other things and curiosity for the good things to come, like being a part of something bigger and stronger than myself. I wanted to find out more about the Etas and so following my first invite, I went the next rush and the next after that, each time asking brothers more questions about their product. I wanted to know more about what they were selling me. Each of the brothers reminded me of salesman on the floor of a department store; they paced around the room always willing and eager to help Rushees by answering any questions they might have. Though doing so, they were not at all pushy. More than anything else, they were friendly and courteous, taking the Rush very seriously, their approach professional. Most notably, they were all wearing shirts and ties and small pins which, were a four-sided diamond with HIM emblazoned across its crest. I almost felt underdressed as I showed up in wearing a hat, jeans, and a pullover. The atmosphere was much like a career fair.
© Copyright 2009, O. Dohn Paditsone. All Rights Reserved.
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