“Please don’t refer to a fraternity as a “frat”. After all, you wouldn’t call your country a…”|
“Only during the Bush years.”
My handle is not really a mystery. Paint CHiPs. Fairly straightforward. At least in the respect that you know, presumably, what a paint chip is, unlike other handles that you can only guess at the meaning of (What the fuck is Nutrimentia?).
However, the reason I use this handle is a bit more of a mystery.
Granted, I have explained it many times in the past. And enough people know the movie from which the phrase is lifted (Tommy Boy) to make it not quite as enigmatic as, say, TimeenoughforLove. As I have said before, the handle is my real life nickname, which I acquired while in a fraternity in Des Moines, Iowa (and also for the record, CHiPs = California Highway Patrol).
However, I have never really gone in depth as to the background of the story.
So I thought I would share that aspect of it this week.
I went off to college like any student, full of a combination of nervousness and excitement, of naivete and something called “inhibitions” (a concept confined to people who have yet to hit puberty, certain tribes in Papua New Guinea, and the state of Utah). I didn’t know a soul at my new school, and have never been what you would call a social animal.
I did know a little about the college, however.
It is a small private college in Des Moines, Iowa. The alma mater of both my mother and my father (where they met in fact) and both had been heavily into the Greek scene during their tenure at the school. Both could not say enough good things about the fraternities and sororities at Drake University, and both urged me to check them out. Well, my mom did at least. My father said something like “We’re sorry, the number you have dialed is no longer in service.”
So, for the first few weeks, I kept to myself, attended to my studies, and then, once rush came around, promptly signed up.
Granted, none of my friends from High School could see me joining a fraternity, and many guffawed at the very prospect. I am just not “the type”, they would tell me; and I would agree. But you have to understand that at a small private midwestern college in the middle of fucking Des Moines, Iowa, there is not a helluva lot to do. The entire social scene of the campus was vicarious through the fraternity functions. That, and the fact that it was rumored that some of them even drank alcohol on occasion, was what sold me. Also, realize that I am pretty anti-social by nature. And one of the good things about joining a fraternity is that one day you don’t know ANYBODY, and the next day you have 150 fast friends.
Rush, for those that don’t know, is the process by which male freshman are put in groups, and they go around to all the different fraternity houses and spend some time in each one. The frat guys clean up their house for it, and try to bullshit the freshman as best they can as to why their fraternity is the best. At least, that’s what they do to the freshman they like.
Well, I was put in my little rush group and shuffled around to the various houses. Immediately upon spending maybe 10 minutes in each particular house, I could get a very good bead on what they were all about. “Ah, this is the preppy rich kid frat!” Or “Hmmm, all these people are football players.” Or, “I smell roofies!” Or “These guys keep checking out my ass!” Or ”Hmmm, I appear to be awash in a sea of Abercrombie and Fitch!” You get the idea.
Then I ended up at one house that I couldn’t quite peg. I was first introduced to a real dorky guy, but still kinda cool. Reminded me of Newt Gingrich. Expect for that kinda cool part. Then I was given the tour by a complete stoner. Then I sat around and talked to a guy from Israel, a really preppy but quite cool guy known only as “Bowser”, a rugby player who was missing a few teeth, and some total beatnik guy who kept gesturing in stabbing motions as punctuation for whatever it was he was saying, kinda like Mussolini discussing the intricacies of sneaking drunk women into a dorm room.
I went back to that house and that house only for the next two rush sessions.
I have to admit something here, I was bullshitting half the time when I was talking to them, especially the guys who I could sense were “in charge”. I was discussing things about how a fraternity is a commitment for life, how I love community service, things of that sort. In retrospect I don’t feel so bad, as they were basically doing the same to me.
A wise man once said that when a person states “to make a long story short”, it is probably already too late.
So in any case, the fellas in that fraternity decided to pledge me, and I accepted.
That day, they had a big party for the new pledges. There were only about 30 guys present in the house when I was going through rush, but once the kegs got there, I realized the house actually contained closer to 75.
Now when I said earlier that this place was hard to describe, I meant it. Most other houses were a clique of one certain type of person. This house seemed to be a combination of all the cliques. A few football players, a few real upstanding go-getters, a bunch of stoners, some preppies, some hippies, and a representative of just about any personality type you could possibly think of.
Yet there was one constant.
Whenever I would mention the fraternity I was in to somebody in ANOTHER fraternity, they would nod and say “Good guys. Do you drink a lot?”
This was Animal House, or as near as the real world allows.
During that first experience, the big pledge party, they introduced me to a tradition known as “roof testing”. The house was three stories high, with a parking lot, and when somebody had a major appliance that had been giving them trouble, the normal solution was to throw it out of the third floor window and see if it worked any better once it hit the pavement below.
Also, they were known kleptos. Now, every fraternity steals something as a gag every now and then. But my frat had turned it into an art form. We had a piece of furniture from every single building on campus. We had the Dean’s desk. We had a fucking WALL from another frat house. We had a fucking TOILET from a sorority house (the story of how we concocted that plan is a column unto itself). We had billboards from highways (mostly for strip clubs). We had also probably damn near a thousand various knick-knacks and odds and ends from all over the Greater Midwest. And whenever our smoke alarms would go off (which was more often than you would think), the main concern was not putting out whatever fire may be burning. Rather, the entire house would become intent on hiding all the fire hydrants we had stolen so the fireman wouldn’t see them (and for the record, a fire hydrant is damn near the heaviest thing I have ever lifted in my entire life. I suspect they are made of anti-matter).
I will not say that the fraternity was full of fuck-ups, because it was not. There were often Greek events, and we would almost always win them. For example, one of them was something of a talent show, different frats would put together song and dance comedy sketches, and every year my frat would win. It kind of reminds me of this forum. Everybody, in their own way, was a bonafide fuck-up. But everybody was also far more talented and inspired, in their own way, than your average Joe.
But we were certainly infamous. We knew most of the DMPD on a first name basis, and were rather notorious for getting out on our front porch at 3 AM and singing drunken songs by the moonlight.
“That girl was just like a statue of Venus!
I’d fuck her if I had a petrified penis!
Oh roll your leg over,
Oh roll your leg over,
Oh roll your leg over
It’s better that way.”
“And now she’s gone and we don’t miss her
And now she’s gone and we don’t miss her
And now she’s gone and we don’t miss her
Cuz now we’re fucking her little sister!
Get in get out quit fucking about
Ya Ho Ya Ho Ya Ho!”
Or any of the other 50 or so horridly obnoxious drunken ditties we had.
Another tradition, at least for the stoners in the house (who were kind of like an unspoken majority, an underground current in the fraternity), is that they would take all the obvious stoners out of the new pledges, as well as the stoners that were already members (actives, they were called), and then pick out 2 or 3 of the dorkiest looking new pledges to fuck up.
Apparently, I fit the bill.
The beatnik guy and the stoner saw me on the front porch from their 2nd story window (they were roommates). The stoner, apparently, pointed me out and said “That kid! That blonde guy with the glasses, the straightedge motherfucker, let’s smoke him up! Har har har! Welcome to college!”
So, while I was smoking my cigarette and drinking my 10th or so keg beer, the two approached me and said “do you smoke?”
As I was smoking tobacco at the time, I figured that wasn’t what they were asking about.
“Why…yes,” was my reply.
So they loaded me and 5 or 6 other pledges in the car with 3 or 4 of the actives and we headed to a nearby apartment. The whole time the head stoner kept talking to the actives about me. “Oh, this is going to be SO fucking funny! Look at this kid! We’re gonna get him TOE UP!!!!”
So, we hit the apartment, and the bong starts going around.
I take a hit large enough for the actives’ eyes to get as big as dinner plates. Then I asked if they had any painkillers or shrooms laying around. They did.
I won’t go into further details about that event, save to tell you that by 10pm, the room was surrounded by about 10 passed out frat guys, lying in all sorts of positions all over, and me and this stoner guy. He couldn’t smoke anymore, so I was the one packing the bowl again as he shook his head in disbelief.
I gained a lot of respect there.
There are SO many stories that I could tell about my experiences in this fraternity, and I may later go into them. Hell, I may continue this piece next week. There is a WHOLE lot of tales that came about during that period, so many that to share them all right now would to be akin to folding my cards too early in the game. Just trust me when I say that my next two years were, well, rather interesting.
“Craig, I go to college! Translation: Drunken orgies with occasional Cliff Notes!”
---Night at the Roxbury.
In any case, you are a “pledge” for a semester. That means you have to do the shit work, clean up after parties and whatnot. Once you go through initiation, you are an “active”, at which point you have to do jack shit save for bossing the pledges around.
After a semester of being a pledge, you have to endure one week, a single week, affectionately referred to as “Hell Week”. After you survive that week, you become an active, and are allowed all the rights and privileges that active status entails.
I can’t go into the details of what Hell Week consisted of. I took a sacred pledge of secrecy. And while the pledge of secrecy is not what keeps me from talking about it, the fact that somewhere in this country there are literally thousands of men who would be more than willing to put up the money for an airplane ticket to draw and quarter me does.
But, I can tell you that for a week straight, you are not allowed to speak to anybody but other members of the frat. You live in the basement of the frat house, you are not allowed to bathe, drink alcohol, or smoke, and you get (if you are lucky) about 2 hours of sleep a night.
Every year, there is always one person who cracks first. One person, out of however many pledges there are, who loses his mind. This person may be the first to do it, they may be the only, but there is always at least one.
That one was me.
Now, before you start, I had always had a negative view on hazing. I no longer do, for a few reasons. For one, there are few better ways to solidify solidarity than for a group of men to endure hardship together. And hazing is a way of virtually guaranteeing that hardship, and thus that solidarity. The fact that it may be a somewhat artificial way of doing so does not in any way decrease the effectiveness. Furthermore, it is a way of negating any sense of entitlement to an achievement. When you don’t get somewhere because you are supposed to, but because you had to endure hardship to do so, it means more to you. Just as a millionaire who is self-made is less likely to spend money on lavish luxuries than one who inherited his fortune. You appreciate more what you earn. Also, it tells you a lot about yourself, and the others that you went through it with. As an example, you would get a LOT closer to a person by being stuck in an elevator with them for a few days then by working with them for a year. I won’t go into it in detail, and when I say hazing I am not speaking of physical abuse, but there is a reason why the military is so notorious for hazing. It builds solidarity and, to a degree, character, no matter how cliched that seems. I was dead set against it until I went through it.
In any case, after only two days of being denied cigarettes and booze (the bathing and speaking thing didn’t bother me so much as I go without both for days at a time anyway), I was found in the basement, staring at a corner and playing the bongo drums while singing the Canadian national anthem. I also, on more than one occasion, threatened my fellow pledges with death by spear as I was convinced that they were shortening my bed sheets. And, during a psychology class no less, I kept hearing voices. It wouldn’t have been so bad had A: it not been a psychology class, and B: other members of the frat had not been present. Basically, the prof would drone on, and the second she would stop for a breath, I would hear somebody shouting at me in a demonic voice (full volume), until the prof continued, at which point the demonic voice would cease. I was able to endure this the first two times it occurred, but by the third, the prof would finish a sentence about research methods, pause, and then I would bolt upright to my feet, and shout “DON’T STOP TALKING YOU FUCKING CUNT!!! WHEN YOU STOP, THEY BEGIN......AGAIN!!!” This occurred about 5 more times during that one 2 hour long class, with such variations as “AAAAAHHHHH!!!! DEMON VOICE, 666, LEAVE ME BE!!!” and, “WHO THE FUCK IS THAT!?! IS IT YOU!?! IS IT YOU!?! I BET IT WAS YOU, YOU COCKSUCKER MOTHERFUCKER!!!” until I was escorted out by security and promptly dropped from the course.
In any case, a few hours later, that story had already circulated through the entire fraternity (and most of the campus, I imagine). And one of the other pledges approached me and asked “Did you eat paint chips when you were a kid?”
The name stuck.
To this day, if you were to accompany me to any bar in Des Moines, Iowa, upon my entrance, at least a half a dozen people will raise their glasses and yell “PAINT CHIIIIIIIIIPS!!!!”
Over the course of the next year and a half, I gained quite a quixotical reputation. In the house that contained the biggest drunks on campus, I was the biggest drunk of them all. I was also, however, the person with the highest grade point average. I have NO clue WHAT that says about me, but I am quite sure it says something.
And, in any case, I got my nickname from it. The handle that has served me so well since. And probably half of the people on God’s green earth, to this day, know me only as Paint CHiPs.
I bet even Nutrimentia can’t claim that.
[to be continued. If not next week, then sometime after.]